With May of 2019 firmly established as Tehachapi's wettest May on record (in 120 years of weather data) with 3.09 inches of rain, it was not unexpected that some later spring wildflowers would do especially well this year. This was true of Golden Stars (Bloomeria crocea).
These surprising wildflowers consist of big, airy yellow pompoms about the size of an orange that rise from a long slender stalk and may reach 14 inches tall. Each of these globe-like flower heads consists of small loosely-spaced yellow flowers with six narrow petals. A single long, trailing leaf appears on the ground at the base of each stem.
Golden Stars appear as spring has begun to fade and most of the earlier wildflowers have already disappeared and are making seed. Golden Stars rise up out of the grasses and other vegetation to make their cheerful appearance.
The Tehachapi area is home to what are known as Mountain Golden Stars (Bloomeria crocea var. montana), which were first collected near the town of Tehachapi in 1884 by pioneering California botanist Katherine Layne Curran.
Botanists were among the earliest scientists to survey some of the most out-of-the-way parts of California, and Katherine Layne Curran would travel the state by horseback, buggy, train and on foot collecting and pressing plant specimens. She collected the first recorded samples of many indigenous California species, several of them in the Tehachapi Mountains.
Golden Stars belong to the group of more than 200 California bulbs that sleep hidden and forgotten beneath the soil, and then appear (typically in spring) when conditions are right. While they are referred to generically as "bulbs," this group actually consists of true bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes.
True bulbs, like onions, tulips and daffodils, have layers of compressed fleshy leaf scales around the growing part of the plant at the center. True bulbs are round or globular and tend to get slowly bigger each year. Corms are similar underground storage structures, but they tend to be flatter and the original corm dies out, and is replaced a new one. Golden Stars are an example of a corm.
The Nuwä Indian people of the Tehachapi Mountains refer to Golden Stars as müre'egadubä, pronounced muh-reh-eh-ga-DUB-uh. It means "with a blanket" and refers to the fibrous coating covering the outside of the corms. The Nuwä and other Native Californians harvested Golden Stars and other corms and ate them. They also removed the outer fibers and mashed the corms, using the sticky adhesive that resulted to seal the interstices of seed gathering baskets.
Mountain Golden Stars tend to be found in heavier clay soils, in grasslands and sunny places in our oak woodlands and pinyon-juniper woodlands. The corms lay buried as much as a foot deep in the soil, and they spend most of the year invisible and forgotten.
Then as spring is fading and vegetation is drying out, the lovely Golden Stars make their unlikely appearance and brighten our landscape for a few weeks before disappearing again. Their Phoenix-like reappearance each year is a welcome sight.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to email@example.com.