Have fun discovering the plants, geology, and some of the
animals (we hope!)
of the Eaton Canyon nature preserve. But first...
Like all good naturalists, you will always:
Feather, flower, rock, or bark;
leave all nature in the park.
And never feed, chase, or try to touch animals. The canyon is their home.
Let’s start by looking for the geological story:
If it’s a warm, sunny day, feel both sides, light and dark. Do you feel a difference? Why do you think that is?
Our steep and beautiful mountains are the San Gabriel Mountains
Ask yourself as you walk and learn: What are some of the reasons that, for hundreds of years, the Tongva people chose to live (at least part of the year) in this canyon?
160 different kinds of birds live in, visit, or migrate through Eaton Canyon. We hope you see many of them!
Southern California has a Mediterranean climate it gets short, wet winters and long, dry summers. As you walk, you will see how plants in the canyon have adapted to live under these conditions.
You can see most of the characteristics below at many places along the way, depending on the season. Just keep your eyes open!
This graceful tree, so green in spring and summer, is a sycamore. You will see them near water sources, which they reach with their long roots. Their large leaves are velvety soft on the underside, and hummingbirds use that soft fuzz to line their nests. Goldfinches love to feed from the hanging seed balls.
Poison Oak grows as sprouts, a bush, or a vine; turns red in the fall and drops its leaves — but is always harmful to touch!
"Leaves of three; let it be"
"It’s no joke. It’s poison oak.”
Ouch!! (a spring plant; painful, but full of vitamins!)
The tips of those toothed points have a very irritating chemical that makes touching this plant extremely painful; it may even cause blisters. Stinging nettle is, however, very healthful when boiled and eaten as a vegetable. If you can get it to the cooking pot without it touching your skin, you will be rewarded with a great number of vitamins and minerals, and even protein, which is unusual to find in a green, leafy plant. (But don’t collect it here.)
Sharper than it looks! With or without a single, tall stalk (which grows & flowers only once). Spiky leaf fibers were used for rope, sandals, thread; roots were used as soap.
Prickly pear can store water in its green pads. Those pads are actually the plant’s stem (where it makes sugars; most plants do that in their leaves). What would be the leaves have actually become spines; no water will be escaping from them. Animals—and people—love the fruit.
Is there white, fuzzy stuff on it? That’s the foam protection of the tiny insect called cochineal. Cochineal has been used for centuries as a red dye. Here are a couple of them, magnified many times!
(but leave other plants alone; some can hurt you or activate allergies!)
White sage is one of the fuzzy-leafed plants. Black sage (below) has darker, smaller leaves, but the same nice smell.
All OVER the place in spring!
Because foraging mules could bloat from eating too much. Seen near the stream bed. Look for tiny veins along leaf edges.
has thick, serrated, fuzzy leaves (holds on to water!) Lower leaves may look dead and dry. Used by native people for many medicinal uses.
handles heat in a special way: on hot days, its darkish-green leaves turn bottom-side up, which display white, a color that reflects heat away from the leaves.
California (flat-topped) buckwheat, in bloom and with rusty autumn blossoms; note how the flower tops of each stalk end at almost the same level; thus the name “flat topped buckwheat.”
Dodder doesn’t have green chlorophyll, so can’t make its own food as other plants can. It wraps around another plant—very often flat- topped buckwheat—to suck out the nutrients. It doesn’t hurt the plant, though.
Wild cucumber. NOT for salads. It may have green, prickly fruits (poison!) or dried, empty seed pods. This vine uses tiny tendrils to climb other plants to reach the sun. Look for the tendrils that help it grab on.
Phacelia (fa-CEEL-ya), AKA caterpillar plant. Bees love its purple pollen! You can see the caterpillar shape even after it has dried out and looks gray/brown. Activates allergies for some.
The “taco tree” (note leaf shape). Two laurel sumacs near the visitor center have large wood rat nests at their base. Also can be an allergen.
Some plants are still busy, such as these late bloomers
(tiny leaves wrap around the stem to hold moisture in.)
Even pretty when dry
(no fruit in some years)
Loved by winter birds.
Seed (toxic!). Our one tree is on the front walk.
Sage seed heads hold on! (and are loved by many critters.)
(if they are not in their winter sleep)
Neither snake is aggressive (and the gopher snake is harmless to humans). Both will try to flee; just give them space. People who get bitten by rattlesnakes are usually people who are fooling around with rattlesnakes! (The others have surprised them by stepping or reaching into a hidden place.)
Fun fact: rattlesnake’s rattle looks snapped together (inside view). The looseness of the connection is what makes the rattling noise when the tail is shaken.