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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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.

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.