While CNPS East Bay has been able to move a number of our group activities online for COVID-19 safety, there are some activities that just don’t lend themselves to “virtual,” and restoration is one of them. Fortunately, restoration activities do lend themselves to small numbers of people working at safe social distances.
Our Skyline Gardens Alliance volunteers have developed safe ways to continue restoration activities during the pandemic. In fact, volunteer hours are up this year by over 50 percent from last year. We’ve formed “squads,” groups of friends—and family in one case—who work independently in a specific area to accommodate their schedules and are able to successfully maintain safe distances from each other. This core group of volunteers has been working steadily on the project for several years. They are well versed in the invasive plants we’re removing and knowledgeable about the scope of the project, and they’re some of the most collegial people you’ll ever meet.
For those who aren’t familiar with our chapter’s restoration projects, the Skyline Gardens Alliance is a combination botanical survey and restoration project in the Skyline Trail area of the Oakland-Berkeley Hills, sponsored in collaboration with EBMUD. Skyline Gardens Alliance volunteers, led by naturalist and project founder Glen Schneider, document the native flora and remove invasive plants to assist the recovery of the native ecological diversity of the area.
One of the real joys of our hard work this year was finding a species new to Skyline, the lovely annual Madia elegans, elegant tarweed. We’ve been keeping an eye out for this beautiful flower for several years. This summer we successfully located three populations in what we call the High Ridge Volcanic area. Who knows why they showed up this year; perhaps the long dry spell in February suppressed the competition enough for these to flourish.
Two of the populations are just to the west of Siesta Gate (across Grizzly Peak Blvd) on UC Berkeley land. The third is on the Skyline Trail, on EBMUD watershed land just below the old bench at Siesta Nose (the first grassy nose south of the Tilden Steam Train). We found the Skyline population serendipitously when Glen went to collect purple clarkia (Clarkia purpurea) seeds. We found several plants scattered around the area, growing in volcanic soil.
Elegant tarweed is quite adaptable. All three sites are hot, south facing slopes. One of the UC Berkeley sites is volcanic soil similar to Siesta Nose, and the other is Claremont Chert.
Madia elegans, like other tarweeds, has flowers that open in evening twilight and close up with morning sun. That’s an efficient water-management strategy to protect a large flower that blooms in the dry season. Madia elegans is quite common inland, especially along country roads in the Gold Country, but heretofore has never been found in the East Bay Hills north of Hwy 24. Bruce Baldwin, curator of UC Berkeley’s Jepson Herbarium, is interested in this population of Madia elegans and has suggested we prepare an herbarium sample.
Individual plants can grow large and stately if they have deeper soil. Some grow about three feet tall amidst sage and buckwheat in the volcanic area.
Here’s to seeing more elegant tarweeds at Skyline Gardens in the years to come. They are indeed elegant, beautiful, and fragrant plants. So much so that one of our regular volunteers, Lindsay Edelman, wrote this little poem about what we now call Ms. Madia.
Ode to Ms. Madia by Lindsay Edelman Good news came after Spring She emerged from atop the volcano And scattered herself around the labyrinth She was not lost, but wild Not sure whether to scream or die at just her sight Breathtaking Madia elegans
— Cynthia Adkisson, Rare Plant Committee Chair, CNPS East Bay Chapter
To learn more about the plants of Skyline Gardens, visit the Skyline Gardens Alliance website.