Blue Sky Ecological Reserve is a 700-acre canyon in the city of Poway. It is a great place to see many of San Diego’s native plants. For the past couple of years I have given guided tours to my sons Boy Scouts troop. This is my guide to the plants of Blue Sky Ecological Reserve.
Starting Point: 16275 Espola Rd, Poway, CA 92064
Length: 2 miles
In terms of hiking, this is a very short trip, but can be significantly extended. The basic trail is only 1 mile long until you reach the turning point for hiking up to Ramona Dam. At this point you can turnaround or continue on a much steeper hike up to the top of Ramona Dam. Another extended hiking option is to take the right turnoff for Lake Poway at 0.9 miles into the hike.
We will save those longer hikes for other guides. For now, we are doing the simple 2 mile out-and-back hike through the canyon. Starting from the parking walk you walk right down into the canyon along a very wide road. A short ways in there is the option to head off on the Creekside trial. This narrow trail runs parallel to the main road by the creek. Just note to be very careful of the poison oak on this trail. We usually hike the main road in and the Creekside trail out (or vice versa).
If you go on the Creekside trail you will note a turnoff to the Oak Grove. This is a very short out and back walk to a grove of oak trees. Either way you go, this short hike ends at the turnoff for the Ramona Dam about 1 mile in. Here we turn around and head back.
About Blue Sky Ecological Reserve
What makes Blue Sky Ecological Reserve unique is that you can see four different sub-habitats in one concentrated place. These include:
- Oak Woodland
- Coast Sage Scrub
The reserve focuses on removing non-native and evasive plants so you truly get to see the area as it has existed for centuries. This area was home to the migratory Kumeyaay Indians. The Kumeyaay would live in the mountains in the summer and head towards the beach areas in the winter. Poway valley and Blue Sky Ecological Reserve is right at the foothills of the mountains and was a prime stopover space.
What You Will See in Blue Sky Ecological Reserve
The best time to go to Blue Sky Ecological Reserve is in the spring, hopefully right after a rain. Certain plants like the Purple Lupine only bloom right after it rains. Below are some highlights of what you might see in the Reserve. Make sure and look at the pictures in the slideshow to help identify plants.
Monkey Flowers: These orange/red flowers got their name because someone thought they saw a monkey’s image in the flowers. I will leave it to you to imagine that.
California Sunflower: This is distinct from the San Diego Sunflower in that it has a brown center while the San Diego version has a yellow center. One way to remember it is the brown center is like the brown bear on the California flag.
Witches Hair/Dodder: This is a native, but parasitic plant. It attaches to other plants and sucks them dry. The San Diego Reader had a nice article about the folklore behind this plant.
Jimson Weed: Look but don’t touch! Often called Beauty and the Beast because Jimson is beautiful but toxic to both eat and touch.
Miner’s Lettuce: Yes, this is something you can eat in a salad. Of course, if you are getting it from the wild make sure and carefully wash it first.
Wild Cucumber: Despite its name this is not edible! It is however beautiful. And no, this plant is not parasitic, it just uses other plants such as Laurel Sumac to climb all over.
Many of the plants in Blue Sky Ecological Reserve were actively used by the Kumeyaay. The many Coast Live Oak, as well as Scrub Oak were prized for their acorns. The Kumeyaay used both but preferred the Coast Live Oak. The Scrub Oak has acorns but is more like a bush without a trunk.
Lemonade Berry: This is a favorite among kids. Yes, you can eat or just lick the lemonade berry. The Kumeyaay mixed them with water to make a drink.
Yucca: The many yucca were a major plant for the Kumeyaay. They used the leaves for needles. Yucca fiber was used in clothing and textiles and the young flower trunk was edible. Yucca string was used to hold their houses (called e ‘waa) together. The Yucca is noted for dying after it blooms. It produces pups that grow next to the mother plant. Blue Sky Ecological Reserve is home to bats that love to eat the moths that pollinate the Yucca.
Arroyo Willow: The Arroyo Willow had many uses from house building to basket weaving. It was also used for medicinal purposes. It was favored for housing because it is said to act as a natural insect repellent.
Black Sage: Kumeyaay rubbed Black Sage on their bodies when going hunting. This allowed them to blend in and covered up their human smells.
This is only a small portion of what you can see in Blue Sky Ecological Reserve. Make sure to view my Powerpoint Presentation for more.