Cleaning up in Kern County

I spent last Friday looking for some rare plants in the Southern Sierras with a fellow plant nerd. Out of our five target species, we managed a clean sweep!

Our first stop was at a pull-off on highway 178 in the lower Kern River Canyon. I’ve looked for rare plants here several times, but always came up short. This time, however, my luck changed. There, on a rocky cliff, a cluster of pink flowers! It was Delphinium purpusii (Rose-flowered Larkspur, Ranunculaceae). I’ve seen blue larkspurs, and purple ones, white larkspurs, and red, but this was my first pink Delphinium. This species, endemic to western Kern and Tulare Counties, is the only pink larkspur in North America. So of course I scrambled 50 feet up through thickets of poison oak to get a closer look!

 

Amazingly, this wasn’t the only rare plant of the stop. Hiding just blow the larkspur, was another very local endemic, Clarkia exilis (Slender Clarkia, Onagraceae).

Clarkia_exilis

Yes, its pink flowers are showy, but nevertheless it is tricky to pick out among its globally much more common, and much hairier cousin Clarkia unguiculata (Woodland Clarkia).

Clarkia_unguiculata.jpg

Our next stop was the granite gravel plains of Kelso Creek and surrounds. Here we ran into two plants that I met (and posted about) last year. However I managed to get better pictures this time around. Canbya candida (Pygmy Poppy, Papaveraceae)

Canbya_candida

and Mimulus shevockii (Kelso Creek Monkeyflower, Phrymaceae)

Mimulus_shrevokii

The former is found in scattered occurrences throught the western Mojave, while the latter is only found here. Both extremely small and extremely adorable annuals.

Finally, we headed into the Greehorn Mountains north of Lake Isabella, with one prize in mind. A short hike and a long search revealed exactly one flowering Fritillaria brandegeei (Greenhorn Mountains Fritillary, Liliaceae).

Fritillaria_brandegeei_2

I’ve looked for this rarity about 5 times now, so it was sweet to finally track it down.

I had a very successful botanical hike this weekend, so I will post about that soon.

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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),

Clarkia_xiantiana

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).

Phacelia_congdonii

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,

Pediomelum_californicum

and Violia sheltonii (Fan Violet, Violaceae). I think this is my favorite species of violet.

Viola_sheltoni

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.

Calochortus_westonii_3

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 San Joaquin Valley

The San Joaquin Valley forms the southern half of California’s vast Central Valley (Sacramento Valley sits to the north, with the San Francisco Bay delta being the dividing line). This area used to be an epic expanse of wildflower meadows and wetlands, but unfortunately, almost all of the wetlands have been drained and the meadows invaded by European annual grasses. I spent the weekend traveling to both sides of the valley–the foothills of the Greenhorn Mountains to the East and the Carrizo Plain to the West–in search of remnants of San Joaquin’s past glory. With the exception of a quick trip into the oak woodlands, I didn’t see a native tree all weekend. But I did find a few flowers. I botanized in Atriplex (Saltbush) Scrub, where plants must deal with salty, basic (high pH soils):

2017-03-26 13.06.57

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

2017-03-26 09.57.39

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

2017-03-25 11.48.09

Yep, a few flowers.

The color of the weekend was yellow–hills were covered in various golden members of the Aster family. Asters have flowers in dense clusters with outer “ray” and inner “disk” flowers. When you think of a sunflower or a daisy flower, you are actually thinking of a whole cluster of flowers. Many of the species look somewhat similar, and the family has its own unique set of terminology to tell them apart. You need too look at things like the phyllaries (green scales on the back of the flower cluster) and the pappus (tuft of hairs on top of the seed). Here are some of the less common asters from the weekend:

Deinandra pallida (Kern Tarweed). This species is common in the hills around Bakersfield, but is pretty much only found in Kern County. It’s just beginning to bloom.

Deinandra_pallida

Lasthenia ferrisae (Alkali Goldfields) is a specialist on salty depressions in the Central Valley. You can see the characteristic fused phyllaries in the second picture.

Monolopia congdonii (San Joaquin Woolythreads). This species does not have any ray flowers. Because the primary function of these flowers is to attract pollinators, the loss of them (which has evolved a number of times) generally indicates a self-pollinator.

Monolopia_congdonii_1

Leptosyne calliopsidea (Leafy-stemmed Coryopsis, large yellow) and Layia sp (Tidy tips, white and yellow smaller species). I messed this one up. I assumed the Layia was the common Layia platyglossa, but it turns out there are records of the very rare Layia munzii at the exact spot where I took this. You need to look at the shape of the disk flower pappus to tell them apart, and I don’t even have a close-up photo, so this will remain a mystery. I guess it still is a pretty picture though, even with unidentified plants.

Leptosybe_calliopsidea_and_layia_munzii

The weekend wasn’t all asters, though. Some additional highlights were two species of Jewelflower that were new to me–the pleasant Caulanthus anceps (Lemmon’s Mustard)

Caulanthus_anceps

And the bizarre Desert Candle (Caulanthus inflatus)

Yes, those two species are in the same genus–they are a little easier to tell apart than the Layias or the Lasthenias of the world. The weird main stem of the desert candle is hollow, so it’s a fun plant to squeeze.

Delphinium recurvatum (Byron Larkspur). A beautiful specialist in Central Valley Atriplex scrub. In this larkspur flower, the petals are actually the white parts in the middle. The sepals, which are green in most plants, are lavender here. The pointy thing in the back is the nectar spur, which contains the reward for visiting bees.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, I did briefly make it out of the valley and into the foothills. I was looking for a monkey flower species that specializes on patches of bare soil around granite outcrops. I came back with two monkeyflower species that specialize on patches of bare soil around granite outcrops! I found Mimulus congdonii (Cogndon’s Monkeyflower and Mimulus pictus (Calico Monkeyflower) hanging out right next to each other.

I was looking for the later species, as it’s both amazingly patterned and really rare, and it didn’t disappoint. But for the record, I think Mr. Joseph Congdon, a prominent 19th century Sierra botanist, has himself a very nice monkeyflower as well.