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Earth Day Backpacking: Mission Peak

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By: Brandon Jackson

Two flora examples from the Mission Peak ecosystem: one invasive, one native

Having grown up in the Bay Area, the grassy hillsides of the East Bay are a familiar memory from my childhood. On Earth Day this past week I had the opportunity to revisit one of the places I used to hike when I was younger: Mission Peak, just east of Fremont. This regional preserve has all the signature plants of the East Bay hills, and because it was still the middle of Spring, the wildflowers were in bloom and the grasses retained most of their winter green. Two of the most recognizable plants from this ecosystem are the grasses which completely blanket the hillsides, and our state flower, the California poppy. However, only one of these is a native plant. I had always heard that these grasses on our Northern California hillsides, which turn into the dist inctive "golden hills of California" in summer, were an invasive species brought by the Spanish. A little bit of research confirmed this to be true.

Bromus diandrus

One of the more widespread species is Bromus diandrus, commonly called ripgut brome, which was spotted near the start of my hike on Mission Peak. The grasses have a long awn, up to 5 centimeters in length; this was a new term I learned, and this structure is commonly called a "foxtail". The seeds inside the awn dislodge easily, and because of their sharp barbs, can get lodged in fur or skin. They gained their ominous name because, if eaten, they can damage the mouth or intestines of sheep and livestock. They are also quite invasive, and have largely crowded out the native bunchgrasses, such as purple needlegrass and deer grass.

Eschscholzia californica

By contrast, the California poppy, Eschscholzia californica, is native to large portions of California and western North America. In my research I learned that the petals often close at night, or in cold or windy weather, and reopen again when it's sunny. The poppy officially became the state flower in 1903, and searching for large fields of the blooms has become increasingly popular during wi ldflower season. Seeing a grassy hillside full of poppies during Spring is a distinctly California event.

The reward - view from the summit!

Resources iNaturalist app, for plant identification

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