The Wildflowers of the Mendocino College Pond by Mimi Ellis


Our group, Starfish Gallactica, chose the pond on the grounds of Mendocino College as our ecosystem to observe and write about at the end of the semester. We chose this ecosystem in particular because of its beauty and accessibility. We divided our ecosystem into four parts, each an individual focus for each group member. The ecosystem was subdivided into: wildflowers, water plants, trees and birds. My focus is on wildflowers, which the pond offers in abundance. I did my best to always observe the same locations every time, and then I divided my wildflower observations into two categories, spring and winter. I chose the most common wildflowers to observe and write about, mostly because they were there nearly every time I went to our site, and therefore their seasonal changes could be observed. For my paper I grouped all of my observations together rather then keep them divided by seasons.
During my visits from March through May I observed blue-eyed grass, a small purple/blue flower with yellow sepals that’s related to the iris family. The individual flowers grow singly on long stems. I also observed stickseed, dark blue flowers in the forget-me-not family. These small flowers grow in clusters with several flowers on each stalk. I observed common monkey flower, yellow flowers that look like snap dragons except that there’s only one flower per stalk. About 10 ft. from the pond there were a couple of black-eyed susan in March, but they were dry and on their way out. Unfortunately, new flowers did not come up, but in my paper I described the fuzzy stems that were still there. I also described what the flower would look in spring (bright yellow petals around a brown center). In the same area there were brewer’s lupine and yellow bush lupine, plants that are very similar and obviously related, except that brewer’s lupine has blue/purple flowers with white insides and the yellow bush lupine are yellow. Both plants have long stems with the flowers growing in clusters on top. A few feet back towards the pond were a group of California poppies that I observed. These bright orange or yellow flowers are the state flower for California and have petals in a bowl shape on top of a long stem. Moving closer still to the pond were a patch of creeping wood sorrel, a plant that grows low to the ground with small yellow flowers among leaves that look like clover. Close by but further west was a patch of small, white milkmaids, flowers that grow in bunches with tiny, thin stems. All of these flowers were identified using Pacific States Wildflowers by T.F. Niehaus and C.L. Ripper. All pictures were taken by me except the stickseed, common monkey flower, milkmaid and creeping wood sorrel, which I downloaded from, because I just couldn’t seem to get decent pictures of these particular flowers.


My group, Starfish Gallactica, chose the pond at Mendocino College (down the hill, south of the library) as our ecosystem because of its beauty and accessibility. With every visit I am no less in awe of the tranquility and beauty of the area. I really enjoy settling into the tall grass above the pond and listening to the chirping of the crickets and calls of the various birds in the area. In the grass I am surrounded by wildflowers of many sizes and colors. Blue-Eyed Grass, Stickseed, Spring Vetch, and Milkmaids are within easy reach. I have had the privilege of watching them grow, bloom and change over my visits during winter and spring. During most of my visits I spend time in the shorter grass close to the pond and then move further back into the taller grass where I find Brewer’s Lupine, Yellow Bush Lupine, Spring Vetch and California Poppies among the Oak and Manzanita trees. My experiment process was to observe and photograph the wildflowers in winter and then observe and photograph the same locations again in the spring and note any changes. When I began watching the ecosystem there were very few wildflowers in bloom but by spring the area around the pond had transformed.


A detailed list of the flowers I focused on:

1. Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)- Iridaceae
What looks like six equal petals are really three sepals alternating with three petals-they just happen to be alike in color and texture. In other irises, the three sepals spread outward and are called falls. The three "real" petals, which are more robust, are called standards. The fall is a sepal and not a petal. Typically, sepals are green and look much like modified leaves. In most irises, however, the sepals are highly modified and look like petals.
1. Blue/purple with yellow sepals
(called “falls”)
2. Related to the Iris family
2. Small, individual flowers
3. Specimens I observed are growing
in the grass about 10 feet from the pond

2. Stickseed (Hackelia velutina) – Boraginaceae
Flowers in the Borage or Forget-me-not family are often delicate and showy. The petals are united at the base to form a short tube with five free lobes that spread widely. The appendages arising from the base of each petal create a pattern which looks like a flower within a flower. The 4-lobed ovary which houses developing seeds and the pollen-producing stamens are located deep in the flower tube hidden from view.
1. Dark blue with white centers
2. Small flowers in a cluster
3. Several clusters on each stalk
4. I observed many stickseed plants scattered throughout the field around the pond

3. Common Monkey Flower (Mimulus guttatus)-Scrophulariaceae
The Common Monkey Flower can be found along man-made habitats, wet ditches and seepage areas. The flowers of this species superficially look like snapdragons which are in the same family. When the habitat of the Monkey Flower dries out, the plants become a mass of brown hollow stems. With the onset of the rainy season, new growth is generated by seed or from underground stems or rhizomes.
1. yellow, snap-dragon like flowers
2. one flower per stalk
3. stalks far apart
4. scattered sparsely through out grass

4. Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)-Asteraceae
The Black-Eyed Susan is an annual and the most common of all North American wildflowers. The flower’s head is star-shaped with many long petals. The stems are long, growing up to 1-2 ft. in height. This plant thrives in sunshine (optimum soil temp: 70F).
1. In spring it has a bright yellow flower with a brown center.
2. One flower per stalk
3. Fuzzy stem and leaves

5. Milkmaid (Cardamine californica)
Also Dentaria californica. Milkmaids is a flowering plant in the family Brassicaceae, native to California. It is common on shady slopes in the winter and early spring. It is an herbaceous perennial plant growing to about 1 ft tall. The flowers are produced on a spike, each flower about 1/2 inch in diameter with four white petals.
1. Small, white flowers
2. Long stems with several leaves (3-6)
3. Grows in bunches
4. surrounded by grass growing around
the pond

6. Creeping Wood Sorrel (Oxalis corniculata) – Oxalidaceae
This small, dark yellow flower has 5 petals of equal size, resembling a pinwheel. The leaves grow low along the ground and look like clover (they’re also edible). In yards these flowers are regarded as invasive weeds. The seeds are forcefully ejected from the center of the plant.
1. small, yellow flowers
2. plant grows low to the ground
3. leaves look like clover
4. found in grass a few feet from the pond

7. Brewer’s Lupine (Lupinus breweri) – Leguminoseae
These flowers grow in a cluster at the top of the stem and are bright blue with white centers. The flower petals themselves are pod-like, with a rounded top and bottom. The leaves are covered with tiny hairs and have 6-7 “fingers”. The stems are long-2-12 inches high.
1. small purple/white flowers
2. flowers have a round top and bottom
3. grow in clusters
4. grow in abundance a long roadsides
5. Found in the fields surrounding the pond

8. Yellow Bush Lupine (Lupinus arboreus)
This plant has linear seed pods and large, “spikey” leaves. The flowers are tiny and yellow. There are several clusters of flowers (usually 3 flowers per cluster) on each stem. The plants can grow fairly tall (up to 3 ft) and are very common in dry fields and along roadsides.
1. tiny yellow flowers
2. several flower groups on each stem
3. very tall stems
4. leaves are large and jagged
5. Found scattered through the grass around the pond

9. California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) – Papaveraceae
State flower of California. Their color ranges from yellow to orange and flowering is from February to September. The fruit is a slender dehiscent capsule 3-9 cm long, which splits in two to release the numerous small black or dark brown seeds. The petals form a bowl-shape. Each stem has only one flower on top. The leaves are lacy and large.
1. Bright orange/yellow flowers
2. The four petals grow in a bowl shape
3. Long stems (up to 2 ft) with a single
flower on top
4. Found scattered throughout the fields
around the pond.

Further Discussion

One of the articles that I selected provided insight into the reproductive habits and artificial reproduction of select populations of Milkmaids in Golden Gate Park. From this article I learned that Milkmaids (Cardamine californica) are wildflowers native to California and Oregon. These small, white flowers grow in clusters are one of the earliest spring blooms, blooming Jan. through May, and range in height from 8 to 27 in. There are “one to three rhizomal leaves with 3 leaflets, which are elliptic to round and taper at the base” (Ariyoshi, 2006). I also learned that milkmaids also have “cauline leaves which have 3 lobes or leaflets” (Ariyoshi, 2006). The petals close in the late afternoon to protect the pollen inside.
From another article titled Where the Wildflowers are – Spring’s Downpours Should Bring Stunning Displays, I learned that with all of this past winter’s late rains the wildflowers, though late blooming, are in abundance this spring. I have noticed that the Lupine’s and Hounds-Tongue are everywhere lately. In the field surrounding our ecosystem at Mendocino College the Lupine is so abundant that the field has developed into a light shade of purple. The California poppies have also come out strong, adding bright orange to the roadsides and open fields. The third article that I chose, Poppies Still Putting California in a Golden State, is about how California poppies are a living history of California. According to the article, in 1890 the California State Floral Society recommended the California poppy for our state’s flower but it took until 1903 for the flower to be officially recognized as such (Christman, 2003). The article provided an explanation as to why poppies seem to thrive in uncommon places (highway medians and serpentine hillsides, for example): poppy seeds can lay dormant for years and wait for better growing conditions. The flower can also flourish in difficult places because the seeds are hardy and in fact, prefer locations where the soil has been disturbed.
Prior to this ecosystem project, I was aware of the wildflowers in our area, but I had never taken the time to learn their names and characteristics. I could now pick out the beautiful blue, white and purple lupines, the bright orange and yellow poppies, and the pale yellow monkey-flowers as I’m driving along the highway. I now know that Mendocino College boasts an abundance of blue-eyed grass in purple and blue, and happy yellow lupines along side the usual blues and purples. Above all, this project allowed me to get outside and enjoy the incredible scenery around me that I had previously taken for granted.

Literature Cited

1. Niehaus, T.F. and C.L. Ripper. 1976. Pacific States Wildflowers. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston.
2. Ariyoshi, Kazuki. (2006). Hand Pollination of Cardamine Californica Improves Seed Set. [Electronic version]. Native Plants Journal, 7(3), 248-252.
3. Boatman, Kim. (2006, April 19). Where the Wildflowers Are - Spring’s Downpours Should Bring Stunning Displays. [Electronic version]. The Mercury News Online,
4. Christman, Laura. (2003, April 19). Poppies Still Putting California in a Golden State. The Oakland Tribune. Retrieved May 5, 2007, from database.
5. www. Pictures retrieved at various times, 2007.