All photographs by the author unless otherwise noted.
Every year for about the past 20 years, I have led a nature walk on the first Sunday after January 1 in Huddart County Park above the town of Woodside in San Mateo County. One of the goals is to see flowers of fetid adder’s tongue (Scoliopus bigelovii). In most of those years, we have seen at least a few flowers in bloom. In a couple, just leaves but no flowers, and in only one, neither leaves nor flowers.
I could not lead a group walk this year but I did go myself on January 1. No leaves or flowers, but it was early. I went back Sunday, January 10, and again no leaves or flowers. That was a surprise. I went again on January 17 and there were leaves but no flowers. Something (climate change?) is delaying the flowering by one to two weeks.
The walk takes the Crystal Springs Trail, which drops a hundred feet or so down a valley through mixed evergreen forest and second-growth redwood forest. Here’s a photo of redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) and some bays (Umbellularia californica) that grow in an odd arch pattern as the tips search for sunlight.
There are common redwood forest flowers and ferns under the trees. Here are photos from my walk of inside-out flower (Vancouveria planipetala) and yerba buena (Clinopodium douglasii), both species in leaf but not in flower, as well as goldback fern (Pentagramma triangularis).
Finally, on January 17, I reached the spot, a swale several hundred feet before the stream, where fetid adder’s tongue usually first appears, and there were a dozen or two of the paired leaves just pushing out of the soil and redwood duff. One even had a bud. In the right photo above, the plant is just to the right of the leaf with holes in it, and the flower bud is at the tip of the arrow. Not the best picture, I am afraid.
Visit the park in the next several weeks and you should see lots of fetid adder’s tongue flowers. The leaves, when fully out, flop over and have brown spots. The reason for the spots is not clear, but a hypothesis is it makes the leaves look like they are attacked or rotting (although neither is true) and thus discourage herbivores.
The plants are fetid because up close their flowers have an unpleasant (to humans) odor, somewhat sewage-like. They are pollinated by tiny fungus gnats and no doubt smell very tasty to them.
Even though the East Bay has redwood forests, we have no fetid adder’s tongue, but you can see planted ones in the Regional Parks Botanic Garden in the Berkeley Hills.
Fetid adder’s tongue does not only grow in redwood forests. The Montara Mountain Trail in San Pedro Valley Park (south end of Pacifica) has lots, usually in March and even later, even though the park has no (unplanted) redwoods.
— David Margolies, Treasurer, CNPS East Bay Chapter