Monkey Flowers, Star Jasmine, Black Oaks, and Desert Agaves

Monkey-Flowers /of various species are putting on an excellent display this month around San Diego. Look for these low, shrub-like plants with tubular yellow, orange, or red flowers wherever native vegetation clothes the landscape -- from the coastal bluffs to the lower slopes of the mountains. As you drive Interstates 8 or 805 near Mission Valley, look for the rust tint these flowers give to the steep hillsides. On the terraces just above San Onofre State Beach, you can usually see springtime monkey-flower blossoms of every intermediate shade from yellow to red.

Star Jasmine's Sweet Perfume, exuded from clusters of small, white flowers, will continue to scent San Diego's spring breezes until sometime in June. Not a true jasmine, or Jasminum, star jasmine belongs to the genus Trachelospermum. In both public and private spaces, it has been widely planted as an ornamental ground cover and as a trellised vine.

The Black Oak, San Diego County's most handsome native deciduous tree, is sending out new leaves this month, painting the mountain slopes with shades of red, brown, and bright green. The newly emergent leaves are reddish brown in color, creating a pseudo-autumn color in the forest. After a week or two the unfolding leaves acquire a light green tint; after a month they're dark green. Black oaks are common throughout the 4000-foot to 6000-foot elevations of the Palomar, Cuyamaca, and Laguna mountain ranges. Enjoy the show by exploring the forest around either Fry Creek Campground or Observatory Campground on Palomar Mountain. Or visit the rolling mountain slopes along Sunrise Highway near the village of Mount Laguna.

Desert Agaves, or century plants, are sending up their asparagus-like flower stalks on rocky hillsides throughout much of the Anza-Borrego Desert. On warm, sunny days the stalks may grow almost one foot per day (fast enough for you to notice the sharp leaf tips at the bud actually separating from one another). After the stalk reaches a height of 10-20 feet, clusters of waxy, yellow flowers appear, ready for pollination by bees and other insects. After blooming, the fleshy, dagger-like leaves at the base of the plant die (after a life of 10 or 20 years, not a century) and the stalk, bearing a crop of seeds, dries up as well.

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