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

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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.

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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)

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

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And from Table Rocks, Fritillaria recurva (Scarlet Fritillary)

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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.

 

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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):

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

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

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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.

Deinandra_pallida

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.

Monolopia_congdonii_1

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.

Leptosybe_calliopsidea_and_layia_munzii

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)

Caulanthus_anceps

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.