Los Farallones

Dispatches from Point Blue’s field station on the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge

Winter rain, spring flowers

In addition to providing PRBO biologists with drinking water for the year, winter rains cause SEFI’s plant life to burst into bloom. Wildflowers dot the typically brown landscape with a range of colors, from subtle purple to bright yellow, all against a backdrop of green, making late winter and early spring undoubtedly the most botanically beautiful time of year here.

Maritime goldfields blanket the island with bright green and yellow.

The most common plant on SEFI is maritime goldfields (Lasthenia maritime), also known as “Farallon weed.” This native spreading annual blankets the entire island, from the edge of the marine terrace to the lighthouse, with vivid green leaves and bright yellow flowers. It even grows on West End Island. Cassin’s auklets dig their burrows underneath its canopy.

A close-up view of maritime goldfields.

Human visitors aren’t the only animals on SEFI to appreciate the maritime goldfields. Sometimes on hot days the elephant seals will fling bits of the plant on their backs in an attempt to stay cool. In these photos, elephant seals lounge in the goldfields on the marine terrace.

Other common native plants include fiddleneck (Amsinckia spectabilis), with small, yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers that grow along a stalk like its namesake; miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), with tiny pale pink flowers in the center of a circular, glossy leaf; red maids (Calandrinia ciliata), whose flowers are a gorgeous deep purply red; and common chickweed (Stellaria media), a spreading, low-growing plant with a cluster of little white flowers. Another favorite is sticky sand spurry (Spergularia macrotheca), a succulent with fleshy thin linear leaves and purple or white flowers.

Miner’s lettuce.

Sticky sand spurry.

Common chickweed.

Non-native wildflowers grow on SEFI as well, including scarlet pimpernel (Anagalils arvensis), dwarf nettle (Urtica urens), goosefoot (Chenopodium murale), storksbill (Erodium moschatum and E. cicutarium), New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia expansa), and plantain (Plantago coronopus). One of the most common non-native plants is umbrella mallow (Malva neglecta), which sports a beautiful purple flower and big leaves. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working to control both Malva and New Zealand spinach for 20 years, but the tenacious plants seem to have a strong foothold here.

Scarlet pimpernel.