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.