I have been thinking a lot lately about pollination biology in the tuberous perennial species of Claytonia, which often have flowers the size of a penny or even larger. What are they pollinated by? It is said that these flowers are often not open for very long, maybe two or three days sometimes, but that they can be visited by a variety of pollinators while open…
Thanks to Scott Eliason (credit above picture), Botanist on the San Bernardino National Forest, we are beginning to gather some clues about who is pollinating Claytonia in the San Bernardino Mountains. The insect visiting the Claytonia flower above is a Bristle Fly (Tachinidae). Note also that there is a brown Leafhopper (Cicadellidae) perched nearby.
Pictured above is my first pollinator observation for the tuberous perennial Claytonia in the southern Sierra Nevada, a couple of soft-winged flower beetles (Melyridae). One of my collaborators, Dr. Emile Fiesler, President of Bioveyda-Innoveyda and member of the North American Dipterists Society, suggests these beetles are among the most productive of pollinators! I hope Emile and I can make more pollinator observations next year for some of the other new species of Claytonia I will be describing soon!!!
So these plants are considered to be ‘geophytes’ because they have underground storage organs, but I find this so-called classification to be much more meaningful than that for the tuberous perennial Claytonia. In order to better understand this, let me break it down a little bit.
Phyte – Greek, generally referring to a plant.
Geo – Greek, generally referring to anything of or relating to the Earth.
Pictured here is the habitat of the typical variety for the Claytonia lanceolatacomplex, C. lanceolata sensu stricto. At least in northern California, this taxon is known only from soils derived from granitic rocks. The suggestion has been that as a generalist, C. lanceolata (as currently circumscribed) occurs in a variety of habitat types across its range and thus is highly polymorphic morphologically. Well, there are some interesting substrates in southern California within very close proximity where one can find members of C. “peirsonii” complex occurring in nearly equivalent niche space across different substrates… Wait a second, am I studying geology or botany?!
Because bragging about how awesome the San Bernardino Mountains are is my favorite thing in the world to do, I’d like to take this opportunity to point to some interesting Claytonia there that occur on sedimentary carbonate rocks on the north slope of Bertha Ridge. This is the ridge that separates Big Bear Valley to the south from Holcomb Valley to the north. This is where I first encountered plants that match the description of Claytonia lanceolata var. peirsonii Munz&Johnston, or any plant treated as Claytonia lanceolata in the Jepson Manual or Flora of North America, while I was working as a Rare Plant Technician for the USDA Forest Service on the San Bernardino National Forest. More pictures of these plants can be found on CalPhotos.
These plants, as mentioned previously, are ridiculously cute (see related articles below and cast your vote!). More importantly for this story, these plants occur on dolomite, which is a particular type of carbonate rock containing the mineral dolomite.
And boy-howdy are these rocky hills STEEP! Unfortunately, this is an aspect of the habitat that many of the tuberous perennial species of Claytonia appear to have conserved across lineages, making field work incredibly physically demanding when sites are remote. But what is my point, exactly?
Pictured here, approximately 7 air-km to the north, there exists another population of tuberous perennial Claytonia that is primarily associated with the same species (Pinus flexilis, P. monophylla and Juniperus) but otherwise occurs on a different kind of carbonate rock than the population at Bertha Ridge. This becomes significant when you look at the morphology of the plants here, which is inconsistent with the plants at the Bertha Ridge population just 7 air-km away.
Not only do the plants at this more northern locality on gray dolomite have pink nectary guides, in contrast to the yellow spots at the base of the petals on plants from Bertha Ridge, but cauline leaf shape appears also to be strikingly different between these two populations. This interesting case of inconsistency in overall morphology, coupled with signs of genetic divergence among these populations (see my most recent phylogeny here), has gotten me very excited about patterns of evolution in this group that is already well known for complex histories of hybridization and polyploidy…
Although it is all C. lanceolata for now, soon enough we’ll make some sense out of it!
You’re really going to ask me which Claytonia I think is the cutest?! I find the entire genus to be cute… It’s a really tough choice!
This one from the Southern Sierra is a real crowd pleaser, being found growing in talus of volcanic rocks (Tuff). It appears to be in the C. parviflora complex (C. perfoliata sensu lato), putatively a local endemic based upon evidence from morphology and patterns in tuberous perennial Claytonia in the area. Although not my all-time favorite Claytonia, this cute little annual always makes for an entertaining photo shoot.
This member of the C. virginica complex is also quite stunning, being found on nearly every flood plain of the major rivers draining toward the U.S. Eastern seaboard (this one photographed in North Carolina). The reason it isn’t my favorite? Well, poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) also grows on nearly every flood plain draining toward the Eastern seaboard. What is the significance of this distribution you ask? Well, when I go collecting Claytonia and nearly everything else is un-identifiable due to the extremely early flowering season of Claytonia, I end up getting exposed to Toxicodendron a LOT! I now have a systemic reaction whenever I get exposed to Toxicodendron or any other member of the Anacardiaceae… so also when I eat mangos or cashews. I (used to) love mangos!!! Dang…
OK, now we are talking cute here… This thing took my breath away the first time I saw it in the North Coast Ranges of northern California, where it can be found on Franciscan Graywacke (a type of sedimentary rock). Formerly treated as C. obovata Rydb., this taxon is currently treated as C. lanceolata despite its morphological dissimilarity with the latter taxon. And You’re saying this isn’t the cutest?! Why not? Well, I think this little guy was ruined for me when some hooligans decided to start shooting various guns in the air very close to where I was. It was a bit scary, and I think it spoiled the good time I was having at the time ripping these beauties out of the ground (for the sake of science, of course).
Now this one absolutely has to be the cutest, right? Wrong! It is cute, oh yes, but not the cutest. This beauty is just another narrow endemic that is not currently recognized (but hopefully will be soon!)… Levels of cuteness approach the maximum score, but this little beauty (only a few centimeters tall) just isn’t the cream of the crop. It grows in a crummy habitat (steep, loose talus of volcanic rocks), for one, and it also lives behind a locked gate in an area that is proposed for wind energy development. Until I find populations of this unique taxon outside of the Jawbone Canyon in the southern Sierra Nevada, it sits in the same category as the C. virginica complex because it comes with too much baggage… NEXT!
Oh yeah! If you’re cute and you know it, be super small… This is the first member of the C. lanceolata complex I ever found (in the San Bernardino Mountains of southern California on white dolomite). You might say it is the reason I got into this mess in the first place, and thus it holds a special place in my heart. It is amongst the smallest members of what I am calling the C. “peirsonii” complex, a southern California species complex nested within the C. lanceolata complex (which truly is summarized as the ENTIRE clade of tuberous perennial Claytonia, e.g. Claytonia sect. Claytonia). It is very VERY cute, but still not the absolute cutest. Tough competition, right?! This is very close to my all-time favorite Claytonia, but there is one species that takes the cake…
Wow! What a show-stopper! Claytonia saxosa is indeed the cutest Claytonia I have seen to date, but there may just be some species out there that are even cuter than this one, including yellow and pink-flowered tuberous perennial Claytonia that I hope to see in 2014. Until then, this is the cream of the crop, king of the hill, or whatever you want to call it. It is just dang CUTE! Also growing on Franciscan Graywacke in northern California (in close sympatry with C. obovata), this annual species is said to occur on serpentine rocks as well. I’m interested to see if the serpentine plants are really the same taxon, given what patterns have been observed in the tuberous perennials, but until I can get the material I must consider it the same species across its range. I guess I’ll just have to get out there and see it elsewhere… I recommend you get out there and see it too! Anthony Peak (Mendocino National Forest) in the North Coast Ranges of California has a healthy population that is ripe and ready for photographs in the month of May.
In order to get to the bottom of this, I encourage you to cast your vote! Cast your vote for more than one, whatever, but you can only vote once! I want to know if you agree, that C. saxosa is indeed the cutest of all Claytonia-land…
The utterly gorgeous Spring Beauty pictured here was a sight for sore eyes after I had a less than pleasant hike this day in March at Death Valley National Park. I drove past Badwater, the low point that most people are familiar with, and grabbed a dirt road that headed toward the Panamint Mountains on the west side of the valley in the direction of Telescope Peak. Little did I know that what I was expecting to be a well-graded dirt road turned out to be a 4-wheel drive only road, and my proposed 9 mile, 3500 ft gain and loss hike had just turned into a 25 mile, 7000 ft gain and loss hike if I wanted to see the Claytonia. Good morning from just above sea level!
The road was long and grueling, with the trail being only slightly more forgiving. I made it up into the Pinyon/Juniper belt by the afternoon and I really started to feel good about the habitat I was seeing, but I was more than exhausted from the hike, and I had a rapidly approaching turn around time of 5pm. It’s got to be around here…
My 5pm alarm went off as I dug up the first couple of plants for voucher specimens. I had to work quickly and run down the mountain before dark set in too deeply, with my head on a swivel to watch for mountain lions. Did I forget to mention I was alone? I’ll definitely be back to this and other desert mountain ranges next spring in the very early spring months (Claytonia is often found blooming next to melting patches of snow). But next time, I’m bringing a truck! Long hike…
The Claytonia lanceolata complex in California. In northern California, (A) Claytonia lanceolata Pursh on granite, (B) alternate-leaved and undescribed C. “serpenticola” on ultramafic rocks, and (C) an unrecognized taxon on greywacke that fits the description of C. obovata Rydb., unsampled in previous phylogenetic studies. In southern California, (D-H) The Claytonia “peirsonii” complex, with (D) var. “peirsonii” on granite in the San Gabriel Mountains near the type locality of C. lanceolata var. peirsonii Munz & Jtn. New discoveries in this complex within a species complex include (E) the long-petioled C. “peirsonii” var. “panamintense” in the Panamint Mountains on dolomite, (F) light pink-flowered var. “yorkii” on volcanic tuff in the southern Sierra Nevada, and two variants in the San Bernardino Mountains on (G) grey and (H) white dolomite at Furnace Canyon and Bertha Ridge, respectively.