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Observations of a Wild Iris missouriensis Meadow

wild Iris missouriensis Meadow, Mt. Pinos, Los Padres National Forest  Donnett Vanek ©
Wild Iris missouriensis Meadow, Mt. Pinos, Los Padres National Forest

This year was the 25th Anniversary of the Botanical Artists Guild of Southern California. We had several events that celebrated the Iris, the flower that represents a 25th anniversary. BAGSC had a trip to an iris grower, a workshop on how to paint this beautiful and complicated flower, as well as a 25th Anniversary celebration and art exhibition of the Iridaceae family. The celebration and art exhibition were held at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in the Brody Botanical Center. Coinciding with this celebration of the iris, has been my observations of a wild Iris missouriensis meadow that grows near my home in the Los Padres National Forest. As 2022 draws to a close, I would like to share with you my year long observations of this beautiful meadow.

California native Iris missouriensis meadow in the winter. Mt. Pinos, Los Padres National Forest - Donnett Vanek©
California native Iris missouriensis meadow; winter. Mt. Pinos, Los Padres National Forest - Donnett Vanek©

The beautiful California native Iris missouriensis meadow sits at an elevation of 8,360 ft at the Chula Vista Trailhead on Mt. Pinos. Iwihinmu'u, is the name of Mt. Pinos in the language of the Samala, who are Chumash Indians that occupied this land for generations. It is Liyikshup, the center of the world. The mountain summit has an elevation of 8,831ft.

I have been coming to this alpine wetland meadow for many years, it is an unexpected find so close to Los Angeles. This winter, I decided to visit the meadow to see what it was like after a recent snowstorm. Stepping out of the tall pines that surround the meadow, I noticed mounds of silvery dried long leaves of Iris missouriensis (Western Blue flag Iris) pushing through the snow. The mounds looked like small islands dotting the landscape of the snow covered meadow.

Iris missourinsis meadow in the snow.  Donnett Vanek©
Snowy meadow of Iris missouriensis. Donnett Vanek ©

The dried leaves of the Western Blue Flag Iris twist and turn around tall graceful dried stems of the flowers. The mounds that the leaves form are thick and dense, looking somewhat like a an intricate woven nest. The stems curve gently over, most likely weighted down by the recent snowstorm. At the end of the stems are the beautiful dried seedpods of the iris flowers that dotted the landscape the previous summer. Stepping into this landscape of silvers and white is like stepping into a black and white photograph. As I was observing this landscape, I knew that I wanted to use these iris mounds as a subject for a graphite drawing. It was also the beginning of my idea to come back every few weeks to observe and chronicle the seasons of this wonderful wild meadow of Iris missouriensis.

I visited the meadow several more times after the winter storm. At first glance the meadow showed no signs of spring when I visited in late April. However, when I looked closely I saw small shoots of Iris missouriensis starting to push through the mounds of dried leaves. The first signs of spring had arrived to the meadow!

First shoots sprouting through the dried mounds of Iris missouriensis. Donnett Vanek©
Early signs of Spring at the Iris missouriensis meadow. Donnett Vanek©

Since the iris had started to sprout I thought I might find other wildflowers near the meadow. However it was still a little too early in the season, and no other wildflowers were sprouting yet. There was one more sign of early spring in the meadow, and that was the Western Blue Birds. Their song could be heard throughout the meadow as they collected sticks for their nests. The blues of their feathers stood out in stark contrast to the browns and golds of the meadow.

I started returning weekly to the meadow. By now it was near the end of May, down in the basin of Los Angeles and the surrounding valleys, everything was in bloom. At the elevation of the meadow it takes a little longer for plants to come out of their dormancy. Finally, the meadow was showing signs of growth, and greenery was appearing throughout the underbrush of the mountain.

View of the Iris missouriensis meadow in May 2022. Donnett Vanek ©
Iris missouriensis meadow in May 2022. Donnett Vanek©

Standing on a knoll, overlooking the meadow I noticed some dry patches in the meadow. The meadow did not look as lush as it had in past years. I walked down to the meadow to look more closely and to see what plants were starting to fill in the meadow. The Iris missouriensis were getting taller, but buds had not started to show yet. Veratrum californicum, (Corn Lily) also grow in the meadow. The Corn Lily has large broad leaves and can grow up to 6ft in height with tall stalks of small greenish white flowers. Standing at the edge of the meadow it was apparent that the iris and lilies were not growing as thickly as in previous years. I could see more dirt and empty patches throughout the meadow.

There were a few other wildflowers starting to make an appearance around the Iris missouriensis meadow. Some of the wildflowers are quite small and can easily be overlooked when walking near the meadow. I did see some Erysimum capitatum (Douglas Wallflower), Viola pinetorum (Goosefoot yellow violet), Phacelia curvipes (Washoe Phacelia) and Colinsia torreyi (Torrey's Blue Eyed Mary's).