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)

Oenothera_pallida

Mentzelia laevicaulis (Smoothstem Blazingstar, Loasaceae)

Mentzelia_laevicaulis

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,

Anticlea_elegans

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

Epilobium_orbicordum

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.

Calochortus_eurycarpus_2

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.

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Transverse Range Traverse

This past weekend I headed south again, looping through the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains. This was my third trip to the San Bernardinos this spring. I had some unfinished business in the Holcomb Valley, as some of my target plants had not yet begun to flower when I was last here in late May. Besides having just a ridiculous number of rare plants, this valley is also notable for being the site of the largest gold strike in Southern California.

On the way, I found two tall plants with cream-colored flowers.  Asclepias erosa (Desert Milkweed, Apocynaceae) was the only thing blooming on the Mohave Desert floor.

Asclepias_erosa

Caulanthus major (Slender Wild Cabbage, Brassicaceae) was lining the highway on the way up into the mountains

 

In the Holcomb Valley, the highlights included three of the smaller representatives of their respective genera. Abronia nana (Dwarf Sand Verbena, Nyctaginaceae) with its nice compact habit,

Abronia_nana

Trichostema micranthum (Smallflower Bluecurls, Lamiaceae), which smells just as strongly as its larger cousins, Vinegarweed and Turpentine Weed,

Trichostemma_micranthum

and Navarretia peninsularis (Baja Pincushionplant, Polemoniaceae). This later is in one of my favorite genera, with each species having differently shaped spiky bracts (modified leaves below each flower) and sepals.

 

Another target in the Holcomb Valley was Packera bernardina (San Bernardino Ragweed), a rare Aster with cool spoon-shaped leaves

Packera_bernardina

The San Bernardinos are quickly becoming my favorite mountains in Southern California. While I’m pretty much done exploring the Holcomb Valley for the year, I might try to squeeze a last trip to their highest elevations later this summer.

From the Holcomb Valley, I headed west into the San Gabriels, north of Los Angeles. Along the way, I stopped at a large population of the poorly-named Phacelia mohavensis (Mohave Phacelia, Boraginaceae). This beautiful species does not occur in the Mohave.

Phacelia_mohavensis_2

The drive through the San Gabriels along the Angeles Crest Highway is absolutely beautiful, but unfortunately, not currently open to through traffic. A large sinkhole apparently opened under the road, blocking access to some of the areas that I wanted to botanize. Nevertheless, I still found a few great plants here, including the large showy shrub, Keckiella ternata (Blue-stemmed Keckiella, Plantaginaceae),

 

Mimulus johnstonii (Johnston’s Monkeflower, Phrymaceae), one of the less common of the 16 or so species in this genus I found on this trip,

Mimulus_johnstonii_2

And a second uncommon Ragwort species, Packera ionophylla (Tehachapi Ragwort, Asteraceae). While the flowers look very similar to the Packera bernardina, this one has pinnately-lobed leaves.

Packera_ionophylla

That’s all for now. In a few days I’ll be heading up to Northern California, and I’m pretty sure there are a few rare plants up there, too.

Western Transverse Ranges

I took an overnight trip into the beautiful mountains of Ventura County (with a brief detour back into San Luis Obispo County). Throughout most of California, Mountain Ranges run north to south, along faults formed by the collision of the Pacific and North American Plates (in Northern California, a third, more ancient plate, the Juan de Fuca, gets involved as it slowly submerges beneath the other two). In Southern California, from roughly the cities of Santa Barbara to Palm Springs, the edges of the plates jog east. Here, they “transverse” the state and form the east-west running San Bernardinos, the San Gabriels, and a jumble of ridges known as the Western Transverse Ranges. The botany in all three is great. I’ll return to the former two next week. This weekend I took a couple hikes in the later–one North of Ojai in the Southern edge of these ranges, and another in the Sespe Wilderness, pretty much smack in their heart. Both hikes included beautiful scenery and excellent, well-maintained trails. And both were surprisingly devoid of other hikers for a lovely weekend in early summer, especially considering their nearness to population centers.

Okay, onto the flowers. I’m starting to amass quite a collection of photos on this site. In fact, I’ve already posted photos of congeners (species in the same genus) for all ten of the following. I thought it would be fun to order these flowers from least to most commonly posted, as well as give a sense for how many species I have left to find.

Acanthomintha obovata cordata (Heart-leaved Thornmint, Lamiaceae). 1 previous species posted on this blog, 4 total species in California, none anywhere else. All four thornmints are uncommon or rare globally, but they can form huge populations. The patch of plants were I took this photo had hundreds of thousands of individuals, carpeting an entire hillside. Check out the amazing spiky bracts (modified leaf below each flower).

Acanthomintha_obovata_cordata

Frasera neglecta (Pine Green-Gentian, Gentinaceae). 1 previous, 6 total in CA, 15 globally (all in temperate North America). Many species in this genus have green nectaries bordered by hairs in the center of the petals.

Keckiella cordifolia (Climbing Penstemon, Plantaginaceae), 1 previous, 7 in CA and globally. This genus is closely related to the much more diverse Penstemon (total 250 species, several of which I have also photographed). This plant was common around Ojai, growing vine-like over the shrubs in the chapparal.

Keckiella_cordifolia

Abronia pogonantha (Mohave Sand-verbena, Nyctaginaceae), 2 previously posted (and I posted two others to Facebook before starting this blog),  8 in CA, 25 total, all in Western North America.

Abronia pogonantha

Eriogonum kennedyi (Kennedy’s Buckwheat, Polygonaceae). 3 previous, 119! species in California (and that’s not even getting into the numerous named varieties for many of the species), 250 total, all in North America. This is one of the largest genera in California and percentage-wise, clearly a group I’m biased against photographing. Many species simply aren’t that showy and they are often quite difficult to identify. This species, however, has a unique mat-forming habit (way of growing). Some of the plants were much larger, forming large splotches of gray-green over flat, pebbly areas in the Sespe Wilderness

Leptosiphon liniflorus (Line-flowered Leptosiphon, Polemoniaceae). 8 previously posted, 29 in CA, and only 1 species from elsewhere. This is one of the more widely distributed species. Conversely to the previous, I’m definitely biased toward this genus (and in fact this whole, beautiful family), explicitly seeking out species on my rambles.

Leptosiphon_liniflorus

Allium howellii clokeyi (Mount Pinos Onion, Alliaceae). 11 previous, 53 in CA (including some non-native species), 700 species throughout the North Temperate regions of the globe. This plant is only found in the Northern part of the Western Transverse Ranges, but it was abundant in the area. Check out the mating Midges (Chironomidae) at the top of the picture.

Allium howellii_clokeyi

Finally, lets get to species in two genera that are clearly obsessions. Calochortus palmeri (Palmer’s Mariposa Lily, Liliaceae). 16 previous, 45 in CA, 67 total, with almost all in Western North America.

Calochortus_palmeri_2

And two more Phacelias: Phacelia grandiflora (Largeflowered Phacelia) and Phacelia viscida albiflora (White-flowered Sticky Phacelia, Boraginaceae). These are the 23rd and 24th species out of 95 in California and 175 total that I have posted.

Even for these camera-hogging genera, I’ve only posted about a third of the species found in California. It will take many more rambles before I run out of new beauties!

The Garfield Trail

My latest ramble was an overnight backpacking trip with one species as the main target–Erythronium pusaterii (Hockett Lakes Glacier Lily, Lilaceae). This species checks a number of boxes for me. It has large, beautiful flowers. It’s rare–only occurring in about 10 locations in Tulare County. And you have to work to see it, because all of those locations are in the backcountry, far from any roads. The genus Erythronium has about 30 species, occurring in northern North America and Eurasia. Some species–the fawn lilies–have leaves that are mottled with brown spots like the coat of a baby deer. These species tend to occur in mid-elevation forests. Here’s a repost of E. californicum (California Fawn Lily) from last spring:

Erythronium_californicum

Others have all-green leaves and occur at higher elevations, blooming as the snow melts from rocky, treeless areas. These are glacier lilies, of which Erythronium pusaterii is the southernmost representative. In addition to being beautiful, all species are entirely edible, from their bulb to the flowers. Two populations of E. pusaterii occur along the Garfield Trail in the Southwestern corner of Sequoia National Park, so that’s where I headed. Along the drive there, I stopped for two other plants. Ceonothus pinetorum (Kern Ceanothus) is a beautiful low-growing bush with a crazy distribution. It’s only found on the Kern Plateau in the Southern Sierras and then way up in the Trinity Mountains in Northern California.

Ceanothus_pinetorum_2

A few plants of the super rare Brodiaea insignis (Kaweah Bodiaea) were still blooming along the entrance road to the hike. This genus is characterized by modified stamens (staminodes) that presumably help orient pollinators when they visit the flower. A few posts ago, I showed off B santarosae, which had tiny staminodes for the genus. B. insignis is at the other extreme–its huge staminodes with inrolled edges stick straight up above the rest of the flower.

Brodiaea_insignis_1

The hike itself was beautiful, but intense, starting under 4,000 feet in elevation, and ending at over 8,000. The first record of Erythronium pusaterii was a few miles in. The location description was for a spot along a creek upstream of where it crossed the trail. I arrived at the creek and looked up at steep ravine filled with boulders and waterfalls–beautiful, but not exactly the most inviting place for a walk. I figured I was here, so I might as well go for it. I set down my pack and started rock climbing. After about 45 minutes of progressively more challenging scrambles, I made it to an absolutely massive population! Unfortunately, almost all of the plants were already at their fruiting stage, but I did find a few still-open flowers. There were enough plants that I felt okay to snack on a couple leaves–delicious!

After the (slightly harrowing) decent, I continued up the trail, setting up camp for the night in a grove of Sequoiadendron giganteum (Giant Sequoia, Cupressaceae). It’s pretty amazing to sleep in the shade of the largest living thing on the planet!

Sequoiadendron_giganteum

The next day, I continued up the trail  for a few more miles before finding my way blocked by massive snow drifts and a raging river engorged from snowmelt. It’s after Memorial Day, but winter has not yet ended in the high Sierra. I wasn’t getting to that second population. It turned out that going for the first population when I did was a great decision. On the way back, it started to rain, and there was no way I would have attempted that scramble over slippery, wet rocks.

The hike, particularly at lower elevations, had plenty of wildflowers to keep me entertained. The most dramatic was Cornus nuttallii (Pacific Dogwood, Cornaceae) which was locally abundant. The white petal-y looking things on dogwoods are actually bracts–modified leaves that surround a cluster of small, non-showy flowers

Cornus_nuttallii

Clarkia heterandra (Mountain Clarkia, Onagraceae) was also more numerous here than I’ve seen before. This is the only member of the genus (of ~40 species) with a nut-like fruit, rather than a long skinny capsule (a fruit that splits open). You can see the developing fruits as the bump below the petals.

Clarkia_heterandra

Here are a couple common species in weird plant families and slightly embarrassing common names: Comandra umbellata (Bastard Toadflax, Comandraceae) and the inflated fruits of Staphylea bolanderi (Sierra Bladdernut, Staphyleaceae). It’s not often I don’t at least recognize the family to which a plant belongs, but my ignorance on these two makes sense. They are the only members of their families in California, and both only have one other species in North America.

I actually managed to find another couple rare plants on the hike. The first, the adorable Mimulus inconspicuus or M. acutidens (Kings River Monkeyflower, Phyrmaceae), I was somewhat expecting. I’m giving two scientific names here, because it keyed to the former species in the reference book I use, but I believe the southern populations, including this one, have been more recently split off into the latter taxa.

Mimulus_acutidens_1

Finally, I found the rare Allium abramsii (Abrams’ Onion, Alliaceae) in the same spot as the Erythronium. This species wasn’t on my radar, as there wasn’t a known population in the area. I only snapped a couple (not particularly great) photos, because I was paying way more attention to the lily and I assumed it was Allium crispum, a much more common species. Both these species have cool wavy margins on their inner petals. When I got home, I realized not only does it look fairly different from A. crispum, that species doesn’t even occur in the Sierras. What a great bonus find!

San Luis Obispo

I day-tripped westward yesterday to a few locations in San Luis Obispo County (North of Santa Barbara and South of Monterrey) in what was likely my last coastal botany trip of the year. The trip was a bit of a mixed bag, as I couldn’t locate a few of my target flowers. I did, however, find the plant I most wanted to meet–the bizarre Calochortus obispoensis (San Luis Mariposa Lily, Liliaceae). This plant only grows on dry, rocky serpentine hillsides around the city of San Luis Obispo. Its habitat and bizarre appearance reminds me a bit of Calochortus tiburonensis (the Ring Montain Mariposa Lily) found in the North Bay last year (see post from May 25 of last year), but apparently it’s not that closely related within the genus. I guess serpentine just brings out the crazy in these plants.

Calochortus_obispoensis_2

A few more late season plants were hanging out on the same serpentine hillside, an uncommon congener, Calochortus argillosus (Clay-loving Mariposa Lily)

Calochortus_argillosus

and the rare Dudleya abramsii murina (San Luis Obispo Liveforever, Crassulaceae)

I also visited the immediate coast south of Morro Bay, for some sand dunes botany. Highlights here included Abronia maritima (Red Sand Verbena, Nytaginaceae)

Abronia_maritima

Chorizanthe angustifolia (Narrow-leaf Spineflower, Polygonaceae)

Chorizanthe_angustifolia

and Monardella sinuata (Curly-leafed Coyote Mint Lamiaceae). This last plant is not to be confused with one I posted a couple months ago, Monardella undulata (Wavy-leafed Coyote Mint, Lamiaceae), which is also a rare mint from the dunes of the South-Central Coast. The biggest difference is that this guy is an annual, while M. undulata is perennial. It seems crazy that in a genus of straight-leafed plants, two different species went curvy in the same area, but I guess that’s what happened!

Monardella_sinuata_2

I spent most of the late afternoon and early evening trying to chase down a couple showy inland rarities without success. I did get a couple tiny rewards for my efforts, rare plants with flowers only a couple millimeters wide. First, here’s another spineflower, Chorizanthe breweri (San Luis Obispo Spineflower, Polygonaceae). Spineflowers often form large carpets of plants in flat, somewhat disturbed areas. Therefore, so despite their miniature stature, they can be fairly easy to find. Their nifty, spine-tipped bracts and six-part flowers can only be appreciated at very close range, however.

Chorizanthe_breweri

Finally, here’s Nemacladus secundiflorus (One-sided Threadplant, Campanulaceae). Plants in this genus also can occur in large patches. However, their thread-like stems make them almost impossible to see. I’ve only ever found them when crouched down looking at other plants.

Big Bear Lake

From the Chimney Peak Wilderness, I drove through the (now mostly flowerless) desert, to the northern San Bernardinos. The San Bernardino Mountains are the Easternmost of California’s Transverse Ranges. They quickly rise out of the southern Mojave Desert, topping out at well over 11,000 feet, making them tallest Southern California. Due to their size and location, they are extremely diverse, combining elements of the Peninsular and Western Transverse Ranges, the Desert mountains to the east, and even the Sierras far to the north. But most excitingly, they have many plants found here and nowhere else, particularly in the mid-elevations (~6,500-8,000 feet) around Big Bear Lake. This area has a unique habitat called pebble plains. These are flat places covered in small quartzite rocks that were deposited during the last ice age. Because the soils are too rocky for trees to put down roots, the habitat is open for tiny annual plants to thrive. Additionally, a whole second set of rare plants occurs in the treeless wet meadows that occur in some of the small valleys. In the pictures below, if the background is tan and rocky, the plant is on a pebble plain. If the background has dark soil, the plant is in a meadow (I found some of the plants in additional habitats as well). Okay, enough talk–onto the plants. I found so many uncommon and rare plants, I’m just going to skip some of the less showy ones. In addition to the usual common name and family, I’ll also put where else the species occurs in parentheses.

Horkelia rydbergii (Rydberg’s Horkelia, Rosaceae, Transverse Ranges)

Horkelia_rydbergii

Lewisia brachycalyx (Short-sepaled Bitterroot, Montiaceae, only the Peninsular Ranges in CA, but elsewhere in the western US)

Lewisia_brachycalyx

Linanthus killipii (Balwin Lake Linanthus, Polemoniaceae, nowhere else)

Linanthus_killipii_1

Mimulus purpureus (Little Purple Monkeyflower, Phrymaceae, nowhere else)

Mimulus_purpureus_2

Phlox dolichantha (Big Bear Valley Phlox, Polemoniaceae, nowhere else)

Phlox_dolichantha_1

Potentilla wheeleri (Wheeler’s Cinquefoil, Rosaceae, southern Sierras)

Potentilla_wheeleri_1

Taraxicum californicum (California Dandelion, Asteraceae, nowhere else)

Taraxacum_californicum

You can tell that last one isn’t the closely related, weedy European Dandelion because the leaves aren’t lobed. Okay, lets go double time.

Astragalus bicristatus (Two-grooved Milkvetch) and Astragalus leucolobus (Big Bear Valley Woolypod, Fabaceae, both also found in the San Gabriels just to the west)

Calachortus invenustus (Plain Mariposa Lily, Liliaceae, Sierras, Transverse, and Peninsular Ranges), and Calochortus plummerii (Plummer’s Mariposa Lily, Transverse Ranges). I found the latter species on a quick stop on the way home on the western foothills of the San Bernardinos

Castilleja cinerea (Ashgray Indian Paintbrush, Orobanchaceae, nowhere else) and Castilleja lasiorhyncha (San Bernardino Mountains Owl’s Clover, northern Peninsular Ranges)

Erigeron aphanactis (Rayless Shaggy Fleabane, Asteraceae, Great Basin), and Erigeron parishii (Parish’s Fleabane, nowhere else). The latter is a limestone specialist that I found on the way to Big Bear Lake).

And finally, as promised, more Phacelia! Phacelia curvipes (Washoe Phacelia, Boraginaceae, mid-elevations throughout Southern California and further West), and Phacelia exilis (Transverse Range Phacelia, Southern Sierras and Transverse Ranges). Check out the beautiful transparent “windows” on the petals of that last one.

Big Bear Lake was one of my favorite stops all spring. I was actually a bit too early for some of the species, and so I already have plans to head back in a few weeks. Until then, I know a few more places that deserve a visit.

Chimney Peak Wilderness

It’s been a while since my last post, as I was stuck in Bakersfield wrapping up the semester of teaching. It turns out grading 110 papers and 200 finals leaves little time for nature. I’m off work now, and making up for lost time. My first trip of summer was about half birding and half botanizing, and both components were highly successful. The bird highlights included Hepatic Tanager, Mexican Whip-poor-will, and Brown-crested Flycatcher. The plant highlights…well there are enough of them that I’ll break this into two posts. My first stop was the Chimney Peak Wilderness in the Southeastern Sierras. Rather than my normal routine of short walks and long drives, I decided to do a longer day hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. The main goal here was a rare onion species only found on two mountain-tops in the world. Unfortunately, I failed to bring a detailed map. When I got back, I realized I had walked right past the correct mountain without stopping and instead diligently searched the completely wrong area. I did not add a third location to the species range. Despite the mishap, it was an amazing hike in a beautiful area. Pictured: the incorrect peak.

view

I found several botanical goodies, including a different, relatively uncommon onion, Allium burlewii (Burlew’s Onion, Alliaceae).

Allium_burlewii_1

A couple more belly plants–cute, but not particularly showy flowers not more than an inch tall. I did get on my belly to photograph them. Chorizanthe watsonii (Five-tooth spine flower, Polygonaceae), and Mimulus suksdorfii (Suksdorf’s Monkeyflower, Phrymaceae)

I also found another Monkeyflower that, while still quite small, was much more showy: Mimulus montioides (Montia-like Monkeyflower)

Mimulus_montioides_1

On the ridge tops, I found large patches of a little yellow Aster that I didn’t recognize at all. Turns out its in a monotypic genus–the only one of its kind: Orochaenactis thysanocarpha (California Mountain-cushionplant)

Orochaenactis_thysanocarpha_2

Per usual, I found and photographed a few, similiar-looking Phacelia species. There are even more coming in the next blog post, so I’ll just put up the most boring-looking one: Phacelia novenmillensis (Nine-mile Canyon Phacelia, Boraginaceae). Why this one? Well it’s the rarest, of course! It’s only found in about a 20 mile stretch of mountains.

Finally, the clear highlight of the hike was Fritillaria pinetorium (Pinewoods Fritillary, Liliaceae). I actually unsuccessfully looked for this uncommon plant on my last trip. I ran into this (presumably) previously unknown population while scrambling around in the middle of nowhere on that incorrect peak. By itself, it completely made up for the mishap. What a plant!

Fritillaria_pinetorum_1