This is Leptosiphon montanus, a California native annual wildflower more commonly known as mustang clover. Mustang clover is quite common in the wild occurring throughout the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Even in its native habitat however, where humans have built homes, it is rare or non-existent due primarily to non-native grass competition and wildfire safety maintenance practices. Although a very attractive annual mustang clover is also non existent in the horticultural trade. Could I do something about this? Is it garden compatible? Could I successfully reintroduce it to my blue oak woodland property in the Southern Sierra foothills of Three Rivers? Could I grow and multiply my meager seed stock at my home in Hemet, CA? What native plant gardener can resist this temptation - to bring the native wild flowers into their own gardens?
I have previously experimented with introducing local native annuals to both my properties including: Madia elegans subsp. vernalis (spring flowering madia), Lupinus nanus (sky lupine), and Nemophila menziesii (baby blue eyes) in Three Rivers.
And in my more desert environment in Hemet: Abronia villosa var. aurita (desert sand verbena), Boerhavia coccinea (scarlet spiderling), Bouteloua gracilis (blue grama grass), and Baileya multiradiata (desert marigold). The latter being a short lived but abundant and long blooming perennial.
Introducing these species to my two very different properties came about in a varied manner. For the woodland property I collected local source Madia seed from nearby populations, but the lupine and nemophila I purchased from Larner Seed. I would prefer to use all local source genotypes rather than purchasing seed but honestly I did not wish to wait until I could find them and I am only in this area infrequently. I started by solarizing several 6' x 6' plots. In the fall of 2012 I sowed the seed on roughed up but untilled soil and raked the seed in, and then prayed for timely rains. 2013 was excellent and all three species did very well but the plants in the spring of 2014 were not as abundant. This coming spring I should have a better idea how well the reintroduced natives will establish and be able to compete with the non-native grasses. For fire safety as the grasses dried out I trimmed around the natives which were still producing their seeds for next season and mowed them down at a later date. Below are some of the Nemophila cradling sleeping native bees.
Except for the desert marigold the seed for the Hemet property was acquired from local wild sources. The marigold, verbena, blue grama, and scarlet spiderling seed was simply scattered about and raked into the sandy soil. All four germinated readily but unlike most natives these germinated best in the warmer summer months and with a bit of "monsoonal" summer water. The verbena actually took several years before I noticed seedlings coming up thus an inherent dormancy mechanism must have been inhibiting germination. Very likely the heavy fruit coat. As seedlings often come up where you do not necessarily want them I found that all four species, if dug early, could be transplanted and moved around the yard as necessary. I installed a small cage around each one with shade cloth for protection if the weather was warm which summers in Hemet always are.
I am also experimenting with a number of other species. Just this past summer I raised up a box full of Clarkia cylindrica subsp. clavicarpa (speckled clarkia) in order to multiply the small collection of seed which I obtained from the Salt Creek populations near our Three Rivers home. Like all Clarkia species this one too is very showy, one of the standout dominant annuals in the Kaweah River drainage, and one that we wanted to reintroduce to our yard. Again this past summer I solarized several plots and this fall I sowed the clarkia seed.
On a small disturbed section of the property where a load of decomposed granite was dumped I also sowed purchased seed of several native grasses. The species which did well were Elymus glaucus (blue wild rye), and Stipa pulchra (purple needlegrass). Again here I simply roughed up the soil, sowed the seed and raked it in. In a separate site a small patch of Stipa cernua (nodding needlegrass) which I seeded in two years ago has thus far been hanging on and most lovely - but not naturalizing yet. I will likely learn much from these early attempts and hope to document over time on both my successes and failures.
So, back to where I started with the mustang clover. Here are some images of my seed regen boxes. They have worked very well for me to regenerate seed stocks of many different annual species. The boxes are made of recycled cedar fencing, measure 18" square, 7" deep, and have a 1/4 mesh hardware cloth bottom on which I layer newspaper to hold the soil. Three strips of wooden cleats keep the boxes off the ground and less likely to be invaded by ants and various other pests. The ropes were an idea I had after straining myself attempting to move these cumbersome and rather heavy boxes. The ropes allow me to easily drag the boxes about to sunnier or more shady locations, or just to move them to storage areas after the harvest season. The metal fencing is basically just to keep my dog out and the neighborhood cats from using them as litter boxes. Here are current photos of the mustang clover in progress and other lovely flowers I have grown using this method.
Enjoy your local flora - and the fauna which it brings - in the wild and in your own yard.
Michael Wall - Hemet, CA