Hillsides covered in blooming chamise

Blossoms of chamise, tiny but exquisite
I live among a patchwork of plant communities: redwood, mixed-evergreen-forest, and chaparral covered slopes. With vineyards, orchards, corrals, homes, and gardens mixed in.

Right now the chaparral slopes are highlighted like one of those museum displays where you push the button to light up something on a map.
Chamise-chaparral slope near my home. It is facing south, and you can see a north-facing slope in the distance, covered by mixed evergreen forest

That's because all the south-facing slopes are covered in a pale cream sheen of chaparral blossoms. In the Santa Cruz Mountains, they blossom in May.

The type of chaparral we have here is known as chamise chaparral. It's the most common type of chaparral in California. As you might guess, the main component of this type of chaparral is chamise, Adenostoma fasciculatum.

Lots of other chaparral shrubs and small trees make up the mix, like manzanita, toyon, coyote bush, coffee-berry, and more. At this time of year, though, you wouldn't know it.

I recommend a set of gorgeous chamise photos by Pete Veilleux, which you can view here: Adenostoma fasciculatum - Chamise.

Pretty as it is, I have mixed feelings about chamise, which is also known as "grease-wood."

That's because of its known high flammability, combined with its proximity to my home, and other homes in these here hills.

In fact chamiso is Spanish for firewood!

So every couple of years, when I do my summer chaparral thinning and dead-wood removal tasks, I single out the chamise for coppicing. Chamise is a stump (or burl) sprouter, so I'm not killing it. Its roots  stabilize the slope. And I also enjoy its fresh green growth -- which in May is covered with wonderful tiny creamy flowers that the bees feast upon.

Maybe I should do as the Native Americans did -- use the tough hardwood that I cut for making tools. Native people made clam-gathering sticks, arrow shafts, digging and reaming tools from the wood. * I wonder what I could make from it?

The Latin species name, fasciculatum, was given because the needle like leaves sprout in bundles, or fascicles. 
And as Bert Wilson at Las Pilitas Nursery's fire page says, if you water lightly throughout the summer, every two weeks or so, the plants absorb enough water to significantly reduce their flammability.

Besides, it wouldn't be much of a chamise chaparral without any chamise, now, would it?

* Plants of San Luis Obispo, Matt Ritter. Kendall/Hunt, 2006.


Queer by Choice said…
I've been looking for years for somewhere to buy chamise, and it doesn't seem to be available for sale anywhere. I suppose this is because the people in the foothills have more of it than they want and have a hard time imagining anyone wanting to pay for it. However, flammability isn't a significant concern for me living in town. I suppose I could collect seeds from the wild, but what I'd really prefer to find is a prostrate cultivar of chamise that I've heard about. Although I've heard about it, I haven't been able to find it available anywhere.
Country Mouse said…
Hay, QBC, long time no visit - I'll drop by after this... You might try Pete Veilleux who seems to enjoy a wide range of plants and likes a challenge. Central Coast Wilds here in SC - they're a restoration nursery - has quite a few at the moment, but not the trailing kind. See this page: http://www.centralcoastwilds.com/PAL/plant.php?path=8. I can imagine trailing would be pretty neat, that lovely gnarly wood crawling along the ground. I didn't take pictures of the woody stems/trunks -- or talk about what it was like before we thinned the chaparral near the house the first time - I should have though - those trunks go for easily 15-20 feet horizontally, but up to 6 feet off the ground - making an impenetrable tough network, with the other shrubs esp the coyote brush.
Jason said…
Never heard of chamise, it is lovely. Your coppicing sounds like a good management approach.
I wonder if it would be happy here? I never see it here, even though I'm only a ridge or two over from you, so perhaps we're a little too shaded for it.
Country Mouse said…
CVF, it could be to do with the soil too. We are on Purisima formation here and you've said you're on Santa Cruz Mudstone I think? Our varied geology here has a huge impact, as well as aspect - only grows on open southern aspects. That being said, no harm trying. I know central coast wilds has some right now. I could give you cuttings to be sure! I've never tried actually making it grow ;-) -- I have the same issues here - half a mile away on an east facing and west facing slope I see Artemisia, and we have zilch here. Still, I took some material to make cuttings - we'll see...

Jason - you'll have to go hiking along the California coastal areas - not too close to the coast, just a couple miles inland and then up to maybe fifty miles inland?? Maybe that's just the bay area. Lots of state parks have it.
Diana Studer said…
seen up close in detail, I could mistake yours for our Coleonema. Used by fishermen to clean their hands before heading home, as it also grows near the beach.
Country Mouse said…
That's interesting, Diana -- we have some plants here that are good for wiping hands on, but not Chamise. I like the idea of fishermen cleaning their hands on some wild plant!
Tran Phung said…
I think this is most likely the plant that I'm looking for after my class field trip from Edgewood Trail in Redwood City. Do you know if it has kind of sticky leaves and when you rub it with your hand, your hand would smell so good? I'm addicted to that scent, probably the most wonderful scent I've ever smelled in my life, way more enchanting than any kind of perfumes or flowers. It is not a faint smell when you must bring your nose closer to detect it. It also lingers for quite long after you rub it.
Please, can anyone answer? I'm dying to know if this is the plant of my dream or not. I'm all ears and all tears.
Country Mouse said…
Sorry for delay Tran. I don't know if I can ID the plant of your delight! Given your emphasis on the delightful odor -- It could be California sage brush, Artemisia californica. Try looking that one up!