Between dissertation writing and dealing with a housing situation, I didn’t botanize as much as I wanted to this month. I did manage a trip to Northern California with my labmate, Shelley. We made stops in Butte, Lake, and Marin counties in order to collect soil and seeds for one of Shelley’s dissertation experiments. All but one of the ten photos this month are from that trip. I’ll give the county after the plant family name. The exception is this little orchid that I found on campus:
Piperia transversa (Flat-spurred Rein Orchid, Orchidaceae, Santa Cruz)
In the evening, this species produces a clove-like sent to attract its main pollinators–mosquitoes and crane flies. The orientation of the flowers, with the spurs perpendicular to the main axis, makes this species easy to tell apart from other Piperia.
July is late in the flowering season everywhere in California but the high mountains. I was pretty happy to scrounge up some interesting plants anyway. I don’t really have a theme this month, so I’ll just give a little blurb about each species individually. I’ll start with showiest:
Aquilegia eximia (Serpentine Columbine, Ranunculaceae, Lake)
My friend Eric took me to see this beautiful and uncommon plant at McLaughlin Bio Station. He just published a really interesting paper on it in the journal Ecology this month (http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/15-0342.1). The stem is covered in sticky hairs (glandular trichomes if you want to be a botany nerd about it) that attract and entangle small insects. Plants can be covered in hundreds of tiny dead bugs. Predatory insects and spiders are drawn to this feast–when Eric experimentally removed the “carrion” from plants, predator abundance went way down. These predators benefit Aquilegia because they eat the caterpillars and other herbivores that munch on it. Plants with the dead bugs removed ended up having way higher rates of herbivory. Eric calls the sticky hairs “indirect herbivory defense”. What’s really crazy is that many different unrelated plants have sticky hairs that trap insects–this mutualism between between insect predators and plants may be common. In fact, two of my other plants from this month also have sticky hairs:
Navarretia filicaulis (Threadstem Pincushion Plant, Polemoniaceae, Butte)
Navarretia heterodoxa (Calistoga Pincushionplant, Polemoniaceae, Marin)
I’m admittedly a bit obsessed with this genus of prickly little plants. These are the 5th and 6th species I’ve posted on this blog. I’ve only seen about a third of the 40 species in the genus (most of which occur in the state), so hopefully they won’t be the last. The next three photos also have congeners on this blog:
Allium sanbornii (Sanborn’s Onion, Alliaceae, Butte)
This tall, showy onion was covering a serpentine hillside.
Monardella purpurea (Serpentine Monardella, Lamiaceae, Marin)
This is not the only Monardella to grow on serpentine. My former labmate, Brett, studied the genetics of two additional rare serpentine Monardella species in the Northern Sierras.
Castilleja minor spiralis (Lesser Indian Pantbrush, Orobanchaceae, Lake)
This is the only annual paintbrush in the state, but despite this (and being called “lesser”) it can actually grow quite tall (to 4 or 5 feet). The red Castilleja and red Aquilegia were co-occuring in a serpentine seep, making the area quite a destination for hungry Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds.
Cordylanthus pilosus (Hairy Bird’s Beak, Orobanchaceae, Lake)
Both Bird’s Beaks and Indian Paintbrushes are in the bizarre Broomrape family. All plants in the family are root parasites, getting some or all of their nutrients by stealing them from other plants. This species was growing right next to the very similar Cordylanthus tenuis, which doesn’t have hairs (nerd term: glabrous). It’s strange when two closely related species occur together, because either one should out-compete and eventually replace the other, or they should cross-fertilize and form a hybrid swarm. I don’t know what was going on here.
Helianthus bolanderi (Bolander’s Sunflower, Asteraceae, Butte)
This is a much less common relative of the species that produces commercial sunflower seeds (Helianthus annuus, incidentally also native to California). I also found and photographed the rare Helianthus exilis this month, but it looks pretty much the same. This genus, besides being delicious, is the subject of a lot of cool research on the genetics of how species form.
Keckiella lemmonii (Lemmon’s Beardtongue, Plantaginaceae, Lake)
I don’t have anything to say about this species other than check out the cool, hairy style!
That’s all I have for this month. Hopefully the volume will increase in August.