San Diego County is the most botanically diverse area in the U.S. with nearly 2,000 species, many of which are endemic. The county has the coast to the West, the desert to the East, and is bisected from North to South by the Peninsular Ranges. The elevation ranges from sea level to over six thousand feet. This varied landscape allows for an exceptionally high level of plant diversity.
The desert transition habitat is found down the east side of the Peninsular Ranges and this was the area where we went last week. The weather forecast looked ominous, but we were optimistic. To get to our site, we had to drive up and over the Cuyamaca Mountains and out into the lower elevations beyond.
The drive over the Cuyamucas was relatively uneventful, with very little rain. When we finally reached our site we saw a mix of cacti, shrubs and huge granite boulders. It was freezing cold and very windy. At certain points the wind became so strong it was difficult to open the truck doors to identify plants. Despite the rough conditions, it was a beautiful place to explore. We saw Desert Apricot (Prunus fremontii), Golden Gooseberry ( Ribes quercetorum), and Grape-Soda Lupine (Lupinus excubitus) in bloom.
As the day wore on the weather only got worse. When we tried to collect a sample of Apricot Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) the rain turned to hail and we decided to admit defeat for the day. On the drive back up and over the Cuyamucas the hail turned to snow! It was so much fun to watch everything turn white throughout the course of our drive. We followed a snow plow most of the way down the mountain. (I never would have imagined experiencing something like that in Southern California.) As we dropped in elevation, the snow slowly changed back into rain and everything turned green again. It was odd to realize that we had only been a half an hour away from the ocean.
There are not many places where you can experience the ocean, the snow, and the desert within a couple hours. San Diego is truly a remarkable place, and I couldn’t ask for a better area to study plant diversity.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.