DAY 3: Rhus ovata
Time: 10:20 AM
Location: Lower Arroyo Park, heading towards the Arroyo Seco trail.
Route: From the parking lot head east on the walkway towards the Arroyo Seco trail. About 100 ft into the walkway, you’ll see a smaller walkway on your left (south). Go through it and the plant will be to your left, next to a small coast live oak.
Weather: About 80F, sunny and hot. No clouds in the sky.
Habitat: Sycamore/coast live oak forest community. I found it surrounded by 2 coast live oaks. Not many insects visible in the area, but I saw some insect webbing and bites on some of the leaves. The area was pretty shaded, with sunlight peaking through really particular areas.
RHUS OVATA - SUGAR BUSH
When I first saw rhus ovata, I thought it was a lot of things. Google initially told me it was a gum tree - nope; then I thought it was just a weird laurel sumac with flat leaves - nope. As always, iNaturalist was the winner here and I was able to identify it as rhus ovata, sugar bush.
This plant was pretty cool. Like malosma laurina, this plant has a thick, green leaf. However, it’s not as oval shaped and it doesn’t curl in on itself. The leaves I saw on rhus ovata are a classic leaf shape, wide and round on the edges coming to a neat point at the tip. It has a burgundy/red stem and yellow veins that are visible. While it initially looks like it doesn’t have jagged edges, if you look closely you’ll see some jagged edges towards the bottom of the plant - where it comes off the stem. It’s definitely a blink and you miss it jagged pattern.
What I thought was coolest about sugar bush was it’s little flowering pods at the end of each branch. This also reminded me of laurel sumac - the round little berries. However, while the berries I saw on laurel sumac were green/red, sugar bush had cream berries, with a couple that were an extremely pale pink.
The habitat this plant was living in was pretty interesting. There were about 5 sections of the rhus ovata community I encountered at this point of the trail - each was in a different stage of life. The shrub lower to the ground and most approximate to the walking trail was short - about 3 ft tall and 4 ft wide. This plant’s leaves were almost all green and most branches had berries on them. The photographs I got of the rhus ovata berries came from this plant. The plant that was just past this rhus ovata, was about 6 ft wide and 5 ft tall. This one’s leaves had completely dried out - the leaves I saw were all a fall leaf red. Behind the dried out rhus ovata, there was yet another rhus ovata plant - this one was significantly taller, about 8 ft tall and 4 ft wide. This taller rhus ovata was half dried off and have still green, but the green parts looked like they were on their way out. Two rhus ovata plants flanked this section, both coming in at about 6 ft tall and 2 ft wide. The sugar bush on my left was still green but no longer flowering, where the one on the right was mostly dry.
I think the sunlight had a lot to do with the varying levels of dryness for these plants. The plants that were lower to the ground and facing south were still pretty green. Was it because maybe they weren’t as tall, hadn’t gotten enough sunlight, were “younger” in terms of age and how long they’ve been growing? I’m not exactly sure, but I’ll take a look at other rhus ovatas and figure it out.