“The Coniferae of the Santa Lucia Mountains”
Transcribed and Introduced by David Rogers
In the spring of 1897 Alice Eastwood, the Curator of Botany at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, made an expedition to the Santa Lucia Mountains of Monterey County. This was Eastwood’s second expedition to this region, the former was in 1893, and on both she was hosted by members of the exceptionally large Plaskett family, who were early settlers in the Pacific Valley area of the Big Sur Coast.1 Based on information provided in the following report along with one of Eastwood’s specimens that she collected in the vicinity of Post’s Summit on June 14th of 1893 (Ribes sericeum), her expedition of that year included a crossing of the mountains via the Carrizo-Gamboa trails (called the Santa Lucia Trail in this report) and an exploration of a much of the Big Sur coast. The expedition 1897 appears to have been limited to explorations along two trails that linked the interior to the southern Big Sur coast.
One of the primary objectives of Eastwood’s expedition of 1897 was to collect specimens of the male and female “flowers” of the rare and endemic Santa Lucia Fir (Abies bracteata), from which illustrations could be made for volume 12 of Charles S. Sargent’s monumental “The Silva of North America” (Professor Sargent, of Harvard University, was the most preeminent botanist in the United States at that time). Upon Eastwood’s return to San Francisco she composed the following report on the coniferous trees of the Santa Lucia Mountains of Monterey County. Eastwood’s interest in the native trees of California resulted in A Handbook of the Trees of California, which was published in 1905.
1. Cantelow, Ella, and Herbert Cantelow. 1957. “Biographical Notes on Persons in Whose Honor Alice Eastwood Named Native Plants.” Leaflets of Western Botany 8 (5): 83-101.
Erythea 5 (6): 71-74. June 30, 1897
THE CONIFERAE OF THE SANTA LUCIA MOUNTAINS
By Alice Eastwood
The Santa Lucia Mountains take their name from their highest peak, which rises near the middle of the chain in Monterey County to an elevation of 6,100 feet.2These mountains extend along the coast of Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties from Monterey Bay southward, parallel to the coast. South of San Simeon Bay they trend towards the southeast, losing their identity in the low hills of the Carrizo Plain. From Pt. Sur to beyond Pt. Gorda they present a precipitous front to the ocean, rising abruptly from 3,000 to 4,000 feet from the very edge of the ocean. Numerous mountain streams come tumbling down through quickly descending canyons and widen them, delta-like, forming small tracks of comparatively level land. These little benches are very fertile and well supplied with the purest water; so that, in spite of their isolation and limited area, they have been taken up by settlers, who are known throughout the county as “The Coasters.”
Another trail further north is now known as the Plaskett trail; formerly it was called Mansfield’s trail. Pinus tuberculata [P. attenuata is now the currently accepted name for the Knobcone Pine] is the most noticeable conifer on the eastern side of this trail, and the trees grow almost to the base of the mountain. Its lightly-clad branches and numerous, persistent cones readily distinguish it from the other conifers.
Unique and Noteworthy Plants of the Santa Lucia Mountains
Ribes (Gooseberries and Currants)
by David Rogers © 1999
The earliest specimens of Ribes sericeum, from Post’s Ranch and Slate’s Hot Springs, were collected by Alice Eastwood in June of 1893. Eastwood, curator of botany at the California Academy of Sciences, must have failed to closely observe her own specimens, for it was not until Reason Plaskett sent her the type specimen that she recognized that a new species had been found (Eastwood 1902). Reason Alpha Plaskett, a carpenter and the father of at least six sons and four daughters, was one of the sons of William and Sarah Plaskett, who established a homestead at Gorda, on the Big Sur Coast, in 1869. The Plaskett family had hosted Alice Eastwood on her Santa Lucia Mountains expeditions of 1893 and 1897, and Reason Plaskett sent her a number of specimens of local plants in 1897 and 1898 (Cantelow & Cantelow 1957, Clark 1991, census of 1880).
Eastwood believed that plants represented by at least six of Plaskett’s specimens warranted botanical recognition, two of which she named in honor of him: Nemophila plaskettii (= N. parviflora) and Linanthus plaskettii (= L. parviflorus) (Cantelow & Cantelow 1957). Only two of these taxa have stood the test of botanical scrutiny: Ribes sericeum and Ribes menziesii hystrix. One that didn’t make it was Ribes sericeum var. viridescens, the type of which was collected by Plaskett at Gorda in January of 1898. Eastwood considered the specimen to be sufficiently different from the typical species because “the flowers are smaller and greenish, the leaves are more densely clothed with silky white hairs, and are more orbicular-reniform. The peduncles in the specimens examined all have single flowers” (Eastwood 1902). Mr. Plaskett collected the type specimen of Ribes sericeum along Spruce Creek in December of 1897. The specific name sericeum refers to the silky pubescence on the upper surface of the leaves.
“Gorda.” Reason A. Plaskett (UC), December 1897.
“Gorda.” Reason A. Plaskett (CAS, type of var. viridescens), January 1898.
“Spruce Creek.” Reason A. Plaskett (CAS, type), December 1897.