My last couple blog entries have been about very “Californian” taxa, with their centers of diversity in the Golden State. With over 2500 species spread across all 6 of the continents worth botanizing, Astragalus is much more cosmopolitan. Still, California has its fair share, with nearly 100 species (and many more varities). I’ve collected photos of 18.

Astragalus is in the Fabaceae, or pea, family, which is one of the most easily recognizable. Flowers (at least in the subfamily Paplionoidae) have a characteristic bilateral shape, with a large banner petal on the top, two wing petals off to the sides, and two bottom petals fused into a shape resembling the keel of a boat. This close up of Astragalus purshii, a common mountain species shows the flowers well.

Fabaceae is even more recognizable by their pod-shaped fruits called legumes. In many members of Astragalus, these pods are inflated into fun, pop-able pouches. Here they are in Astragalus lentiginosus–in this species, they also happen to be freckled

Finally, this family tends to have compound leaves–in the case of Astragalus they are pinnately compound with leaflets arranged across from each other along a central axis. Look in the background of this lovely Astragalus lanyeae from the Mohave desert.

You can refer to plants in this genus by two different common names. The first, milkvetch, works for all species. But a number of species such as the A. lentiginosus shown above and this Astragalus nuttallii from coastal bluffs in along the central coast, produce a toxic compound called swainsonine.

This compound apparently tastes fine to livestock who will preferentially munch on Astragalus plants. If animals eat to much of it, it causes vacuolation and subsequent destruction of neurons. The resulting abnormal behaviors of poisoned livestock were noticed by ranchers in the 1800’s. They dubbed the plants “locoweed”. Unfortunately for the plant, knowledgeable ranchers will remove Astragalus from their pastures threatening the survival of some of the rarer grassland species.

Most Astragalus (and actually Fabacaeous plants in general) are bee pollinated. The stigma and stamens are enclosed in the keel. When a bee lands on the flower, its weight pushes the keel downward exposing the reproductive parts and allowing for pollination. Butterflies and flies just aren’t heavy enough to trip the keel. Here’s Bombus vosnesenskii pollinating Astragalus oxyphysus, one of the aforementioned threatened locoweeds from San Joaquin valley

The glorious exception to bee pollination in the genus is Astragalus coccineus, found in pinyon pine woodlands in desert mountains. This species makes use of hummingbirds that presumably press down the keel with their chin.

Even more than most taxa in California, Astragalus is a genus of extreme endemism. Many, many species are restricted to a very specific habitat in a very specific area. Even more widely distributed species, such as the A. lentiginosus and A. purshii are further subdivided geographically into varieties. Wherever you are, there’s likely a rare Astragalus near you. Here are just four of my favorite rare Astragalus:

Astragalus tener, a cute little annual specializing on vernal pools in the Bay delta.

Astragalus pycnostachyus, a stout perennial found in a few coastal saltmarshes in San Mateo, Marin, and Humboldt counties (unlike the east coast, there’s just not very much coastal saltmarsh habitat in California, so the few California endemics that specialize in them tend to be very rare).

Astragalus albens, from only the limestone soils of Cushenbury Canyon in the San Bernardinos. I love the strigose (short, appressed) hairs on the leaves, stem, and sepals of this one.

And finally Astragalus ertterae, found only in a approximately one square mile area just west of Walker Pass in the very southernmost Sierras (you have to hike down the Pacific Crest Trail to see it).

I highly recommend playing around on to find the rare Astragalus near you!



I’d now like to properly introduce everyone to the phacelias! This time, I definitely won’t need to cheat by using a whole family–with around 175 described species, almost 100 of which occur in the state, and 34 of which I’ve photograph there are plenty to choose from. Phacelias (that’s both the scientific and the common name) are in the borage family (Boraginaceae). This family has flower parts in fives, which, being fairly common across dicots, isn’t that useful for identification. The easiest way to know you’re looking at a borage is to see that flowers are arranged in a one-sided cyme. Basically, the next flower along the flowering stalk forms from the lateral bud of the previous flower. The result looks like the curled tail of a scorpion. Here’s a side view of Phacelia minor to showing a scorpioid cyme:

This southern California chaparral species has some of the biggest flowers in the genus, I have no idea why it’s called minor! Telling Phacelia from the other genera in Boraginaceae is a bit trickier, but flower color can help. Many phacelias have blue, purple, or pink flowers, whereas other common borage genera tend to have white or orange flowers. But color certainly isn’t a hard and fast rule. For example, here’s an adorable little white-flowered species, Phacelia neglecta, found in alkaline soils throughout the southwest US.

This genus really runs the gamut in size, from beefy perennials, such as Phacelia california, a Bay Area native,

To the tiniest of annuals, such as this rare Phacelia leonis from serpentine soils high in the Klamath Ranges.

With exceptions such as that last one, most species of phacelia are fairly showy and can bloom in large numbers along trails or other accessable open areas. They really seem like tempting targets for identification by amateur botanists. However, fair warning, keying out Phacelia is definitely not for the faint of heart. Many species are extremely similar, and can integrate where species ranges overlap producing plants with intermediate traits. You need both flowers and fruits to work the key, and a hand lens and millimeter ruler in order to see things like furrows on the seeds or to measure bits like the style. Even seemingly straightforward questions, such as “are the leaves compound?” become minefields of uncertainty. Making it all worse, many species have stiff, sharp hairs that cause handling the plant to be a painful experience. Phacelia brachiloba is an example of a common species that takes quite an effort to identify, despite its showy display.

So why bother? Well, identifying your local Phecelia can be extremely rewarding, because there’s a chance the plant you’re looking at is quite range restricted. Especially in Southern California, it seems like every little mountain range has its own species. Thirty-two taxa are listed as rare by the California Native Plant Society. Additionally few California taxa are new to science within the last 20 or so years, so with this group, it’s possible you’re looking at an unsubscribed species! Plus, many of them are quite beautiful, so you’ll probably want to photograph them and post about it. And there’s nothing more embarrassing than misidentifying a plant in a post, am I right?…. No….I’m the only one that feels that way? Huh. Well anyway, I’ve saved my 5 favorite phacelia photos until now. In no particular order,

Phacelia longipes, a large-flowered species from gravelly slopes in the Transverse Ranges

Phacelia pedicellata, my favorite of the widely-distributed desert species, has the great common name of Spider Phacelia

Phacelia mohavensis, the second really poorly named species of this post. It doesn’t occur in the Mojave (although it does inhabit nearby mountains)! I love the transparent windows in the petals of this one.

Phacelia sericea. This photo’s actually from Colorado (although the species does occur in far Northeastern CA). It was loved by the bumble bees I was studying while out there.

And finally the rare Phacelia nashiana, found only in decomposing granitic soils in the transition zone between the Southern Sierras and the desert. The flowers of this beauty make you question whether you’ve even seen blue before.


In my last post I mentioned I writing a series about my favorite genera. Last week I did some plant surveys that included two rare Navarretia species, Navarretia paradoxinota

and Navarretia leucocephala ssp. pleiantha

I have taken photos of 17 of the species in this genus and it’s definitely a favorite of mine. But I gotta say, they are pretty tiny, can look fairly similar to each other, and part of their interest comes from things like spiky bracts and funky sepals that just don’t photograph super well (although check them out in this shot of Navarretia peninsularis, another rare one!)

Well It’s my blog, so I can break my own rules! Rather than just sticking with one genus, I’m going to expand to a whole plant family, the “5, 5, 5, 3, Polemoniaceae!” I’ll post my favorite photo from each of 10 genera.

If you want to become a better botanist, learning the common plant families in your area is definitely the way to do it. All plant families, of which there are about 450 globally, end in -aceae, and tend to have a recognizable look and shape, or gestalt. They also often have the same number of floral parts. Those parts are represented by a floral formula–which indicate, in order, the number of sepals (5 in the case of Polemoniaceae), petals (5), anthers (male parts, 5), and carpels (female parts 3). In this family the result is a memorable (to me, anyway) rhyming chant! You can see the characteristic number of petals, anthers, and carpels in this picture of the beautiful and very rare Polemonium chartaceum, an endemic to the White and Sweetwater Mountains.

For the carpel count, look at the three curling lobes of the stigma. While the numbers of other floral parts is fairly common in other dicot families, the three-lobed stigma is probably the easiest way to know you’re looking at a plant in the Polemoniaceae.

Families are then divided into genera (there are ~25 in Polemoniaceae), each of which have 1 or more species (~350 total in Polemoniaceae). All families have a type genus, after which they’re are named. The reason a taxa is chosen to be the type genus often has more to do with history than taxonomy. Polemonium is the type genus for this family because it’s the only one found in Europe, where plants got their binomials earlier. The only other genus in the family that’s found in the old world is Phlox, which makes it into Asia. My favorite phlox photo is this shot of Phlox dolichantha, another super rare plant, this time from the San Bernardinos.

The rest of the family, with a few South American exceptions, is found in Western North America. California alone has almost 200 species, well over half of the family’s total diversity. Of those, I’ve photographed 72. The inspiration for this post, Navarretia, is a perfect example of the diversification that’s occurred in the state, with something like 90% of the ~40 species found here. I’ll go with this shot of the delicate Navarretia filicaulis from the foothills of the Northern Sierras to represent this genus (those first three pics didn’t count!)

Many of the species in this family are typical of a life history strategy wildflowers employ when dealing with California’s unique climate. They tend to be annual plants that produce seeds without a dispersal mechanism. Instead, the seeds can remain dormant in the soil for a long time, waiting for a disturbance such as a wildfire, when they can germinate and bloom in huge numbers. Many species prefer gravelly (well drained) soils, do best in full sun, and bloom in spring, when days are long but there’s still moisture from the winter rains. Gilia, perhaps the most well known genus on account of its inclusion in many wildflower mixes, typifies the family. I’ll go with Gilia achelleifolia, a common plant from the South Coast Ranges, for this genus.

Gilia also are a clear example of speciation in action. Many of the 30 or so species in the state have numerous subspecies and varieties, among which reproductive barriers are beginning to develop. In fact, these plants caught the attention of Verne Grant, who conducted some amazing and foundational work in plant evolution on them.

While much of the diversity in this genus is found in the part of California with a Mediterranean climate, there are some great Polemones from the desert. Sunbonnets, Lanloisia setosissima,

and Desert Calico, Loeseliastrum matthewsii,

are some of my favorite components of the Mohave early spring bloom. The woolystars including this Eriastrum eremicum are also common desert annuals, although some of the species make it into other parts of the state

We’re getting some funky bilateral symmetry in these last two, but the floral formula (5,5,5,3) still holds.

Rather than the desert, other species are found in gravelly places high in the mountains. That includes Polemonium as well as the genus Ipomopsis, including Ipomopsis congesta.

I’ll return the heart of the California Floristic Provence for my last three pics. Here’s Collomia diversifolia, a serpentine specialist from the North Coast Ranges,

Linanthus killipii, an extremely rare plant from the Pinyon/Juniper woodlands around Baldwin Lake,

and, finally, Leptosiphon dichotomus.

This last one isn’t rare. And it’s certainly isn’t my best photography work, but it was necessarily taken in low light. This species closes its flowers during the day. With its low growth form and linear leaves, it is very hard to find until dusk, when it opens its large white flowers for hawkmoths to find. Like many species of the family it tends to grow in large, dense patches. Therefore when it does open, it’s easy to see the inspiration for its poetic common name, evening snow. These amazing displays make Linanthus dichotomus maybe my favorite Polemoniaceae species–and in a family this cool, that’s very high praise, indeed.


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.

Southern Oregon and the Trinity Alps

As the summer has gone on and flowers have become harder to find, I’ve slacked off on my botanizing. The past week, I took a trip way up North to the Trinity Alps in North-West California, even sneaking into Oregon. While these are great places for weird and rare plants (see post from a year ago), this time, the late season and complete lack of botanical planning did me in. To be fair, plants weren’t my top priority this time. I did, however, scrounge up 10 post-worthy plants that I hadn’t previously photographed. First, here’s a picture of the beautiful and under-visited Trinities from near the Boulder Lakes with one of my favorite plants from my last trip here–Darlingtonia california (California pitcher plant, Sarraceniaceae), in the foreground.

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Okay, flowers in in no particular order: Calochortus tolmiei (Hairy Star Tulip, Liliaceae)


Nothochelone nemorosa (False Turtlehead, Plantaginaceae)


Another large, pink, bee pollinated flower Mimulus lewisii (Lewis’s Monkeyflower, Phyrmaceae)


Gentianopsis simplex (Hiker’s Fringed Gentian, Gentianaceae), a species actually more common in the Sierras than in Northwestern California



Rudbeckia occidentalis (Western Coneflower, Asteraceae). This species, unlike some others in the genus doesn’t have showy yellow ray flowers surrounding the brown disk flowers, but pollinators seem to find it just fine, anyway.


Pedicularis racemosa (Leafy Lousewort, Orobanchaceae), one of the few species with asymmetric flowers.


Cordylanthus tenuis (Slender Birdsbeak, Orobanchaceae)


Goodyera oblongifolia (Western Rattlesnake Plantain, Orchidaceae)

Kopsiopsis strobilacea (California Groundcone, Orobanchaceae). This completely parasitic plant really does look like a pine cone sitting on the ground when it’s in flower. This individual is fruiting.


Another plant with a great common name is Vancouveria hexandra (Northern Inside Out Flower, Berberidaceae). This is the first picture I’ve posted of this family, which also includes Oregon Grape (Berberis)


And finally, Trichostema simulatum (Siskiyou Bluecurls). Last post I talked about looking for the rare pink-flowered morph of the related Trichostema laxum. I found a whole pink-flowered population of this, more northern species.


I’ll probably squeeze in one more post this year before going dormant for the fall and winter. I’m going to completely leave California behind to do it.

Botany on the Side

I’ve just returned from a week-long road trip into the North Coast Ranges (Sonoma, Lake, and Napa Counties) where the goals were to 1) visit friends and 2) do a little field research at McLaughlin Research Station. The focus of the latter was Trichostema laxum (Turpentine Weed, Lamiaceae), which normally looks like this:


This plant usually occurs in large patches of plants (hundreds to many thousands of plants) in serpentine seeps (see previous blog posts for a description of this cool habitat). In many populations, 1 to a few individuals are pink instead of purple:


This color is the result of a recessive mutation, and plants with pink flowers seem to be otherwise just as healthy and have otherwise the same traits as purple-flowered plants. Pollinators don’t really seem to notice the color difference, and will freely visit these mutants. The goal of this research is to take advantage of the mutation by finding, marking, and measuring pink-flowered plants, and then collecting their seeds. Because this is a super rare recessive trait, if the offspring are pink, it is very likely they are the result of self-pollination. Conversely, any purple-flowered progeny must be the result of out-crossing with another plant. Therefore if we can find a bunch of pink individuals, we can ask interesting questions about how things like the number of flowers, the flower shape, and the environment (such as whether the area has recently burned) affect outcrossing rates.

While the focus of this week was not at all recreational botany, of course I found and photographed a few plants.

First some relatively broadly distributed species that have not yet made an appearance on this blog. Clarkia amoena (Farewell-to-spring, Onagraceae)–a beautiful annual that is readily available as a garden ornamental.


Lilium pardalinum (Leopard Lily, Lilaceae)–I actually have photographed and posted this one before, but it was a few years ago on Facebook, and it’s enough of a show-stopper that I’m re-posting.


and Mimulus bolanderi (Bolander’s Monkeyflower, Phrymaceae)–while this species is relatively common, especially in the central Sierras, plants in the inner North Coast Ranges such as this one are much smaller-flowered than elsewhere and may represent a distinct subspecies (or even a different species).


As I’ve blogged about previously, McLaughlin is a hotbed for rare flowers because it has large outcrops of harsh serpentine soils. While I’ve previously found and photographed many of these, I managed to add a few new ones this trip:

Collinsia greenei (Green’s Blue-eyed Mary, Plantaginaceae), the only all-purple member of the genus


Streptanthus morrisonii (Morrison’s Jewelflower, Brassicaceae). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you really have to meet plants in this genus in person for full appreciation. The yellow things sticking out of the flower are two sterile stamens than are fused together–function unknown.


And two plants that are in fruit, rather than in flower: Lomatium repostum (Napa Biscuitroot, Apiaceae)


and Asclepias solanoana (Serpentine Milkweed, Apocynaceae)


The former species has pretty boring flowers, so the fruiting stage is actually more photogenic. I’m a bit sad I missed the flowers on the latter, however, as it has beautiful purple and white flowers. It was still neat to see the typical milkweed pod on this weird prostrate plant. This plant may be from the southernmost population of this species.

I’m still debating, but I think my itinerary for next week will involve more rare serpentine plants from even further north. Who knows, maybe I’ll even find a flowering Serpentine Milkweed.

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.

The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains

I saved the best for last on my spring break botany trip. I spent a day in one of the coolest places in California you’ve (probably) never heard of–The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument in Riverside County. Although parts of it had been previously preserved, the park was created by Congress in 2000, back when Congress did that nice sort of thing. The slightly taller San Jacintos sit to the north of the Santa Rosas. From them, the Peninsular Ranges head south for 900 miles, forming entire spine of Baja California. These mountains have a split personality. Hiking on their eastern slopes you are clearly in the desert.

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And the flora on this drier side reflects that. Here are some species that are also found in higher elevations in the Mojave or Sonoran Deserts

Allium fimbriatum (Fringed Onion, Alliaceae)


Phacelia curvipes (Washoe Phacelia, Boraginaceae)


A couple plants with close relatives in my last post, Loeseliastrum schottii (Schott’s Calico, Polemoniaceae)


and Porophyllum gracile (Odora, Asteraceae)


And, of course, a cactus–Echinocerus engelmanii (Calico Hedgehog Cactus)


On the western side, however, rather than desert scrub, these mountains are covered in good old California chaparral.

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Here, many of the species also occur in the Peninsular Ranges to north and west of here. For instance, Phacelia minor (California Bluebell, Boraginaceae)


Mimulus brevicaulis (Wide-throated Monkeyflower, Phyrmaceae)


Linanthus californicus (California Phlox, Polemoniaceae)


and Antirrhinum coulterianum (Coulter’s Snapdragon, Plantaginaceae)


But I really came for all the plants found in the Peninsular Ranges and nowhere else. And I found several of them. I’ll start with a couple of mustards–Caulanthus hallii

And C. simulans

Why do two closely related species of rare mustards both choose to grow in the same section of trail? I have no idea. But I do know they are both way cooler in person–it’s really hard to capture their lanky shape well in a picture.

Shrubs, such as this Ceanothus perplexans (Cupped-leaf Ceanothus, Rhamnaceae) are a bit easier to photograph.


As I frequently do, I’ve saved my favorites for last. Monardella nana (Little Coyote Mint, Lamiaceae), is definitely the most interesting-looking member of its genus that I’ve met. I didn’t even recognize it at first, as this group of plants usually has tight clusters of purple flowers (see Monardella sinuata from a couple posts ago). I just love the fuzzy white bracts and pink anthers.

And finally, the ridiculously bright pink Penstemon clevelandii (San Jacinto Beardtongue) seen here in its preferred rocky perch.

Thus concludes my spring break flower report. I haven’t yet made up my mind as to where I’m headed this weekend, but rest assured that there will be flowers involved.

The Mohave Grand Tour

I just spent a good portion of last week driving around Southern California chasing flowers. My last stop in at Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument had enough beautiful and unique things to warrant its own post–I’ll add that in a couple days. But first I want to show off some of the highlights from the rest of the trip, in which I looped around the Western, Northern, and Central Mohave. My first stop was the Kelso Valley, where the western Mohave meets the Southern Sierras. I had stopped here a few weeks ago, but not much was blooming then. This time I got the timing right, and found the rare monkeyflower for which I was looking, Mimulus shevockii (Kelso Valley Monkeyflower, Phrymaceae)


The spot also had another uncommon and extremely tiny plant, Canbya candida (Pygmy Poppy, Papaveraceae). I was there early in the morning so the flowers are still closed from the night before. For a sense of scale, the “pebbles” around the plant are actually grains of sand.


I then headed over Walker Pass toward the desert floor, stopping to look for a rare species of Astragalus which was not yet in bloom. I did get a consolation prize of a more common species in the same genus, Astragalus purshii (Woolypod Milkvetch, Fabaceae).


I hit the desert floor around Red Rock State Park, and fairly quickly found large numbers of a rare species of Blazing Star, Mentzelia eremophila (Pinyon Blazing Star, Loasaceae).

Also in the area were some nice patches of Linanthus parryae (Sand Blossoms, Polemonaceae). Individuals either have white or purple flowers, sometimes in the same population, as you can see from the second photo.

Further to the southeast at lower elevations, I made a quick stop in some Saltbrush Flats and found the uncommon Goodmania luteola (Yellow Spinecape, Polygonaceae). I know it doesn’t look like much, but it’s the only species in its genus, and to a plant nerd like me, that makes it pretty interesting.


From the Western Mohave, I made the long drive to Death Valley National Park, where I had hoped to find a few beautiful and rare species that only occur on limestone cliffs in the Northern part of the park. Unfortunately, I got the timing wrong, and I was too late to catch these short-lived annuals. That’s not to say the trip wasn’t worth it though. On the way in, I found a couple common, but interesting species

Cleomella obtusifolia (Blunt-leaf Stinkweed, Cleomaceae), a small plant found around salty lakes.


Eucnide urens (Desert Rocknettle, Loasaceae), a shrub with extremely sharp hairs that I know now not to touch.


Despite striking out on the limestone specialists, I did find a couple of rare plants. Salvia funerea (Death Valley Sage, Lamiaceae) is a unique, incredibly woolly shrub with a funky smell found in the mountains around the valley.


The clear prize of the Death Valley leg of the trip was Enceliopsis covillei (Panamint Daisy, Asteraceae). This beautiful sunflower is only found in gypsum soils in a few canyons on the western side of the Panamint mountains. It’s the logo for the California Native Plant Society:


When I got to the area, I was dismayed to find the only road that goes through the range of the species was closed. I quickly formulated a back-up plan, driving as close as I could to the mountains, picking what looked like an interesting canyon with gypsum (the white rock below), and walking in.

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About a mile up the canyon, I found one individual growing completely by itself on the side of the canyon. I shouted pretty loud when I saw it.

After leaving death valley, I spent an evening and morning botanizing around the Barstow area in the Central Mohave. There were a number of interesting plants in the area, including a couple more species from the extremely diverse sunflower family (Asteraceae), Nicolletia occidentalis (Hole-in-the-Sand Plant) and Adenophyllum cooperi (Cooper’s Dogweed, shown with a sleeping bee-fly, Bombylius sp.).

But another plant family, Polemoniaceae, led the highlight reel here. A pink patch of Leptosiphon breviculus (Mohave Linanthus) looked lovely in the evening light



Loeseliastrum matthewsii (Desert Calico, Polemoniaceae) was just beginning to bloom in the area.


And another tiny prickly annual with intricately patterned petals Langloisia setosissima (Lilac Sunbonnet) was surprisingly common.


From Barstow, I made the long drive south to the Santa Rosa Mountains. I’ll detail those highlights in my next post.







Central Sierra Foothills

I’m about to head out to the desert, but before I do, here’s a quick post about the overnight trip I just took up to Tuolumne County. I stopped along the South Fork of the Stanislaus River and at a nice outcrop of iron-rich serpentine soil called the Red Hills. Both spots have a bunch of uncommon or rare plants, but I was too early or too late for most of them. The couple I did manage to scrounge up definitely fall under the category of “plants only a botanist would love”.

Lomatium congdonii (Congdon’s Lomatium, Apiaceae). A rare plant only found in serpentine in Tuolumne and Mariposa counties


Leptosyne stillmanii (Stillman’s Coreopsis, Asteraceae), also a serpentine specialist.


The botanical highlights of the trip were actually three beautiful species that are common in the Sierras, but new to me (as far as I remember).

Lathyrus sulphureus (Snub Pea, Fabaceae)


Nemophila maculata (Fivespot, Boraginaceae)


and Calochortus monophyllus (Yellow Star Tulip, Liliaceae)


I’m feeling generous, so I’ll even throw in a couple plants that range widely across the Western US and Canada:

Phlox speciosa (Showy Phlox, Polemoniaceae)


Lewisia redivia (Bitter Root, Portulacaeae)


I’ll be hitting the road tomorrow with an ambitious itinerary wherein I will attempt to find many plants that are both rare AND beautiful.