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1860 - Colonel Thomas F. Mitchell arrives in Soledad Canyon [story]
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Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Apr 26, 2015

DianneErskineHellrigelWhat comes to mind when you think of the desert? Dry? No-man’s land? Prickly plants? Cactus? Joshua trees? No water? Have you ever seen a desert candle?

It is my favorite desert flower, and it is one of hundreds of spring flowers that fill the desert floor with beauty. You can see these if you ever get off the freeway and take a little bit of time to explore the wonderful things that local desert has to offer.

The desert candle is in the mustard family. The scientific name is Caulanthus inflatus. Locally, it is common below 5,000 feet in flat areas between shrubs in creosote bush scrub and Joshua woodland areas. It can be found in the Lancaster and Palmdale open-space areas, in the western Mojave Desert from Barstow to the San Joaquin Valley, and as far north as Fresno County. It is especially common near Boron and Opal Mountain.

9These annual flowers have no leaves, a strange-looking, candle-like yellow-green stem, and they are about 2 feet tall. The flower buds are maroon in color. When they open, they reveal four white petals. The fruits are linear and look much like the fruit of the common non-native black mustard that is so prevalent in the Santa Clarita Valley.

The blooming season is from March to May, so you still have time to venture out into the desert to find some. They make excellent photographic subjects.

An interesting fact about the desert candle is that Native Americans used to eat them. They boiled the young plants with various meats to make an interesting stew.

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The sulfur-containing mustard oil is present in these plants. They taste and smell like the more common pungent mustard greens that you may be familiar with. These plants are thought to be very beneficial for your health, and interestingly enough, they are believed to prevent cancer. The pungent oil present in these plants helps to prevent them from being eaten by insects and animals alike.

Take the family out to the desert open space and prepare to be surprised by all of the wonderful things you will find “way out there.”

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. If you’d like to be part of the solution, join the Community Hiking Club’s Stewardship Committee. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

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