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.

2018-05-11 16.17.20

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.

2018-05-12 09.46.02

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

Penstemon_grinnellii

Calochortus kennedyi (Desert Mariposa Lily, Liliaceae)

Calochortus_kennedyi

Dudleya cymosa pumila (Low Canyon Liveforever, Crassulaceae)

Dudleya_cymosa_pumila

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)

Fritillaria_pinetorum

Mimulus johnstonii (Johnston’s Monkeyflower, Phrymaceae)

Mimulus_johnstonii

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.

Allium_monticola_1

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)

Chaenactis_santolinodies

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.

Phacelia_austromontana

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!

Hulsea_vestita_gabrielensis_2

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

Linanthus_concinnus_3

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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).

Clarkia_exilis

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).

Clarkia_unguiculata.jpg

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)

Canbya_candida

and Mimulus shevockii (Kelso Creek Monkeyflower, Phrymaceae)

Mimulus_shrevokii

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).

Fritillaria_brandegeei_2

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)

1Acmispon_cytisoides

Mimulus douglasii (Mouse Ears, Phrymaceae)

1Mimulus_douglasii

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

1Sanicula_bipinnatifida

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)

2Sanicula_arctopoides

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)

2Castilleja_subinclusa_franciscana

Trillium chloropetalum (Giant Wakerobin, Melanthiaceae)

2Trillium_chloropetalum_1

and Arabis blepharophylla (Coast Rockcress, Brassicaceae).

2Arabis_blepharophylla

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.

Upper_Table_Rock_1

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

3Crocidium_multicaule

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

3Olsynium_douglasii_1

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.

3Ranunculus_austro-oreganus

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

3Limnanthes_floccosa_pumila

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.

3Erythronium_hendersonii_13Erythronium_hendersonii_field

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)

4Fritillaria_biflora_2

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

4Fritillaria_affinis

And from Table Rocks, Fritillaria recurva (Scarlet Fritillary)

4Fritillaria_recurva_1

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.

2018-02-17 16.12.07

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.

Psorothamnus_spinosus

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!

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!