Nature is by far the most genius of garden designers, the most creative of floral arrangers. And if there’s one thing Nature loves, it’s color. Bright, mellow, bold, muted, clear: the whole rainbow of color. Most of us do too, which is why the new expanded and full-color edition of “Wildflowers of Table Mountain, a Naturalist’s Guide“, is both a treat of photography and a useful tool of information for plant lovers of our region. Photo: Wildflowers at table mountain.
Written by Albin Bills and Samantha Mackey, illustrated by Larry Jansen, designed by Carole Montgomery and Elizabeth Quivey, and published by Studies from the Herbarium at California State University, Chico, “Wildflowers of Table Mountain, a Naturalist’s Guide” is available at local bookstores and from the Chico State Herbarium. Albin Bills and Samantha Mackey will be at Lyon Books in Chico for a book signing event on Thursday February 23rd at 7 pm. Photo: “Canyon Delphinium. Its red tubular flowers attract hummingbirds.” Photo and caption courtesy of Albin Bills.
Most towns and regions have their “special spots” – their places of supreme natural beauty to which residents not only take visitors and guests, but to which they themselves return annually if not more often – to be calmed, to be inspired, to be reminded of how little we are and how much awe-inspiring and abundant beauty there truly is in this young-old world of ours. Table Mountain outside of Oroville is such a place. Revered with possessive pride by locals, it also transcends regional pride. By many experts, Table Mountain is considered one of the “premier wildflower destinations in all of California” – a state known for the beauty and vast number of plant and flower species. Photo: Wildflowers on a blue-bird day at Table Mountain. “Patterns and sheets of color for which Table Mountain is justly famous.” Photo and caption courtesy of Albin Bills.
The story of the formation in rural Butte County is ancient: “Set against the rounded foothills of the northern Sierra Nevada, about 5 miles north of the town of Oroville, the mountain’s dramatic cliffs and distinctive flat top rise hundreds of feet above the Sacramento Valley. What was once an ancient stream of lava flowing down a broad river channel is now an elevated plateau perched above the surrounding terrain. Growing on top of this improbable platform are the extraordinary flower gardens that we chronicle in this book,” describes Bills in the book’s introduction. Photo: “Vernal Pools. These ephemeral pools on Table Mountain rest on a substrate of basalt (most other vernal pools in California sit on some sort of clay-based hardpan, not a lava flow.) It is a special habitat designated “Northern Basalt Vernal Pools,” found in less than half a dozen other places in the state. These presence of these pools was one of the chief reasons for setting it aside as a reserve.” Photo and caption courtesy of Albin Bills.
The introduction to this book leads you understand that you are in for more than just straightforward plant identification handbook. You are rather in for a true naturalist’s guide as the title claims, that marries facts such as “botany and geology are always linked” with accessible and enjoyable language for novice wildflower enjoyers. As the first edition of the book claimed: “This book is first an illustrated field guide to the flowers of Table Mountain, designed especially for use by visitors from the general public. But it also includes a comprehensive list of all known plants on Table Mountain, for use by the more accomplished botanist.” Photo: Butte County Golden Clover (Trifolium jokerstii). Named in honor of Jim Jokerst, whose memorial plaque we feature on the dedication page of our book. See p. 113 for the interesting details about this plant. Photo and caption courtesy of Albin Bills.
A naturalist and photographer himself as well as a professor of Field Biology at Butte College for more than 30 years, Albin Bills has been exploring and appreciating Table Mountain since the early 1970s. Photo: “Purple Owl’s Clover. One of everyone’s favorites.” And, lower photo, Albin Bills on a back-packing trip. “I look forward to backpacking every summer.” Photos and captions courtesy of Albin Bills.
“It didn’t take me long,” says Albin, “to realize how special this mesa is. You might say it was love at first sight. I have spent over three decades exploring its natural history. It is a place that can be enjoyed on many levels—strolling through fields of wildflowers, puzzling over their abundance and patterns, hiking to remote waterfalls, encountering salamanders and horned lizards, piecing together the mesa’s geologic history, or simply enjoying a beautiful spring day as a bald eagle soars by. The more you look, the more there is to see. Like all wild places, Table Mountain has much to teach. I hope our new book will open the doors of discovery for those who read it.” As well as writing and expanding on the original book, Bills took the majority of the color photographs in the newest edition. Photo: “Coal Canyon Fall. Note that I use the singular of fall instead of ‘falls.’ “Photo and caption courtesy of Albin Bills.
Samantha (Sam) Mackey, co-author with Bills on both editions of the book, claims (with some delight) to have been in charge of the “annoying nit-picky details” in the course of both books. A field and research botanist, Mackey received her Masters Degree in Botany from CSU, Chico in 1999, she clearly has a talent for such details as well as a love for Table Mountain. Photo: “Cow pruning on an old growth California Buckeye”. Photo and caption courtesy of Albin Bills. Lower Photo: Sam Mackey at home in Chico.
It was in the mid-1990s that Sam first journeyed to Table Mountain and like many before her, she was moved by its unique and vast beauty. While the regional botanist James Jokerst (now deceased) had compiled a much-consulted “The Vascular Plant Flora of Table Mountain, Butte County, California” in 1983, Sam among others was amazed that a field guide had not been created for the site. “Table Mountain is a stupendously beautiful and botanically interesting place that was just screaming for a book since there was no local source of information about the natural history of the place for all the folks that like to visit it,” explained Sam in her bio for the first edition. Photo: “Close up of Foothill Poppies.” Photo and caption courtesy of Albin Bills.
Sam was working in the labs at Butte College when she and Albin Bills met and then together with line-drawing botanical illustrator Larry Jensen, began work on the first edition of the book in 2000 and 2001. For the most part the content began with the Jokerst plant list and cross-referenced herbaria notations, both of which were then confirmed by personal sightings of the plants through the seasons by Albin or Sam. Photo: “Foothill Poppy. There are no California Poppies growing naturally on the top of Table Mountain.” Photo and caption courtesy of Albin Bills.
For the second edition, besides the addition of the beautiful color photographs depicting the color and variety of flowers as well as the topography and some of the wildlife (for instance, newts and cows), the plant list has been expanded to include confirmed sightings of plants since the first edition in 2003. Further, the new edition was able to take advantage of the fact that many herbaria (including the Chico State Herbarium) now have digitized collection catalogues. Likewise, Sam was able to consult and keep their book consistent with the most recent version of the “Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California”, officially published in 2012, and considered the “single most comprehensive resource on California’s amazingly diverse flora.” Photo: “Sky Lupine the species that paints the mesa blue. Note the sharp borders which separate it from its neighbors-a result of differences in soil type and depth.” Photo and caption courtesy of Albin Bills.
Walking through changes that plant people might be interested in, Sam explains that with the second edition of the “Jepson Manual” some plants have changed plant families, some have changed genera: “For instance, what was once Arabis brewerii is now Boechera breweri spp. shastaensis; monkeyflower (Mimulus) has moved into the Lopseed (Phrymaceae) family of plants.” Photo: “Butte County meadowfoam. By reading page 112 in our book you should be able to see why this species is so important to the story of Table Mountain. Photo and caption courtesy of Albin Bills. Sam recently related the story of finally sighting the elusive and endangered Butte County Meadowfoam. Although it had been included in Jokerst’s original Flora list, neither Sam nor Albin had a confirmed viewing and so it was not included in the first edition of the “Wildflowers of Table Mountain”. One day after looking thoroughly, Sam and her hiking companion encountered it on the way back to the car, and it is now proudly listed in the 2nd edition with a color photo.
In addition to the flower photos and detailed plant descriptions that will be useful to plant lovers in a great portion of the North State, not just at Table Mountain, I enjoyed and found useful the opening discussion on geology, and the ending sections on animals of Table Mountain. Photos and discussions of the birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles that add life and interest to your wanderings among wildflowers will further deepen your knowledge. Photo: “California Newt. Hundreds of these salamanders migrate every winter to the streams of Table Mountain, where they breed and lay their eggs.” Photo and caption courtesy of Albin Bills.
Knowledge is of course power. “Special” places in our world are fewer and farther between in my experience than they were in my childhood, in my parent’s childhood. To gain understanding, to learn the names and the characteristics of places, plants and animals we encounter is often to feel more connected to them, to place more value in them and as a result to take ever better care of them for the future to enjoy fully as well. While “Wildflowers of Table Mountain, a Naturalist’s Guide” is a solid field guide for botanists and other naturalists, it is also a celebration of the life and world around us. As Albin Bills writes in the book’s introduction, Table Mountain offers us “Sheets of lupines, goldfields, and poppies paint the basaltic plain blue, yellow and gold, in a spectacle that makes you glad to be alive.”
Get out and revel in it. “Wildflowers of Table Mountain, a Naturalist’s Guide” 2nd edition will only add to the fun.
Good wildflower viewing sites throughout the season include: (generally listed moving from the south to the north)
? Table Mountain and Feather Falls, both near Oroville, are great walk/hikes open to the public year round. Follow these links for maps and hike descriptions: http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/plumas/publications/pdfs/hiking/fr_featherfalls_infomap.pdf; http://www.calphoto.com/clcwl/table.pdf
? Near Lake Oroville, The Potter’s Ravine Trail in bloom March through April and early May.
? Lumpkin Ridge Road – further up in the Plumas-National Forest and east of Oroville, west of Quincy – should be in full-bloom in May and “The Harlequin Lupine (Lupinus stiversii) will knock your socks off,” Forest Service Botanist Chris Christofferson told me.
? Rim Road above Concow is a rare plant community habitat on serpentine outcroppings and is a good place to watch fire recovery in action after the 2008 summer fires.
? Magalia – all along the Skyway provides great views over wildflower meadows and oak habitat.
? Bidwell Park in Chico: Horsehoe Lake and Trails in Upper Bidwell Park as well as most of Lower Bidwell park as well will be good wildflower viewing March – early May.
? Vina Plains Preserve is managed by the Nature Conservancy and they often host wildflower tours in spring. The site is home to more than 280 species of plants and you should see Adobe Lily (Fritillaria pluriflora). Because Vina Plains Preserve is a working ranch, it is open to the public on a very limited basis. For more information, call (530) 527-4261. Photo: Butter and Eggs (Triphysaria eriantha) blooming en masse in Upper Bidwell Park in Chico in March.
? The Sacramento River Bend Area, just north of Red Bluff, offers spectacular wildflower displays throughout the spring. Vast vistas of yellow and purple fields are common during a springtime hike along the Yana trail. Contact the Redding Field Office at (530) 224-2100 for more information.
? Sacramento River Trail in and around Redding – runs through part of the McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.
? Shasta Lake Clikapudi Trail on the south side of Shasta Lake is a good place to watch fire recovery in action–it burned several years ago in the Bear Fire. Here’s a link to a trail map:http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/shastatrinity/documents/st-main/maps/rogs/shasta-lake/trails.pdf.
? Blue Door Flat – northeast California, south of Alturas. “The Blue Door Flat area provides an interesting area to watch waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds, as well as colorful wildflowers…in spring the meadow provides a fantastic array of color…” Contact the Alturas Field Office at (530) 233-4666.
? Later in the season, Waters Gulch and Squaw Valley Creek are good–see
? Also later in the season – Bunker Hill Ridge on the Pacific Crest Trail should be in full bloom June/July. The trail around Little Grass Valley Reservoir provides a great view of the lake and the wildflowers in June/July.
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In a North State Garden is a weekly Northstate Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California. It is made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time. Podcasts of past shows are available here.