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.

 

 

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Which is the cutest?

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!

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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.

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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…

IMG_2674OK, 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).

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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!

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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…

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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…