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Blue Dicks or School Bells?

February 6, 2011

One of the first California wildflowers of Spring 2011 has appeared, both in my garden and around Orange County: Dichelostemma capitatum. Or Blue Dicks. Or Wild Hyacinth. Or, as O.C. botantist extraordinaire Bob Allen calls them (not that he uses non-Latin names for plants much, but he’s trying to rescue this one from the dustbin of history’s archaic names–for what should be obvious reasons…):

School Bells.

Maybe “dicks” is derived from the Latin “dichelostomma” — I couldn’t seem to find anything on this after a little research.

What I have discovered, from having served as a docent on many wildflower hikes, is that members of the public do seem to snicker a little at the “commonest” common name referenced in the title of this post.

So, since this flower is so beautiful–and its plump underground cormlet was such an important part of the diet of California’s earliest inhabitants, I applaud Bob Allen’s efforts to remove the double entendre stigma from this member of the Lily family.

I collected some seed a couple of years ago from the slope behind my sister’s house in Murrieta–and of course forgot that I threw those seeds around my back yard–until I saw these tell-tale straggly long leaves appear, almost overnight it seemed, after our December deluge.

The photo above shows the anonymous leaves…then one day…a narrow stalk shoots up…and produces…these lovely blue blooms:

Unpictured: the little underground bublets that have been a favored food of many creatures–human and non-human–for a long time…a reason for another, perhaps also unfortunate, common name: Grass Nuts.

The Quail Hill loop trail in Irvine has a few nice stands of School Bells in bloom. They are bobbing above the very green (unfortunately, mostly non-native) grass of this former cow pasture right now.  And who loves to sing in grasslands?

Meadowlarks.

Yes–the trail will take you through the middle of a very vocal population of Western meadowlarks. In the middle of winter. Right next to the thundering 405 Freeway. Another fine example of Orange County oxymoronia.

It’s been a few days since I’ve heard the meadowlark chorus, though, since I’ve been mostly “hiking” in my back yard lately, a victim of my own stupidity (I have a long and illustrious past of injuries of this sort).

Thanks to an awesome tape job (and, of course, skilled ART treatment) by Dr. Ken Brassington of Performance Chiropractic in Irvine, CA, I’m limping less, and hoping to get back on the trails this week.

Until then, at least I can watch my October 2010-planted manzanita (‘Howard McMinn’) bloom outside my dining room window:

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