Purisima Creek Redwoods — All the World’s a Stage!

In the opposite direction from Half Moon Bay, off Highway One, is the Higgins/Purisima Road entrance to the Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve. Hike through this peaceful canyon with its magnificent stands of old redwoods and enjoy an unspoiled Northern California gem. By the bridge to your left, not too far from the entrance, is a stately pair of red alders standing guard by the creek. These wind pollinated beauties have both male and female parts. Red alder trees are usually found at elevations below 2,400 feet and within 125 miles of the ocean. The beautiful silvery-white patches that you see all over the trunks are lichens. The barks of these trees are actually a deep tan color but you wouldn’t know it by looking at their mottled, distinctive silvery-white lichen laced trunks.

Many natural delights reside in this canyon in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The red alders with their attendant lichens are but a few. The redwoods for which the preserve is named are the real stars here but beauty abounds elsewhere, like for example, in the red elderberries (toxic), stinging nettle (with its heart shaped leaves) and the California bee plant (part of the Snapdragon family).

coast pretty face
California Bee Plant (watercolor sketch)

I didn’t come across any bees during my recent hike but l think I recognized the leaves of the bee plant close down to the ground. You should definitely start seeing them a little after New Year’s. For soon, very soon, after the first good rains — and we have already had a few of those — the bee plant will come alive. By March it begins to bloom and will continue doing so way into July. Hummingbirds, bees and deer love this plant with its reddish-brown stems and eye-catching red flowers. Look for it while you hike in Purisima. You can also find many of these plants in Montara Mountain just outside of Half Moon Bay.

Bugs in the Sun and Other Creatures

A little up the trail, along the creek, I encountered a burst of sunlight, a sun hole, that managed to pierce through an opening in the dense redwood canopy. Many flies, all male and of the same specie, danced about in their territory in the air. These were probably dance flies doing a lek/breeding display.Similarly, you can see this lekking behavior in the Monarch Butterfly when it over-winters further down the coast in Pacific Grove and Monterey Bay.

Down on the forest floor were two clown millipedes, easily identified by the yellow markings down each side of their otherwise all- black bodies. Millipedes don’t really have one-thousand legs. The clown millipede, for example, has about twenty body segments with two pairs of legs on each segment. That is far less than a thousand legs. Yellow lines with black is generally a warning in the insect/bug world. Think, for example, of the lines and colors of bees and wasps. Sometimes this pattern is merely a camouflage but in millipedes, it is not. Centipedes are different; they are harmless. But millipedes are poisonous. The clown millipede, for example, produces a cyanide gas when threatened. As always, do not disturb the creatures in any of the preserves. They are protected by law.

The funniest bug I encountered on my walk was a spittle bug, a baby frog hopper. Overall, it is pretty harmless. It drills a hole into the phloem of a plant and sucks out the liquid, bubbles it out of its back part and forms a bubble house around itself to protect it from birds and other bugs.

Ode to a Spittle Bug

You! Frog face spittle bug

Sitting on that sage

What do you think you are doing?

Oh, you think you are so clever

hiding there in plain view

I want you to know spittle bug

I am on to you.

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