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

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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!

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.

view

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

Allium_burlewii_1

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)

Mimulus_montioides_1

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)

Orochaenactis_thysanocarpha_2

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!

Fritillaria_pinetorum_1