Summer at the Marsh Part 2


The summer I learned from our school system meant that the season began in mid-June and ended just after Labor Day. That time period for summer matches up pretty closely with the season of the summer solstice.

wildflower
But in southern California our subtropical climate is different from northern geographies where snow and leaves on the ground mark the seasons of winter and fall.

When I was growing up, summer used to begin the afternoon that school let out.  It ended just after Labor Day when we returned. And the summers I remember match up pretty closely with the season of the summer solstice.

The definition of “summer” I grew up understanding is one I learned from our school system, meaning that the season began in mid-June and ended just after Labor Day. The time in between those dates we didn’t go to school and, instead, were on “summer vacation.” That time period for summer matches up pretty closely with the season of the summer solstice.

But in Southern California our subtropical climate is different from northern geographies where snow and leaves on the ground mark the seasons of winter and fall.

In fact, here we have several seasons that others might refer to as “spring” – with an “early spring” right after the sun begins shining following the first winter rains. This early spring greening-up can begin as early as January or February. Great Blue Herons begin nesting as early as December during this “early spring” in Los Angeles – in spite of the Fish and Game warden guidance that was written in colder winter climates near Sacramento.

The more traditional spring arrives in southern California in late March and April. Mallards and several other resident birds nest and raise their young.

And yet another “spring” – a third spring – visits in late July or early August. At this time, another crop of native plants begin to green-up like the more familiar greens of nonnative grasses of Easter time.

At the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve the native plants close to the ground are various shades of green. The succulent Marsh Daisy, Alkali Heath, Seaside Heliotrope, Alkali Mallow and Pacific Samphire carpet the landscape, with tiny yellow, white and pink flowers attracting butterflies and other pollinating insects.

Two native grasses are in full “notice me” mode – Salt Grass, which is well-known to marsh lovers, and the taller blue-green Alkali Rye.

Coast Goldenbush is also looking hearty. This green, bushy shrub of summer will be turning golden as the summer ends. Thousands of small yellow flowers from the Goldenbush populations at various locations in the Ballona Valley will beckon butterflies, bee flies and native bees.

The spring flowers and plants that have mostly gone dormant for the year were in their prime months ago – including a favorite of the Native Americans, Yerba Mansa. This plant thrives along natural seeps and sends runners to spread its beauty and its medicinal properties.

Western Goldenrod – a beautiful, wispy tall stalk of green that boasts tiny yellow flowers - will not be seeing its “spring” until September, joining the Coast Goldenbush in its flowering. A significant population of Western Goldenrod joins the largest population of Yerba Mansa in the Ballona Valley near a freshwater seep beneath the western-most end of Cabora Drive.

So – as can be said at several times during the calendar year, spring is here again on the Los Angeles coast, and the flowers of many of our native plants will be visible and spreading pollen into the time of the coming Santa Ana winds.