Pine Hill Preserve is located on a small area of the Sierra Nevada foothills where gabbro rocks that formed deep below the ocean floor have been pushed up to the surface by the collision of plates that formed the Sierra Nevadas. Gabbro rocks contain high levels of iron, magnesium, and other heavy metals, so the soil in this area (created mostly from broken down, decomposed gabbro rocks) is also unusually high in these metals. Most plants are poisoned by the high levels of these heavy metals, so some unusual plant species have evolved to grow only in these soils and nowhere else. The California Bureau of Land Management established the Pine Hill Preserve to protect eight exceptionally rare species of plants, including three species that grow exclusively in the Pine Hill area and four species listed as endangered (plus one listed as threatened) under the Federal Endangered Species Act.
I wanted to see Pine Hill because of the rare native plants, and I thought a trip there would intersect reasonably well with Susan's interest in geology, too. So I signed us up for a guided tour, with a group of about 20 people. Here is the whole group near the start of the hike, with Susan standing nearest to the camera.
One of the first native plants we saw was balsam root (Balsamorhiza deltoidea), which had leaves so much larger than most native plants here do, and grew in such a neatly delineated circle around the base of some blue oaks, that it looked for all the world like a garden plant that someone had inexplicably planted in the middle of the wilderness. Its yellow daisy-like flowers could easily fit into a garden too.
Here's some more of the same plant that we saw later on the trail, this time growing under a young yellow pine. There's also a Western redbud tree to the right.
Not much farther on was a giant chain fern (Woodwardia fimbriata). It was little and turning yellow for the summer (a lot of our native plants go deciduous in summer), but I was surprised to see one at all in such a dry, sunny spot. These can grow to be six feet tall in redwood forests or on stream banks, but this one was only about eight inches tall.
Here is a California buckeye tree (Aesculus californica). A week or two ago, the flower spikes would have been gorgeous, but at this point the white flowers have fallen off and all you can see are the brownish flower-like spikes where the flowers used to me. By the end of June, the leaves will be turning brown and falling off too, because this tree goes deciduous in both summer and winter. It has green leaves only for a short period in the spring.
This is a large-leaved lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus), which will have at least one gorgeous purple flower spike a few weeks from now, but for now it's only a spike of green buds (on the left). The plant to its left is poison oak.
We saw many fairy lanterns (Calochortus albus) all along the way. This one is growing with more large-leaved lupine and some sanicle.
The arching plant in the middle here is bedstraw (Galium bolanderi) . . .
. . . and the tiny, pale yellow, sphere-shaped flowers here are a different kind of bedstraw, the first of the rare plants we saw. This is El Dorado bedstraw (Galium californicum ssp. sierrae), which grows exclusively on gabbro soils in western El Dorado county and is listed as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act. (There's also another fairy lantern growing in front of the rock, and a purple iris behind the rock. The large shrub leaves to the left are toyon.)
Through an opening between two black oaks (Quercus kelloggii), I caught a view of the Sierra Nevadas. As you can see, we were not really in them at all, but merely in the foothills below them. The shrubs beneath the black oak on the right are toyon again (Heteromeles arbutifolia).
On the other side of the path was a manzanita, growing under more black oaks.
Here is a huge yellow pine (Pinus ponderosa var. benthamiana), with its trunk pecked completely full of holes by woodpeckers.
Next we saw woolly sunflowers (Eriophyllum lanatum var. grandiflorum). They are growing with foxtails, needlegrasses, vetch, some dead toyon and manzanita branches, and a purple twining brodiaea in the background.
Here is Susan again, looking at a spectacular specimen of California wild lilac (Ceanothus lemmonii). These were all over the place above a certain point on the hill, but completely nonexistent below that point. All of them were covered with blue flowers (except for one that was covered with white flowers instead). There's also some toyon to the left, and a young yellow pine behind Susan's head.
Have some more Ceanothus lemmonii. I can't get enough of it.
See? More Ceanothus lemmonii. Here it's growing with manzanitas and Western redbuds (lower left) and toyon (lower right), under yellow pines and black oaks.
The protruding branch is from a coffeeberry shrub (Rhamnus californica). I'm not actually sure what the yellow flowers are.
A little farther on, we found some small purple larkspurs among dead black oak leaves.
Here's another rare plant: El Dorado mule ears (Wyethia reticulata). It grows only in the gabbro soils of western El Dorado County. If we had come at the right time of year, it would have had three-inch yellow sunflowers on it.
We also saw the common mule ears (Wyethia bolanderi), which did have a few half-open yellow flowers on it.
Our next rare plant was Pine Hill flannelbush (Fremontodendron californicum ssp. decumbens), which grows exclusively in the immediate vicinity of Pine Hill and is listed as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act. It was blooming with gorgeous bright orange flowers, and most instances of it were growing flat on the ground. This one is growing flat beneath toyon.
Here's a closeup.
This area had some meadow-like openings where people who own houses on Pine Hill had chopped down some of the trees. There's a gray pine (Pinus sabiniana) in the center, with mostly yellow pines in the background, manzanitas in the foreground, and some Western redbud trees on the right.
The rare plants were all over the place by this point on the hill. The next one we saw was Pine Hill wild lilac (Ceanothus roderickii), which grows only on gabbro soils in western El Dorado County and is listed as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act. This is a prostrate Ceanothus, with white flowers that had mostly finished their blooming season already.
Here's more of the same plant. You can see some of its remaining white flowers here. It's growing under a holly-leaf redberry (Rhamnus ilicifolia) and a Western redbud tree, with a yellow pine visible a little way back.
This is a slightly less prostrate Pine Hill flannelbush, growing under a manzanita. There's also Ceanothus lemmonii on both sides of it, toyon to the left, coffeeberry to the right, and a young yellow pine in front.
Here are the bright red seedpods of a Western redbud tree (Cercis occidentalis).
Here's another shot from nearby. The trees are black oaks and yellow pines. The shrubs are toyon on the left, manzanitas all over the place, and a small coffeeberry next to the yellow woolly sunflowers.
This is someone's front yard. The sedge-like plants on the ground, with the long, stringy leaves flopping out from their centers, are common soap root (Chlorogalum pomeridianum). The larger plants around it are toyon, yellow pines, and black oaks.
Later, at the top of the hill, we would find its rarer cousin, Red Hills soap root (Chlorogalum grandiflorum). It's not the most obvious plant in the picture below (I'm pretty sure those are creeping sage, although they have no flower spikes at the moment), but rather the few small, shriveled-looking long leaves near the lower left corner.
This is common yarrow (Achillea millefolium).
Here's another view of the mountains through the trees. The plants are pretty much the same: yellow pines, black oaks, toyon, and some Ceanothus lemmonii.
More Ceanothus lemmonii! The blue flowers are a little bit easier to see here than in the picture immediately above. The yellow flowers mixed in with it are mule ears. Also visible are toyon, coffeeberry, manzanitas, yellow pines, and black oaks.
This is a wild aster, with Ceanothus lemmonii.
This pink-flowering plant is checker mallow (Sidalcea malviflora).
Ceanothus lemmonii again! Told you I couldn't get enough of it. Both the shrubs and the tree on the left here are Western redbud. The shrub on the right is toyon, and the trees are black oak and gray pine.
By this point, we were nearly at the top of the hill. We found some virgin's bower (Clematis lasiantha) with fluffy seed heads, twining through toyon and poison oak.
This Ceanothus lemmonii came in two colors - a white form in addition to the more common blue form.
Some pitcher sage (Lepechinia calycina) was growing between them. Most of the leaves you can see in the picture below are from the pitcher sage.
Here's Ceanothus lemmonii with Indian paintbrush and a young yellow pine.
The bright red-orange flowers are Indian paintbrush.
Ceanothus lemmonii again, with toyon on the left, coffeeberry on the right, Indian paintbrush in the middle, and black oak, Western redbud, and gray pine above.
Here's some chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) in the middle, with Ceanothus lemmonii on each side and poison oak and coffeeberry above.
We were high enough up now to have great views of the land below us.
Including a view of Folsom Lake, visible on the skyline to the left.
Here's all of Folsom Lake.
Near the top of the hill, we found creeping sage (Salvia sonomensis). It wasn't in bloom yet, but it had plenty of green bracts on its flower spikes, just waiting for the flowers.
Here's some more creeping sage. It's the low plant with the spikes of round green bracts. It's growing in front of chamise, Ceanothus lemmonii, manzanitas, and coffeeberry.
The yellow flowers here are sticky monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus). There's some poison oak and Ceanothus lemmonii growing directly at its base, and more of both in the background, along with coffeeberry, Indian paintbrush, and chamise.
Here's a closeup of the monkeyflower, with poison oak on the left and Indian paintbrush on the right.
This is a small yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum) with manzanita behind it to the left.
Up here we found some more of the endangered Pine Hill Ceanothus (Ceanothus roderickii), which grows prostrate and has white flowers. The flowers on this one have been replaced by a million tiny orange fruits. The Western redbuds and manzanita growing up through the middle of it (along with numerous grasses) will eventually shade it out and kill it.
And this here is another magnificent endangered Pine Hill flannelbush, next to a cell phone tower.
We reached the very top of Pine Hill, which afforded us more beautiful views of Folsom Lake. The soil here is red because of the high iron content in the gabbro rocks it's derived from.
There were California golden poppies (Eschscholzia californica) on top of the hill.
And cell phone towers galore. And a little dog on the path, who followed us all up and down the hill.
And another endangered Pine Hill flannelbush.
And gorgeous views.
Of Folsom Lake, again. Pretty much all the shrubs in this picture are chamise.
There was a rock outcropping with an interesting variety of ferns. This one is probably goldenback fern (Pityrogramma triangularis), hiding under a protruding rock. The leaves on the left are poison oak.
The little one here is bird's foot fern (Pellaea mucronata).
I don't actually know what this one is. The botanist leading the hike couldn't identify it.
Here's some more of the view.
Then we walked back down the hill. I took one last picture of Susan on the way down, before we ate lunch at the bottom of the hill and drove back to my apartment.