Friday, January 15, 2010

Lasthenia californica

California Goldfields - Lasthenia californica - Asteraceae

Carpeting the hills in a spectacular golden-yellow, California goldfields are aptly named. Found in the region nearest the Sierras, these tiny annual sunflowers are one of the most prolific of the desert annuals. When I first encountered them, as I walked through a sea of flowers, I found my boots and pants turned yellow from the vast amounts of pollen they produced. This is a key to the plant's survival strategy: be as fecund as possible. Each individual plant puts almost nothing into its stem and root system. Instead, it focuses on its flowerhead, which, when pollinated, will produce many dozens of seeds. It is this devotion to prolific reproduction that makes the goldfields differ from the perennials of the region, which focus on building a tough, sturdy body for themselves.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Caulanthus inflatus

Desert Candle - Caulanthus inflatus - Brassicaceae

Striking and beautiful, the desert candle is a native herbaceous plant that can usually be found on sandy hillocks and in washes, where they grow in large, spectacular stands. Deriving its common name from the apical nature of its flowers, this member of the mustard family can grow to be nearly three feet tall, and bears numerous purple flowers at the apex of its inflated main stem. Found predominantly in the Mojave, and to a lesser extent the surrounding regions, they typically bloom from March till May. Though typically unbranched, they can form lateral stalks on occasion, forming a living candelabra.

Desert candles are bee pollinated annuals, specifically the smaller native bees found in the desert. When in bloom, they can be heavily visited by these insects. Their fruit, however, is a dry, dehiscent silique that releases its seeds near the parent plant without animal dispersion. The parent plant dies in the late summer-early fall, and is replaced next year by its offspring.