One of the many beautiful types of habit in California are it’s Vernal Pools. The pools are also one of the most fragile and ephemeral. Found mainly in the Central Valley and lower foothills ringing the valley they explode in the spring with a rainbow of color. They require a few special conditions to form – a low lying area on top of a layer of nonporous rock. In the spring following a wet (or normally wet as in this year) the water collects in these pools forming a temporary wetland. As the water evaporates the wildflowers march in along the edge of the water. Since each flower prefers slightly different soil moisture, bands of color surround the pools. Sometimes these depressions are round – giving rise to their nickname of fairy rings, other times they’ll follow a drainage “stream” and weave around the shallow rolling hills of the lower foothills.
The other day I went out in search of some. They are just starting with the first couple rounds of flowers. On the outside are purplish Clammy Clover (Trifolium obtusiflorum) a California native, whose range is nearly entirely inside California’s borders, the yellow flowers are sunny Goldfields (Lasthenia fremontii) and the white blossoms are Meadowfoam (Limnanthes alba Benth.) And this is just the start! As the season progresses flowers that like dryer conditions will bloom.
Cows have received a lot of bad press in the past for supposedly destroying Vernal Pools. But research has shown they actually are a very important part of maintaining the pools. Yay cows – there is nothing they cannot do!. Studies such as this one by the University of California A&DNR suggest that cattle have replicated the roles of deer and Tule elk, both of which are either gone or their numbers have been drastically reduced in the Vernal Pool areas.
Moral of the story? If you’re driving around the Central Valley and lower Foothills, take a look around, slow down and take a backroad. While many of these flowers – Goldfields and Meadowfoam for example – grow in huge numbers and are easily visible at highway speeds, it’s only when you stop and take a look around that you really see how beautiful and delicate they are. Just be respectful of others who want to take a look – don’t trample them or trespass – the cows may come charging after you! 😉