Thursday, March 28, 2013

Answer: Where can I find a blueblossom in Montaña De Oro?

This was a legitimately tough problem.  It’s not hard to KNOW that blueblossoms grow in Montaña De Oro, but it’s very difficult to know how to locate a specific one somewhere in the park.

To start this problem, it’s often really useful to convert the informal name of the plant (“blueblossom”) to its formal name (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus).  Yes, I know that many varieties of ceanothus are also called “blueblossoms,” but all of the credible resources say that “blueblossom” refers only to the thyrsilorus variety.  From this we learn it’s also called “California lilac,” “ceanothus” and/or “blue blossom ceanothus.”  (And, luckily for us, there aren’t 10 common names… just a couple.) 

In this case, after searching for a while for maps of Montaña De Oro with plant locations indicated (I was hoping for a trail map with a trailer marker than said “blueblossom here”  or something something thyrsiflorus.  But after 20 minutes of looking, I wasn’t finding much.  A few pictures here and there in Panoramio, but nothing with a  good location marker. 

So I changed my strategy. 

Here’s a big, important lesson about this kind of problem:
When you can’t solve the problem directly with search, search for a tool that can do it for you!   
What would such a tool be like?  I stepped back for a second to think about this.  What kind of person or organization would be interested in tracking the location of flowers, their habitat and where the grow?

This led me to make my next search:

[ California wildflower finder tool ]

As you can see, the first and third results seem linked to the Santa Monica Mountains in southern California.  I know that Montaña De Oro State Park is really in central California along the coast, and nowhere near Santa Monica (which is in LA). 

I checked out the CalFlora site (number 2 in the above list). 

And with this, I think I’ve struck paydirt at the website  When you visit the site, you’ll see the following search interface:

It’s not hard to figure out that Montaña De Oro is in San Luis Obispo county.  So if you then just drop the Latin name into the search box, then select San Luis Obispo in the county field (on the right side) and click search, you find:

I clicked on the entry in the first row, and found this page. 

Now… Note the “Distribution Grid” link in the center of the page.  

That looks promising as a way to locate a specific bush of our desired flowers.  Click on that to find:

This is fantastic!  Now, I just zoom in to our State Park location on the Central California coast, and click on "Show individual observations."  

Which, when you drill down, leads you to this… which has the lat/long in the center of the page:  35.26393,  -120.84469  

That places this individual shrub of our desired flower on the banks of the Islay Creek, just inside the eastern boundary of Montaña De Oro State Park. 

So you can see what we’ve done…  Mission accomplished. Found the plant and the location.  

Search lessons:  
(1) When searching for a particular plant (or flower, or anything, really), be sure you know all the ways it can be named.  “Blueblossom” is really a fairly generic term.  It’s also a common name for a common plant.  But the Latin binomial name (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus) really is unique.  Be aware that searches can show the result in many different names.
 (2)  When you’re not having much luck using regular web search (and in particular when the results just aren’t showing much of anything), think about searching for a tool that can do the same thing.  In this example, we found the CalFlora geographic distribution search tool, which fit our need precisely. 

Search on!


After poking around in the CalFlora site, I found an even more wonderful tool:  The CalFlora map-search tool “What Grows Here?”  It’s at and looks like this:

If you fill out the location, you can then jump to an interface that lets you draw a polygon.  (In this case, I drew one to outline the State Park.)  Then selected the Scientific Name and hit search. 

 The beautiful thing about this web page is that you can filter on all KINDS of metadata--status (endangered, etc.); the month it blooms; whether it's a monocot or dicot (yes.. really!).  

A marvelous resource!  And I'm still exploring it.  Highly recommended.  


  1. Calflora is an interesting site that offers a variety of ways to search/shape data. Seems there are a number of potential sites for Ceanothus thyrsiflorus interaction; e.g., along Pecho Valley Road, closer to the water... but the Islay Creek location might be good too - I do wonder about the dates associated with the observations on Calflora - most seem older. Islay Creek forks and joins in the park - think your location pick is near the southern fork, but there is a trail/road along the northern fork that runs all the way to Spooners Cove - ~ 2.5 miles.
    here's a sampling of what you might expect ( this is on a bike, but you might be on foot. It would be a good cross-section of the area.
    Islay to Spooners
    Spooners coast
    Guess a ~400 mile round trip from Mountain View is close?... relatively speaking. Look forward to GRayG"s on the ground/first person findings - eyewitness info can be sketchy, but in this instance it might have value regarding real-time bloom status. Hard to go wrong in that area unless Diablo Canyon does something unexpected or the "big one" shakes things up - at least the "scent is positively heady".

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this search. I haven't been convinced yet that the image you used is the Ceanothus Thyrsiflorus. When I ran it through image search and then compared it to the domesticated variety images at a few garden nursery websites their species is known as Ceanothus Concho. Could it be an image of the latter? Thanks.

    1. you seem to be correct about Concho - this appears to be the same image DMR used in the initial WE. question.
      The variety DMR may be seeing in his area is likely Ceanothus thyrsiflorus Big Sur.
      The Las Pilitas site has a wealth of images and info, including approximate flowering times.
      Dan's sRs image?
      flowering times
      likely Bay area variety

  3. Hi Dr. Russell following your results I tried to find a tool that works like califlora just worlwide. At the moment just one page to find in Britain and Ireland althoug, not know if shows distribution maps (don´t know plants in those countries).

    Also found one that has more options and covers states and other countries with some relation to the United States.

    [wildflower finder tool] l It looks like Califlora just in British

    [related:California wildflower finder tool] Good
    information about native California Wild plants. That send us to: Good information not map.

    [ ]

    Tried "Ceanothus thyrsiflorus". In this page shows the same map you found Dr. Russell.

    This is the one page that shows options for states, provinces and other stuff. I believe you will like it very much and obtain good information, just in case you havent tried it yet. Good information not maps

    I'll try to find more. Have a nice weekend.

  4. My wife and I along with the dog, will be out for the hunt for the elusive Ceanothus thyrsiflorus today (March 29).
    Wish us good searching, now where did I put those keys?

  5. We look forward to seeing the real time blossoms. Don't forget your camera.

  6. a Ceanothus cousin located a little to the south (courtesy of the thread supplied by M. Ramón González)
    Nipomo Mesa Ceanothus Ceanothus impressus
    who knew they were edible?:
    Blue Dicks
    Nipomo site
    Good luck with the blueblossom hunt GrayR, maybe you'll even cross paths with the elusive DMR... search on.. ahead of the showers.

  7. I have posted to my google + the story of the search. Pictures included.

    I highly recommend you read the comment by OrigiCine. She is one of the smartest women I know, and her research skills are legendary.

    1. a masterful, entertaining and elucidating sRs quest and the comments by OrigiCine were illuminating.
      The pictures were enjoyable and show the difficulty and dangers of field research, but that's where the adrenalin surges come from... a couple additional suggestions for your field tools pack;-) thanks for the smiles and going the extra search mile. Give Rusty a pat.
      sojourn on.
      handy in the bush
      when the CA lilacs are elusive
      Rsnake repellant