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.