Citizen Tleilax

Mystery Plants and Identified Flora on the U-Vanu Trail off the Nancy Hoover Pohl Overlook in the Santa Monica Mountains

In the Santa Monica Mountains off Mulholland Drive just west of Laurel Canyon is the Nancy Hoover Pohl Overlook, one of my favorite places to hike. There are a couple different trails one can take from the overlook, one which connects to multiple other trail options in the area and one that is less than a mile long and dead-ends behind a neighborhood in the hills. The latter I believe is called the U-Vanu trail, but it’s hard to find an authoritative source for that–maps I’ve seen aren’t perfectly clear & the most confident sounding reference to it is from LAist here. Though the U-Vanu trail is short, it has a pretty diverse repertoire of flora to display, and I took all the following pictures in this lengthy post on the afternoon of February 20th, 2010. If you happen to download or post them anywhere, please credit to “D. Bene Tleilax” and a link back here would be nice. Thanks!

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Sometimes I’m not very good at distinguishing between species of a particular type of plant; I am also still very much an amateur with identification in general. If you see that I’ve made any errors please do me a favor and post your corrections!

First up are the mystery plants. Plants can be pretty difficult to search for when you don’t know their names and I haven’t had any success with these ones. Any tips would be appreciated.

mystery plant stalks
mystery plant stalk

This one has a somewhat similar growth habit to the Fuchsia Flowered Gooseberry (seen below) in the way its stalks protrude around its territory.


large mystery plant growth
large mystery plant

One of the most singularly prominent plants along the trail, there is only one of these creatures and it has staked out its claim on the steep hillside that descends into the canyon below. I am really curious about this particular plant. The leaves are very large and seem fuzzy, though I haven’t touched them since they are growing out the side of a cliff.


big leaves plant group

These leaves look really yummie to me, but I wouldn’t dare eat them without knowing what they are.


unknown herb

What is it?


purple flowers green berries
purple flower plant

The leaves look different in both of these pictures but I’m pretty sure they’re the same species of plant, the bottom just looks younger and less jumbled to me. In the bottom photo the leaves are shaped like hearts, much like sunflowers. Note the interesting and fairly large green berries in the top photo, which also sorta look like they could be flower buds except for how large some of them are.


spiky green plant leaves

These spiky leaves have a really nice light green color. They look really cool and I can’t wait to find out what this is.


white stalked herb

Another mysterious young spiny herb I’m quite fond of.


yellow & black flower group

These seem pretty clearly in the Asteraceae family but I’m not very familiar with flower species.


grass with seeds

I’m not up on my grasses either…


seashell leaves

These leaves look like seashells to me. The lighter green ones in the middle were actually that color even though it looks like it’s a lighting thing.


maybe toyon

The way the leaves all reach to the sky makes me think this is toyon (heteromeles arbutifolia), though this is a relatively new species to me and I could be mistaken.


maybe oak

This seems like some sort of oak, though I’m not sure.


maybe coast live oak (quercus agrifolia)

I think this might be a coast live oak (quercus agrifolia) based on the way the leaves all curve down, but it’s really hard for me to distinguish oaks right now since I haven’t studied them much and many of them seem quite similar.


young milk thistle (silybum marianum)

This appears to be a fresh patch of young milk thistle (silybum marianum) which hasn’t yet put up any stalks.


sugar bush group
sugar bush flowers (rhus ovata)

At first I thought this was laurel sumac (malosma laurina) since it has leaves very obviously shaped like taco shells. Then when flipping through a library copy of Flowering Plants of the Santa Monica Mountains I happened across sugar bush (rhus ovata) and saw that the flower style is significantly different from laurel sumac, and indeed that is actually what I had found.


ubiquitous black sage (salvia mellifera)

coastal sagebrush (artemisia californica)

The top is black sage (salvia mellifera), the bottom coastal sagebrush (artemisia californica), both ubiquitous shrubs in this area. Before I knew what sagebrush was I called it the “bubblegum plant” because of its strong gum-like scent. It’s one of my favorites. It’s also one of the plants I like to smoke when I roll herbal cigarettes from plants I harvest myself (mixed with mugwort, which can also be found along this trail though I didn’t take any pictures of it).


tree tobacco flowers
young tree tobacco plant

Speaking of smoking, this is tree tobacco (nicotiana glauca), the bottom being a handsome youngster. I’ve never actually tried smoking this even though I would like to, because I can’t find enough reliable information on it being safe to do so. I’ve seen references to it being smoked normally, but also seen references to it making your head feel like it’s going to explode. It’s tempting, but the fact that it has definitely killed people who ingested it in other ways gives me pause.


poisonous castor bean plant (ricinus communis)

The castor bean plant (ricinus communis) knows a bit about killing people, as its seeds are highly poisonous. As the genus name suggests, it contains the toxin known as “ricin”. It kinda looks like a wicked plant, doesn’t it? I think it looks really cool, and before I knew what it was it always stood out to me since it looks so strange and unique.


wild cucumber (marah macrocarpus)
wild cucumber tendril

Another deadly but neat looking plant, the wild cucumber (marah macrocarpus) has large spiky green seed pods containing seeds that were once used by the Chumash in a tea to peacefully euthanize those who wouldn’t be able to recover from some sort of accident that had befallen them, according to medicine woman Cecilia Garcia. The bottom picture displays a blurry and curly tendril grasping onto the branch of another plant, an easy way to spot this common vine.


canyon sunflower (venegasia carpesioides)

I’m usually more into weeds, herbs, and other plants which have definite practical usages than wildflowers, but ultimately I’m interested in learning all of the plants which grow around me. The canyon sunflower (venegasia carpesioides) is a pretty looking native and I love its large, healthy looking leaves.


buck brush shrub (ceanothus cuneatus)

Another new one for me, which I believe is the buck brush shrub (ceanothus cuneatus). It has taken me a while to see the differences between all the shrubs of the chaparral plant community; at first glance they all appear somewhat similar and non-distinct. Once I really started paying attention and focusing on their individual traits, they each became much more distinguished.


chamise (adenostoma fasciculatum)

This is chamise (adenostoma fasciculatum).


fuchsia flowered gooseberry (ribes speciosum)
close up of gooseberry flowers

The magnificent fuchsia flowered gooseberry (ribes speciosum). I love the way the stalks all protrude from the center, it looks very spidery and tentacled in a way. This really is a beautiful plant. The hanging flowers, dark, glossy leaves, and bright red or pink thorns make it quite unique and one of my favorite discoveries. Not to mention the berries that develop are edible.


horehound (marrubium vulgare)

Horehound (marrubium vulgare). There is lots of this weed along the trail. I like it.


sweet fennel (foeniculum vulgare)
sweet fennel

Finally we have sweet fennel (foeniculum vulgare), another common weed of the area. A long time ago I ordered fennel seeds in bulk for culinary usage, and it was a while before I discovered that they came from this plant (or one of its relatives). You can break off stalks of this plant and chew them right then and there, and it will fill your mouth with a licorice taste. Careful though, as it is said to look very similar to poison hemlock, which will fill your mouth with a death taste right then and there, or at least within about 15 minutes of horrid suffering. I’ve seen poison hemlock many times and to me it looks pretty different, but I suppose similar enough for everyone to always warn about it when talking about fennel. By the way, that dead stalk in the bottom picture is from a past generation of the plant–they can get pretty thick and tall.


I hope this collection of plants I’ve spotted along the trail is useful for anyone who may be trying to identify plants they’ve seen, though of course it is by no means comprehensive and I am no expert. The reason I made this post is mainly because nobody else has done something like this for that particular trail or portion of the mountains. I wish somebody had, because it makes learning about the plants you see on hikes much easier if you can look up pictures someone has taken from that exact location and match them to what you saw when you were there. Perhaps I will do more of this in the future.

Adventures in Living… Ethical Homelessness for the Sake of Personal Creativity and Philosophical Authenticity

At first, the implications of the title may sound strange. Homelessness for the sake of creativity? That certainly isn’t how we’re used to thinking. Society is very thorough about implanting the idea that we have to have a “place to live”, such as an apartment or room. Don’t we need something like that to work on our projects and move towards our goals? And thus don’t we have to work for somebody else to pay for it? The answer is no, at least not always. In fact, not worrying about paying rent bestows an amazing freedom that most people never get to experience as adults. That alone frees up a massive amount of time and energy for the pursuit of creative goals, provided one possesses or has access to the basic tools and/or social network required to maintain what I consider to be one’s real work.

And what do I mean by “ethical homelessness”? This simply refers to the fact that homelessness may be a more ethical option for those who cannot secure income from a source that is at least predominantly aligned with their philosophical ideals. It is an inherent contradiction to hold any sort of advanced views of how society should operate while working for a company that is simultaneously working against those views and using your labor to accomplish it. I personally feel like it damages my very existence and suppresses my personal power to follow that path.

It was a powerful realization to me that I could actually accomplish this type of lifestyle switch-up and essentially remove my enslavement to society’s traditional work/rent exchange (which I believe only exists due to an intentionally exploitative structure, but that’s another topic). Thus, after years of feeling repressed and oppressed by a rigid, life-sucking schedule, I decided that I was no longer willing to sacrifice my time, soul, and energy to things which I am not directly interested in pursuing. If a job cannot educate me extensively in ways I want for my own personal reasons, significantly further goals in the directions I am naturally drawn toward, or deploy my creativity in the exact way I want to do it myself, then I don’t want to be involved. Though I’ve found that it is possible for me to tolerate such utter submission, I have grown tired of it.

I would feel similarly even if an otherwise ethical job was taking too much energy and focus away from following my own drive. I feel like it’s important for me to do my own work since I have the compulsion to do so, even though it may not currently be financially productive enough to retain a home. But that is less of an ethical matter and more a personal commitment to what I myself want to spend my time doing. To be certain, if I could make enough money from my music, writing, art, or whatever else I want to do then I would prefer to have a home. It’s convenient, comfortable, private, and very useful for storage. But it is a luxury, and the exchange of comforts and convenience for freedom is worth it to me.

A question has been posed to me–isn’t that what going to college is for, so you can get a degree and pursue a career doing what you like? This question reveals a very innocent view of higher education, one which tends to dispel itself quickly as you age and begin seeing how the job market works. I do, incidentally, have a college degree: a Bachelor’s in philosophy, the only formal program I found I could tolerate at the universities I had the option to attend. To me, the degree is useless. And of course it goes without saying that many people with degrees in all fields end up in various sorts of tedious jobs anyway.

My time is valuable, far more so than most jobs are worth. The creative contributions to society and culture that I am capable of deserve my attention. All bottom level jobs I’ve worked were simplistic, a waste of my talent and intellect, as they are for many people. Many “good” jobs are painfully dull or at the very least distracting, and I’m no longer willing to disrespect myself by participating in such wasteful activity. By leaving that world behind, I will be thrust further into learning many things that I want to learn, and I will fill the space left vacant with more work on my own projects. I’d rather live my life as an uncertain adventure than as a struggling worker drone, and I look forward to being immersed in the issues that such a lifestyle presents.

Purposefully operating without a secure home can be very difficult, uncomfortable, and even dangerous due to an increased state of vulnerability (to cops, thieves, and other shady characters), and I don’t want anyone to assume that I am an expert simply because I am writing about the topic. I’m still figuring it out and doing my best to strategize. But I am willing to make the necessary sacrifices to see how it works for me, and I am now immersed in what could be a long stretch of homelessness. To be clear, I am living in my car (not a van), so I do have a bit of private space and shelter which could technically be considered my “home”. It would be immensely more challenging to have no owned space whatsoever while still devoting consistent attention to one’s work, though still possible as long as the general location was strategic enough.

I plan to compile a list of basic practical tips which have helped me, once I’ve gotten my methods fairly established. By far the most difficult aspect of my experience thus far has been learning to let go of all the stuff I’ve accumulated over the years, since I no longer have the space to accommodate such possessions. While most of the things I’ve held onto had artistic or educational ends, they were in a sort of homeostasis until I found the opportunity to utilize them. Losing almost all personal space has emphasized how much of a luxury it is to maintain any possessions whatsoever outside of what’s immediately useful. Though it is difficult, it is liberating to cut down on these sorts of attachments.

To allay any potential misinterpretation, I want to clarify that when I refer above to a “social network” that does not mean people whose houses one can stay at all the time, nor people whose food can regularly be eaten, etc. It is very important to make sure one is not exploiting friends and acquaintances and taking advantage of their kindness. Success in this venture requires being as self-sufficient as possible, because repeatedly using the fruits of another person’s labor to support yourself is, rather obviously, actually less ethical than working yourself (it is analogous to the flawed logic and externalization of unethical activity at play in what I call “pseudovegan freeganism”). It’s fine to occasionally request a favor from someone who has offered their services, but it is essential to rely mainly upon your own means of support.

Finally, since I refer so frequently to myself in this essay, I want to specifically express that I don’t think myself superior in any way for taking this step (or any other, for that matter). Everybody is in their own unique circumstances and I think it is another flaw, a very common one, to expect others to do things that you feel are right for yourself. I think practicing elitism in any form is detrimental to the common social good. I am merely writing about my own personal reasons for the way I live my life, for informational and inspirational purposes. I hope that I can provide some interesting thoughts and directions to consider for those who may be in similar situations, fed up with a frustrating and restricting life. The 6th paragraph might even be read aloud to yourself as a personal affirmation of your own worth and power. Please feel free to let me know your thoughts, whatever they may be, as they help me develop my own.

And if you’re able and inclined, you can help me out by donating any amount to my general survival / productivity fund.

Please do not Disturb the Weed Garden – Chickweed and an Inefficient Society

My companion and I have a small patch of space in the common area of our little apartment compound which we cleared with the intention of starting a garden. We haven’t exactly gotten around to planting anything yet, but we did some preparation and a sign that says “Please do not disturb the garden” now sits in the corner, directed at the over-zealous landscapers hired by our landlord. They have dutifully heeded the sign and left our space free of intervention, and recently it has blossomed with a bounty of vibrant weeds. Well, it’s mainly just one weed–chickweed (Stellaria media)–which also happens to be quite edible, nutritious and medicinally valuable. And it just grows there without provocation! Rather considerate of the cute little thing if you ask me; I have a strong affinity for those that get by without being too dependent on others to take care of them.

As I sit here munching on a bowl of fresh, raw chickweed (a nice, tasty green crunch) and drinking chickweed tea, I once again marvel at the ignorance and stupidity of our society when it comes to plants. If our sign hadn’t been there, the “gardeners” wouldn’t have hesitated to eradicate this plant, even though the slightest bit of research shows that it actually has a utility value for humans. For no real reason besides cultural conditioning, it appears “unsightly” to people who have pathetically limited notions of what is acceptable to grow and how plants should look. They may even know what type of plant it is, since it is a commonly hated weed!

This example (see another below) reflects a major systemic failure of modern society. Again and again, it refuses to acknowledge things which could easily benefit it. To me, some of the most omnipresent and “noxious” weeds are just plants trying to get our attention as a species. They pop up everywhere saying, “Hello, look at me! I can help you!” and they wait to be recognized for their positive attributes… but most people aren’t paying attention. It’s this type of cultural mistake that causes a horrendous inefficiency in the way we as a people operate, as countries, companies, or just individuals. Too much energy is wasted on doing things the hard way or wasted on goals that are just plain wrong, instead of looking at solutions that are right in front of our faces.

On top of it, this stubborn ignorance about weeds is regularly enforced through sanctions against those who don’t conform to rules dictated by the empty despot that is Appearance. Tragically, this means that even if some individuals occasionally recognize the value of a yard or field full of weeds, they may very well cave in and prevent their growth simply to avoid the social pressures that may result from doing something different from the herd.

Personally, I’ve long been acclimated to life outside the norm and relish my usual position as the “strange one” in a variety of respects. As is probably quite clear, I love “weeds” (I just think of them as plants) and am happy to have a weed garden. I’m also thankful that they’re so tenacious–it’s nice to know that I will be able to receive help from many of them almost anywhere I go.

Please do not Disturb the Weed Garden (chickweed)


*For another example, read Green Deane’s writing about how Florida failed to deal with a weed situation efficiently (scroll down to the bottom quarter of the page, the entry “14 March 2008: Attitude Makes The Difference”).

A Hiking Adventure on Local Trails

May 21st, 2009:

Two sunny days ago, my companion and I embarked upon our weekly ritual of traversing the various trails of our local mountain wilderness. We arrived at a location previously unexplored by ourselves, and of the few possible paths accessible to foot-travel, we decided to take the westernmost trail. The entrance to this trail lies subtly amongst the scrub brush behind a half-circle of stone which serves as a bench for those who ascended to this point merely to look out into the canyon, a view which is admittedly quite fine. Because the trailhead could be easily overlooked by most, it in fact stood out to me as one which ought to be explored with immediate haste.

The trail followed a rather sharp decline down a northern facing slope. After perhaps a mite more than 5 minutes of steady travel, the path flattened out for merely a couple of yards, largely beneath accommodating trees with horizontal branches perfect for resting upon for a spell if one were weary on his way back up. As indicated by the ancient, fading black spray paint which decorated nearly all of the trees’ surface area with now indecipherable text and the surrounding multitude of much younger bottles and cans once filled with cheap American beer, the spot had indeed been used as an out-of-the-way respite. One traveler had even left a zippable sweatshirt behind, perhaps as a gift to the tree in exchange for its temporary shelter.

At this point, my companion and I decided that the road to the canyon bottom was too steep to further descend without walking sticks. Using a black plastic bag from a liquor store conveniently left behind, we proceeded instead to gather all of the aluminum cans, as I am in the consistent habit of doing wherever I happen across significant quantities of them. Aluminum is one of my most favored metals, from a purely practical perspective. Its utility value is high, and when converted into appropriate forms of energy–a process executed with fair simplicity–it propels both my vehicle and myself with the fuel it provides.

After depositing our unexpected bounty of metal into the trunk of my motor carriage, we proceeded down the easternmost trail. Following this trail, we walked upon a path which was on one side an often precipitous drop to the canyon floor, and on the other a hill raising itself at various grades. Throughout the trail was a wide variety of herbaceous growth, most of which are common and considered weeds. Many of them I could not yet identify, having still much to learn in my studies, but I will provide a small list of those whose names I know: sweet fennel, milk thistle, mugwort, blessed thistle, sagebrush, horehound, tree tobacco, and castor oil plants.

The trail ended after less than a mile near a group of unoccupied houses, mostly obscured from view by the vine-covered growth on the close hillside. A shaded staircase made of half meter long dirt steps reinforced by wooden blocks steeply ascended into a backyard which featured a swimming pool completely greened by algae. We descended stairs on the opposite side of the pool and walked around to the front of the house which brought the others into view. A cursory glance noted that two had suffered severe structural damage, perhaps as the result of a previous earthquake or natural erosion. The two with damage were quite easily accessible, with no efforts made whatsoever to block entrance to their interiors. The more elevated of the two, however, looked as though it would be a significant physical risk to wander through. We therefore entered the less damaged one and began to walk through its rooms, examining the remains.

Magazines were strewn about each room, popular ones dealing with very surface-level fashion trends and sex advice. Drawers remained, empty and without dressers to plug into. In the kitchen, vines had covered the windows and let only a thin and greenly tinted light into the room–a very attractive effect which I would consider worthy of designing for on purpose. Many things had been left behind in the various cupboards and drawers. Among the objects we retrieved were an unused spool of white thread with needle attached, a tomato-shaped pincushion filled with pins, four cans of vegetarian-suitable baked beans, a new box of Earl Gray tea, a tin emblazoned with the British flag containing cigarette rolling papers, a ball of rope-like twine, and some fabric. There were more items worth taking, however we did not wish to burden ourselves too much for the hike back and so perhaps another visit shall be in order for the future.

Upon our return to my vehicle, I took a square of cardboard and a knife and, grasping with the cardboard in my left hand, proceeded to slice off one freshly tweening cladode from three different opuntia specimens in the area, distributing my harvest among them out of respect for their new growth. We then vacated the premises and retired to our abode. After despining and chopping the opuntia cladodes, called “nopales” in Mexican cuisine, I added them to a pot filled with the canned beans we had acquired from the deserted residence, wherein they served as a delicious and nutritious vegetable in this meal which was fully and freely provided to us by the day’s adventuring.

Exploration of Local Territory on My Bicycle

June 8th, 2009:

Today I embarked upon a mission of exploration throughout the topography of nearby urbania, accompanied only by my bicycle. This particular mission lasted a total of five and three quarter hours. I brought a small bag of peanuts but no money or tools, as I was confident if I needed anything for some reason, I would find items which would help me. The universe frequently provides me with resources in unexpected ways, consistently enough to almost count on it. Other than thoroughly decorating the streets with my energetic trails and increasing my general knowledge of the local territory, this mission provided a few notable elements which I shall describe below.

First was the discovery of a small collection of accidentally discarded items which appear to have formerly been possessed by some sort of middle-aged “bum”. These were lying in disarray halfway on and off a sidewalk. There were a few calling cards, a bunched up gaudy thing that used to be a cheap necklace but was now hopelessly entangled, three almost-full lighters, a ticket for drinking in public dated three days ago (indicating the ticketee as a male in his forties), and two giftcards. One was for a store I can’t recall but had no interest in, the other for Starbucks– I took the latter, leaving the other as a potential gift for someone else who might find it. I suspected the cards might have some value still, because the loss of these items did not seem intentional, which I judged by the ticket and the fuel levels of the lighters. I also took the necklace bunch (I’m fond of such things), two of the lighters (the third was covered in grime), and went to the nearest payphone to check the balance of the giftcard. It had $2.75 left, and later in the day I used it to refresh myself with an iced green tea from a company I would never patronize otherwise, guilty as it is for its deplorable role in the homogenization of culture and aggressive approach to stamping out independent competition.

Much to my elation, on my way home I discovered a community of flourishing dandelions in a nice little unused patch of space short-walled off from the sidewalk and adjacent to a rundown looking motel. The green of their leaves was healthy and vibrant and they were in various states of growth, many having already gone to seed, with others soon to convert their yellow flowers into the familiar white spherical puff of pappus-equipped seeds. They were poking out of several cracks in the cement and between the paving and the side of the motel, with a few young ones growing in a weedy square patch of loose dirt. Using a nearby discarded plastic bag from 7-Eleven, I gathered leaves from many different plants, being sure to not take an amount that would cripple any given individual one of them. This is to ensure they remain viable for future gatherings. I uprooted a few of the young ones, as the dandelion’s thick taproot is very valuable as well. As payment for my harvest I took several seed wands and blew them around many locations to help the dandelions establish themselves elsewhere–much, I’m sure, to many people’s ignorance-induced chagrin. Were they aware of the myriad nutritional and medicinal benefits this plant provides, they would relish its presence.

As I proceeded to work my way back home, I rode through a neighborhood filled with very nice–and expensive–houses. Ambling down the street, I noticed an alley which had a wall almost completely covered in perhaps 50 brightly colored neon posterboard rectangles, each with writing on them. Thinking this must be some sort of school project from a nearby private school, or perhaps someone’s fun decorations, I approached the wall to read what it had to say. Interestingly, nearly every single one said almost the exact same thing, but worded in different ways with a unique message every once in a while. All of them were accusatory declamations against the person who apparently lived in the house opposite the alley from the colorful wall of disapproval. The main topic was four cameras which were located around the person’s heavily fortified property, pointing at the sidewalks and the alley. The author of the posterboards was very upset that people were being filmed against their will and in violation of their rights by the “coward” and “peeping tom” who installed them. The writings emphasized that he is purposefully focusing on children and that one of the cameras is aimed at a playground across the street, implying the man is a pedophilic pervert.

This was a very strange sight in what seemed to otherwise be a calm neighborhood populated by well-off people. I looked at the camera positioning, and while they are indeed filming public territory, they could also simply be security cameras installed by a paranoid and overprotective property owner. However, in order to receive such a virulent public rebuking, I suspect the issue goes much deeper than surface appearances. I rode on and, upon arriving home, made a delicious sandwich with the dandelion leaves I had acquired. Thus conclude the mild tales of another day’s experiences, garnered while wandering almost aimlessly, going in whatever direction any fleet whim propels me.