Sunday, December 28, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Tuleyome Tales: What is serpentine soil and why should I care?

Serpentine areaW

Serpentine area on Walker Ridge. Mary K. Hanson/Courtesy photo

By
From page A16 | February 02, 2014 |

By Mary K. Hanson

When talking about the various habitats under consideration for a National Conservation Area designation in the Berryessa Snow Mountain region, serpentine soil comes up a lot. For most people, though, it’s rather meaningless.

Most of us aren’t geologists or botanists, and if we’ve ever had an encounter with serpentine soil we probably didn’t even realize it. The truth is, though, if you live in the Coast Ranges of California just about anywhere between Santa Barbara County and the Oregon border (or in the Sierra foothills) you’re living in a region rich in serpentine outcroppings.

So what is serpentine soil? Simply speaking, if you think of the Earth as an onion made up of several different layers surrounding a molten core, we live on the very outer layer, on top of the soil that is a thin skin on the Earth’s crust. On our layer the soil is, for the most part, full of nutrients and organic matter that allow a lot of plants and trees to thrive.

Below us is another layer called the mantle. This layer is made of more dense, pressure resistant, 4 billion-year-old “ultramafic” minerals and rocks that are low in plant-nurturing calcium, potassium and other minerals, and high in things like magnesium, nickel and cobalt.

When, through tectonic action, veins or plugs or whole sheets of this mantle layer are thrust up to the surface, they come in contact with water, metamorphose and become “serpentinized” (converted into serpentine). And when these serpentinized outcroppings break down and mix with organic matter, they form what is called serpentine soil.

You’ve probably seen expanses of serpentine soil and didn’t realize it. Like scrubby islands in a sea of green, they look misplaced, almost “unearthly” — barren, rocky and sparsely vegetated by only occasional large trees and plants with few or very hardy leaves designed to reflect sunlight.

And you may ask yourself, why should we care about this place? It’s kind of ugly. But what’s really exciting about these serpentine expanses is that within their boundaries you can readily view examples of plant adaptation, natural selection and species differentiation at work.

Many of the plants and trees that can grow in serpentine soil are specialized and unique, not found anywhere else. In fact, about 280 of these serpentine species are listed as rare by the California Native Plant Society. Where the serpentine soils are, so are floral treasures not found in any other ecosystem … and they’re here right in your back yard.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and to celebrate that you might try walking through some of the local wilderness areas, like Cedar Roughs, which is rich in serpentine soil and holds the largest stand of Sargent’s cypress trees in California.

Other serpentine areas include Walker Ridge, the public lands of the Bureau of Land Management Knoxville Unit (north of Lake Berryessa, part of which is designated an area of critical environmental concern because of the rich serpentine flora) and throughout the Putah and Cache Creek areas.

The bare monkey flower is an example of a plant species endemic to serpentine soil. With its pouty-lipped yellow flowers and feather-like leaves, it is found only in Lake and Napa counties. You also may find about 12 different species within the mustard family that grow in serpentine, including the most beautiful jewel flower, which grows in both Yolo and Solano counties. The best time to see these specialized plants in bloom are between late February and early June.

So, even though serpentine areas looked unusable or uninhabitable, they are not. To geologists, they offer a unique opportunity to see and analyze rocks and minerals from deep within the Earth’s mantle, and for the rest of us they are a cache of wholly unique, highly adaptable and rare plants just sitting out there waiting for us to view them on hikes and photo outings.

For more information about serpentine soils, check out “California Serpentines” by Arthur R. Kruckeberg and “An Introduction to the Serpentine Plant Community of the Putah-Cache Bioregion” by Kelly G. Lyons. There’s also “Serpentine: Evolution and Ecology of a Model System” by Susan Harrison and Nishanta Rajakaruna.

Mary K. Hanson is an amateur naturalist and photographer. Tuleyome Tales is a monthly publication of Tuleyome, a nonprofit conservation organization based in Woodland. For more information about Tuleyome, go to www.tuleyome.org.

Comments

comments

Special to The Enterprise

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

     
    Yolo makes hydrogen connection

    By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    N. Korea uses racial slur against Obama over hack

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    AirAsia plane with 162 aboard missing in Indonesia

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Sacramento man convicted for 2011 bar shooting

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

    Drugs, stolen car lead to women’s arrests

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

     
    NYC officer mourned at funeral as tensions linger

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Covell Gardens hosts New Year’s Eve dance

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    UC Davis debate team wins national championship

    By Kathy Keatley Garvey | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    Portuguese breakfast set for Jan. 25

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Pedal around Davis on weekly bike ride

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Nominate teens for Golden Heart awards

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    USA Weekend calls it quits

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Supplies collected for victims of abuse

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Sweet success: Cancer Center helps young patient celebrate end of treatment

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    Reserve tickets soon for Chamber’s Installation Gala

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Holiday hours continue at The Enterprise

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    At the Pond: It all started with kayaking on Putah Creek

    By Jean Jackman | From Page: A5 | Gallery

     
    Find the first cabbage white butterfly, and win a pitcher

    By Kathy Keatley Garvey | From Page: A6 | Gallery

    Does pre-eclampsia raise autism risk?

    By Phyllis Brown | From Page: A6

     
    Long will talk about value of hedgerows for adjacent farms

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6 | Gallery

     
    It’s a wonderful life — and a wonderful state

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8 | Gallery

    College sees benefits in loan guarantees

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

     
    Tickets for New Year’s Eve party going fast

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A12

    .

    Forum

    It was a busy, black-eye year for disease control

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

     
    This cat is on life No. 7

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B4

     
    Say thanks to the caregivers

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    Bombing is not the answer

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

    Just Us in Davis: Despair and hope for the new year

    By Jonathan London | From Page: A10

     
    Commission’s list needs vetting

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    Rifkin’s statement is offensive

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    Cuba policy changes highlight a momentous opportunity

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11 | Gallery

    Writer’s arguments fall flat

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A11

     
    .

    Sports

    Sacramento survives Knicks in OT

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Kings cruise past Sharks

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

    Lady Blue Devils top Tigers to reach Ram Jam title game

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    DHS boys get good film in tournament loss

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Sports briefs: Republic FC to host camp series

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

     
    College bowl roundup: Sun Bowl goes to the Sun Devils

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B10 | Gallery

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    .

    Business

    Rob White: Davis tech community is growing

    By Rob White | From Page: A9

     
    Yolo County real estate sales

    By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A9

    First Northern adds Peyret to agribusiness loan team

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

     
    Kaiser’s trauma center in Vacaville earns verification

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    .

    Obituaries

    Ruth Allen Barr

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Charles ‘Bud’ Meyer

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Sunday, December 28, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B8