Monday, December 26, 2011

Atriplex confertifolia


Another common salt bush in the desert, Atriplex confertifolia is normally found as a dominant member of the vegetative communities where it grows. Its most distinctive characteristic is the deep maroon bracts that clasp its flowers. Despite appearances, these are not true petals, but instead modified "leaves" that have a flower like appearance.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Atriplex canescens

Four Wing Saltbush

One of the most widely distributed species in the Mojave complex, where it is found on disturbed or dune complex sites. This plant is eaisly recognizable by its fruits, which bear four longitudinal wings at ≈90ยบ to each-other. The bushes can range from 2 to 10ft. tall, but most are around 4ft. They are later succeeded by Atriplex confertifolia.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lomatium shevockii

Owen's peak lomatium

A rare plant found on metamorphic rock scree in the southern sierras, Lomatium shevockii is known to occur on 4-5 sites near the PCT. The plants aren't immediately obvious to the eye.

A recent fire in Indian Wells canyon sweapt through one of the areas the plants were found. However, due to the low fuel volume at the sites (rocky scree), the likelyhood that the plants were damaged is low.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Crotalus oreganus lutosus

Great Basin Rattlesnake

Found in the northern range of the desert district, the Great Basin Rattler is another of the venomous snakes that I've encountered in the desert. Like all rattlers, its best to keep your distance.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Penstemon floridus

Panamint Beardtongue
Plantaginaceae (formerly Scrophulariaceae)

Like most of the "scrophs," Penstemon floridus is a very showy plant. Its pink flowers are easily visible on the rocky outcrops and cliff faces that they occupy.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Lessingia lemmonii var. lemmonii

Lemmon's lessingia

Found in sandy soils in the mojave, this small, unobtrusive asteraceae can be easily missed when walking through its habitat.

An interesting characteristic of this plant is its scent, which is reminiscent of fresh fir needles and citrus. The plant is also highly resinous, gumming up the hands of any botanist touching it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mammillaria tetrancistra

Fishhook cactus

One of the few non-opuntia cacti found in the Mojave, Mammillaria tetrancistra is a small cactus that produces long, hooked spines, giving it its common name. These spines live up to their namesake, are quite sharp, and can inflict a painful wound on anyone foolish enough to touch them.

These cacti flower in April, and produce large, red fruits in the later part of the year.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Anulocaulis annulatus

Wet leaf or valley ringstem

A member of the four-o-clock family, Anulocaulis annulatus is a perennial found in the Death Valley region of the Mojave desert. Growing in rocky canyons, these plants are visually distinctive because of their extreme glandularness. Large, white trichomes cover the leaves, while the stem internodes bear a thick, resinous ring at the mid point. This extreme glandularness may be a defensive mechanism against herbivory, as the resin probably gums up the mouth parts of any animal that tries to consume it.

The plant's early growth form is a basal rosete. When entering the flowering stage, they bolt, sending up long flower stalks, which can reach nearly 1.5m in height. The flowers of A. annulatus are very pretty, and form clusters at the tips of the plant's stems. After pollination, the flower develops into a ribbed nut.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Crotalus scutulatus

Mojave Green

Of the two rattlers found in the Mojave, Crotalus scutulatus is by far the more dangerous. Larger (most specimens reach an average size of 3ft, with larger specimens reaching over 4ft in length), more aggressive, and significantly more toxic than the sidewinder, this animal has the distinction of being potentially the most toxic of all the rattlers, as well as one of the most toxic of all the New World venomous snakes. Unlike most members of the Crotalinae, C. scutulatus carries a binary toxin, with both a hemo- and neurotoxic component.

These snakes are most active during April to September, and hibernate during the winter. They're an important element of the desert ecology, serving as a top predator of both small rodents and reptiles. They prefer high desert and low mountain slopes with open, arid areas of creosote, mesquite and Joshua-trees, while avoiding dense vegetation or rocky outcrops. Females are ovoviviporous, retaining their eggs inside the body before giving birth to live young.

Like all other rattlers, the best way to interact with these snakes is to leave them alone. They will vigorously defend themselves when confronted, but are usually polite enough to rattle and warn the potential assailant of their presence. Giving the animal a wide berth and not antagonizing it are two of the best ways to avoid being struck. Never, under any circumstances, should an untrained person handle one of these snakes.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Chamaesyce vallis-mortae

Death Valley Ground Spurge

Low growing, and easily missed, Chamaesyce vallis-mortae is a member of one of the most diverse plant families in the world. This species is found exclusively in California, and is a List 4.2 plant with the CNPS, meaning that while not heavily threatened, they are under a low level of threat due to habitat loss, and could become endangered in the near future.

The leaves of this spurge are heavily tomentose, giving it a silvery appearance. The "flowers" of this plant are in truth an inflorescence of multiple staminate flowers with one central pistillate flower.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Enceliopsis covillei

Panamint Daisy

Most special status plants in the desert are small and unobtrusive, requiring careful searching to find them. Enceliopsis covillei is not one of those plants. A member of the sunflower family, this plant bears more resemblance to the family's namesake than most species commonly associated with the family, being very large in size. The diameter of the flower heads can reach up to 13 cm, and contain both ray and disk flowers. The flower stalks can reach a full meter long, and are abundant.

Though normally found on cliff faces and the like, these plants can also grow down in the base of their home canyons on the West side of the Panamint mountains. These plants are endemic to the western Panamints, being found nowhere else in the world. As a special status plant, they are protected by law under the Bureau of Land Management's Land Use Plan.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Eriogonum inflatum

Desert Trumpet

One of many Eriogonum species found in the Mojave, E. inflatum has a most unusual flower stalk, inflating to form a large, hollow bulb at the apex of the main stalks. These bulbs were originally thought to originate from parasitoid wasps inhabiting the stalks as a nest, but recent work has disproven this, instead showing that the inflation is due to the build up of CO2 gasses in the chamber. What is of note, however, is that these bulbs do indeed act as either nesting chambers or larders for different species of insect.

Though technically an annual plant, E. inflatum can survive for multiple seasons if conditions at the site are good.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Salvia dorrii ssp. dorrii var. dorrii

Gilman's great basin sage

Prevalent in the east facing canyons of the Sierra nevada mountains, this species of sage brush is among the more widely distributed plants in the uplands of the Mojave. Forming large stands of silvery-white brush, and producing vibrant purple-blue flowers in the spring, this sage is a fragrant and beautiful representation of the woody mints found in the desert.

This plant's nectar is a major component of the honey gathered by bees in the region.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Cymopterus ripleyi

Ripley's cymopterus

Like its cousin the Cymopterus deserticola, C. ripleyi is a rare plant listed by the BLM as a species of concern in the Mojave. It is visually distinct from its relative in that it is considerably smaller in size, and its leaves are fleshier, glossier and not as strongly palmately compound.

This plant is found near the northern edge of the Mojave range in California, usually near dune systems and blow sand. One of the largest documented concentrations of the species is at Haiwee Reservoir, where it can be found in small to medium sized patches during Feb to April. The plants will usually be in clusters of up to 15 individuals, spaced out over only a few meters of ground, which in turn are separated by a considerably larger area where the plants are completely absent.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Prunus andersonii

Desert peach

A relative of our stone fruits, Prunus andersonii is a small to large shrub found in the canyons of the Sierras. Thorny and tenacious, this species is quite spectacular when in bloom, bursting with pink "cherry-blossom" type flowers. After the blooms have been pollenated, the plant will produce small, fuzzy, reddish fruits, which will be fleshy in wet years, and dry in dry years. These are a food source for rodents, who eat both the fruit and seeds.

These plants also reproduce asexually, spreading by rhizomes to form large clone patches. Like many desert perennials, these plants are armed. In this case, the plant has true thorns (sharp, hardened branch tips), which create a formidable barrier against both herbivores and botanists.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Crotalus cerastes

Desert Sidewinder

One of three rattlesnake species found in the Mojave region, Crotalus cerastes is potentially the least dangerous. A small rattler, this snake is known best for its characteristic sidewinding locomotion when crossing areas of loose sand or silt. Though less aggressive and venomous than Crotalus scutulatus, the Mojave green rattlesnake, C. cerastes is still a venomous snake, and can inflict a painful, and potentially lethal, bite. As with all venomous snakes, keeping one's distance and letting the snake have its space is the best way to interact with them.

Aside from the snake's distinctive locomotion, one of the most iconic features of this species are its supraocular scales, giving the snake the appearance of having horns just above its eyes. These are handsome snakes, and if given their space, are a pleasant treat to see when in the field.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Opuntia polyacantha var. erinacea

Old Man Cactus

Slightly less common that Opuntia basilaris is Opuntia polyacantha var. erinacea, also known as Old Man Cactus or Grizzlybear Pricklypear. Unlike O. basilaris, this plant has much more of the typical cactus appearance, with multiple long spines projecting from its areoles. At a distance, this dense "foliage" gives the plant a grizzled, white appearance, hence the common name.

The flowers are typically orange to yellow in color, emerging early to mid summer.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Lichanura trivirgata

Rosy Boa

One of two spcies of Boidae native to the united states, L. trivirgata is an uncommon sight in the canyons of the Mojave. Found occupying rocky, granitic outcrops, these snakes are almost obligately ambush predators, being too slow moving to hunt down and capture prey. Like all members of Boidae, these snakes are non-venomous constrictors, capturing prey and
suffocating it by progressively tightening its body as the prey exhales.

They tend to be active during the warmer parts of the day, while staying under shelter during the hottest and coldest times of the year. These boas, like most members of the family, are ovoviviparous, giving birth to live young, usually in broods of six.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mimulus cardinalis

scarlet monkeyflower

Found in the waterways of Surprise canyon and the adjoining riparian areas, M. cardinalis is a herbaceous perennial. Once included in Scrophulariaceae, it has been moved to Phrymaceae thanks to recent genetic taxonomy. M. cardinalis is a popular landscaping plant, thanks to its showy foliage and striking trumpet shaped flowers.

Like many tubular, red flowers, M. cardinalis is hummingbird pollenated.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Opuntia basilaris

Beavertail cactus

One of the few commonly occurring cacti in the Mojave, Opuntia basilaris is an unobtrusive, low growing "sub-shrub" found mostly in canyons. Not growing much more than 1.5-ft tall at most, its easily overlooked most of the year. Yet, in the spring, it puts on a spectacular show, bursting into deep-magenta flowers.

Like almost all members of cactaceae, and the opuntia group in particular, O. basilaris is armed with defensive spines. However, the spines are not the large, fixed structures that one commonly associates with cacti. Instead, they're armed with a type of spine called a glochid, which are fine, barbed and detach from the cactus on contact. Even casually touching a patch of the glochids is enough to leave dozens of them lodged in the skin, which easily break off at the skin's surface level, leaving the tips of the spines lodged underneath. It can take days for the spines to eventually work their way out, and the irritation caused by their presence can be maddening, depending on how deeply they get embedded.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sairocarpus kingii (syn. Antirrhinum kingii)

Least Snapdragon

Easily passed up, Sairocarpus kingii is yet another of the small plants of the Mojave and neighboring regions that rarely gets much attention except from the people who know to look for it. Found growing in canyon scree and washes, these plants aren't usually more than 1 ft. tall, and are not very robust, meaning they do not stand out among the other plants of the region. Even when in bloom, they do not stand out unless one looks closely.

Scrophulariaceae has recently undergone a massive taxonomic upheaval, where many different genera have been re-distributed into new families based on DNA sequencing.
Though many familiar groups have been redistributed, Sairocarpus has remained in its original family. However, this upheaval has lead to an issue with which scientific binomial is going to end up being used. At the moment, the Jepson Manual, which is the accepted key for the state, lists it as Antirrhinum kingii, while NRCS, the national database for plants, lists it as Sairocarpus kingii. It is likely going to take years to resolve the discrepancies between the various sources and finally settle on one name for the species.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Selaginella watsonii

Watson's spikemoss

Not all plants found in the desert regions are seed bearing. One of my personal favorites, this species belongs to Lycopodiophyta, which is considered the oldest of the extant plant lineages, having descended from a division in the plant family that occurred around 410 million years ago. Found in the mountainous regions at the base of rocks and outcroppings, they are easily missed and generally ignored.

Despite its moss like appearance and name, S. watsonii is a true vascular plant, and has leaves, roots, and stems. Unlike seed plants, this species reproduces by spores. Like all members of its lineage, the leaves are an independently evolved structure from those of either the lignophyte (seed plant) or pteridophyte (fern) line. In essence, they're much like the wings of a bird vs. the wings of a bat. They are a similar structure that performs the same function, but arose separately and independently.

Because of the small size of these plants, and that they perform very little in the ecology they occupy, this species, as well as other members of its lineage, get only minor attention in the scientific community. While this is understandable, it also does them injustice, as they represents something that has persisted since before mammals, or even reptiles, entered the scene.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Langloisia setosissima ssp. puncata

Spiny desert calico

One of the flowers that is easily missed by the casual observer, Langloisia setosissima ssp. puncata is one of the prettier belly flowers found in the mojave. Being so small, they're not major players in the ecology, but do represent the tenacious life of the mojave, as well as the diversity that is present right below our noses (or feet as the case may be for this plant).

L. setosissima ssp. puncata is found in gravely to rocky, well drained soils, most often out in the open away from other plants. The speckling on the blooms is only truly visible when you get up close, so getting down to look at the flowers is really rescissory to get a good feeling for the bloom's true appearance.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Centaurium venustum

Conchalagua or Charming Centari


Found in the canyons of the Eastern Sierra Nevadas, Centaurium venustum grows in seeps and by creeks. Easily missed because of its small size, the flowers of this gentian are vividly apparent when finally noticed. This species is widely distributed, and can be found throughout most of the mountainous areas of the state.

When identifying the species for the first time, I was rather confused, as I'd never encountered Gerntianaceae before. It took me some time to id it with the key, but it did resolve itself nicely when I did.