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.


Western Transverse Ranges

I took an overnight trip into the beautiful mountains of Ventura County (with a brief detour back into San Luis Obispo County). Throughout most of California, Mountain Ranges run north to south, along faults formed by the collision of the Pacific and North American Plates (in Northern California, a third, more ancient plate, the Juan de Fuca, gets involved as it slowly submerges beneath the other two). In Southern California, from roughly the cities of Santa Barbara to Palm Springs, the edges of the plates jog east. Here, they “transverse” the state and form the east-west running San Bernardinos, the San Gabriels, and a jumble of ridges known as the Western Transverse Ranges. The botany in all three is great. I’ll return to the former two next week. This weekend I took a couple hikes in the later–one North of Ojai in the Southern edge of these ranges, and another in the Sespe Wilderness, pretty much smack in their heart. Both hikes included beautiful scenery and excellent, well-maintained trails. And both were surprisingly devoid of other hikers for a lovely weekend in early summer, especially considering their nearness to population centers.

Okay, onto the flowers. I’m starting to amass quite a collection of photos on this site. In fact, I’ve already posted photos of congeners (species in the same genus) for all ten of the following. I thought it would be fun to order these flowers from least to most commonly posted, as well as give a sense for how many species I have left to find.

Acanthomintha obovata cordata (Heart-leaved Thornmint, Lamiaceae). 1 previous species posted on this blog, 4 total species in California, none anywhere else. All four thornmints are uncommon or rare globally, but they can form huge populations. The patch of plants were I took this photo had hundreds of thousands of individuals, carpeting an entire hillside. Check out the amazing spiky bracts (modified leaf below each flower).


Frasera neglecta (Pine Green-Gentian, Gentinaceae). 1 previous, 6 total in CA, 15 globally (all in temperate North America). Many species in this genus have green nectaries bordered by hairs in the center of the petals.

Keckiella cordifolia (Climbing Penstemon, Plantaginaceae), 1 previous, 7 in CA and globally. This genus is closely related to the much more diverse Penstemon (total 250 species, several of which I have also photographed). This plant was common around Ojai, growing vine-like over the shrubs in the chapparal.


Abronia pogonantha (Mohave Sand-verbena, Nyctaginaceae), 2 previously posted (and I posted two others to Facebook before starting this blog),  8 in CA, 25 total, all in Western North America.

Abronia pogonantha

Eriogonum kennedyi (Kennedy’s Buckwheat, Polygonaceae). 3 previous, 119! species in California (and that’s not even getting into the numerous named varieties for many of the species), 250 total, all in North America. This is one of the largest genera in California and percentage-wise, clearly a group I’m biased against photographing. Many species simply aren’t that showy and they are often quite difficult to identify. This species, however, has a unique mat-forming habit (way of growing). Some of the plants were much larger, forming large splotches of gray-green over flat, pebbly areas in the Sespe Wilderness

Leptosiphon liniflorus (Line-flowered Leptosiphon, Polemoniaceae). 8 previously posted, 29 in CA, and only 1 species from elsewhere. This is one of the more widely distributed species. Conversely to the previous, I’m definitely biased toward this genus (and in fact this whole, beautiful family), explicitly seeking out species on my rambles.


Allium howellii clokeyi (Mount Pinos Onion, Alliaceae). 11 previous, 53 in CA (including some non-native species), 700 species throughout the North Temperate regions of the globe. This plant is only found in the Northern part of the Western Transverse Ranges, but it was abundant in the area. Check out the mating Midges (Chironomidae) at the top of the picture.

Allium howellii_clokeyi

Finally, lets get to species in two genera that are clearly obsessions. Calochortus palmeri (Palmer’s Mariposa Lily, Liliaceae). 16 previous, 45 in CA, 67 total, with almost all in Western North America.


And two more Phacelias: Phacelia grandiflora (Largeflowered Phacelia) and Phacelia viscida albiflora (White-flowered Sticky Phacelia, Boraginaceae). These are the 23rd and 24th species out of 95 in California and 175 total that I have posted.

Even for these camera-hogging genera, I’ve only posted about a third of the species found in California. It will take many more rambles before I run out of new beauties!