I took a lot of plant photos this month. California had its warmest winter on record, and the rains we did get started relatively early. Therefore plants that don’t normally bloom until April or even May were already out in full force. I spent time in March botanizing at four places. I took my first trip of the year up to my field site at McLaughlin Reserve in eastern Napa county. The harsh serpentine soils there make for an abundance of rare and interesting flowers. It’s still early in the season up there. The plants around Santa Cruz are really getting going, so I’ve been taking breaks from my dissertation to wander around campus. I also made it to two locations in the Southern Inner Coast Ranges. The first was a return visit to a ranch that UCSC is acquiring for which I am building the plant species list. That site was in peak bloom. Finally I camped for a night in the Panoche Hills BLM land. I was really excited about the potential for cool wildflowers on the unusual shale soils down there, but I was about 3 weeks too late. It’s not even April, and most of the hillsides were already brown and crispy.
Rather than group plants by location, I’m going to organize this post taxonomically, putting more closely related plants closer together. There are around 400,000 plant species on the planet, and around 6,000 of those occur in California (1,000 of which are introduced non-natives). That’s an overwhelming number of species to learn. Therefore, rather than recognizing individual species, a beginning botanist focuses on learning his or her plant families. There are 620 families of plants, and only 185 in California. Each plant family is comprised of one or more genera (singular–genus), which in turn are made up of one or more species (species is singular or plural). Luckily, because species in a family share a long evolutionary history, they often have a unique combination of features in the stem, leaves, flowers, and fruits. By recognizing these traits, I can usually guess the family of an unknown plant. From there, I work through a taxonomic key to identify the species. All plant families end in the suffix -aceae. I’ll present my photos in roughly the order that they would most commonly be arranged in a plant collection. I’ll also give you the plant family, location, and whether it’s particularly rare. Almost all of these species are only found in California.
One more thing before I stop rambling. I took a ton of pictures this month, but I’m limiting this post to my favorite 20. My selection process included a combination of the picture quality, the beauty of the flower, and, to borrow from Immanuel Kant, the plant’s sublimity (No, I haven’t actually read Kant, this is cut-rate, secondhand philosophy). To me, something is the most sublime if it is globally uncommon, there is nothing else similar to it, and it has unique interactions with other things. Incidentally, this definition works for any thing–say, a book. Unlike beauty, which is immediate, sublimity can only be gauged by understanding the history and context of a thing. I’m drawn to sublimity over beauty, especially in nature, which I think is one of the main reasons I study ecology and evolution. Okay, enough already. On with the flowers! Click on the photos to expand them to full size.
Clarkia tembloriensis (Temblor Clarkia). Onagraceae. Panoche Hills. Limited species range.
Eremalche parryi (Parry’s Mallow). Malvaceae. Panoche Hills. Limited species range.
Astragalus breweri (Brewer’s Milkvetch). Fabaceae. McLaughlin. Rare plant.
Hosackia gracilis (Witches Teeth). Fabaceae. UCSC. Rare plant.
Horkelia cuneata (Wedgeleaf Horkelia). Rosaceae. UCSC. Limited species range.
Eriogonum angulosum (Anglestem Buckwheat). Polygonaceae. Panoche Hills.
Collomia diversifolia (Serpentine Collomia). Polomoniaceae. McLaughlin. Rare plant.
Sanicula bipinnatifida (Purple Sanicle). Apiaceae. UCSC.
Amsinkia intermedia (Common Fiddleneck). Boraginaceae. McLaughlin.
Phacelia tanacetifolia (Tansy-leafed Phacelia). Boraginaceae. Panoche Hills.
Asclepias californica (California Milkweed). Apocynaceae. The Ranch.
Orobanche uniflora (One-flowered Broomrape). Orobanchaceae. The Ranch.
Triphysaria versicolor (Yellow-beaked Owl’s Clover). Orobanchaceae. UCSC. Limited species range.
Mimulus douglasii (Purple Mouse Ears). Phrymaceae. McLaughlin.
Allium falcifolium (Sickle-leafed Onion). Alliaceae. McLaughlin.
Allium hyalinum (Glassy Onion). Alliaceae. The Ranch.
Fritillaria affinis (Checker Lily). Liliaceae. UCSC.
Fritillaria recurva (Scarlet Fritillary). Liliaceae. Near McLaughlin.
Fritillaria purdyi (Purdy’s Fritillary). Liliaceae. McLaughlin. Rare plant.
Erythronium helena (St. Helena Fawn Lily). Liliaceae. Near McLaughlin. Rare plant.