Readers of the Anderson Valley Advertiser may remember my “Odd Tree Out” articles from earlier this year, chronicling my rediscovery – after 20 years – of California nutmeg in an area west of Philo.
With more than 60 years of rambling through various corners of Anderson Valley, finding that tree was an eye-opener. After a few years in a place, we think we know that place fully. We think we have seen everything there is to see. To discover something new is to know with certainty the place still holds mysteries.
Apparently, I still haven’t seen everything in Anderson Valley. Two months ago, I discovered another odd tree, one so obscure I had to seek out an expert to identify it.
Again the location was west of Philo. I was walking cross country up a hellishly steep (40% grade) slope when I encountered an unfamiliar bush. Perhaps three feet tall, it had an open form and thin, branched foliage that was neither leaves nor needles, but more like a flat string with scales. While unusual, it was a bush so unremarkable as to be easily missed. I looked around for additional examples, but saw none. Before continuing up the slope, I cut off a piece of foliage and put it in my daypack.
A day or two after I returned home, I got out my two California native plants books to identify my find. Nothing. In my defense, the drawings and photos in my books aren’t the best, and their keys for identifying plants were either non-existent or so technical as to be useless (at least to a laymen). I also shot photographs of the foliage.
As I had been in contact with a staffer at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on another matter, I asked her to take a look at one of the photos and pass it along to experts she knew. The answer came back a day later. My mystery bush was actually a young incense cedar, Calocedrus decurrens.
The incense cedar – like the California nutmeg – is not a common tree in Anderson Valley (though it is prevalent in Humboldt County, Trinity County, Siskiyou County and along the lower slopes of the Sierra Nevada). The Calflora website records five sightings in Anderson Valley, the earliest in 1909, the last in 1994. Also like the first California nutmeg I saw, this tree was young.
After my first article about the California nutmeg appeared, several Anderson Valley Advertiser readers provided information on where additional trees were located in Anderson Valley. I hope reader will do the same regarding incense cedar, as I would like to see a mature specimen. I may yet run into a mature tree where I found the little one west of Philo, but I think the odds are not in my favor. The landscape is so steep as to discourage a systematic search, or even a casual walk.