Forest Clovers: Redwood Sorrel

When hiking in redwood forests, it’s likely that you’ve encountered redwood sorrel in the forest understory. A true shade-lover, redwood sorrel will fold its leaves when exposed to direct sunlight.

Places to See Redwood Sorrel

Cowell Circle

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

Redwood sorrel folds its leaves when exposed to direct sunlight.

When the leaves are in direct sunlight, they shrivel up and fold downwards within minutes. Sensitive cells in the plant detect the wavelength of light hitting it, causing the leaves to fold downwards when exposed to harsh light. This process is called nyctinasty.

Redwood sorrel’s folding is attributed to its sensitivity to bright sunlight. Because it is adapted to growing in low light conditions, intense light can damage the plant. Thus, folding its leaves is thought to protect it from harm.

To watch a time-lapse of this movement, check out this YouTube video. Please note that the plant shown is Oxalis triangularis, a different plant species in the same family as redwood sorrel.

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Redwood sorrel in bloom at Limekiln State Park in Big Sur, Ca.

Redwood sorrel is found on the West Coast of North America, from California to Canada.

It prefers understory habitats, often growing in coast redwood or Douglas fir forests beneath the shade of trees. It is one of the most common plants in the coast redwood understory.

Redwood sorrel leaves resemble clovers.

The leaves are 0.4 – 1.8 inches long. Redwood sorrel also has tiny (0.5 – 0.8 inch) flowers, which range from white to pink in color. Flowers can be seen in bloom from February to September.

Redwood sorrel is a good replacement for English ivy in a native plant garden.

Looking to make the conversion to native plants in your garden? Alternatively, are you looking for more native plants to introduce to your existing native garden? Consider the redwood sorrel. This plant grows well in shady conditions, forming a dense carpet beneath trees.

For more information on the planting and care of redwood sorrel in your garden, check out this article by S.F. Gate.

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Redwood sorrel at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz, Ca.

Cool facts about redwood sorrel:

  • Redwood sorrel is truly adapted to shady environments, as it is able to photosynthesize in levels of light that are 1/200th of full sunlight.
  • The family name of redwood sorrels, Oxalis, is derived from the Greek word “oxys”, meaning sour. This is because the leaves of plants in this family have a sour taste.
  • Beware of eating too much of any plant in this family, as they contain oxalic acid. Oxalic acid can be toxic when consumed in large quantities.

Resources to learn more:

Sticky and Vibrant: Monkeyflower

True to their name, sticky monkeyflowers have a sticky resin on their leaves. Their flowers are thought to resemble a smiling monkey. Can you see it?

Sticky monkeyflower plants have dark green leaves and bright flowers.

Their leaves are 2 – 3 inches in length, and the plant itself grows to be 3 feet wide and 3 feet tall. Their flowers are orange, and they can be seen in bloom from April through October.

These beauties have also become popular to gardeners, resulting in many different color combinations ranging from deep red to peach.

Sticky monkeyflowers are actually sticky.

True to their name, their leaves have a sticky residue. The resin is thought to help protect from desiccation, or drying out, of the plant during particularly hot days.

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Close-up of sticky monkeyflowers at Devil’s Slide in Pacifica.

Sticky monkeyflowers are wonderful garden plants.

Sticky monkeyflowers are drought-tolerant perennials, making them a water-wise plant that will return year after year. Their flowers also attract hummingbirds, bringing awesome wildlife to your garden.

If deer are a consideration in your area, monkeyflowers are also quite deer-resistant.

For more information on the species that you can plant in your own garden, check out this helpful page by the Las Pilitas Nursery.

Cool facts about sticky monkeyflowers:

  • Their genus, Mimulus, is related to the latin word mimus, meaning a mime or comic. This is thought to be because of the shape of their flower, which resembles a comic or mime.
  • Checkerspot butterflies will lay their eggs on sticky monkeyflowers.
  • The “monkeyflower” part of their name is derived from the shape of their flowers, which are thought to resemble smiling monkeys. I often have trouble seeing it, but try it yourself when you encounter them!
  • Sticky monkeyflowers were used by Native Americans as treatments for various ailments and as decorative pieces. For more information, check out this page by the National Park Service.

Resources to learn more:

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Sticky monkeyflowers blooming off the coast at Devil’s Slide Trail.

A Pop of Purple: Western Blue-eyed Grass

Despite its deceiving common name, blue-eyed grass is actually a part of the iris family! Learn this and more about this vibrant California native wildflower.

Western blue-eyed grass is a California native wildflower.

Its native range extends west of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It can be found outside of California as well, but the western species is restricted to the western part of the United States. There are many different varieties in California, including a “Devon Skies” variety that has a darker purple center.

Western blue-eyed grass is a “clumping” plant, meaning that it will grow from the center and form a mound.

They can grow 4 – 16 inches tall and equally as wide. Their flowers are less than an inch in diameter, and range from blue to purple in color.

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Blue-eyed grass blooming at Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve.

The best time to view blooming western blue-eyed grass is April or May.

They can be found in a variety of habitats – ranging from redwood forests to grassy areas. To view these bright flowers, be sure to look for them on a sunny day – their flowers close when it’s cloudy.

Western blue-eyed grass is a perennial plant.

Perennial plants return each year after you plant them, whereas annual plants need to be replanted each year. If you plan on planting blue-eyed grass in your garden, you can count on seeing them return each year.

Cool facts about western blue-eyed grass:

  • Blue-eyed grass is not actually a grass – it belongs to the iris family (Iridaceae).
  • Blue-eyed grass flowers close up when it’s cloudy.
  • Its genus name means “pig snout” in latin – a name derived from foraging pigs digging up the plant.

Resources to learn more: