The San Gabriel Mountains are known for their rugged terrain consisting of high elevations, sheer cliffs and towering cracked rocks, which at times rain down upon us mortals as if crushed by the gods. However, their seemingly treacherous contours hide a diverse range of life that has flourished within their gorges and mountaintops.
Expressed in colorful blooms or timeless evergreens, the types of flora found upon these mountains helped sustain local tribes for centuries, including the Tongva, the San Gabriel band of Native Americans; and the Chumash of the coast. Using nothing but their sense of smell, touch and sight, those natives managed to find and identify plants, which helped them heal, eat and spiritually connect with their natural environment. Even in today’s so-called modern age, the practice of identifying wild edibles, medicines and other flora remains popular.
To better connect with this same natural environment, I have compiled a rudimentary start-up guide to some common local flowers and plants. The guide will be a work-in-progress.
Keep in mind, I am not a biologist or botanist, just an enthusiast and as such I will ask for this article to be treated much like a Wikipedia entry, as an open source that readers can add their own photos and captions describing the landscape from their own adventures.
Let’s begin with one of the most plentiful plants, the Yucca. More than 40 varieties of species abound but the most common to the L.A. area is the Yucca whipplei, which is known for its tall appearance and bunched sharp leaves at its base. Often called the refrigerator of wild edibles, many parts of the plant are edible, including its root, seeds and even flowers.
The plants leaves or fiber can also be used for twine, rope, clothing and even soap. In fact, if one shakes a dried Yucca, seeds begin to rain down from the top, which is a very easy way to collect seeds. Interestingly, the Navajo term for “I gather" can also be translated to “I shake out seeds,” according to an enthnologic dictionary of the Navajo Language.
Laurel Sumac is also very abundant and can be found along most of our native terrains.
Easily identified through scent, especially when in bloom, Laurel Sumac gives off an aroma similar to green apples. Its common name is actually derived from the word malosma, which is Latin for scent. A plant with crescent shaped leaves, the Laurel Sumac can grow to be as tall as 15-feet. When it blooms from June to July in small white clusters, the plant's aroma becomes even more powerful. It’s a perennial so it's green for most of the year. Look for it in the photo gallery.
Another local is Buckwheat, a plant which can found through most of the local mountain ranges in gorges and dry hills. Identified easiest by its bushy head, Buckwheat grows to be anywhere from two to three feet in height. Its branches are numerous and willowy, flowering through May to October.
Local Native Americans used different parts of Buckwheat for teas to treat everything from stomach pains to common colds. The plant was also used as coagulant to stop bleeding. Its roots were applied to wounds and recent research has found its dried flowers to be good for the heart, according to United States Department of Agriculture. Look for the Buckwheat plant in the photo gallery.
Lending its name to the entertainment capital of the world, the California Holly was a favorite among Native Americans, who would extract its pulp and fermented it so it could be used for various drinks and foods.
The pits are said to be poisonous and should not be consumed, and the flesh can upset the stomach if taken in large quantities. Local tribes leached the toxins through a process of boiling and sun exposure.
Growing to be as tall as 30 feet, the perennial plant blooms between March and May, and its fruits tend to develop between September and October. Cherries are light to deep red in color. Look for Holly in the photo gallery.
The plants mentioned above are just a few of the many varieties that grow along our local landscapes.
I encourage all readers to share their knowledge and experience with our local plants and animals with the community by adding their own pictures to this article and sharing comments in the section below.
Arcadia Patch will be adding its own photos and captions periodically and encourage others to share also.
Downloand the free iPhone Patch app to take Arcadia Patch and field guide with you. Using this link to get the Patch app.