Floral morphology in Claytonia: How much variation is ‘normal’ for a species?

Ok, so you may remember this recent post, where I asked for interested people to send me pictures of as many flowers as they could photograph…

The premise is simple: How much variation is considered the ‘normal’ or ‘typical’ amount of variation for a species? How much is typical in terms of petal shape, size, and color for individuals in a given population of tuberous perennial Claytonia?! My collaborators and I have noticed quite a bit of variation among populations of different species, but what may be even more interesting is the amount of variation within populations. It might bend your brain the next time you kneel down and take a look around at the tuberous perennial Claytonia blooming in your area (right now!!!)… Better yet, take a picture of 50-100 different flowers from directly facing the flowers (trying to center the gynoecium in the flower as best as possible). Compare all your photos, or send them my way. We’ll get to the bottom of this!

Enter stage left as ‘proof of concept’, a member of the C. “peirsonii” complex from the southern Sierra Nevada — all of the below pictures are from different flowering individuals within a single population, taken on the same day within about 45 minutesIMG_5421 IMG_5418  IMG_5404Note the visitors above: an ichneumonoid wasp (likely a parasitoid braconid) on the left, and a soft-winged flower beetle (Melyridae) on the right. We saw these same beetles last year, and I’ve also mentioned them in the ‘who’s pollinating Claytonia?‘ series — special thanks to Dr. Emile Fiesler for help with the identifications!IMG_5432IMG_5398IMG_5382IMG_5387IMG_5324IMG_5331IMG_5396The variation is crazy, right?!

IMG_5340I really need to get a new ‘cutest Claytonia‘ contest going soon…

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Here today, gone tomorrow — Doyle and Doyle get a taste of the Desert Southwest Claytonia

IMG_5134IMG_5178Remember the above, beautiful plants photographed flowering a little over two weeks ago in Nevada? If not, see my previous blog post, ¡Holy frijoles!

Well, almost two weeks later Claytonia umbellata is apparently no longer flowering atop Peavine Peak outside of Reno — more snow has come (see below). These poor little guys are now packing on the pounds (and buds) getting very little exercise while they sit and wait for the warmth of a spring (beauty) day. It will come soon. In fact, I’d wager those little monsters are blooming now, as I’m writing from the comfort of my home in southern California. After all, the photographs below are from April 2nd, 2014, and these plants (desert Claytonia) are über-ephemeral. IMG_5739I’m so cold, I couldn’t possibly think of flowering right now…

Dr. Jeff Doyle, Cornell University, searching for the elusive flowering Claytonia.

Dr. Jeff Doyle (Cornell University) trying to stay warm while searching for the elusive flowering Claytonia.

Well, this disappointment came AFTER a morning of heartbreak — searching seemingly suitable habitat without finding plants. Do I really have a good idea of what suitable habitat is? Are they even capable of dispersing here? Let’s back up for a second…

IMG_5221Above is a picture of a location where I collected another population of Claytonia umbellata in the Pine Nut Mountains at Minnehaha Canyon on my spring break trip nearly two weeks ago — the talus I know and love, seemingly characteristic of the Desert Southwest Claytonia. Bearing that in mind, when I see a habitat like the one above, or the one pictured below, and I am very near the type locality of Claytonia umbellata in the area of Mt. Davidson Pass (Nevada), I have to stop and take a look, right? IMG_5724WRONG! There aren’t any Claytonia there (above), not even a C. rubra or C. parviflora ssp. viridis to cheer me up for making a bad call — Nothing! But it looks so good, and the rocks are the same as at Minnehaha Canyon… sample size of one strikes again with these guys. Ever heard the phrase, to each his own? Well, I’m beginning to think these Claytonia take that to the extreme. They are not very good at getting around (dispersal), or they have very picky palettes… or both.

We have just GOT to find some flowering Claytonia, I promised Jeff and Jane! The Doyles joined me for this trip (and to give a seminar at RSABG later), flying all the way out from New York. The Doyles have A LOT of experience with eastern Claytonia, but this western stuff was pretty new for them. We sat in the car on top of Peavine Peak thinking (and not eating) — what were we going to do? That’s it! I know another place we can try, but its further north…

IMG_5772Pictured above, a talus slope of volcanic rocks in the Pah Rah Range near Pyramid Lake, Nevada. Oh no! The sun will be setting in a few hours! We can try to climb that slide and run the risk of not finding any plants, or we can try to race up the canyon to get to a known locality before dark sets in… Jeff and Jane agree, it’ll be worth giving this hillside a good look over before we continue up the canyon.

IMG_5763And thank goodness we did — this area of talus was rich with numerous plants of Claytonia umbellata! We found a new locality for Claytonia umbellata, approximately one mile away from another known locality in the Pah Rah Range AND it was the large-leaved plants, like those seen in the Pine Nut Mountains at Minnehaha Canyon. Compare those to the plants from Peavine Peak (top of page), which happen to grow on different volcanic rocks!

Déjà vu — a feeling of having already experienced the present situation, independent of whether you have or have not experienced the situation or something like it… No idea what I’m talking about? See my “Claytonia rocks!”post — click here for more background information.

I still was unable, though, to fulfill my promise to Jeff and Jane Doyle — we had not yet found flowering Claytonia. There was one more chance to find flowering plants while in Nevada looking for Claytonia umbellata.This was a revisit for me, to a site in the Pine Nut Mountains where I was unable to locate a population on my previous visit. This population is near Bismark Peak, and as far as I can tell, it has not been documented by any herbarium specimen. I found out about the population by scouting CalPhotos for pictures of Claytonia — this population had been photo documented but never vouchered. I want to give a shout out to Larry Crawford, for giving me enough information to find some plants! I was not able to relocate Larry’s ‘secret patch’ of Claytonia umbellata atop Bismark Peak, but the Doyles and I were able to find a new population along the same ridgeline!

IMG_5782Believe it or not, and I’m sure to Larry’s delight, the plants here occur in a really unique habitat — I’m still working on the rock identification (volcanic, or sedimentary?). Crazy thing is, this Claytonia umbellata population consists of only a few plants scattered about in the cracks of the vertically oriented rocks (presumably oriented as such due to frost heaving) — they don’t seem to occur with the other rocks oriented horizontally.

IMG_5786Isn’t that just bizarre! but there were STILL no flowering Claytonia to be found… I was running out of options — a revisit to the population near the Devil’s Punchbowl County Park on Saturday before Jeff and Jane’s departure seemed the most obvious choice. Rather than visiting the Devil’s Backbone (where recent snows may have set plants back from flowering), I decided we should visit a lower elevation site. Would there be flowering Claytonia hanging on at the Devil’s Punchbowl, where I observed plants flowering on February 15th, 2014? (click here to see post, “Yep, it’s Claytonia time…”)

IMG_5816NOPE, it’s not Claytonia time here, at least not really anymore. There were some plants around with buds, but most of the C. lanceolata var. peirsonii here has dispersed its seeds and are beginning to wither back to their underground tubers. We did not find any flowering — I guess the Doyles will have to come back again next year, or meet me somewhere northward in a few more weeks!

We did at least find some flowering Claytonia rubra there, just in the nick of time. It was time to send Jeff and Jane back to New York. Although they may not have gotten to see (much) flowering Claytonia, at least they got to see some flowering California!

Spectacular desert wildflower bloom in the Mojave desert near Piñon Hills, highway 138.

Spectacular wildflower bloom in the Mojave Desert near Piñon Hills, highway 138.

 

 

¡Holy frijoles! You are just too cute, and too close to home…

OK, so I might just have a new favorite Claytonia after my most recent trip into the desert in northwestern Nevada. Let me just tell you something — in the Desert Southwest, spring has sprung! Just like my collaborator at Eastern Washington University (Dr. Robin O’Quinn), I think I am falling in love with the tuberous perennial ‘Great Basin Spring Beauty’ (C. umbellata) — photographed here on March 21st, 2014.

IMG_5178IMG_5195IMG_5134As Stevie Wonder might say, isn’t she lovely?!

It gets better… Also photographed on March 21, 2014, below are some pictures of plants from another population of C. umbellata that occurs on a different substrate in another mountain range nearby in Nevada.

IMG_5221IMG_5227IMG_5230There’s something funny going on here, and I’m going to get to the bottom of it…

Question for readers out there: Who thinks the above plants look similar to the below plants from southern California? Just wonderin’ about evolutionary relationships 😉

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Is it Spring (Beauty) time already?! pt. III

Oh yes, I think it is finally here… Spring Beauty time!!!

2014-02-22 10.47.31Pictured above is an emerging Claytonia “yorkii” plant, found growing in the southern Sierra Nevada at Cross Mountain (Jawbone Canyon) in Kern County almost two weeks ago.

2014-02-22 12.27.47Unfortunately, I didn’t find any plants flowering on this windswept ridge (all were emerging or in bud), so I tried my best not to disturb the ones I did find as I proceeded to dig up a few tubers. I managed to safely transport a few plants to their new homes at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (where I am conducting my research). To my surprise (I don’t have a green thumb by any means), the buds continued to develop and the first flowers are just beginning to open!

2014-03-05 09.46.18Now if I can just manage to get a few more species into the greenhouse in the near future, I might be able to try a crossing study or two. What I’m really interested in is whether or not these ‘strongly out-crossing’ tuberous perennials are capable of self-pollinating like many of their close relatives (such as in the Claytonia perfoliata complex).

2014-03-03 15.59.52So why should you care, exactly, whether or not it is Claytonia time?!

2014-03-04 12.56.14 Well… you can help me study something really fascinating about Claytonia, that’s why! Send me your pictures so we can get to the bottom of this — How much variation is typical in terms of petal shape, size, and color for a given population of Claytonia?! My collaborators and I have noticed quite a bit of variation among populations of different species, but what may be even more interesting is the amount of variation in petal morphology within populations of a species. It might bend your brain the next time you kneel down and take a look around at the Claytonia blooming in your area. Better yet, take a picture of 50-100 flowers from directly facing the flowers (trying to center the gynoecium in the flower as best as possible), and then compare them (or send them my way). Crazy, right?

2014-03-05 09.43.25This could turn out to be a very interesting experiment indeed 😉

…but only if you can get out into the field, and remember to send me your pictures of Claytonia!!! Eastern or Western species of North America, Northeastern Asian species, it doesn’t matter — show off your Spring Beauties!

Who is pollinating Claytonia in California?! pt. II

I am still thinking about pollination biology of the tuberous perennial species of Claytonia in southern California, which often have large flowers compared to the annual species in the area. I am making an effort to observe more pollinators this year after having so few observations in the last two years (see pt. I). I have yet to observe the same pollinator at any given locality in southern California for the five putative taxa in the C. “peirsonii” complex. What are they pollinated by? To me, it is all very interesting stuff and I’m happy to take what I can get here and there… but my collaborator Diana Jolles (credit all photos) set out on our previous hike to shoot as many pollinator photos as possible so we might get to the bottom of this. Thanks to Diana’s efforts, we are gathering more clues about who may be pollinating the tuberous perennial Claytonia of southern California, this time from the San Gabriel Mountains populations.

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The insect visiting the Claytonia flower above is a Greater Bee Fly (Bombylius major), a member of the Bombyliidae. It was spending a lot of time visiting each flower: what a fuzzy fly!

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Pictured above are some of Diana’s photos from our first observation of a solitary bee visiting any tuberous perennial Claytonia in southern California. This gorgeous, green, metallic organism is a member of the genus Osmia (orchard bees) in the Megachilidae. These are in the running for the coolest looking native bees in California in my book. Such amazing coloration!

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Lastly, above are Diana’s photos of a third insect visitor seen on February 15th, 2014 near the Devil’s Punchbowl County Park. This dark butterfly is a Duskywing (Erynnis), a member of the Hesperiidae (skippers). It was hard to get a shot as the butterfly hardly seemed to want to sit still, but Diana managed to sneak in a few good ones — thanks so much for all the pictures! I’d like to thank also one of my collaborators, Dr. Emile Fiesler, for identifications of these beautiful pollinators. I hope we can make more pollinator observations this year for all of the members of the C. “peirsonii” complex. Still no overlap in pollinators observed among the members of this southern California species complex, a group currently included in the broad circumscription of Claytonia lanceolata!

Yep, it’s Claytonia time…

That’s right! Below are my first pictures of the 2014 Field Season of Claytonia “peirsonii”, collected just west of Devil’s Punchbowl County Park (Feb 15th, 2014). This population was documented for the first time today, now the westernmost occurrence of C. “peirsonii” that I know.

2014-02-15 14.12.46How many Claytonia do you see in the image below? I’ve counted about 100 individuals… wowza!

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Off to see the southern Sierra Nevada C. “yorkii” next weekend! Jawbone, here we come 😉

Take me with you the next time you go to Siberia…

… I want to go so bad!!!

Above is a figure from one of my collaborator’s papers on the genus Claytonia and relationships among members of the Montieae. In the genus Claytonia, section Claytonia consists primarily of tuberous perennials (the ones I study) with a disjunct distribution between Russia and North America. I’m enthusiastic about the possibility of comparatively observing patterns of evolution in Claytonia across two major continents. This research would monumentally contribute to our understanding of how these plants survived the last 5 million years of Pleistocene climate change (warming and cooling periods). As you can see from my preliminary phylogeny below, some groups that are geographically proximal are not most closely related, the opposite of what would be expected in an isolation-by-distance model! With incorporation of the Russian counterparts into my phylogeny, these data will permit a thorough assessment of the evolution of traits in Claytonia such as perennation structures (e.g., below-ground storage organs).

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Russia is considered a ‘black hole’ for research on Claytonia; I can only imagine how much diversity is yet to be discovered and studied given what I’ve observed in my backyard, the mountains of southern California. The way I see it, Claytonia is the black hole!

How can you help? Just like Pam MacKay, Dean Wm. Taylor, and Danea and James Riley have done recently, you can donate directly to my research fund by sending a check of any amount to Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. The bonus is, all donations are tax-deductible, so everybody wins. Siberia, here we come!

Is it Spring (Beauty) time already?! pt. II

After 3 more weeks of growth (and more seeds germinating), mature leaves are starting to emerge on some of the annual Claytonia that have germinated from my collections around California in 2013. Cauline leaf morphology is often the most diagnostic character for these taxa, so it is REALLY cool for me to observe these plants through their stages of development!

2013-12-24 15.10.03These annual taxa are well known for hybridization and polyploidy, and it has been suggested that many species complexes are morphologically variable and phenotypically plastic due to these processes, but these plants exhibit quite a bit of ontogenetic variability in leaf morphology in addition to plasticity. Take the Claytonia perfoliata (left) and C. perfoliata X parviflora hybrids (right) below: they still have strap-shaped leaves for the first few whorls, then they will both transition to different versions of ‘spoon-shaped’ and ultimately different degrees of fusion of the cauline leaf pair!

2013-12-24 15.02.08This Claytonia rubra (below) will ultimately look very similar the C. perfoliata x parviflora hybrids (above) in leaf morphology, but in contrast it will have beet red coloration on the abaxial (bottom) surfaces of its leaves.

2013-12-24 15.05.03Being able to identify the various stages of development for any Claytonia collection is imperative for identification–many of these annual taxa can only be distinguished from one another when at flowering maturity, albeit using their leaves!

2013-12-24 15.09.07The Claytonia gypsophiloides seedlings (above) will retain a rather linear leaf morphology of the basal-most leaves through flowering, but as internodes elongate and cauline leaves become more spread apart they will show various degrees of fusion involving leaves of a more lanceolate shape. In addition, these plants will mature to be quite glaucus throughout.

And of course, one cannot forget the ‘ugly duckling’, Claytonia saxosa (below), which is just a bit different from the rest. It will grow to have more oblanceolate-shaped basal leaves with wider cauline leaves that fuse partly at the base. According to a recent survey, Claytonia saxosa is said to be the cutest of all Claytonia!

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Still no sign of the tuberous perennials–I hope it gets cold enough for them to show up to the party!

Is it Spring (Beauty) time already?! pt. I

2013-12-01 11.59.17Turns out that some of the seeds I ‘cast’ into pots this past spring season have germinated over the recent holiday weekend, including some Claytonia saxosa seeds collected from the North Coast Ranges of California. The cotyledons on these plants (pictured above) are a bit unlike the rest of the lot that have germinated in that they are very short and stout, in addition to being deep green in pigmentation. Thus far, all of the other “up and coming” seedlings, including those of C. rubra collected from the San Bernardino Mountains (pictured below), appear to have very elongate cotyledons that are considerably more strap-shaped and light green in pigmentation in comparison to C. saxosa.

2013-12-01 12.10.10In addition, there appears to be some differences among the taxa with more elongate cotyledons, as demonstrated by the C. gypsophiloides seedlings pictured below which seem to stand a bit taller than the rest of the species that have germinated thus far!2013-12-01 12.04.08Compare the cotyledons of C. gypsophiloides (above) with those of some C. perfoliata parviflora hybrids from northern California (below) and you might wonder if you couldn’t identify Claytonia before their first true leaves emerge!

2013-12-01 12.07.44I’ll be interested to see how things develop as we move closer to flowering season for Claytonia! The peculiarities of the C. saxosa seedlings are quite intriguing — I can’t wait for my tuberous perennials to germinate!!!

Name a new species by making a $3000 tax-deductible donation!

Hey, everyone!

First, I want to thank several of you out there for the noble contributions you’ve already made. I encourage you to keep the momentum up and share with a friend so we can Fund the Sciences! It is all C. lanceolata at this point, but we can make some changes…

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I am so passionate about conserving rare plants that I wanted to announce to you that I have made the offer for donors to name a new species by making a $3000 tax-deductible donation to this project! I will be describing as new to the scientific community a few rare species of Claytonia (and new species in other genera in North America) as part of my dissertation research. Not only will you receive the super sweet reward of a color reprint for tax-deductible donations, but donate $3000 or more to my Research Fund at RSABG and I will name a new plant species in your honor (or take suggestions)l. With all of your help we can get this research project off the ground!

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