Updated: Feb 8, 2021
Through our new virtual programming series, Nature in your Neighborhood, we challenged volunteers to go out into their neighborhoods or backyards to see what plants sparked their interest. Whether plants are native or non native, we can all appreciate a connection to nature and the curiosity that it can spark!
By: Mia Lumpkin
During shelter in place I have been getting my exercise by taking regular walks to the Presidio. One of my favorite places to walk around in the Presidio is El Polin Springs. On one of my most recent walks I saw a huge variety of different flowers. One type of flower that I came across was a vibrant purple one. These flowers are commonly called Wild Radish (Raphanus sativus) but are also sometimes known as Garden Radish or Cultivated Radish. The Wild Radish is invasive to the area and originally came from Southern Asia, Europe, and certain parts of North Africa. It was originally brought to California as a food crop. The leaves of this plant have coarse hairs, and the flowers have 4 dark-veined petals. On my walk I saw a Wild Radish with lavender flowers, but it can come in many other colors including yellow, white, and pink. The root is smaller in size, similar to the root of a radish, and it has a distinctive odor and taste.
The Wild Radish is an edible root vegetable, and its buds and blossoms are known to taste like broccoli heads. This plant is commonly used to make raw salads and garnish. Something I found interesting about the Wild Radish is that it is sometimes infused into vinegars to add flavor.
Not only is the Wild Radish used for food purposes, but it is also a medicinal plant with different health benefits. To make medicine, the whole plant is picked and used before it flowers. The medicine made from Wild Radish can be used to treat skin conditions and stomach disorders. As I walked past various Wild Radish plants, I saw lots of yellow moths fluttering around and landing on these flowers.
Walking around some more, I noticed bright orange blossoms growing from a shrub. These flowers are Orange Bush Monkey Flowers or Sticky Monkey Flowers (Diplacus aurantiacus). The Sticky Monkey Flower was also formerly known as “Mimulus aurantiacus” (Mimulus is Latin for "little mime or comic actor) - it got this name because all the petals come together to give the flower a face-like appearance. These wild plants are native to California, and can be found throughout most of the state. They flower in the winter, spring, and summer, and bees and hummingbirds are typical pollinators. The Sticky Monkey Flower plant is an important host plant for the common Buckeye butterfly and the Variable Checkerspot butterfly.
The plant has deep green, sticky leaves, and the resin that makes the leaves sticky protects the plant from drying out. While the flower color can range from white to red, light orange is the most common color. The flower petals are shaped like a tube, and the stigmas are known to be very sensitive and close after being touched.
The Sticky Monkey Flower has been used by many different people in the past. For years, the Coast Miwok have used the Sticky Monkey Flowers by placing the crushed leaves on sores and burns. The roots have been used to treat fever, dysentery, diarrhea and to make hemorrhages less severe. They are also
used to treat sores, burns, and eye irritation. The Pomo used Sticky Monkey Flower to treat sore bloodshot eyes which happened to many who lived in smoky dwellings with poor ventilation. Aside from being used to help with medical needs, this flower was also used for other things such as decorations. Miwok used
the Sticky Monkey Flower to decorate Miwok wreaths and children’s hair.
One of the most interesting flowers that I noticed was a wild plant called the Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea). This California native wildflower is a part of the sunflower family and has tiny yellow flowers that are inside of a white outer cup of petals. There are many interesting features of this plant - the part underneath the leaves are covered in tiny hairs which give the flowers a woolly feel and look, and these hairs are adaptations that have come about in order to reduce water loss and to keep the plant from overheating. The stems are dry and brittle, and the small white flowers grow in clusters with special white leaves that surround the flowers. This plant prefers dry, sunny climates but is able to handle freezing temperatures.
Pearly Everlasting leaves and young plants are edible when they are cooked, and the leaves host caterpillars of the American Painted Lady and the Painted Lady butterfly.
Native Americans used this plant for a variety of medicines. They would use the plant to make a healing paste to treat sores, boil the plant in tea, put the plant in a bath to treat joint pain and inflammation, or smoke the plant to treat colds. The plant was also used as a substitute for tobacco. Today, the Pearly Everlasting can help stop the release of histamine from the immune system, which helps reduce inflammation when an allergic reaction happens. Finally, it was also common to dry the flowers and stems in order to make decorations during the wintertime.
The Wild Turnip, Sticky Monkey Flower, and Pearly Everlasting were just a few of the many discoveries I made at El Polin Springs during a short walk. The Presidio is a great place to discover different types of plants!