Some Stones Best Left Unturned? ... And a Clutch of Clarkias

A couple weeks ago, I was preparing a small bed near the swimming pool in the "back yard" for some native California annuals. I lifted a stepping stone the better to weed thereabout, only to find it was doubling as a roof for the home of a rather surprised Coast Mountain Kingsnake, which is a subspecies of the more widely distributed California Kingsnake.

Formally known as Lampropeltis zonata multfasciata, not that I'll remember that. Plants are bad enough. Still it's fun to know what the Latin means, so for those interested:
Lampropeltis - Greek - lampros - shiny and pelta - shield - referring to the smooth, shiny dorsal scales characteristic of this genus zonata - Greek - zonata - banded - refers to the black banding multifasciata - Latin - multi - many and fasciata - bundled, banded - refers to the banded dorsal pattern
Quoted from the same site I linked to above. Lampropeltis - shiny shield. I'll remember that now. For a while. Or maybe bright shield. I like that better - more Beowulfian.

I wonder if this is the same critter I saw in the "front yard" - near a large boulder - a few days or weeks earlier.

They are considered non poisonous and eat: lizards, small mammals, nestling birds, bird eggs, amphibians, and occasionally snakes, including its own species.

Hm. Well, they don't harm humans anyway, and plenty of lizards skittering around here to keep a snake or two fat and happy. Hopefully he - or she - can also eat whatever made all the the tunnels my trowel revealed as I was digging planting holes. Ever the optimist, I just squished the tunnels in, thanking the critters for aerating my soil and politely asked them to leave now. (I was actually just too lazy to put chicken wire down and entertained wishful thoughts that the annuals wouldn't be too tasty.)

The snake wasn't particularly startled and stayed there, looking at me. You can see a tiny head poking out of the hole beside the body at the top end. I'm amazed at how sharply the snake can bend its body. My daughter just informed me (via IM from the UK) that when she was taught how to handle snakes, it was with a Kingsnake.

I carefully lowered the stone again and haven't moved it since. I don't know if the snake is still down there but I've been thinking of him - or her - in that dark narrow space - whenever I give the flowers a bit of water, keeping the roots moist till they can start to grow into their new home.

They don't look like much yet. It's wet and foggy right now but I took a quick snap to show you.

I hope to show a more impressive picture later on! The photos on Google (see below) show masses of flowers. BTW all around are non-natives - sages and some ornamentals I forget the names of. The pool garden is the first area I planted and I didn't have a clue back then. I'm hoping to do some replanting in the Fall. But I'm reluctant to take out healthy non-invasive plants that are doing OK. The hummingbirds love them. And there is a garden ornament hiding in the foliage near the fence- a shiny pottery fawn that was left behind by the former owners. Not something I would buy, but since it's been there for so long, I like to keep it lurking about.

I obtained the annuals at the CNPS sale. I bought a couple, then as they weren't selling very well, the volunteers got to take some freebies home. Perks! Yay!

I planted two of each of the following (Some photos from, some from and others I forget. Sorry! The pictures are in a MS Word table I keep of the plants I get and their growing conditions etc):

Clarkia rubicunda blasdalei “Ruby Chalice Clarkia” - dark red - Self sows strongly. Grasslands. Make a patch. Bees. Easy. Found locally:

C. lewisii - Blue - Rare and endangered. Could be local:

C. speciosa immaculata - purple-red - Rare and endangered. Could be local:

C. unguiculata - Pink-red-purple - An annual with slender petaled pink flowers up a 2-3' stem. Not showy unless massed. Useful on north or east slopes up to and under oaks and pines. Easy to grow (text from Found locally:

Camissonia bistorta - Lemon yellow - Not local - from Southern California:

All of them take moderate water and like sun. C. Lewisii is sun to part shade.

I also got four four-inch pots of meadow foam, Limnanthes douglasii, which also grows locally. But it is a wetlands plant and I'm not sure where to put it yet. Under a hosebib I think!

So my project is to gather seeds from all but the camissonia bistorta - especially from the rare ones - and see if I can naturalize them here, and in time, offer seeds to neighbors as little gifts and scatter some along the road.

I've also been collecting some different kinds of lupine seeds locally (and trying to identify the species without great success). I'm keeping my eye on the native Douglas Iris as well, waiting for some seedpods to snap up. I hope to propagate indigenous natives and get them into the native habitat hereabouts. We'll see!


Gail said…
Where shall I start there was so much deliciousness in your post! Love the's good to know they are in the gardens doing their jobs. I know they are here but I never manage to see them...maybe that is good, there are poisonous ones, too! The clarkias are gorgeous..ahh, so many lovely plants and those California natives would be oh so unhappy here! Be easy on yourself...there are many non-native but friendly exotics that don't negatively impact our eco-systems. I do understand completely;)

Tatyana said…
After reading your post, I don't think I'm going to turn any stones in my garden for a while! We have only garden snakes in my yard, but who knows... Flowers are very attractive, but Clarkia is my favorite. I remember our NW garden guru, Ed Hume, praised it when talked to us while we were touring his garden.
BTW, thank you - that ugly Google ad disappeared and I think it happened with your post' help!
I love the colors of the snake, and yes, they way they can bend is amazing. I also love Clarkia. I've winter-sown both Clarkia amoena and Clarkia speciosa, and didn't realize there were so many more types!
I saw a king snake (at least that is what I am told it is) at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. A parent accompanying a school field trip found it in the grassy meadow. She handled it with ease. I posted the pictures of it on the wildlife gardens forum ( Interestingly, it doesn't look like your snake. Guess it is just a different king snake - I don't know much about this. I wish I'd find one under a rock in my garden! Lucky you!
Just checked out your link to California reptiles and amphibians and now I see the difference between the Mountain kingsnake and Calif. kingsnake. Also, lots of variability in coloration. Very interesting!
lostlandscape said…
Even though I want to move to many more native sin the garden, I have the same reluctance you do with replacing non-native plants that are doing well and keeping the hummingbirds happy. Mostly I tend to leave them until they look like they've reached the end of their lives.

The clarkias are awfully gratifying plants. I have a seed-grown patch of the same rubicunda you planted, and they're just hitting their peak. You'll probably have more than two next year from this year's seeds.
ryan said…
Beautiful snake.
We've been growing a lot of meadow foam this year and just posted some of our glut of photos. It doesn't seem to need all that much extra water, but it likes some added compost. It comes back most thickly in our vegi garden, near our blueberries, and around our citrus tree, all areas which have nice loose soil.