On Easter Sunday, with the thermometer reading 58 degrees in the Tehachapi Mountains, I wanted to be enjoying the outdoors. We usually have a big Easter egg hunt at our place, but of course that was canceled because of the pandemic. So my feet found themselves wandering among the green grass and wildflowers. . .
One of the places I was drawn to was the slopes between the railroad tracks and Highway 58, where the yearly displays of Hilltop Daisies create huge splashes of bright yellow that literally can be seen for miles.
Virtually every year, these cheerful annuals make a welcome appearance on the hillsides on the north side of the Tehachapi Valley. Drought will mute these displays, but when we get spring rains, like this year, the hills erupt with lemon yellow flowers.
Hilltop Daisies (Monolopia lanceolata) can usually be seen on the large, rounded treeless hill that curves from the railroad all the way up to the east behind the post office. This ridge is called Cable Hill, and it is named for a railroad siding and the long-vanished small station that was once found there. The station name itself is still in use by the railroad, and today the location of Cable marks the start of the double tracking that extends to Mojave.
Cable Hill is mostly on Loop Ranch property, and you can often see cattle unhurriedly grazing their way across the slopes. The exact location and densities of the Hilltop Daisy colonies vary from year to year, but they are among our most dependable bloomers.
As I sat among the green grass and flowers, watching the Hilltop Daisies sway in the Tehachapi breeze, as migrating Painted Lady butterflies swirled by, everything felt natural and normal. Which is a less common sensation these days.
I have walked these same hills over many different years, in different decades. The first time was when I was a boy, still too young to drive. Then later as a teenager with his first car — a teenager who got a job writing and taking photos for the Tehachapi News. That life-changing event took place 40 years ago. In the ensuing years I have returned over and over to take photos, admire the view, and find perspective.
I cherish the seasonality, the repeating cycles of life outside in the Tehachapi Mountains. The annual return of sprawling patches of brilliant yellow Hilltop Daisies is one of the welcome events that bracket our year up here.
Hilltop Daisies get their name because they seem to prefer growing on slopes, but usually at somewhat lower elevations the late great Kern County botanist Ernest Twisselmann believed that the Tehachapi colonies were the altitude record for this plant.
Hilltop Daisies have grayish, somewhat woolly foliage, leading to the old common name Woolly Daisy. The plants are usually only about six inches to a foot tall, and no doubt in response to their typical windswept locations, the stalks are sturdy and bend only slightly in strong breezes
Their composite blossoms consist of six to nine ray flowers around the outside (typically referred to as "petals," though they aren't, technically). These paler yellow ray flowers each have three lobes on their outer edges. At the blossom's center are the small darker golden disk flowers. The outer ray flowers can sometimes fade to almost white as they age.
Monolopia is an annual and all the plants die out after several weeks of hot dry weather, so the entire future of the species is entrusted to the seeds that are left behind. In favorable years like this one, Hilltop Daisies and other annual wildflowers flourish and make as much seed as possible to last until the next conducive winter and spring.
For many species, a portion of their seeds can survive in the soil seed bank for more than 100 years if they need to. Not all available seeds germinate every year. Some hold back as an insurance policy for future years, using mechanisms that remain unknown.
Please be safe and maintain the social distancing that has largely kept the coronavirus at bay in the Tehachapi Mountains, but do try to get out this spring and walk or hike. Admire the wildflowers. Watch the butterflies. Savor spring, it doesn't last that long.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to email@example.com