The Granite Mountains

The best wildflowers of the Supercourse, hands down, were in the Mohave desert. Within 15 minutes of arriving at the Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Resarch Center, I had taken 50 photos. I’ve narrowed down my desert pictures to 20 of my favorites.

While I had been to the Mohave (Death Valley) this year and the Granite Mountains in years past (in Summer), basically all the amazing flowers were new to me. Our timing was pretty great to maximize diversity. We were at the near the end of the bloom period for many of the little annuals such as

Eriophyllum wallacei (Wallace’s Wooly Daisy, Asteraceae)


and Lupinus shockleyi (Purple Desert Lupine, Fabaceae),


while some of the perennials and shrubs were just getting started. The desert shrubs have especially interesting flowers, unlike anything found elsewhere in California. Here are some cool ones:

Krameria erecta (Littleleaf Ratany, Krameriaceae)


Prsorothamnus arborescens (Mohave Indigobush, Fabaceae)


Salvia dorrii (Desert Sage, Lamiaceae)


Scutellaria mexicana (Paperbag Bush, Lamiaceae)


ADenophyllum cooperi (Cooper’s Dogweed, Asteraceae)


Senna armata (Desert Senna, Fabaceae)


But, the most spectacular “bushes” were all in one thorny family–the Cacti! Here are Five species, each with its own spectacular flower.

Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa (Buckthorn Cholla, Cactaceae)


Echinocerus mojavensis (Mohave Kingcup Cactus, Cactaceae)


Echinocerus engelmannii (Engelman’s Hedgehog Cactus)


Opuntia polyacantha (Grizzlybear Pricklypear, Cactaceae)


Opuntia basilaris (Beavertail Cactus, Cactaceae)


Cactus flowers are fun to play with because their many stamens are touch sensitive!

No desert trip would be complete without some pictures from my a couple of my favorites–the genus Phacelia and the Polemoniaceae. Here’s one of the former and two of the later:

Phacelia campanularia (Desert Bluebells, Boraginaceae)


Eriastrum eremicum (Desert Woolystar, Polemoniaceae)


Loeseliastrum schottii (Schott’s Calico, Polemoniaceae)


A few Evening Primroses were blooming, but only showiest made my strict, 20 photo cut:

Oenothera california (California Evening Primrose, Onagraceae)


As with the last post, I have two plants where I need two pictures to show both the pretty flowers and the cool foliage:

Calochortus kennedyi (Desert Mariposa Lily, Liliaceae)

Mentzelia longiloba (Many-flowered Blazing Star, Loasaceae)

The inner yellow “petals” on the later are actually five modified stamens that look like petals.

And finally, here’s the beautiful Mirabilis multiflora (Giant Four O’Clock, Nyctaginaceae), which is a large perennial plant covered in beautiful, two-inch-wide flowers.


That’s all from the desert. Big Creek and Blue Oak to come.



After our break in Yosemite, the California Ecology and Conservation class headed down to Sedgwick Reserve in Santa Barbara County. Out of all our stops, this was the one I knew the least about in terms of both the facilities and the ecology. It turns out both were amazing. The reserve is neatly divided into two sections by geology–the south portion is on sedimentary soils and supports blue oak woodland, grassland, and sage chaparral, while the northern half has bands of metamorphic rock including serpentine. The diverse array of plant communities that occur on this northern portion as well as the adjacent Lost Padres National Forest were exciting part to me. Here there is an interesting mix of plants from the South Coast Ranges, where the reserve is near the southern range limit and plants from the Transverse Ranges that reach their Northwestern range limit..

I’ll start with a couple plants whose foliage is actually more interesting looking than the flowers:

Lupinus hirsutissimus (Stinging annual Lupine, Fabaceae)


Amsinckia vernicosa (Green Fiddleneck, Boraginaceae)

These plants both had more common relatives in the area with very similar flowers, but the strange hairs in the former and the white stems in the latter caught my eye.

Next, here are a couple of cool hummingbird-pollinated flowers:

Penstemon centranthifolius (Scarlet Bugler, Plantaginaceae)


Salvia spathacea (Hummingbird Sage, Lamiaceae)


Hummingbird-pollinated plants, with their bright, large, tubular flowers are often cultivated–both of these are, but it’s great to see them in the wild.

Now, for lack of a better organizational strategy, here are a couple yellow flowers!

Leptosyne bigelovii (Bigelow Coreopsis, Asteraceae)



Bloomeria crocea (Golden Star, Themidaceae)


And some white flowers!

Ribes indecorum (Whiteflower Currant, Grossularceae)


Calochortus catalinae (Catalina Mariposa Lily)


But my favorite plant at Sedgwick didn’t have a flower at all.

Pseudotsuga macrocarpa (Bigcone Douglas Fir)


This conifer is one of two species of Douglas Fir in North America. The other (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is common throughout the West. This species, however is confined to the Transverse Ranges in California. In the picture you can see the mature cones that have already released seeds, and this year’s green cones.


The supercourse took a brief break from designing and implementing studies to spend 3  days at the UC Merced run Yosemite Field Station in Wawona. I went on a couple glorious hikes to amazing waterfalls. I’d never been to the Sierras this early in the spring before, and I would highly recommend it. Apologies, but once again I’m skipping the natural history and just posting some flower pictures. Let’s go alphabetical this time.

Allium obtusum (Red Sierra Onion, Alliaceae)



Boechera arcuata (Arching Rockcress, Brassicaceae)



Cynoglossum occidentale (Western Houndstongue, Boraginaceae)



Fritillaria micrantha (Brown Bells, Liliaceae)



Garrya fremontii (Bearbrush, Garryaceae) with Yosemite Falls in the background.



Hemizonella minima (Opposite-leafed Tarweed, Asteraceae). Yay tiny plants!



Lupinus stiversii (Harlequin Lupine, Fabaceae). This is my favorite lupine.


Phacelia vallicola (Mariposa Phacelia, Boraginaceae)



Ranunculus hystriculus (Waterfall False Buttercup, Ranunculaceae)



Ribes roezlii (Sierra Gooseberry, Grossulariaceae)


Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve

Our class made a brief stop on transit to Yosemite so that we could check out the vernal pools near the campus of UC Merced. The entire Central Valley of California used to be a complex of grasslands and wetlands drained by the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. This fertile soil is wonderful for agriculture. Combined with the hot summers and mild winters, pretty much every temperate crop is grown somewhere in the valley. This is great for feeding Americans, but bad for the native flora and fauna, many of which are endangered. The Central Valley habitat with the highest concentration of unusual plants is the vernal pools. These temporary wetlands are formed when depressions in grassland form a clay hardpan under them, causing winter rainfall to collect on the surface. Plants in these habitats have to deal with this hard compacted soil as well as the brief spring growing season. It takes a specialist to deal with being completely submerged after the winter rains and totally desiccated by the long summer dry season. Thus most vernal pool species are fast-growing annuals only found in this habitat.

We managed to hit the ponds at pretty much at peak bloom, but we only had a couple hours to spend there. I had to hurry to find as many plants as I could in the limited time. Here’s me doing some fast-paced botany on the edge of a particularly diverse vernal pool.


I’m just going to throw up the highlights of plants from the day in no particular order. All of these are annuals mostly or exclusively found in vernal pools. Many are close relatives of plants found in Santa Cruz or the Coast Ranges, so they look similar to previous photos on this blog.

Downingia_bicornuta (Doublehorn calicoflower, Campanulaceae)



Plagiobothrys stipitatus (Vernal Pool Popcornflower, Boraginaceae)

Plagiobothrys stipitatus

Brodiaea appendiculata (Appendaged Brodiaea, Themidaceae)

Brodiaea appendiculata

Sidalcea hirsuta (Hairy checkerbloom, Malvaceae)



Pogogyne zizyphoroides (Sacramento mesamint, Lamiaceae)



Eryngium castrense (Great valley button celery, Apiaceae)



Mimulus tricolor (Tricolored Mimulus, Phrymaceae)


Angelo Coast Range Reserve

I’m currently spending 7 weeks traveling across California to several natural history reserves with an awesome field course called California Ecology and Conservation. We started at Blue Oak Ranch Reserve near San Jose, and will return here a couple times, so I’ll hold off on pictures from there. Instead I’ll post some plants from Angelo Reserve. This Berkeley-run station in Coastal Mendocino County has an amazing old-growth Douglas Fir and Redwood forest along the South Fork of the Eel River. On the hills there are Madrones, Oaks, and some Chaparral. Some of the few flat areas have lovely meadows of wildflowers. Much of the North Coast Ranges has been logged, which in addition to changing things like stream water quality and wildlife abundances, also changes the soil quite a bit. Some plants, such as orchids are very sensitive to the changes caused by logging and are rare in across much of their former range. In Angelo, however, there are orchids everywhere! While most species bloom a bit later, we were treated to an amazing show of Calypso bulbosa (Fairy Slipper Orchid, Orchidaceae), growing in the deepest woods.


This orchid, despite its showy flower, has no reward for insect visitors. Insects are tricked into visiting because it sure looks like there should be some tasty pollen or nectar in there. The pollen is actually packaged into a pollinia that sits under the top lip of the pouch. The pollinia has a sticky pad called a viscidium that sticks the pollen package to the insect’s back. The pollen is then transferred to the next flower when the insect forgets the deception and is tricked once again.

Sharing the streamside banks with Calypso is Synthris cordata (Snow Queen, Plantaginaceae)


This is another uncommon plant that’s common at Angelo. Check out the 2 stamens with purple pollen.

Nearby in the meadows there were may Platystemon californicus (Creamcups, Papaveraceae)


In the openings in chaparral, I found a several additional photo-worthy plants.

Lomatium dasycarpum (Wooly-fruited Lomatium, Apiaceae)

Lomatium dasycarpum

Toxicoscordium micranthum (Small-Flowered Star Lily, Melanthiaceae)


Claytonia exigua (Little Spring Beauty, Portulacaceae)


Finally, on the drive out I stopped my van for a really beautiful Lily, Erythronium californicum (California Fawn Lily, Liliaceae). I love the mottled leaves that look like the spots on a baby deer.



South Coast Ranges

I’ve been really busy these past couple months and haven’t had time to post flower pictures as often as I would like. I’m about to head out to help teach a field course, which will take me to across California over the next seven weeks. Before I do, I figured I would do a quick post of the 10 most interesting flowers I’ve photographed in the last couple months. These photos come from 3 locations in the South Coast Ranges,  Big Creek Preserve in coastal Monterey County, Stathearn Ranch in North-Eastern San Benito County, and the Panoche Hills area in Western Fresno County. I don’t have time to say much more than a sentence or two about each species, but I’ll give the location and habitat in which I found it, and a quick blurb about why each species made my top ten.


Delphinium hutchinsoniae (Monterey Larkspur, Ranunculaceae, Big Creek, Coastal Chaparral). This species is only found along the coast of Monterey county. It was blooming in the thousands of individuals, making for an incredible display.



Mirabilis laevis (California Four O’Clock, Big Creek, Chaparral). This plant is in the strange Nyctaginaceae family–the same family as Abronia (Sand Verbena). According to Cal Flora, Big Creek is the northernmost coastal population of this species.



Paeonia californica (California Peony, Paeoniaceae, Big Creek, Chaparral). As with the previous species, it reaches its northern range limit at Big Creek. It’s one of two species in the family found in California. I was lucky to find this individual, as most plants were already setting fruit.



Tetrapteron graciliflorum (Hill Cups, Onagraceae, Strathearn, Valley Grassland). I love the four-ridged fruits on this tiny Evening Primrose. One is sitting just below the flower in this photo.


Caulanthus flavescens (California Yellow Mustard, Brassicaceae, Strathearn, Valley Grassland). A lame common name for a really interesting, range-restricted plant. This species is usually found on serpentine soils, making it a really unusual find on this property, which does not have serpentine.


 Streptanthus insignis insignis (San Benito Jewelflower, Brassicaceae, road to Panoche, Chaparral). This species is in a genus related to the previous one (they are sometimes both called Jewelflowers). It is only found in the Inner South Coast Ranges. The purple blob at the top of the left photo is a strange cluster of sterile flowers.


Phacelia douglasii (Douglas’ Phacelia, Boraginaceae, Panoche Semi-desert Scrub). This tiny annual Phacelia was carpeting the ground in places near our Panoche Valley Campsite.


Tonella tenella (Lesser Baby Innocence, Plantaginaceae, road to Panoche Woodland). It’s not often I’m completely stumped in the field by a plant in California any more. This tiny flower (only a couple millimeters wide), left me scratching my head until I made an educated family guess based on the fruits.


Mentzelia affinis (Yellow Comet, Loasaceae, Panoche, Valley Grassland). I love the spray of stamens and wierdly-shaped fruits found in this genus of show- stoppers. We found this species growing on a super dry roadcut in harsh gypsum soils.



Amsinckia furcata (Forked Fiddleneck, Boraginaceae, Panoche, Valley Grassland). One of the showiest species in this genus, it is very range restricted and habitat specific. However, where it does occur, it can be the only plant growning on the entire hillside.


That’s all for now. I will try to add a blog post for each of the 6 reserves we visit over the next seven weeks.

Death Valley

It’s a new year, and a new flowering season has already begun in California! This year, rather than organize by month, I’ll write a separate blog post for each botanical trip I take. As happened in 2015, some species are blooming way ahead of schedule. But unlike last year, when drought induced a super early flowering season, this time it’s good news. An early October rainstorm dumped a ton of rain across southern California initiating what is shaping up to be a spectacular desert bloom. I decided to head down to Death Valley with a couple fellow plant nerds to it check out. We weren’t disappointed:


The star of the show was Geraea canescens (Desert Gold) which carpeted mile after mile of the valley floor.


It was joined by several other asters ranging from the tiny Monoptilon bellioides (Desert Star


to the shrub Encelia farinosa (Goldenhills).


While there are plenty of additional species of shrub in the Death Valley, the true stars of a wildflower bloom are desert annuals. Pretty much all desert annuals have seeds that can lay dormant in the ground for years, or even decades. The seeds have chemicals in their outer coat that inhibit germination. When a big winter rainstorm hits the desert, the chemicals are washed off and billions of plants simultaneously begin sprouting. Within a few short months, the plants flower, set seed, and die, totally avoiding the dry desert summer. The last large desert bloom occurred in 2011, so most of the plants blooming now came from flowers that bloomed then or even longer ago.

Beyond the Asters, some of the other stunners were Eremalche rotundifolia (Desert Fivespot)


Abronia villosa (Desert Sand Verbena)


Mohavea breviflora (Desert Snapdragon)


and Nama demissa (Purple Mat).


These early bloomers will be joined by many more species as the weeks go on.

The bounty of desert annuals is good news for desert insects as well. While the whole point of these showy flowers is to attract insect pollinators, plants must also contend with a host of insect herbivores that want to munch on tender new growth. Therefore many desert species invest in irritating hairs, as shown by Mentzelia reflexa (Reflexed Blazing Star),


Sharp spikes, like Chorizanthe rigida (Devil’s Spineflower),


or bitter chemical compounds, such as those found in Lepidium lasiocarpum (Shaggyfruit Pepperweed).


But the most common herbivory defense is the production of sticky aromatic liquids from glands either on the ends of hairs or right on the leaves and stems. Whether the odors are pleasant or pungent depends of the species as well as the nose of the beholder. In either case it’s fun to smell any newly encountered desert plant. Dalea mollissima (Silky Dalea) is one species that combines stinky glands (the black dots in the picture) with an impenetrable layer of soft hairs in order to thwart herbivores.


And yes, the last three plants are all in full bloom-they just have TINY flowers. Interestingly, there were very few insects about, be they friend (pollinator) or foe (herbivore). My suspicion is that insects rely on different environmental cues to emerge than plants, and because the bloom was a month ahead of schedule, they are late to the party.

The highlights of the trip for me were the Evening Primroses and the Phacelia. We saw a few species of each, carpeting the desert either in monoculture or mixed in with their cousins. Here are three Primroses:

Chylismia claviformis (Browneyes)Chylismia_claviformis

Eremothera boothii (Booth’s Evening Primrose)


Chylismia brevipes (Golden Suncup)


Many Evening primroses are moth-pollinated and thus smell wonderfully sweet. The later species was particularly pleasant.

Finally, the Phacelias:

Phacelia crenulata (Cutleaf Phacelia)


Phacelia calthifolia (Caltha-leafed Phacelia)


Phacelia pedicellata (Specter Phacelia)


Missing from this botanical trip were rare species-most of these species are common across the California deserts. Death Valley has plenty of endemics, found nowhere else on earth. But these rarities tend to hide in canyons or mountaintops and bloom a bit later in the season. Our trip’s objective to see the spectacle of a massive bloom rather than to go on a treasure hunt. Our mission was certainly accomplished, but the hunt remains. I guess I’ll just have to go back soon!


This month, I made it to the Sierras for two great hikes with my brother and sister-in-law. The first was in Sequoia National Park in the Southern Sierras and the second took us into the heart of the Desolation Wilderness west of Lake Tahoe in the Northern Sierras. While these hikes are further away from each other than either is from Santa Cruz, they share many of the same habitats and thus have generally similar floras. On both hikes we walked through montane and subalpine forests, which were broken up by meadows, wetlands, and talus (big rock) slopes. On both, we made it into the alpine zone. Alpine habitat is easy to distinguish–by definition it includes anything above the tree-line, which is usually around 10,000 feet in the Sierras. Montane and subalpine forests, however, both contain a mix of coniferous tree species and grade into each other somewhere between 7,000 and 8,000 feet. Montane forests are characterized by Ponderosa and Sugar Pines, White Fir, and Douglas-Fir. Our first hike started in a giant grove of Sequoias, which are a component of Montane forests unique to a few spots in the Southern Sierras. Moving up in elevation, the larger, faster-growing montane trees are replaced by their more hearty subalpine relatives such as White, Whitebark, and Foxtail Pines, Red Fir, and Mountain Hemlock. The Desolation Wilderness subalpine also had some impressive Mountain Juniper trees.

But you’re here for the flower pictures, so let’s get to those. For each species, I’ll give the habitat where it is the most common, as well as the hike location if it is not found throughout the Sierras. Mid-August is a bit past the peak wildflower season, even high in the mountains. Several families of plants with many representatives in the Sierras, such as Liliaceae (sensu latu), Ericaceae, and Ranunculaceae, were mostly or completely finished blooming. For instance:

Phyllodoce breweri (Purple Mountainheath, Ericaceae, subalpine)


This is a super common Sierra shrub, but only a couple patches on both hikes still had flowers.

Flowering columbines were hard to find, so I made due with these shots of pretty much the last individuals in bloom:

Aquilegia formosa (Western Columbine, Ranunculaceae, subalpine)

Aquilegia pubescens (Sierra Columbine, Ranunculaceae, alpine, Sequoia)


The red flowered A. formosa is pollinated by hummingbirds and is found throughout Western North America. A. pubescens is pollinated by hawkmoths and is endemic to high elevations in the southern Sierras. The longer nectar spurs in A. pubescens ensure hawkmoths stick their tongue deep into the flowers, making contact with the reproductive parts. These species hybridize where they co-occur, producing a range of pinkish to orangeish flowers.

I also managed to scrounge up one flower of Anemone occidentalis (Western Pasque Flower, Ranunculaceae, alpine).


While the fuzzy flowers are cool, the Truffula Tree-looking fruits on this guy (right photo) are the main attraction. The fuzzy plume coming off each seed (actually a modified style) aids in wind dispersal, helping the plant colonize distant mountaintops.

Pedicularis attollens (Little Elephant’s Head Orobanchaceae, subalpine and alpine meadows) is another earlier bloomer that was still hanging on in a couple places.


The strange, asymmetric flowers ensure that visiting bees twist themselves into the correct position for maximum pollen movement.

While these and other species are busy ripening fruits, there were still plenty of others in full bloom.

In the montane forests of Sequoia, Asyneuma prenanthoides (California Harebell, Campanulaceae) and Leptosiphon montanus (Mustang Clover, Polemoniaceae) were putting on a show.


In the subalpine, I found Sphenosciadium capitellatum (Ranger’s Buttons, Apiaceae) along streams and Cirsium andersonii (Rose Thistle, Asteraceae) in open, grassy woods.


And among the rocks in the alpine, I stumbled on Epilobium obcordatum (Rockfringe, Onagraceae), and Dicentra nevadensis (Sierra Bleeding Heart, Papaveraceae, Sequoia)


The latter plant was quite common in places in Sequoia, but was the globally rarest plant I found. It’s pretty much restricted to Tulare county.

Another favorite from the hike was Parnassia palustris (Marsh Grass of Parnassus, Parnassiaceae, subalpine)


Although, not rare, I had never seen this species, or anything else in the small Parnassiaceae family before, probably because of it blooms later in the season than my previous Sierra hikes. Zoom in on the picture to check out the cool fan-shaped stamens.

For several plant genera, you can find multiple species by traveling from the montane to the alpine zones. Indian Paintbrushes (Castilleja) are a good example. My favorite from the hikes was the cream-colored Castilleja nana (Dwarf Alpine Paintbrush, Orobanchaceae, alpine)


But I saw at least two, and probably more, red and orange species.

Cinquefoils (Potentilla) are another diverse genus in the sierras. Potentilla grayi (Gray’s Cinquefoil, Rosaceae, subalpine, Desolation), was my favorite as it’s both the cutest and the globally rarest.


I didn’t take other pictures of Cinquefoils, because the flowers of the different species pretty much all look the same. However, the serrated, compound leaves come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

The most photographed genus of the trip was the Monkeyflowers (Mimulus). I pay particular attention to these guys as I’ve previously studied one. Plus I love the interesting combinations of spots and dots on the insides of the petals. Here are my three favorite species from the trip, but I saw 3 or 4 others:

Mimulus lewisii (Great Purple Monkeyflower, Phrymaceae, subalpine)

Mimulus primuloides (Primrose Monkeyflower, subalpine)

Mimulus whitneyi (Harlequin Monkeyflower, montane, Sequoia)



Yes, that’s four photos and only three species. The last two pictures are two color morphs of Mimulus whitneyi that were growing side by side.

I’ll end this month with what I think are the most iconic late-season flowers–the Gentians (Gentianaceae). These flowers are some of the last to bloom on many of the worlds mountains. They can keep their beautiful purple or white flowers open and seeds maturing through early fall frosts and snowstorms.

Gentiana calycosa (Explorer’s Gentian, subalpine)

Gentiana newberyi (Alpine Gentian, subalpine and alpine meadows)

Gentianopsis holopetala (Sierra Gentian, subalpine, Sequoia)



This is likely my last post for the year as those gentians signal the end of the flowering season in California. I’ll be back next year with more flowers from wherever I find myself.


Between dissertation writing and dealing with a housing situation, I didn’t botanize as much as I wanted to this month. I did manage a trip to Northern California with my labmate, Shelley. We made stops in Butte, Lake, and Marin counties in order to collect soil and seeds for one of Shelley’s dissertation experiments. All but one of the ten photos this month are from that trip. I’ll give the county after the plant family name. The exception is this little orchid that I found on campus:

Piperia transversa (Flat-spurred Rein Orchid, Orchidaceae, Santa Cruz)


In the evening, this species produces a clove-like sent to attract its main pollinators–mosquitoes and crane flies. The orientation of the flowers, with the spurs perpendicular to the main axis, makes this species easy to tell apart from other Piperia.

July is late in the flowering season everywhere in California but the high mountains. I was pretty happy to scrounge up some interesting plants anyway. I don’t really have a theme this month, so I’ll just give a little blurb about each species individually. I’ll start with showiest:

Aquilegia eximia (Serpentine Columbine, Ranunculaceae, Lake)


My friend Eric took me to see this beautiful and uncommon plant at McLaughlin Bio Station. He just published a really interesting paper on it in the journal Ecology this month ( The stem is covered in sticky hairs (glandular trichomes if you want to be a botany nerd about it) that attract and entangle small insects. Plants can be covered in hundreds of tiny dead bugs. Predatory insects and spiders are drawn to this feast–when Eric experimentally removed the “carrion” from plants, predator abundance went way down.  These predators benefit Aquilegia because they eat the caterpillars and other herbivores that munch on it. Plants with the dead bugs removed ended up having way higher rates of herbivory. Eric calls the sticky hairs “indirect herbivory defense”. What’s really crazy is that many different unrelated plants have sticky hairs that trap insects–this mutualism between between insect predators and plants may be common. In fact, two of my other plants from this month also have sticky hairs:

Navarretia filicaulis (Threadstem Pincushion Plant, Polemoniaceae, Butte)


Navarretia heterodoxa (Calistoga Pincushionplant, Polemoniaceae, Marin)


I’m admittedly a bit obsessed with this genus of prickly little plants. These are the 5th and 6th species I’ve posted on this blog. I’ve only seen about a third of the 40 species in the genus (most of which occur in the state), so hopefully they won’t be the last. The next three photos also have congeners on this blog:

Allium sanbornii (Sanborn’s Onion, Alliaceae, Butte)


This tall, showy onion was covering a serpentine hillside.

Monardella purpurea (Serpentine Monardella, Lamiaceae, Marin)


This is not the only Monardella to grow on serpentine. My former labmate, Brett, studied the genetics of two additional rare serpentine Monardella species in the Northern Sierras.

Castilleja minor spiralis (Lesser Indian Pantbrush, Orobanchaceae, Lake)


This is the only annual paintbrush in the state, but despite this (and being called “lesser”) it can actually grow quite tall (to 4 or 5 feet). The red Castilleja and red Aquilegia were co-occuring in a serpentine seep, making the area quite a destination for hungry Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds.

Cordylanthus pilosus (Hairy Bird’s Beak, Orobanchaceae, Lake)


Both Bird’s Beaks and Indian Paintbrushes are in the bizarre Broomrape family. All plants in the family are root parasites, getting some or all of their nutrients by stealing them from other plants. This species was growing right next to the very similar Cordylanthus tenuis, which doesn’t have hairs (nerd term: glabrous). It’s strange when two closely related species occur together, because either one should out-compete and eventually replace the other, or they should cross-fertilize and form a hybrid swarm. I don’t know what was going on here.

Helianthus bolanderi (Bolander’s Sunflower, Asteraceae, Butte)


This is a much less common relative of the species that produces commercial sunflower seeds (Helianthus annuus, incidentally also native to California). I also found and photographed the rare Helianthus exilis this month, but it looks pretty much the same. This genus, besides being delicious, is the subject of a lot of cool research on the genetics of how species form.

Keckiella lemmonii (Lemmon’s Beardtongue, Plantaginaceae, Lake)


I don’t have anything to say about this species other than check out the cool, hairy style!

That’s all I have for this month. Hopefully the volume will increase in August.


It’s only June, but we are already nearing the end of wildflower season here in central California. The fields are brown, the afternoons are hot and sunny, and the mornings foggy. Rather than rambling too far this month, I mostly botanized along the Santa Cruz coast. This was for a couple of reasons. First, the growing season is a bit longer in coastal habitats because the ocean does a great job keeping things cool and moist. Second, I’m stuck in town writing my dissertation, and therefore can only take quick breaks to snap some pics. In fact, with the exception of one trip, I biked to all these flowers.

Don’t get the impression that I didn’t find anything cool this month, however. The immediate coast has an amazing variety of unique habitats, each with a different suite of species. This month I visited coastal prairie, coastal chaparral, coastal marsh, and coastal bluffs. The latter habitat has an especially high percentage of endemism–taxa that found in there and nowhere else. That’s because plants growing on cliffs above the ocean have a unique problem–salt spray. Salt is toxic to plants and can quickly dry them out. To avoid dessication, coastal plants often have more succulent leaves or are hairier than inland plants. They also tend to be lower-growing, with stems that trail along the ground rather than standing upright. Here’s a picture of a coastal bluff covered in low-growing plants:


Interestingly, while bluff plants look different from relatives found further inland, often they can still cross fertilize and make healthy hybrid offspring. Because true species need to be (at least somewhat) reproductively isolated, these coastal forms are often considered subspecies or varieties of more widely distributed taxa. Latin subspecies names are written in lowercase after the genus and species name. I’ll give them below, where appropriate. I’ll also give the habitat in which I found each plant.

Before we get to the plants, I have a confession to make. I play favorites. Some genera or families are far more likely to have their picture taken by me than others. For instance, I’ll stop, identify, and photograph basically anything in the phlox family (Polemoniaceae). Here are the three members of that family that caught my eye this month:

Collomia heterophylla (Variable-Leaved Collomia, chaparral)


Navarretia mellita (Honey-Scented Pincushion plant, chaparral)


Navarretia squarrosa (Skunkweed, chaparral)


I know, the last two don’t even look that different! They do smell very different though. Both are covered in sticky, glandular hairs, and as the names suggest, the former smells pleasantly sweet and the later smells skunky.

I also can’t seem to resist photographing lilies.

Triteleia hyacintha (Wild Hyacinth, Themidaceae, prairie)


Triteleia ixioides (Prettyface, Themidaceae, prairie)


These are both super common plants found in many habitats over large portions of the state. But who doesn’t love a prettyface?

On the other end of the spectrum, there are types of plants I tend to just walk on by. Perhaps my biggest bias is against the sunflower family (Asteraceae). It’s the plant family with the most species both worldwide and in California. The family has hit on a unique and very successful tightly-clustered arrangement of flowers called a “capitulum” (Latin for head). Many species have two types of flowers in the cluster. An outer whorl of showy “ray” flowers that attract pollinators and inner “disk” flowers where the main business of plant sex happens. These plants are visited by a ton of cool pollinators and many are rare or have otherwise interesting ecology. Yet so far I’ve posted exactly one Asteraceae picture to this blog (way back in February). What gives? Well, Asters are hard to identify! While they can come in many colors, a lot of them are yellow, with the same basic design. Because the flowers are so specialized, there are a ton of unique botanical terms for their parts. You need a hand lens and a lot of patience to measure and count the paleae that subtend the disk flowers. Or are you just looking at the pappus? Making matters worse, many species hybridize and a high proportion are non-native weeds. After spending 45 minutes keying out a plant, it’s not fun to realize that instead of a cool narrowly-endmic native, you have some weedy hybrid. This is why for hundreds of years, lazy botanists have been writing the whole group off as DYCs–Damn Yellow Composites (Compositae was the old family name). This month, I turned over a new leaf (pun intended) and took the time to appreciate the Asteraceae. Here are my favorite DYC pics from this month:

Helenium puberelum (Sneezeweed, marsh)


Deinandra corymbosa (Coast Tarweed, chaparral)


Heterotheca sessiliflora bolanderi (Bolander’s Goldenaster, bluffs)


Grindelia stricta platyphylla (Pacific Gumweed, bluffs)


That was fun. Okay, I’ll group the rest of the photos more or less by habitat.

Sparganium eurycarpum (Broadfruit Burreed, Typhaceae, marsh)


Burreeds are related to Cattails and often co-occur with them. The plants are monoecious (separate male and female flowers on the same plant. In the above picture, the left two flower clusters are open female flowers that will turn into spiky green balls as they ripen. The smaller flower clusters are unopened male flowers.

Hoita orbicularis (Creeping Leather Root, Fabaceae, marsh)


This plant produces many stolons (above ground creeping stems), carpeting an area with large trifoliate (clover-shaped) leaves and big glandular inflorescences.

Zeltnera davyi (Davy’s Centaury, Gentianaceae, chaparral)


An adorable late-blooming annual found in wetter openings in chaparral and other plant communities.

Epilobium ciliatum watsonii (Watson’s Willowherb, Onagraceae, bluffs)


Monardella villosa franciscana  (San Francisco Coyote Mint, Lamiaceae, bluffs)


These two plants fit the pattern of coastal bluff-specialist subspecies of much more widely distributed species. I did find one coastal bluff specialist that is reproductively isolated enough to be its own species:

Lupinus variicolor (Many Colored Lupine, Fabaceae)


I’ll rap up this month with three species from the coastal prairies on the UCSC campus. These will likely be my last photos this year from this habitat, as most plants occurring here have finished flowering. These late-blooming species occur in wetter depressions.

Prunella vulgaris laneolata (Lance-leaf Selfheal, Lamiaceae)


Spiranthes romanzoffiana (Hooded Ladies Tresses, Orchidaceae)


Eryngium armatum (Coastal Coyote Thistle, Apiaceae)


The first two are widely-distributed species, but this Coyote Thistle is only found in coastal prairies in central California. It’s crazy spiky inflorescence makes it one of my favorite campus plants.

Hopefully I’ll have many mountain wildflower pictures to share in the next couple months.