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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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 😉

My first targeted Claytonia hike: Eastern San Gabriel Mountains

I was dropped off at the base of the ski lifts for Mt. Baldy Ski resort as the sun was rising over a gorgeous day in May of 2012. It happened to be a shuttle hike approximately 17.5 miles end to end in the Cucamonga Wilderness of the Angeles National Forest; another solo hike… I hope I’ll be able to find this little thing!

I climbed up as quickly as I could towards the ski runs under Thunder Mountain, where what was once treated as Claytonia lanceolata var. peirsonii is reported from the steep, forested ridges between the runs. I hadn’t seen these plants in the San Gabriel Mountains just yet, but by this time I had stumbled across a Claytonia in the San Bernardino Mountains two years prior that answered to the rather vague description of this taxon (var. peirsonii) while working for the USDA Forest Service.

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That’s it! North-facing slopes! It can be found blooming next to melting patches of snow in areas where there is also heavy accumulation of conifer litter, often with associated species such as Pinus lambertiana, Abies concolor, Pyrola dentata and Fritillaria pinetorum. I don’t see any snow over there, but it fits the bill otherwise!

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OK, not quite flowering, but it’ll do. I’ve got two more peaks to ‘bag’ before this day is done if I am to see more Claytonia on this hike. I set off toward Telegraph Peak, where I had to shimmy a bit off trail right over the edge of the north slope down to another historically collected locality for this rare local endemic.

photo copy 10A bit of snow around here, this is more like it! Now I’ve just got to find the little buggers flowering…

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What a beauty! Spring Beauty that is… now I just had to get back up to the top of Telegraph to grab the trail over toward Timber Mountain to complete the ‘Three T’s Hike’ I’ve heard so much about.

photo copy 23The north slope of Timber Mountain seemed to be the most ‘typical’ habitat based upon reports for Claytonia lanceolata var. peirsonii, with persistent snow patches as I had just seen over at Telegraph Peak. Sure enough, I was not disappointed by the beauties there!

photo copy 31I made it down to the trailhead around 6pm at Ice House Canyon, where my car had been hanging out all day waiting to hear the news about my big adventure.

“You’ll never believe me, WaSaabi, but I accidentally stepped right onto a rattlesnake’s head this morning. He didn’t seem too thrilled about it.”