Downingia pulchella

A California vernal pool species is being featured today in recognition of Dr. Robert Holland and Carol Witham, two Sacramento area scientists who have done much to document, understand and protect California’s declining vernal pools. Both received US Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Champion awards today at a ceremony at the Sacramento Splash Education Center. As the press release notes, “Ms. Witham was instrumental in producing the school curriculum for the Splash Center, and has written several field guides on vernal pool plants and ecology…Dr. Holland’s influential work with vernal pool ecosystems spans more than 35 years, with seminal mapping efforts in 1978 that provided the scientific community the first comprehensive baseline of vernal pool extent, distribution, and loss. More recently, both he and Ms. Witham re-mapped the state’s pools, revealing a troubling continued loss of vernal pool acreage”. Had it not been for these two individuals and how they have inspired and informed others, the loss of vernal pools due to development (so to speak) and agricultural uses would be yet more tragic (only 10% of historical numbers of vernal pools remain).

I should note that Dr. Holland and I occasionally correspond about BPotD entries. And, today’s photographs were taken while I attended a vernal pool plant taxonomy course led by Carol last spring. These are from the Wilcox Ranch, an area stewarded by the Solano Land Trust whose mission is to “permanently protect natural areas, working farms, and ranchlands in Solano County and connect our community to these lands”.

While there are many rare or endangered species associated with vernal pools, Downingia pulchella is not one of them. Flatface calicoflower or flatface downingia has a relatively-wide distribution across California’s Central Valley, Bay Area and adjacent coastal ranges, where it can be found in wet ditches as well as vernal pools. This small annual species can grow in large masses, colouring the landscape. This was one of eight species of Downingia we observed during the vernal pool course, or over half of the recognized species in the world (Downingia contains 15 species according to the latest version of The Jepson Manual, all occurring in California). For additional photographs of this species, see CalPhotos: Downingia pulchella.

Photography resource link: a gallery of Frozen Flowers by Mo Devlin is worth investigating for a unique take on flower images. Discovered via Petapixel, which contains an interview with the photographer: Mesmerizing Photos of Frozen Flowers.

Downingia pulchella
Downingia pulchella

7 responses to “Downingia pulchella”

  1. Nadia

    It is a real beauty

  2. Ruta

    AMAZING species and the pictures!!

  3. Ginny

    Wow, what a color! I love vernal pools and have seen many of them here in Maine, but obviously the pools in California are quite different! One of the sad things about vernal pools is that in mid-summer as well as mid-winter (when most logging goes on around here) they are completely invisible, so even those who would preserve them can destroy them unknowingly.

  4. drbob

    Daniel, you are one conniving botanist. I was delighted to see an old-friend Downingia featured, then flabbergasted to be featured in the post! Readers who would like to see more about California vernal pools (and there is lots) should visit Carol’s labor-of-love website: http://www.vernalpools.org.
    The genus name celebrates Andrew Jackson Downing, widely considered the father of American landscape architecture. He played major roles in the layout of Central Park in New York City and of the White House grounds and the National Mall in Washington DC.

  5. Jessica

    What a beautiful, beautiful flower.
    Thank you so much for the gorgeous photos and excellent info.
    I love this site. 🙂

  6. Steve Bennett

    I’ve known Carol and Bob for a long time. They are both outstanding in their field and have provided many people with precious insight into the workings of California’s shrinking habitats. This award was well earned and well deserved. To stalwarts everywhere…Cosmo

  7. Stephanie Boggs

    Congratulations for the recognition for your fine work! Beautiful photos and a wonderful article.

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