Claytonia rubra, what is that? pt. II

Hi, all — I’ve decided to switch things up and simply chat with you a bit about a topic that has apparently been the most popular on my blog so far: Claytonia rubra (Howell) Tidestrom. You may find yourself now asking the question, “Claytonia rubra, what is that?” Well, there’s a blog post for that.

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Claytonia rubra photographed while flowering, plants growing abundantly in the Pinyon-Juniper belt on the Modoc Plateau, northern California.

But Claytonia rubra may be more than meets the eye, especially if you’ve been paying close attention to it where it grows in different areas, or if you’ve been so lucky as to see it from across its entire geospatial distribution. Let’s think about this for a minute, considering first the global range of Claytonia rubra.

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Range map from Flora of North America Treatment by Miller and Chambers (2003).

It is across this wide and ecologically diverse distribution, north to south from British Columbia to near (probably in) Mexico, and west to east from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Black Hills of South Dakota, that the annual Claytonia rubra displays a seriously diverse range of morphologies. Is it phenotypic plasticity? Is it local adaptation? Is it speciation? Is it hybridization? Is it some mix of all of these? Claytonia rubra is a tough cookie to crack!

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Claytonia rubra photographed while flowering on the Modoc Plateau, northern California. Notice the largest leaf blades (outermost in the rosette) are among the first to have emerged in early development — These lay flat on the ground surface (or nearly so)

Starting with identification, something I’ve found to be fairly characteristic of Claytonia rubra is that its older leaves (outermost in the rosette of basal leaves), which often have the largest blades, tend to lay flat on the ground — some close relatives (like certain subspecies of C. perfoliata) do this too, or something like it, so don’t take this for a smoking gun. Furthermore, some races of C. rubra do not have basal rosettes that lay flat, rather they are elevated ever so slightly above the forest floor. Don’t you just love those kinds of dichotomous key breaks? — Is is erect to ascending (sometimes spreading), or ascending to spreading (sometimes erect)?! — Still, if you see something in the mountains of western North America like in the picture below, where the outermost (older) leaves in the basal rosette lay flat, appressed to the ground, you can be fairly confident that you are looking at something that is quite appropriately called Claytonia rubra.

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Vegetative Claytonia rubra photographed at the Tejon Ranch in the Tehachapi Mountains, southern California.

For effect, compare the leaves of Claytonia rubra plants in the above picture with the leaves of the plant in the picture immediately below, C. perfoliata, both of which were photographed at the Tejon Ranch in somewhat close proximity (either side of the same mountain ridge) — see how Claytonia perfoliata (below) tends to elevate its leaves off the ground?

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Vegetative Claytonia perfoliata photographed at the Tejon Ranch in the Tehachapi Mountains, southern California.

The characteristic of Claytonia rubra have low-growing leaves seems pretty useful, until you come across a putative lineage (sometimes in the same mountain range!) that looks like the plant below — these plants have distinctly erect / ascending leaves, although the proximal portion of their petioles are still appressed to the ground. This gives the leaves a sort of ‘S-curved’ look. Believe it or not, these are another subspecies of Claytonia rubra!

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Claytonia rubra photographed while flowering at the Tejon Ranch in the Tehachapi Mountains, southern California.

This is a time where it comes in handy to know a few other characters that, when used in combination, can help to distinguish Claytonia rubra from similar-looking miner’s lettuce.

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Classic, beet-colored (reddish to purplish) undersides of basal leaves of Claytonia rubra. Whenever possible, try to observe this character in multiple plants — Generally, the basal leaves should be deep green adaxially and reddish abaxially in Claytonia rubra.

For example, the plants photographed above demonstrate another conspicuous characteristic of most lineages of Claytonia rubra — betalain pigmentation is generally evident on the abaxial (lower) surfaces of the basal (and sometimes cauline) leaves, giving them a purple/reddish appearance. This is a sort of ‘no-brainer’ character I tend to point people towards, but just as with the characteristic basal leaf orientation I mentioned above, this morphological character doesn’t always hold true. Plants love exceptions WAY MORE than rules: in this particular case there appears to be an environmental element to variation in Claytonia betalain pigmentation, as evidenced by some unpublished observations I have made in common garden experiments involving C. perfoliata, C. rubra, and some perennials in the C. “peirsonii” complex.

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Variegation on foliage characteristic of some lineages of Claytonia rubra.

OK, so the leaves are sort of laying flat, and kinda red undeneath, but you’re still not totally convinced you are looking at Claytonia rubra and not some other similar-looking miner’s lettuce. Well, you’re in luck — I’ve noticed that many races of Claytonia rubra tend to have the look of variegated leaves, possibly related to a breaking up of the cuticle during development. If you see something like the plant in the picture(s) above, where there are variegated streaks on the leaves of a Claytonia, it is VERY likely that you are indeed looking at Claytonia rubra.

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[From left to right, Claytonia parviflora, C. perfoliata, and C. rubra!] Multiple miner’s lettuce species growing in sympatry in Mill Creek Canyon, San Bernardino Mountains, California.

IF you still can’t be sure about which Claytonia you are looking at — just ask me! That’s what I am here for…

And now something different…

It has been a while since I blabbered about the cotyledons of Claytonia, but I want to let you all in on something I find VERY interesting…IMG_1521… so maybe we should start with a survey, to see what you think. How many cotyledons do you think Claytonia have? Keep in mind, they are dicots.

Claytonia saxosa seedlings2013-12-01 12.10.10If you guessed that Claytonia have 2 cotyledons, you’re right… but you’re not the only one that is right. Technically, those of you that guessed Claytonia have only 1 cotyledon are also correct — that’s right, there is in fact a group of dicots with only 1 cotyledon (probably several, but that question exceeds the scope of this blog post). Claytonia Section Claytonia, otherwise known as the tuberous perennials, lack a second cotyledon present in other species of Claytonia (and all of their closest relatives). To me, this is just another reason why you should believe that Claytonia is the whackiest group of plants this side of the Mississippi River. 😉

IMGP9244So who cares, there has been a loss of one of the cotyledons in this group of plants. One time only evolution, and now these plants simply can’t recover that lost cotyledon — I’m over it… right? WRONG! There is something fishy going on here, and it has to do with a certain caudicose perennial I have mentioned before: Claytonia megarhiza (pictured below).

IMG_4012IMG_4025You can see from the second image (the photo immediately above) that Claytonia megarhiza clearly has two cotyledons, not one like the tuberous, perennial Claytonia species I mentioned before. Thus, you’d expect that this species is more closely related to those other Claytonia that have two cotyledons, right? Well…

Print Trees PreviewAbove is a preliminary phylogenetic tree that I presented at the Botanical Society of America Meeting this year in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. This tree has been developed from ~500 single nucleotide polymorphisms isolated from the nuclear genome of all of the samples included (using ddRADseq). You can see from the tree that the caudicose perennial C. megarhiza (indicated by [morphologically similar, but anatomically quite different] cartoon carrots ) clearly has a close association with the tuberous, perennial Claytonia, albeit the exact area in the tree where they will stabilize is still yet to be determined. Without question, Claytonia megarhiza is nested somewhere in this clade of otherwise tuberous, perennial Claytonia.

So how did C. megarhiza find itself with 2 cotyledons while all of its closest relatives (including those diverging away from the lot much earlier in evolutionary history) have only 1? If you have the answer… I would love to hear it from ya! From my perspective, it is a question that is ‘to be determined’ but I am hopeful that my dissertation will change things. 😉

Oops, that took embarassingly long: UPDATE on what’s new with western Claytonia

IMG_0850First off (technically second, after the eye candy above), I need to announce that my research on Claytonia (Montiaceae) has been recently funded [yay!] by the National Science Foundation. You can see the abstract here for #DEB1502085:

http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward?AWD_ID=1502085

Second (yes, I know, technically third), we should play my favorite game: compare the above eye candy with the below ridiculously beautiful [spring] beauty… SAME? or different. 😉

IMG_2978Now before you answer to yourself, consider that the Claytonia in the above two pictures are considered in the current taxonomy to be the same as the plants in the below picture, all being C. lanceolata [for now]. IMG_2834Check out the variation in those leaves!!! Who cares about the flowers, right? No way…IMG_0865IMG_7563IMG_2825The three photos immediately above correspond respectively with the same three putative taxa [let’s call them operational taxonomic units] in the first three pictures of this blog post. So? SAME or different? Feel free to vote at the bottom, and I welcome any feedback or discussion — I can’t say it all in 140 characters or less.

Third [ok, let’s stop with the sequential nonsense], I took an epic trip across California, Nevada and Oregon during the spring months of 2015 as part of #DEB1502085. While on this trip, I photographed new, mind-boggling [taxonomically speaking], tuberous Claytonia. Almost immediately after that, I took another most epic trip across California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado (with guest appearances in Arizona and Wyoming) with ‘Los Caryophylleros’. Let’s just say, I can’t wait to get my new morphological and molecular data (RADSeq X 2) up to speed…

Lastly [HA! I win!], I’ll finish this [short] commentary with what has been the most difficult collection of photos I’ve ever had to select from for the purpose of sharing, then I need to finish preparing for presentations at BOTANY and the Caryophyllales meetings…

IMG_1648IMG_1815IMG_2120IMG_2266IMG_2280IMG_2297IMG_2585IMG_2598IMG_2696IMG_2821IMG_2944IMG_2985IMG_3223IMG_3256IMG_3520IMG_3578IMG_3582IMG_3665IMG_3728IMG_3756What a wild ride!!!

Hybridization — are generalist pollinators the key to success?

I’ve been on a bit of a rant lately concerning hybridization in plant species complexes, which recently resulted in my last post suggesting hybridization could be a potential ‘solution’ to the problem of an ever-changing climate. I want to dig a little deeper now and ask the questions — can generalist pollinators have anything to do with the maintenance of a generalized floral form in Claytonia? If so, can this indirectly act as a selective force for increased hybridization among distantly (and closely) related species? If you have seen the ‘face shots’ from a recent ‘Spring Beauty Pageant‘ than you know what I’m talking about. Maybe you’ve even suggested to a friend, because Claytonia grow like weeds where you are from, that you believe there to be little variation in floral form among species in the genus. I’d agree with you, to a certain extent… but then again, maybe there is so much intra-population variation in floral morphology (coloration, petal shape) that we are blind to see the true pattern of differentiation in floral form among closely related taxa. I’ve touched upon the subject of within-population variation of the flowers of one member of the C. “peirsonii” complex from the southern Sierra Nevada, but now I want to expand on this subject with photographs taken within a single population of C. lanceolata sensu lato on the Great Continental Divide in Montana. As you can easily tell from the first picture below, in which all of the white spots are Claytonia flowers, it is not difficult to conduct this sort of ‘experiment’ yourself. In other words, it is easy to get a lot of face-on photographs of Claytonia flowers because they occur in extremely dense populations. This spring, try to see how much your favorite Claytonia varies in its floral form — you may be surprised at what you find!IMG_8497IMG_8570IMG_8449IMG_8582 IMG_8453IMG_8458IMG_8477IMG_8478IMG_8531IMG_8547IMG_8516     Keep in mind that all of the above pictures are of plants that occur in a single population of C. lanceolata sensu lato on the Great Continental Divide in Montana. As evidenced by the last photograph, even merosity can go haywire from time to time. If I showed you just that last picture, you might even confuse the plants for Lewisia. That is a lot of variation! Are these hybrid plants of C. lanceolata (which has retuse petal apices) crossed with another species in the area with entire petals? Good question! Let me get back to you on that one…

All I know is that multiple Claytonia species can occur in sympatry, and intermediate forms can be found in those areas. This is especially true of the annual species of Claytonia. I haven’t observed putative hybrids among the annuals (i.e., the miner’s lettuces) and tuberous perennials (i.e., C. lanceolata species complex), although I have observed them sharing pollinators in southern California. Pictured below are soft-wing flower beetles (Melyridae) visiting both C. rubra (section Limnia, first picture below) and C. “peirsonii (section Claytonia, second picture below) at the same location on the same day in the southern Sierra Nevada, California. You might remember from one of my very first posts: these pollen eaters are quite effective pollinators.

IMG_5457 IMG_5402Too many questions for a single dissertation to address, but I’ll see what I can do! 😉

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.

 

 

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!

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!!!

Claytonia lanceolata species complex

figure1The 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.