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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sisyrinchium and the Scotsman

 Yellow-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium californicum)


A beautiful perennial herb in the Iris Family.  Yellow-eyed Grass grows in moist habitats along the coast from central California north to British Columbia.

The yellow flowers are ~3 cm across.  Note the distinct lines running parallel to the edges of the petals. 


Seeds are contained within brown capsules.


 A flower just before opening.



I think I'll always associate Yellow-eyed Grass with Archibald Menzies.  Menzies (a Scottish naturalist) explored the West Coast on board The Discovery with Captain George Vancouver in the 1790s.

In the fall of 1793, the ship anchored in Bodega Bay and Menzies and other crew members landed on shore.  Here's a passage from his journal:

"We landed on the west side & ascended the high ground which formd the bluff/headland/in expectation of a fine prospect which was however very limited from a thick fog that enveloppd the inland country...the grass & brush wood on this headland had been lately burnd down so that I had little opportunity here to augment my botanical collection, the few plants I saw were not different from those I had before met with at San Francisco & Monterrey excepting a new species of Sisyrinchium with yellow flowers of which I brought on board live plants for the garden."

From: Menzies and Eastwood.  1924.  Archibald Menzies' Journal of the Vancouver Expedition.  California Historical Society Quarterly 2 (4): 265-340.


As I was reading Menzies' journal, I was envisioning the different places he visited.  The above description surprised me because if you followed in Menzies' footsteps today (over 200 years later), you would encounter Sisyrinchium californicum in the same place that he did!  It grows along Westshore Road in wet places along the base of the bluffs on the inside (harbor side) of Bodega Head.

[Note: If you read the full article mentioned above, you'll see that the author (Alice Eastwood) suggests that Menzies was exploring Tomales Bay/Point Reyes in the passage above, rather than Bodega Head.  But after reading the journal carefully and matching Menzies' descriptions to the landscape and local conditions, I think she may have been mistaken I think he was on Bodega Head.)

1 comment:

Claudia said...

Fascinating that the brush and grass had been burned. Not an easy place to burn so it must have been a concerted effort to get it to light.