Fritillaria

A couple weeks ago, I went on an amazing hike last weekend to Snow Mountain–the highest point in Lake and Colusa counties.

The rocky slope on the way to the summit was covered with an beautiful lily that I had not met before, Fritillaria glauca.

Fritillary lilies are just the type of plant I love–many of them are both beautiful and rare. Fritillaria glauca is only found on serpentine talus slopes at relatively high elevations in Northwestern California and Southwestern Oregon.

Because they are a favorite, I have gone on numerous trips over the past several years to find and photograph them. In fact, I’ve seen 13 of the 19 species found in California. I know because I’ve been using some quarantine time to organize my photos. That got me to thinking. It would be fun to bring back my blog to highlight some of my favorite plant genera. So here we are.

This is the first in hopefully a series of 10 or so genera posts. For each, I’ll give a brief overview and some cool facts to help you understand my obsession. Then, rather than dump in all my photos, I’m going to choose ten of my favorite pics that highlight some of the diversity and interesting features of the group. Okay, let’s go!

Fritillaria is a genus of about 115 species distributed across Northern Europe, Asia, and North America. So California is home something like 15% of the species–not bad, but nothing like the percentages in groups I’ll highlight later. They are closely related to true lilies in the genus Lilium, and like true lilies they have 6 identical tepals (petals + sepals). The easiest way to tell the two genera apart is to look for a nectary–an often oval-shaped glandular depression in the bottom half of the inside of the tepal. Fritillaria petals have them and Lilium petals don’t. Here, I’ll show you using Fritillaria glauca again.

The nectaries are the yellow spots. They’re not always that obvious to humans, but spending time staring at the inside of a lily is always a good idea. They definitely are obvious to pollinators–the nectar that’s produced there likely attracts a variety of bees, beetles and flies.

Fritillaries also tend to be smaller and bloom earlier than other lillies–in fact, they can be some of the first flowers to bloom in an area. One reason they may be able to get an early start is their genome size. Fritillaries (and actually, lilies in general) have some of the largest genomes of any organisms–orders of magnitude bigger than humans. They are perennials and spend the fall and winter underground as a bulb. While they appear to be dormant, they are actually doing a bunch of splicing and dicing of their genome, allowing them to pre-form a lot of next year’s structures. Having so much raw genetic material makes this process much easier. Pre-forming everything early is really important in California’s short spring growing season–the time of year when there’s both plenty of moisture and sunlight. In fact, a recent paper on Lilium found species from the coldest, driest locations (places with very short growing seasons) tended to have the largest genomes. I bet the same pattern occurs in Frittillaria.

The name Fritillaria means checkered (it’s a name shared with a genus of checkerspot butterflies), and refers to the cool mottled petals of many of the species, as exemplified below by Fritillaria atropurpurea.

This guy, one of the two common Sierra species, has many of the features of your basic Fritillary. Along with the brownish checkered pattern, the nodding flowers are widely spaced on a tall stem. Its habitat is also pretty typical–relatively dry, open woods or scrub. The most common coast range species, Fritillaria affinis also fits the mold.

In addition to these common woodland species, there are some much rarer ones. This includes two species that took me multiple trips to find. Fritillaria brandegeei from the forests of the Greenhorn Mountains in the Southern Sierras.

and Fritillaria pinetorum from, yes, pine forests in SoCal’s transverse ranges.

Both of these are specialists on granitic soils. In fact, many Fritillaries in the state are soil specialists. For unknown reasons, these specialists tend to be shorter with more clustered flowers than the more common generalists.

If you’re looking for rare plants in California, your first task is often to find serpentine soil. Fritillaries have their share of serpentine specialists including Fritillaria glauca and Fritillaria purdyi, an adorable species from the North Coast Ranges.

Maybe the showiest species in California, Fritillaria recurva also occurs on serpentine, although it can be found in other soils with scrubby vegetation throughout the Northern part of the state.

Its red color means hummingbirds are also likely frequent floral visitors in addition to the usual insect crowd. It also tends to be a fire follower, bringing amazing bursts of red in otherwise blackened landscapes.

There’s another type of soil that seems to bring out the weird in fritillaries. Heavy clay soils have tiny particles that hold onto water and nutrients, making it hard for plant roots to extract. They also tend to form extremely hard clumps covered in salt during the dry season. As with many edaphically extreme conditions, some plants have figured out how to deal with heavy clay, evolving to specialize on the stuff. Fritillaries seem to be pretty good at adapting to heavy clays, particularly in the low elevation grasslands of the state whey they often occur in huge populations. Fritillaria biflora of the coastal grasslands is a great example.

Some of the clay specialists have another unique feature–smell. Fritillaria agrestis has a common name that says it all–stinkbells!

The stink is likely a trick to bring in scat-seeking flies. But rather than an off-putting scent, my favorite fritillary flower Fritillaria striata has a fantastic fragrance.

The sweet smell and white color make hawkmoths a likely candidate for the main pollinator of this very rare plant of the Southern Sierran foothills. However, as with all the species of California fritillaries, we’re not sure. As far as I know, despite the amazing variety of color, shape, and orientation of these amazing lilies, their pollination biology has never been studied.

California Ecology and Conservation

Last week, I finished my first run of a 50 day field course that I’ll be teaching for hopefully many years. The course (California Ecology and Conservation) runs three times a year and takes me all over the state–which means a whole bunch of flowers. Unfortunately, I won’t really have the time to focus on finding and photographing the rare ones. Therefore I’m going to make this my last post on botanicalramblings.com. I’ll continue to post pictures of flowers and other natural history curiosities on facebook (Tim Miller) and instagram (botanicalrambler).

Each quarter, the class goes to three main sites in the University of California Natural Reserve System. The summer run of the course took me to three very different habitats. The first location was Sagehen in the Northern Sierras (North of Lake Tahoe). Lots of things were flowering here, but I’ll just post a few of my favorites.

Castilleja pilosa (Parrothead Paintbrush, Orobanchaceae). I’ve been on a fuzzy Castilleja kick recently!

1_Castilleja_pilosa

A couple of Sierra endemics–Primula suffrutescens (Sierra Primrose, Primulaceae)

1_Primula suffrutescens

Lilum parvum (Sierran Tiger Lily, Lilaceae)

1_Lilium_parvum

Ivesia sericoleuca (Plumas Mousetails, Rosaceae), a species only found in volcanic meadows in the northern Sierras.

1_Ivesia_sericoleuca

Drosera rotundifolia (Round-leaved Sundew, Droseraceae). Sundews are carnivorous plants that catch bugs on their sticky leaf trichomes (hairs). They secrete digestive enzymes to break down the bugs and extract nitrogen and other macronutrients. These guys were very common in a couple wet meadows around Sagehen. Some were also blooming (they have white flowers they keep well away from their leaves so as to not accidentally trap their pollinators), but it was really hard to get both the leaves and flowers in focus in the same shot.

1_Drosera_rotundifolia

Our next stop was Rancho Marino, on the western Santa Barbara coast. Back at sea level, most plants were done flowering. However, this Astragalus nuttallii (Ocean Bluff Milkvetch, Fabaceae) was still going strong.

2_Astragalus_nuttallii

The final stop was in the White Mountains in Eastern California. I had been looking forward to this stop the most, as I had never been to the area before. The field station was over 10,000 feet in elevation, but I took an additional trip to the summit of White Mountain at 14,252. At that elevation, basically all plants are low, mat-forming perennials. Some of my favorite examples follow.

Hulsea algida (High Mountain Hulsea, Asteraceae)

3_Hulsea_algida

Eriogonum ovalifolium (Oval-leaved Cushion Buckwheat, Polgonaceae)

3_Eriogonum_ovalifolium

Trifolium andersonii (Anderson’s Clover, Fabaceae) and Bombus sylvicola (Forest Bumblebee)

3_Trifolium_andersonii_bombus_sylvicola

and Polemonium chartaceum (Mason’s Sky Pilot, Polemoniaceae). This final plant is endemic to high peaks in Mono County, and has a really interesting funky scent that presumably attracts fly pollinators. It’s beautiful, rare, and a little weird–the three things I admire most in a plant. Therefore I’m content making this plant my final blog photo.

3_Polemonium_chartaceum

 

Piute Peak

I’m leaving Bakersfield for a new job in a few days. Before I depart, I wanted to get in one last Kern County botany trip. For my final act, I chose a return to Piute Peak. This little-known mountain is the Southernmost in the Sierras, and its slopes have an interesting mix of plants combined with amazing views.

Photo Jun 14, 5 04 21 PM

Last year, I botanized the lower part of Piute Mountain Road on foot and found a couple interesting endemics, including the Piute Cypress (see my “Greenhorn Mountains” post on last May 6th).  Because the road was closed, I wasn’t able to access the higher elevations. This time around, the road was open and I could drive the 15 miles into the Pine forests at the top. I’ll present my seven post-worthy plants in order of encounter, from the lowest to highest elevations.

Chorizanthe xanti (Xantus’ Spineflower, Polygonaceae)

Chorizanthe_xanti

Monardella linoides (Narrow-leaved Coyote Mint, Lamiaceae)

Monardella_linoides

Perideria pringlei (Adobe Yampah, Apiaceae)

Perideria_pringlei_1

Aphyllon (formerly Orobanche) californicum. (California Broomrape, Orobanchaceae) This is a root parasite on plants in the Aster family that I have been wanting to meet for a long time. The flowers are tightly clustered together around a very thick, underground stem.

Aphyllon_californicum(orobanche)_2

Sidalcea sp. (Unknown Checker Mallow, Malvaceae). I’m very intrigued by this plant. It was abundant in a recently burned area about halfway up the mountain. I’m positive of the genus, but the only two checker mallows that are confirmed to occur in Kern county are clearly not this plant. The whole genus is a bit of a taxonomic mess, and there is a strong possibility this is an undescribed taxa. My current best guess is that it’s an undescribed subspecies of Sidalcea hickmanii. But, unfortunately, I didn’t grab a specimen, so for now it will remain unknown!

Sidalcea

Leptosiphon pachyphllus (Sierra Linanthus, Polemoniaceae).

Leptosiphon_pachyphyllus_1

Near the top of Piute peak are some really pretty outcrops of the metamorphic rock Quartzite. These outcrops are the only place in the world where Eriogonum breedlovei breedlovei (Piute Buckwheat, Polygonaceae) occurs. The white flowers of this rarity blend in to the white Quarzite rock on which they grow.

Eriogonum_breedlovei_breedlovei_3

Return to the Trinities

The Trinity Alps, the tallest mountains in the Klamath Ranges, are one of my favorite places to hike in California. My love is due to the combination of spectacular views:

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and excellent rocks.

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In the picture above, marble dominates foreground and Sawtooth Ridge in the background is granite. While both of these rock types have edaphic specialists–plants that only occur on that rock type, the Trinities are particularly famous (among geologists and botanists, anyway) for their large amounts of serpentine–the rock type that is home the most rare plant species.

I was really excited to hike to the Caribou Lakes  in the heart of the Trinities this past week because my previous Trinity trips occurred much later in the summer. There were many early-blooming species I wanted to catch up with. It turns out there were two problems with this plan. 1) There wasn’t that much serpentine along the route, and 2:

2018-06-09 09.25.33

Yeah. It’s really hard to botanize in the snow.

Not impossible though! Here’s a little plant in the tomato family (Solanaceae) that I stopped to photograph in pretty bad conditions

Chamaesaracha_nana

It’s a good thing I did, too. I’m pretty sure this is Chamaesaracha nana (Dwarf Five-Eyes), which is a species found in the Cascades, but according to my resources, it hasn’t ever been documented in the Kalamaths before. It was growing in a recently burned area, and unusual plants do sometimes pop up from the seed bank after fire. I will have to investigate this further.

The trip wasn’t all snowy conditions, however, and I made sure to take some pictures while the sun was shining. First, three widely distributed pink flowers. Penstemon newberryi (Plantaginaceae) has one of my favorite common names, Pride of the Mountains. In addition to being here, it’s a commonly encountered flower on pretty much any hike in the Sierras.

Penstemon_newberryi

Kalmia polifolia (Bog Laurel, Ericaceae) is one of the few plants I learned while in college in Maine that I encounter commonly on the west coast. I love the folded buds.

Kalmia_polifolia_1

And Diplacus (formerly Mimulus) nanus (Dwarf Monkey Flower, Phrymaceae)

Mimulus_nanus

Next, a couple range-restricted species with tiny, yellow flowers: Eriogonum diclinum (Jaynes Canyon Buckwheat, Polygonaceae)

Eriogonum_diclinum

and Draba howellii (Howell’s Draba)

Draba_howellii_1

Per usual, I’ll end with the showy and rare. Lewisia cotyledon (Cliff Maids, Montiaceae)

and Cypripedium californicum (California Lady’s Slipper, Orchidaceae)

These last two beauties were the two species I most wanted to see. Therefore I would rate the trip a complete success, despite the snow!

 

Whiskeytown

Long story, but I ended up spending all of last week helping out with some bird surveys in Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. The park (which as the visitor’s center t-shirts proclaim, doesn’t have whiskey or a town) is centered around Whiskeytown Lake, about 10 miles east of Redding, California. This puts it the southern foothills of the Klamath Mountains. While the science focused on birds and trees, I did make some time to point my camera downward. Most of the following flowers are only found in Northern California and Southern Oregon.

Dichelostemma ida-maia (Firecracker Flower, Themidaceae)

Dichelostemma_ida-maia

Mimulus kelloggii (Kellog’s Monkeyflower, Phrymaceae). They’ve actually updated the taxonomy of Mimulus, so I probably should start using the new names. It’s now Diplacus kelloggii.

Mimulus_kelloggii_1

I don’t often photograph shrubs, but when I do they have showy flowers. Philadelphus lewisii (Lewis’s Mock Orange, Hydrangeaceae). This genus is called Mock Orange because the flowers look like those of distantly related citrus plants, although the later have five petals.

Philadelphus_lewisii

A couple plants named after their blue color–Penstemon azureus (Azure Beardtongue, Plantaginaceae)

Penstemon_azureus

and Calochortus coeruleus (Blue Star Tulip, Liliaceae), with a crab spider lying in wait for a pollinator

Calochortus_coeruleus

A couple more widely distributed annuals–Clarkia rhomboidea (Tongue Clarkia, Onagraceae)

Clarkia_rhomboidea

and Navarretia intertexta (Interwoven Navarretia, Polemoniaceae)

Navarretia_intertexta

A couple plants in monotypic genera with no close relatives–Odontostomum hartwegii (Hartweg’s Doll’s-lily, Tecophilaeceae)

Odontostomum_hartwegii_1

and Cycladenia humilis (Waxydogbane, Apocynaceae)

Cycladenia_humulis_1

Lastly, Iris tenuissima (Slender Iris, Iridaceae) an absolutely beautiful iris that was delightfully common in the area.

Iris_tenuissima_1

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)

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

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)

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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.