1896, A Canyon Near Ukiah by Carl Purdy (Iris Macrosiphon)

Garden And Forest p.482, 1896

A Canon near Ukiah. — I.

UKIAH VALLEY is the bed of one of an ancient chain of lakes which formerly extended along the upper course of Russian River, in the heart of the Coast Range of northern California. By a process of silting on the one hand and cutting down their outlets on the other, these lakes had, at the time of the first white settlements some forty years ago, been reduced to mere ponds, which were soon drained. In the table-lands about the foot of the steep surrounding mountains the banks of the old lakes may be seen, while their beds are rich alluvial lands. Ukiah valley is eight miles long, with an extreme width of three miles. On the east and west it is hemmed in by high ranges which rise to twenty-three hundred feet above the sea and seventeen hundred above the floor of the valley. The range to the west is abrupt in ascent and deeply cut by great canons, or gorges as they would be called east of the Rockies, down which in winter torrential streams flow, while in summer there are living streams fed by springs. Here, as well as elsewhere in California, almost all of the precipitation of rain is between October and April. During that period from thirty to fifty inches fall, while between May and October scarcely enough falls at any time to lay the dust. Each of the canons of this section has its distinctive features, dependent on soils, slope, exposure, moisture, and the angle at which the sun strikes it. In the Sierras large areas have substantially the same soil and support about the same class of vegetation. In this part of the Coast Range the soils change at short intervals sufficiently to affect vegetable life. The mountain regions have been so torn by upheavals, landslides and the action of heavy rainfall, that the soil is hardly the same in any two consecutive spans of a hundred yards each.

The mountain west of Ukiah marks the most distant point from the ocean reached by the Redwood forest. A few of these trees are found on the edge of the valley, others are scattered along the mountain streams, and on cool slopes there are a few small groves, but on the east side of the valley not one is to be seen. For fifty miles north and south the same condition exists. Even where the Russian River is narrowed to a gorge, and Redwoods dip their branches in its water on the west side, not a single tree has crossed the stream. All of the trees which are its attendants, except the Tanbark Oak, Quercus densiflora, are found in abundance on the east side of the river and chain of valleys.

One of the most beautiful and varied of the canons on the west side debouches into the valley about a mile below Ukiah, and is locally known as Doolan Canon. For a half mile before it enters the valley its floor is a vale a few hundred yards wide. Starting from the stream the slope is at first gentle, but quickly changes to abrupt hillsides, which rise to high headlands on either side, A beautiful mountain stream has formed tiny alluvial flats, in which California Laurels and Alders luxuriate and have grown to great size. Here and there are groves of Redwood, the trees fifty to seventy feet high, straight and beautiful. They seem at first to be seedlings, but examination shows the stumps of big trees which were cut in the " fifties," and around each is a grove of sprouts. I know of no finer place to find the rate of this second growth, and hope to give measurements from these groves later on. In places the Wild Grape has overgrown Alder, Redwood and Laurel so completely that scarcely a leaf of the host can be seen. At all times when in foliage these masses of vines are striking, but in the fall the color of the leaves is gorgeous and there is nothing in our woods to equal their brilliancy.

The headland on the south side of the canon is densely clothed with trees. On the cool slopes the Black Oak, Quercus Californica, predominates, but Douglas Spruce and Madrona are abundant and their evergreen habit prevents the woods from ever seeming bare. The timbered land extends less than half a mile up the slopes to the south and then gives way to a dense and practically impassable mass of trees from fifteen to thirty feet high, mingled with tall shrubs, all in the greatest variety. The Mexican name for this dense growth is Chapparal, and by that name it is known throughout the state. It covers millions of acres of the high slopes on the north sides of the mountains of the Coast Range. The mountain sloping to the north of the canon, and facing south, is grassy, with scattering trees, mostly Post Oak, Q. Douglasii, a deciduous Oak with small lobate leaves and white bark. It thrives in hot places and dry lands, and usually forms a small tree, although occasionally three feet through. At less than half a mile from the stream the grass and trees give way to the Chemisal or Chemise Brush. Imagine slope after slope, hill after hill and mile after mile of low dense brush of a uniform blue green, which from the valley seems as smooth in outline and as close-cropped as a lawn, and gives to every mountain the same rounded outline, and you have Chemise Brush, Adenostorna fascicularis. This in winter. Imagine the same soft monotony of color and outline, with only a little more tawny a shade given by its dried-up flowers, and you have the appearance in summer and fall. Close at hand, Chemise is fully as dense, but not nearly as smooth, as it looks from a distance. Covering nearly all of the higher mountain of the east half of the Coast Range it is a world of itself and deserves separate treatment.

An old sled road, made by the pioneers who cut the Redwoods so long ago, leads up the canon. In some places it is overgrown, in others washed away, but a good walker can follow it, and if he loves nature he will be well repaid in any season, for between the high slopes of Chemise on the one side, and of Chapparal on the other, is enclosed a floral treasure-house, richer from the impassable surroundings. I have loved and traversed this canon for years, yet on my last trip I found a beautiful spot of whose existence I had never dreamed.

In the early spring the first flowers show in the warm Oak woods. The very earliest is Cardamine pausisecta, with beautiful leaves purple beneath, and fragrant white flowers. It is soon followed by our Cowslip. The form here is Dodecatheon Hendersonii, which, to my eye, is prettier than the much praised D. Clevelandii of the south. It is especially abundant at the edge of the Chemise Brush and in any little open place in it, and forms large beds. The plants which the children call Chocolate Lily, and which botanists know as Fritillaria lanceolata, grow freely in the Oaks and flower in late March. Its graceful habit atones to some extent for its dull flowers. It has been remarked that it should be grown with the waxy white bulb in the air, for this is covered thickly with pearl-like grains and is really beautiful. Soon, Buttercups, Ranunculus macranthus, the Nemophilas and a multitude of other plants follow in the midspring bloom. Up this little gully shaded by Live Oaks and Spruce, on a rocky ledge among the Fern and Poison Oak, are thousands of Dog-tooth Violets, Erythronium giganteum. The recurving petals measure two to two and a half inches across, creamy yellow in color, with an orange centre, and occasionally banded with maroon. The leaf-mold which has gathered in the rocky debris quite meets the needs of the plants.

In their seasons two Irises beautify the canon. In the gritty soil of the Oak woods along the warmer part of the canon and among the Manzanitas of the warm south slopes I. macrosiphon grows in abundance, and it seems to thrive in the hottest and driest places. It forms large clumps of hundreds of plants, the wiry rhizomes spreading until, in some cases, the dense clumps measure three feet across. It flowers in May and June, bearing many small but handsome flowers in shades of blue, lilac and purple. I. Douglasiana is quite different. Its home is where the little vale ends by the steep canon-sides. There in the deep and rich debris which has accumulated at the foot of the slopes it is at its best. Its leaves are long and glossy, the mats not crowded, and frequently few-stalked. The base of the leaves is rosy. Its exquisite flowers are large and few, borne well up, the ground-color creamy or ochre, with purple veining, the texture heavy and exquisitely frosted. I have seen no Iris to equal them in beauty. They grow even better in my Fern-bed than in the woods.

Ukiah, Calif. Carl Purdy.


for more information on historic Irises visit the Historic Iris Preservation Society at

-- BobPries - 2014-11-06
Topic revision: r1 - 06 Nov 2014, BobPries
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