Backpacking in the San Gabriels

The San Gabriel Mountains are the middle of three sets of transverse ranges–the only  mountains in California that run East to West instead of North to South. They sit due north of Los Angeles and due south of Lancaster and the Western Mojave. Further to the east are the taller and more isolated San Bernardinos, a botanical hot spot that I explored extensively last year. But the San Garbiels are unique and beautiful in their own right, and it was high time I spent some time there. So I went on a three day backpack trip into the Pleasant View Ridge wilderness, and wow, it did not disappoint. The “pleasant view” to the South was somewhat blocked by clouds. That’s okay, I didn’t need to see LA anyway.

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But the pleasant view into the desert was clear. This picuture doesn’t fully capture it, but I could see the whole way across the Mojave up to the Southern Sierras.

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Okay, onto the flowers. First, three relatively common flowers that were photogenic enough to include:  Penstemon grinnellii (Grinnell’s Beardtongue, Plataginaceae)


Calochortus kennedyi (Desert Mariposa Lily, Liliaceae)


Dudleya cymosa pumila (Low Canyon Liveforever, Crassulaceae)


Okay, all the rest of these plants are rare (or at least relatively range restricted). I found all of them on steep granitic scree slopes. Scree is a mass of loose rocks unstable enough that trees and shrubs have difficulty growing. This open environment allows small plants greater access to water and sunlight.  First, a couple plants that I’ve met and photographed once before. They are both amazing enought to deserve a second helping.  Fritillaria pinetorium (Pine Woods Fritillary, Liliaceae)


Mimulus johnstonii (Johnston’s Monkeyflower, Phrymaceae)


Okay, now to my new discoveries. Allium monticola (San Bernadino Mountain Onion, Alliaceae). I’m not too sure who came up with this common name, because there are far more populations of this species in the San Gabriels than the San Bernadinos.


Caulanthus amplexicaulus (Clasping-leaved Jewelflower, Brassicaceae). I’m going to keep trying (and mostly failing) to photograph jewelflowers. Their small, weird flowers are some of my favorites, and this species has really cool, veiny leaves too.

Chaenactis santolinoides (Santolina Pincushion, Asteraceae)


Phacelia austromontana (Southern Mountains Phacelia, Boraginaceae).  This picture is a bit confusing because there is another species of Phacelia (Phacelia longipes) in bud just to the left of the open flowers.


Oreonana vestita (Wooly Mountainparsley, Apiaceae). This is a new genus for me (there are only two other species in it, both with narrow ranges in southern California Mountains). Each gray-green leaf is folded in on itself like a head of broccoli, and the fruits are hidden in between sterile flowers.

Hulsea vestita gabrielensis (San Gabriel Mountains Alpinegold, Asteraceae). An absolutely adorable plant with super fuzzy leaves!


And finally, my favorite from the hike, Linanthus concinnus (San Gabriel Linanthus, Polemoniaceae).



Cleaning up in Kern County

I spent last Friday looking for some rare plants in the Southern Sierras with a fellow plant nerd. Out of our five target species, we managed a clean sweep!

Our first stop was at a pull-off on highway 178 in the lower Kern River Canyon. I’ve looked for rare plants here several times, but always came up short. This time, however, my luck changed. There, on a rocky cliff, a cluster of pink flowers! It was Delphinium purpusii (Rose-flowered Larkspur, Ranunculaceae). I’ve seen blue larkspurs, and purple ones, white larkspurs, and red, but this was my first pink Delphinium. This species, endemic to western Kern and Tulare Counties, is the only pink larkspur in North America. So of course I scrambled 50 feet up through thickets of poison oak to get a closer look!


Amazingly, this wasn’t the only rare plant of the stop. Hiding just blow the larkspur, was another very local endemic, Clarkia exilis (Slender Clarkia, Onagraceae).


Yes, its pink flowers are showy, but nevertheless it is tricky to pick out among its globally much more common, and much hairier cousin Clarkia unguiculata (Woodland Clarkia).


Our next stop was the granite gravel plains of Kelso Creek and surrounds. Here we ran into two plants that I met (and posted about) last year. However I managed to get better pictures this time around. Canbya candida (Pygmy Poppy, Papaveraceae)


and Mimulus shevockii (Kelso Creek Monkeyflower, Phrymaceae)


The former is found in scattered occurrences throught the western Mojave, while the latter is only found here. Both extremely small and extremely adorable annuals.

Finally, we headed into the Greehorn Mountains north of Lake Isabella, with one prize in mind. A short hike and a long search revealed exactly one flowering Fritillaria brandegeei (Greenhorn Mountains Fritillary, Liliaceae).


I’ve looked for this rarity about 5 times now, so it was sweet to finally track it down.

I had a very successful botanical hike this weekend, so I will post about that soon.

Spring Break Trips

The spring break at CSU Bakersfield was this past week, conveniently timed for the start of flowering season. I decided to take full advantage by squeezing in three hikes that involved significant botanizing. Two were to Califonia’s central coast. First, I embarked on a long hike in the Silver Peak Wilderness in South-Westernmost Monterey County. While there were plenty of flowers, I didn’t turn up anything I hadn’t seen before. However I did come across some old friends:

Acmispon cytisoides (Bentham’s Deerweed, Fabaceae)


Mimulus douglasii (Mouse Ears, Phrymaceae)


And a flower in the super underappreciated genus, the Sanicles. Sanicula bipinnatifida (Purple Sanicle, Apiaceae).


I love the tiny fuzzy balls of Sanicle flowers. To prove it, I’ll post a second, even cooler Sanicle–Sanicula arctopoides (Footsteps of Spring)


That last plant was actually blooming along another lovely coastal hike in Rancho Corral de Tierra, San Mateo county (just south of San Francisco). Flowers were less numerous here, but some of the ones I did find were new to me–Castilleja subinclusa franciscana (Franciscan Paintbrush, Orobanaceae)


Trillium chloropetalum (Giant Wakerobin, Melanthiaceae)


and Arabis blepharophylla (Coast Rockcress, Brassicaceae).


However, the clear botanical highlight of spring break occurred much further north, on the Table Rocks near Medford, Oregon. This area was covered by an ancient lava flow that has mostly eroded away. Currently all that’s left are two large, flat-topped mesas that each spring are covered with vernal pools and rare plants.


I was a kid in a candy store. First, two plants in genera that are new to me. The modest Crocidium multicaule (Spring Gold, Asteraceae) looks like a typical daisy, but it can form massive colonies that carpet the ground


More impressive individually is Olsynium douglasii (Douglas’s Grasswidow, Iridaceae), which was already almost finished flowering in the area


While those two plants have relatively wide distributions, the next two are only found in Jackson County, Oregon.

Ranunculus austro-oreganus (Southern Oregon Buttercup, Ranunculaceae). You can distinguish this species from the much more common Ranunculus occidentalis by the red veins on the backs of the petals.


Limnanthes floccosa pumila (Dwarf Wooly Meadowfoam, Limnanthaceae) is found nowhere else in the world but the top of the Table Rocks.


My favorite plant of the hike, however, was Erythronium hendersonii (Henderson’s Fawn Lily, Liliaceae). Flowers in this genus are usually yellow or white, making these purple flowers really unique. Additionally, the plant was crazily abundant throughout the hike up to the top. I tried to capture a sense of it in the second picture, but it really doesn’t do it justice.


Finally, I’ll close with another genus of lily, the Fritillaries. While I’ve seen all three of these species before, it’s one of my all-time favorite genera. Additionally, I saw one species on each of these three hikes, so there’s some nice symmetry there.

From the Silver Peak Wilderness, Fritillaria biflora (Chocolate Lily)


From Rancho Corral de Tierra, Fritillaria affinis (Checker Lily)


And from Table Rocks, Fritillaria recurva (Scarlet Fritillary)


With the semester winding down and the flowers ramping up, I should be posting much more frequently in the coming months. My plan is to start this weekend, when I might even try for more Fritillaries.


Ready for more Rambles

Last winter, after half a decade of drought, the rains fell early and often across the state of California. By March, the deserts and grasslands were alive in a glorious riot of wildflowers–a genuine, bona fide Super Bloom. I joined the birds and bees, moths and mammals to greet those colorful fields of corollas. This March…well…it’s shaping up to be firmly less floral. The past few days, however, hope in the form of charcoal clouds and chilly rain showers. Will we have a miracle this March? Will my army of amazing annuals be delayed, but not dormant? Will I decide I’ve already used ample alliteration and alter my approach? I’m ready to ramble on regardless!

A couple weeks ago I met some friends in Anza Borrego State Park in Colorado Desert.

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I had every intention of ditching them to look for blog content (a.k.a. rare plants), but it was as dry as a desert out there! I wasn’t completely skunked, but it was close. All and all, I saw maybe 10 species in bloom. While there were no annuals in sight, desert shrubs are a tough bunch. Their deep taproots and water storage abilities mean that some of them can bloom on schedule, even in the driest years. The toughest among them don’t even bother with leaves while they flower. Case and point, Asclepias albicans (White-stemmed Milkweed, Asclepiaceae).

This is definitely the most hard-core milkweed I’ve ever met (and, incidentally, the tallest). It was happily blooming away on a bone-dry hillside in the Carrizo Badlands, basically just some chalky sticks and wonky flowers.

Another leafless wonder is Psorothamnus spinosus (Smoke Tree, Fabaceae), with its orange gland-dotted calyx. It’s quite a large shrub that commonly grows in dry washes.


I only have one other plant to post from the trip. This one does have leaves and more normal flowers, but I think it’s pretty great anyway, as it’s rare–only found on the western edge of the Colorado Desert. Xylorhiza orcuttii (Orcutt’s Woody Aster, Asteraceae).

I also get to add this species to my growing collection of “plants seen with crab spiders” (check out the right picture).

I wish I had more to offer up (and better photos, the light was consistently terrible!), but this trio will have to serve as an tiny appetizer until next time. My current plan is to see if thing are bloom-ier in Death Valley next weekend. If not, my best bet will be to ramble much further North!

Eclipse Trip

Last week I drove a long ways to the to watch the coolest thing I ever will see in the sky–a total solar eclipse. To get there, I travelled through the Mojave Desert, onto the spectacularly scenic Colorado Plateau, and through the Great Basin Desert, before winding up in the Sawtooth Wilderness in the Western Rocky Mountains. If you’re into geopolitical boundaries, that’s California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Idaho. As I drove east through the desert, I went from basically completely flowerless areas to places with a bunch of things in bloom. That’s because while summer rains are basically non-existent in the Western Mojave, more eastern American deserts have a summer monsoon season, and a group of late-blooming species have evolved to take advantage. Unfortunately (for this blog), many of the summer bloomers–especially the annuals–have tiny, boring flowers. Here are a couple late-blooming desert species that are showy enough to post.

Oenothera pallida (Pale Evening Primrose, Onagraceae)


Mentzelia laevicaulis (Smoothstem Blazingstar, Loasaceae)


Moving further Northeast, I started to run into more permanent sources of water, with more summer flowers. Around Utah Lake, I found Geranium viscosissimum (Sticky Geranium, Geraniaceae) and Cleome serrulata (Rocky Mountain Beeplant, Cleomaceae).


And in some depressions near Magic Reservoir in Idaho, I ran into Camissonia tanacetifolia (Tansy-leafed Evening Primrose, Onagraceae) and Downingia laeta (Great Basin Calicoflower, Campanulaceae)


The best botany, however was up in the mountains, where many montane and alpine meadows were still in glorious full bloom. Anticlea elegans (Mountain Deathcamas, Melianthaceae) formed large displays in marshy areas,


while Epilobium orbicordum (Rock Fringe, Onagraceae) grew among the boulders


Calochortus eurycarpus (White Mariposa Lily, Liliaceae) was amazingly common throughout the four day hike. I don’t think I’ve ever met a Calochortus I haven’t liked.


I was particularly excited to find two late season wildflowers that were rocking the fringed look– Parnassia fimbriata (Fringed Grass of Parnassus, Parnassiaceae) and Swertia perennis (Star Gentian, Gentianaceae).

Gentians, in particular, scream “end of summer” to me, and thus this post will likely wrap up the rambles for the year. I’ll be back following the winter rains next year.

Southern Oregon and the Trinity Alps

As the summer has gone on and flowers have become harder to find, I’ve slacked off on my botanizing. The past week, I took a trip way up North to the Trinity Alps in North-West California, even sneaking into Oregon. While these are great places for weird and rare plants (see post from a year ago), this time, the late season and complete lack of botanical planning did me in. To be fair, plants weren’t my top priority this time. I did, however, scrounge up 10 post-worthy plants that I hadn’t previously photographed. First, here’s a picture of the beautiful and under-visited Trinities from near the Boulder Lakes with one of my favorite plants from my last trip here–Darlingtonia california (California pitcher plant, Sarraceniaceae), in the foreground.

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Okay, flowers in in no particular order: Calochortus tolmiei (Hairy Star Tulip, Liliaceae)


Nothochelone nemorosa (False Turtlehead, Plantaginaceae)


Another large, pink, bee pollinated flower Mimulus lewisii (Lewis’s Monkeyflower, Phyrmaceae)


Gentianopsis simplex (Hiker’s Fringed Gentian, Gentianaceae), a species actually more common in the Sierras than in Northwestern California



Rudbeckia occidentalis (Western Coneflower, Asteraceae). This species, unlike some others in the genus doesn’t have showy yellow ray flowers surrounding the brown disk flowers, but pollinators seem to find it just fine, anyway.


Pedicularis racemosa (Leafy Lousewort, Orobanchaceae), one of the few species with asymmetric flowers.


Cordylanthus tenuis (Slender Birdsbeak, Orobanchaceae)


Goodyera oblongifolia (Western Rattlesnake Plantain, Orchidaceae)

Kopsiopsis strobilacea (California Groundcone, Orobanchaceae). This completely parasitic plant really does look like a pine cone sitting on the ground when it’s in flower. This individual is fruiting.


Another plant with a great common name is Vancouveria hexandra (Northern Inside Out Flower, Berberidaceae). This is the first picture I’ve posted of this family, which also includes Oregon Grape (Berberis)


And finally, Trichostema simulatum (Siskiyou Bluecurls). Last post I talked about looking for the rare pink-flowered morph of the related Trichostema laxum. I found a whole pink-flowered population of this, more northern species.


I’ll probably squeeze in one more post this year before going dormant for the fall and winter. I’m going to completely leave California behind to do it.

Botany on the Side

I’ve just returned from a week-long road trip into the North Coast Ranges (Sonoma, Lake, and Napa Counties) where the goals were to 1) visit friends and 2) do a little field research at McLaughlin Research Station. The focus of the latter was Trichostema laxum (Turpentine Weed, Lamiaceae), which normally looks like this:


This plant usually occurs in large patches of plants (hundreds to many thousands of plants) in serpentine seeps (see previous blog posts for a description of this cool habitat). In many populations, 1 to a few individuals are pink instead of purple:


This color is the result of a recessive mutation, and plants with pink flowers seem to be otherwise just as healthy and have otherwise the same traits as purple-flowered plants. Pollinators don’t really seem to notice the color difference, and will freely visit these mutants. The goal of this research is to take advantage of the mutation by finding, marking, and measuring pink-flowered plants, and then collecting their seeds. Because this is a super rare recessive trait, if the offspring are pink, it is very likely they are the result of self-pollination. Conversely, any purple-flowered progeny must be the result of out-crossing with another plant. Therefore if we can find a bunch of pink individuals, we can ask interesting questions about how things like the number of flowers, the flower shape, and the environment (such as whether the area has recently burned) affect outcrossing rates.

While the focus of this week was not at all recreational botany, of course I found and photographed a few plants.

First some relatively broadly distributed species that have not yet made an appearance on this blog. Clarkia amoena (Farewell-to-spring, Onagraceae)–a beautiful annual that is readily available as a garden ornamental.


Lilium pardalinum (Leopard Lily, Lilaceae)–I actually have photographed and posted this one before, but it was a few years ago on Facebook, and it’s enough of a show-stopper that I’m re-posting.


and Mimulus bolanderi (Bolander’s Monkeyflower, Phrymaceae)–while this species is relatively common, especially in the central Sierras, plants in the inner North Coast Ranges such as this one are much smaller-flowered than elsewhere and may represent a distinct subspecies (or even a different species).


As I’ve blogged about previously, McLaughlin is a hotbed for rare flowers because it has large outcrops of harsh serpentine soils. While I’ve previously found and photographed many of these, I managed to add a few new ones this trip:

Collinsia greenei (Green’s Blue-eyed Mary, Plantaginaceae), the only all-purple member of the genus


Streptanthus morrisonii (Morrison’s Jewelflower, Brassicaceae). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you really have to meet plants in this genus in person for full appreciation. The yellow things sticking out of the flower are two sterile stamens than are fused together–function unknown.


And two plants that are in fruit, rather than in flower: Lomatium repostum (Napa Biscuitroot, Apiaceae)


and Asclepias solanoana (Serpentine Milkweed, Apocynaceae)


The former species has pretty boring flowers, so the fruiting stage is actually more photogenic. I’m a bit sad I missed the flowers on the latter, however, as it has beautiful purple and white flowers. It was still neat to see the typical milkweed pod on this weird prostrate plant. This plant may be from the southernmost population of this species.

I’m still debating, but I think my itinerary for next week will involve more rare serpentine plants from even further north. Who knows, maybe I’ll even find a flowering Serpentine Milkweed.