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)

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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)

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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.

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San Luis Obispo

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

Calochortus_obispoensis_2

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

Calochortus_argillosus

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

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

Abronia_maritima

Chorizanthe angustifolia (Narrow-leaf Spineflower, Polygonaceae)

Chorizanthe_angustifolia

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

Monardella_sinuata_2

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

Chorizanthe_breweri

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