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).


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.


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.


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.


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:


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.


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.


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!


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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)


Chorizanthe angustifolia (Narrow-leaf Spineflower, Polygonaceae)


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!


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.


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)


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


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


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


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


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


Taraxicum californicum (California Dandelion, Asteraceae, nowhere else)


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.


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


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)


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)


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!


The Greenhorn Mountains

At this time of year in California, the flowering season is practically over in the valleys and lower foothils, but it hasn’t even started high in the mountains. That means the best place to go for flowers are the mid-elevations (~3,000-6,000 feet). Yesterday I day-tripped to a couple nearby mid-elevation spots. Piute peak to the south of Lake Isabella and the Greenhorns, West of the lake. Below is a shot from the former, looking north at the later.2017-05-05 09.44.58

The tree on the left of the image is the rare Hesperocyparis nevadensis (Piute Cypress, Cupressaceae). There are only a few thousand of this fire-dependent conifer in the world, most of which occur in this one giant grove. Here are a few more shots, the last one showing the extremely resinous (sticky) foliage

In the shade of these impressive trees was another rare plant that was just beginning to flower, Streptanthus cordatus piutensis (Piute Mountain Jewel Flower, Brassicaceae). I said it before about the related genus Caulanthus–these guys just don’t photograph well because their cool features are too far apart. So here’s a montage showing the urn-shaped flower, the glaucous, heart-shaped leaves, and a deconstructed flower.

I unsuccessful looked for a rare pink species Delphinium in the area, instead finding a different species with interesting hairy leaves–Delphinium hansenii kernensis (Hansen’s Larkspur, Ranunculaceae)

The rest of my trip was focused on finding some rare lilies. Along the way, I encountered a few other goodies, mostly in genera of which I have recently posted photos: a Clarkia, Clarkia xiantiana (Gunsight Clarkia, Onagraceae, the common name refers to the notch between the two petal lobes),


a couple small, pink monkey flowers: Mimulus constrictus (Dense-fruited Monkey flower) and Mimulus palmeri (Palmer’s Monkeyflower, Phrymaceae), the later occurring in dense colonies in burned area,

and Phacelia congdonii (Congdon’s Phacelia, Boraginaceae).


Here are a couple plants in genera that weren’t previously represented on this blog: Pediomelum californicum (California Indian Breadroot, Fabaceae) with its purple and white flowers almost hidden among long hairs,


and Violia sheltonii (Fan Violet, Violaceae). I think this is my favorite species of violet.


As for those lilies… I struck out on the two rare species of Fritillaries for which I was looking, and now have gone 0-4 this spring in trying to find targets in this genus. I don’t know what’s going on here. I did, however, find my Calochortus targets. This amazing genus has three looks– Mariposa Lilies are tall plants with large, fan-shaped petals. The Calochortus striatus from my last post is an example. Star-tulips have smaller flowers with pointed petals that grow closer to the ground. During this trip, I found a large population of the very rare Calochortus westonii (Shirley Meadows Star-Tulip). I love the beautiful fringed edges to the petals.


And finally, fairy-lanterns have pendant, globe-shaped flowers. Calochortus amoenus (Purple Fairy-Lantern) is a lovely example.

The inside of all three of these groups have a nectary at the base of the petals which attracts all manner of pollinators. The Crab Spider in the left picture is lying in wait, hoping to make a meal out of one of them. The petals of all three types can also be quite hairy. I opened up one of the flowers in the right image to show off the dark pink nectary and the long petal hairs.

I am really enjoying my trips into the Greenhorns, which are practically in my backyard. But there are a few more mid-elevation locations I need to visit before going back. In a month or so, it will be time to head up to their highest peaks.

Botanizing while birding

The main goal of this weekend was to find some migrating birds, meaning that flowers took a bit of a back seat. The Western Mojave, in addition to having amazing flowers, is one of the better places to find birds traveling from their tropical wintering grounds to the Sierras and points north. Migrants tend to concentrate around places in the desert with trees and water, stopping to recharge during the day and continuing on under the stars. Thus, hanging out at desert oases at dawn in the spring can be pretty fun. Despite the avian focus of the weekend, I did track down some pretty great flowers. I’ll start with the rarest one, Astragalus ertterae (Walker Pass Milkvetch, Fabaceae). This plant is only known from a couple locations around one Mountain pass in the Southern Sierras (which is incidentally also a great place to find some locally uncommon birds such as Pinyon Jay).


I also made it into the San Gabriel Mountains, south of Bakersfield, where I added to my growing collection of Blazing Star photos by finding large fields of Mentzelia gracilenta (Graceful Blazing Star, Loasaceae) mixed in with Gilia capitata abrontanifolia (Ball Gilia, Polemoniaceae)

Besides these two stops, most of the botanizing happened in Eastern Kern County. I’ve already been a couple times this year, but I certainly haven’t run out of flowers. Here are a few relatively common Mojave flowers that were new to me this trip:

Eriogonum nudum westonii (Weston’s Buckwheat, Polygonaceae),


Glyptopleura setulosa (Holy Dandelion, Asteraceae),


and Pensetmon incertus (Mojave Beardtongue, Plantaginaceae).


An uncommon, but somewhat inconspicuous species, Chorizanthe spinosa (Mojave Spineflower, Polygonaceae)


And finally, that great combination of rare and beautiful, Calochortus striatus (Alkali Mariposa Lily, Liliaceae).


Southwestern California

I had so much fun in the Peninsular Ranges last week that I headed that way again. This time, I stay much more coastal, botanizing in a three spots north of San Diego–Mission Trails Regional Park, Torrey Pines State Reserve, and Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve (confusingly, the Santa Rosa Plateau is not in the Santa Rosa mountains where I botanized last week, nor is it anywhere near the bay area city of Santa Rosa). I chose these locations to be about as different in their vegetation as possible. Mission Trails has fairly typical Coastal Sage Scrub–a chaparral habitat characterized by aromatic shrubs such as Salvia apiana (White Sage, Lamiaceae), and Mimulus aurantiacus var puniceus (Red Sticky Monkeyflower). The later is a hummingbird pollinated coastal form that grades into the more typical orange, bee-pollinated form as you move inland.

These two plants, along with the delightfully abundant Calochortus splendens (Splended Mariposa Lily), were the only species I photographed that were present at all three locations.


A couple bushy pink flowers in the mallow family were blooming in good numbers in the park–  Malacothamnus fasciculatus (Chapparal Mallow), and Sidalcea sparsiflora (Southern Checkerbloom). These species are in the same plant family as hibiscus and cacao (the plant from which chocolate comes).

Zeltnera venusta (Charming Centuary, Gentianaceae), with its crazy corkscrew-shaped anthers and ribbed sepals, was a nice surprise on an open hillside.


I was the most excited to see a couple southern Clarkia species–the only all white flower in the genus, Clarkia epiloboides (Willow-Herb Farewell-to-Spring), and the rare Clarkia delecata (Delicate Farewell-to-Spring).

As their common name suggests, these are some of the last spring flowers to bloom in an area, which makes seeing them a little bittersweet. Luckily, however, I can just move my botanizing north and up in elevation.

My next stop was the Torrey Pines Reserve, just up the coast from San Diego and home of the one of the world’s rarest Pines, Pinus torreyana, a species found only here and on Santa Rosa island (Another place in California named Santa Rosa that is not near the other 3! What’s going on here?).  I managed to forget to photograph the pine trees, as I came for the coastal bluff plant community:

2017-04-21 15.54.31

If you are ever in the San Diego area, I highly recommend making a stop here–it’s San Diego’s version of Point Lobos, for bay area folks familiar with that State Park. I’ve written about coastal bluffs previously on this blog. The south coast’s version of this habitat receives much less rain and fog than the central or north coast, and subsequently has cacti, such as the Opuntia sp in the above photo and the rare Ferocactus viridescens (San Diego Barrel Cactus).


A few more stand outs from this location:

The showy and rare Leptosyne maritima (Sea Dahlia, Asteraceae)


The tiny Linanthus dianthiflorus (Fringed Linanthus, Polemoniaceae)


And the honey-scented Piperia cooperi (Cooper’s Rein Orchid, Orchidaceae)


For my last stop i headed North and inland to Santa Rosa Plateau, an area with unique soils and vernal pools. Oak woodlands and grasslands dominate the landscape. This is still Southwestern California, so even here, cacti are everywhere, even growing out of the grass near a large vernal pool.

2017-04-22 08.50.28

This is the only place in the world where Brodiaea santarosae (Santa Rosa Brodiaea, Themidaceae) is found. This species is told from more common relatives by its small, triangular stamenodes (sterile stamens).


Navarretia prostrata (Pincushionplant, Polemoniaceae) was just beginning to bloom


And finally, I found a couple species of one of my favorite genera, Downingia cuspida (Toothed Calicoflower, Campanulaceae) Downingia bella (Beautiful Calicoflower).

The San Joaquin Valley

The San Joaquin Valley forms the southern half of California’s vast Central Valley (Sacramento Valley sits to the north, with the San Francisco Bay delta being the dividing line). This area used to be an epic expanse of wildflower meadows and wetlands, but unfortunately, almost all of the wetlands have been drained and the meadows invaded by European annual grasses. I spent the weekend traveling to both sides of the valley–the foothills of the Greenhorn Mountains to the East and the Carrizo Plain to the West–in search of remnants of San Joaquin’s past glory. With the exception of a quick trip into the oak woodlands, I didn’t see a native tree all weekend. But I did find a few flowers. I botanized in Atriplex (Saltbush) Scrub, where plants must deal with salty, basic (high pH soils):

2017-03-26 13.06.57

and I climbed into beautiful Temblor Range (that’s Carrizo Plain in the background) :

2017-03-26 09.57.39

But mostly I hung out in the “grasslands”of the valley floor.

2017-03-25 11.48.09

Yep, a few flowers.

The color of the weekend was yellow–hills were covered in various golden members of the Aster family. Asters have flowers in dense clusters with outer “ray” and inner “disk” flowers. When you think of a sunflower or a daisy flower, you are actually thinking of a whole cluster of flowers. Many of the species look somewhat similar, and the family has its own unique set of terminology to tell them apart. You need too look at things like the phyllaries (green scales on the back of the flower cluster) and the pappus (tuft of hairs on top of the seed). Here are some of the less common asters from the weekend:

Deinandra pallida (Kern Tarweed). This species is common in the hills around Bakersfield, but is pretty much only found in Kern County. It’s just beginning to bloom.


Lasthenia ferrisae (Alkali Goldfields) is a specialist on salty depressions in the Central Valley. You can see the characteristic fused phyllaries in the second picture.

Monolopia congdonii (San Joaquin Woolythreads). This species does not have any ray flowers. Because the primary function of these flowers is to attract pollinators, the loss of them (which has evolved a number of times) generally indicates a self-pollinator.


Leptosyne calliopsidea (Leafy-stemmed Coryopsis, large yellow) and Layia sp (Tidy tips, white and yellow smaller species). I messed this one up. I assumed the Layia was the common Layia platyglossa, but it turns out there are records of the very rare Layia munzii at the exact spot where I took this. You need to look at the shape of the disk flower pappus to tell them apart, and I don’t even have a close-up photo, so this will remain a mystery. I guess it still is a pretty picture though, even with unidentified plants.


The weekend wasn’t all asters, though. Some additional highlights were two species of Jewelflower that were new to me–the pleasant Caulanthus anceps (Lemmon’s Mustard)


And the bizarre Desert Candle (Caulanthus inflatus)

Yes, those two species are in the same genus–they are a little easier to tell apart than the Layias or the Lasthenias of the world. The weird main stem of the desert candle is hollow, so it’s a fun plant to squeeze.

Delphinium recurvatum (Byron Larkspur). A beautiful specialist in Central Valley Atriplex scrub. In this larkspur flower, the petals are actually the white parts in the middle. The sepals, which are green in most plants, are lavender here. The pointy thing in the back is the nectar spur, which contains the reward for visiting bees.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, I did briefly make it out of the valley and into the foothills. I was looking for a monkey flower species that specializes on patches of bare soil around granite outcrops. I came back with two monkeyflower species that specialize on patches of bare soil around granite outcrops! I found Mimulus congdonii (Cogndon’s Monkeyflower and Mimulus pictus (Calico Monkeyflower) hanging out right next to each other.

I was looking for the later species, as it’s both amazingly patterned and really rare, and it didn’t disappoint. But for the record, I think Mr. Joseph Congdon, a prominent 19th century Sierra botanist, has himself a very nice monkeyflower as well.

Southwest San Bernardino County

Rather than head east as originally planned, I returned to the Mojave this weekend, spending most of the trip botanizing in San Bernardino County. This is the largest county in the lower 48, just a bit smaller than the whole state of West Virginia. More specifically I looked for a few target species in the areas around the town Barstow and the San Bernardino Mountains. I spent most of the time at the bases of mountains, where many species are in full bloom…

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but heading up into the San Bernardino Mountains to camp where the Joshua Trees meet Pinon Pines and Junipers. I will definitely be back to these mid-elevation forests when they start to bloom.

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It’s fun to plan a trip around picking some interesting rare plants to chase down. Even if you don’t find them, rare species tend to occur in places that have lots of other cool things. I find my target plants using the amazing website, Calflora.org. Here you can sort through the thousands of plants found in the state with many useful filters. For this trip I chose herbs with more than 3 records in San Bernardino County that bloom in March and are listed by the native plant society as rare or having a limited distribution. From the couple dozen plants that generated, I then chose four species that seemed super interesting to me, and plotted records on my atlas that were collected relatively recently with clear location information. I went three for four on my main targets:

Mentzelia tridentata (Three-toothed Blazing Star, Loasaceae), only found in the Central Mohave around Barstow. Yes, it looks pretty similar to the much more common Mentzelia invulcrata that I posted a picture of a couple weeks ago, but this species has really interestingly-shaped stamens which you can see in the first picture, and mostly green instead of mostly white floral bracts which you can see in the second.

Astragalus albens (Cushenbury Milkvetch, Fabaceae), a small milkvetch only found on limestone outcrops in one canyon in the entire world. The leaves and stems of this species are canescent–one of my favorite botanical terms that means covered in fine, white hairs giving a grayish appearance.


Linanthus maculata (San Bernardino Mountains Linanthus, Polemoniaceae), the most adorable of all plants ever. Yes that’s a dime, and no, they really don’t get any bigger.


In addition the target species, on a trip like this where I go through several habitats, I looked at a couple hundred species of flowers and photograph many of those that I haven’t seen before. In this case I took pictures of maybe 30 species. A few of the post-worthy species:

Nama pusilla (Small-leafed Nama, Boraginacaea). Another tiny white flower, not much bigger than the Linanthus.


Thamnosoma montana (Turpentine Broom, Rutaceae). A common desert shrub, but one of the few members of the mainly tropical citrus family in California. You can see the essential-oil-producing pellucid glands (dots) on the petals. The same structures give oranges and lemons their smell.


Erodium texicanum (Texas Filaree, Geraniaceae). The only species native to California in a genus of bad invasives. I may be biased, but I’m certain it’s the prettiest as well.


Astragalus coccineus (Scarlet Milkvetch, Fabaceae). A shockingly colored plant of desert foothills, I’m pretty sure this is the only red-flowered species in this diverse genus. I was almost as excited to find this, as I was its much rarer congener (second plant photo). It was also growing in Cushenbury Canyon.


Once again, however, the genus Phacelia (Boraginaceae) won the trip. I’ve already photographed maybe 20 of these species, but with 175 in the genus, the majority of which occur in the state, I definitely won’t run out any time soon. I found 5 new ones this trip. I’ll go from worst to best photo.

Phacelia affinis (Limestone Phacelia). Another tiny white flower with cool spoon-shaped sepals.


Phacelia campanularia (Desert Bells). A poor-mans Phacelia nashiana (My favorite plant from last week), more common and less shockingly blue, but still a very showy plant.


Phacelia pachyphylla (Thick-leafed Phacelia). The only place I saw this one was right next to some Mentzelia tridentata.


Phacelia neglecta (Alkali Phacelia). I’ll do fewer tiny white flowers in next week’s blog, I promise.


Phacelia longipes (Longstalk Phacelia). This is actually not a desert plant-I found it on a gravelly road cut on my way home through some chaparral in the Transverse Ranges. The early-evening lighting was amazing, and the plant is both beautiful and fairly uncommon, making this among my favorite photos I’ve ever taken.


Okay (unless I get rained out) I’m going east next weekend for real this time.