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On the Track of Malibu’s Ghost Train 

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting…

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Wildflower Watch
The Chocolate lily, Fritillaria biflora, likes the same conditions preferred by shooting stars, and often grows nearby, but this wildflower is even rarer and more ephemeral. It’s just starting to bloom. We found one bloom and several plants just setting bud in our favorite lily location. Photo by Suzanne Guldimann
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Wildflower Watch 

Wildflower season is just beginning in the Santa Monica Mountains, but it may be even more ephemeral than usual this year. Topanga received more rain than many neighboring areas, giving canyon plants a boost this season, and there will still be some flowers even in the places that received less rain, but this week’s Santa Ana winds and warm weather are already drying out the soil.

Hiking into the Santa Monica Mountains on a trail is the best way to fully experience spring in our mountains, but for those who can’t hike, a drive through the back roads offers a taste of spring beauty. Either way, this is the time to savor the winter green and look for the first spring flowers. But hurry, unless March brings more rain, this season will be over almost as soon as it begins! Look for wildflower updates as the season progresses at www.smmflowers.org. Desert USA is primarily focused on sites like the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, but also has periodic updates on the coast ranges, including the Santa Monica Mountains. www.desertusa.com/wildflo/ca.html

Coast Indian paintbrush, Castilleja affinis,  is hemi-parasitic, drawing nutrients from host plants like bunch grasses that gives it an edge over other flowers, helping it to thrive even in dryer years. This plant is an important host species for a variety of native butterflies, including buckeyes and checkerspots. Photo by Suzanne Guldimann
You don’t have to go far in Topanga to see the native buttercup of the Santa Monica Mountains, Ranunculus californicus, it grows in at least two spots right along the side of the road on Topanga Canyon Blvd. Unlike a lot of natives with European plant names, this one isn’t a look-a-like, it’s a true buttercup, a member of the ranunculus family. Photo by Suzanne Guldimann
Topanga’s much-loved ceanothus is also starting to bloom. Big pod ceanothus dusts the canyon with floral snow on the ocean side of the mountains. Buckthorn is more common on the other side of the summit. Greenbark ceanothus, with its pale blue or white foam of flowers usually blooms a little later, but the first flowers are already in bud. Photo by Suzanne Guldimann
We don’t always think of trees as wildflowers, but bees do! This bee is collecting bright chartreuse pollen from the catkins on an arroyo willow. Photo by Suzanne Guldimann
These ethereal Padre’s shooting stars, Primula clevelandii, are always one of the first flowers of the season. Look for them on shaded north slopes where water from winter rains seeps out of the rocks, but take only photos. This beautiful flower is increasingly rare. Photo by Suzanne Guldimann

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