Members of Polemoniaceae found in the Bay Area are all natives, even though many of them have become popular garden plants. Almost all are herbaceous annuals, with 5 calyx lobes, 5 corolla lobes, 5 stamens attached to the corolla, and a pistil that developes 3 seed-producing sections.
On the coastal bluffs at the edge of the Montara Mountain sea terrace, we have one very rare and special member:
Flowers: Tiny, 5 petaled trumpets; clustered in spiny pin-cushion-like balls lining stems; 5 calyx lobes and 5 stamens.
Blooms: June - August.
Leaves: Spiny and deeply sharp-lobed; shiny if they aren't too dusty.
Location: Trails and open areas throughout the mountain at all elevations.
Status: Native - Common
Further description & Comment: 2 to 12 inches tall, lightly-haired reddish stems. The spiny flower heads start off green and age to a reddish color. Glandular hairs on stems and leaves give off a strong skunk odor.
An extremely sturdy and resilent plant, Skunkweed often grows in the middle of roads and trails. This explains why so many people make note of the "skunk activities" on the mountain in summer: what they're smelling is skunkweed they've been inadvertently kicking as they walk along.
I think it's one of the cutest little plants on the mountain, and being one of those people who sort of enjoy a slight whiff of skunk on the breeze, I don't mind the smell at all.
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