It doesn’t get any better than being able to see the plants that you cultivate in their native habitat. Why? Because no matter how hard you try, you can never fully recreate in your garden what Mother Nature does on her own. Or do you really believe you can do in a few short years what evolution has spent millions of years doing? I know I might upset a few of my California native plant lover readers, but to me there just are not a lot of local native plants that get me excited. I guess I have become snobbish from all my travels. However, there are some plants I make an effort to head out and see here in SoCal, including a few succulents. Last week I had the opportunity to combine two of my favorite hobbies: rock climbing and viewing plants in habitat. The goal? To see Dudleya edulis and not take any large falls.
El Cajon Mountain is located in the Cuyamaca Mountains and is the most prominent natural landmark in the East County of San Diego. El Cajon Mountain tops out at 3,648 feet above sea level. Something interesting for hikers is that it is listed as the 1,955th most prominent peak in the world. Compared to Mount Kinabalu, which is 20th in the world, that isn’t all too impressive. Still, it is well known for being one of the most difficult local hikes around San Diego. It is an 11-mile round trip with 3,750 feet of elevation gain. Most people can do the whole thing in 5-6 hours.
What most hikers might not know is that the same mountain they trek to the top of also features a popular rock climbing destination to the southern face or crag. Known as El Capitan or El Cap to climbers, it offers about 50 sport climbing routes (many multi-pitch) on outstanding granite with open views all the way to the ocean. The wide range of bolted and traditional routes have grades covering 5.6 to 5.11. The approach to get to the climbing locations involves a 2-mile hike with a gain of 1,800 vertical feet. So you are warmed up by the time you get there. Here is El Cajon Mountain (peak on the right) from about halfway up the hike.
Any plant lovers still reading? Since this is a plant blog, let’s get with it. The hike up offered a chance to see a few common San Diego native succulents. The Chaparral Yucca (Hesperoyucca whipplei) looked really happy thanks to all the rain we have received this year.
A Chaparral Yucca found almost at the base of El Cajon Mountain.
My climbing buddy snapped this photo of me setting up the last shot. This photo shows how nice the rock is and why this is a popular climbing spot.
Thanks to some rain a few days earlier, we had to cross a mountain steam. This is actually a pretty big deal here in SoCal.
A Coastal Prickly Pear (Opuntia littoralis) growing right in the cracks of the rock next to the seasonal stream. It felt odd looking at Coastal Prickly Pear growing right next to running water.
Even though it is still early in the season, rattlesnakes can be out anytime of the year when it is warm. We almost stepped on this little guy as he was so well camouflaged with the rock in the trail. This is a Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii).
Almost to our destination, we found our first Dudleya edulis. It turned out to be the nicest of the ones we would see all day.
Looking closer you can see how Dudleya edulis received its common name of “Lady Fingers.” This one was nicely colored up thanks to the winter sun and extra rain we have received. We were fortunate to find a show-quality plant so fast.
Dudleya edulis is not very common in cultivation, mainly because it is not all that attractive of a plant year round. Right now it is prime growing season for Lady Fingers and soon they will begin to flower. Once flowering is complete, they go dormant and shrivel up. So when I say the plant above is “show quality,” it really is for this species.
Time to start climbing. The route below was called “Left Longing” and it is a two-pitch 5.9 climb. A great route for a mediocre climber like myself.
Once at our belay station for our two-pitch climb, you could look up the peak and see Dudleya edulis defying gravity and growing right along the rock wall. Some holding on to nothing more then a small crack in the granite. All the pictures found in this blog post were done using iPhones. So I apologize for the quality. But if you look closely in these two photos, you will find 5-6 Dudleya edulis in each.
Dudleya edulis is native to the rocky slopes of coastal Southern California and Northern Baja California. While it is not as endangered as many of the local, native Dudleya species, it is threatened. Habitat loss is the biggest culprit. High up in these cliffs provides the perfect location for Dudleya edulis to grow. They are protected from fires and the difficult access keeps grazers away. There isn’t a deer or rabbit in the world that can reach this Dudleya edulis below. The plant in the second photo can be found about 1/3 of the way down and in the center of the photo with my friend for scale.
You can see from the photo below that we were already up pretty high up.
One thing that might stand out in many of the photographs of Dudleya edulis in this blog post is that they are usually found growing alongside an unknown bryophyte. So where you find patches of these bryophytes, you almost always had a Dudleya edulis growing with it.
Here are two photos showing this relationship up close.
It took some effort to get to that Dudleya edulis shown above. My buddy snapped this photo of me rappelling down the cliff and taking the photos of the plants above. The wind was ripping and I was hoping my dexterity didn’t fail me, causing me to drop my iPhone. Next time I will bring my GoPro!
Of course you don’t have to go to these lengths to see Dudleya edulis in habitat. The easiest way to see this species is to hike around Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. There you will find them growing in larger clumps right along the ocean cliffs. Torrey Pines is beautiful, but you won’t get an expansive view like this. It really is amazing how green the hills are right now in San Diego County. The plants are healthy, so get outdoors and explore.