Thursday, December 20, 2012

Physalis crassifolia Benth.

Yellow Nightshade Ground Cherry

One our desert Nightshades, Physalis crassifolia is a relative of our domestic Tomatillo, and in fact, closely resembles it in fruit. However, unlike our domestic crop, this plant is poisonous, and is listed as a majorly toxic species by California Poison Control System.

P. crassifolia is a perennial herb that can become a sub-shrub under the right conditions. Flowering in mid spring to early summer, the flowers are typically Solanacious, forming a fused floral tube that is bright yellow in color. In fruit, the calyx forms a protective layer around the developing berry. The plants themselves are not large in size, being fairly low growing.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Rubus leucodermis Douglas ex Torr. & A. Gray

Whitebark Raspberry

One of our native Rubus species, Rubus leucodermis is a low growing, mounding plant with a typical raspberry / blackberry habit. Like most members of Rubus, these plants are armed with sharp, recurved prickles along their stems and on the underside of their leaves. These plants are found throughout the California flouristic provence with the exception of the Great Valley, and extend all the way up along the west coast into Alaska. Their preferred habitat is open, rocky areas with good moisture.

Like most members of Rubus, R. leucodermis has an edible compound fruit. Fruits tend to be red-purple to black in color.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sarcodes sanguinea

Snow Plant

A obligate heterotroph, Snow Plants are incapable of photosynthesis, instead stealing sugars and food from other plants, making them a parasite. The name snow plant likely arises from the early emergence of the plant's flower stalk from the snow.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hulsea vestita A. Gray subsp. parryi (A. Gray) Wilken

Parry's Sunflower

Found in the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains, Hulsea vestita ssp. parryi is a mountain rare plant. Distinctive characteristics include wooly leaves, and pumpkin orange to reddish inflorescence. The typical habitat for these plants includes talus slopes, gravel and sagebrush to fir forests.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Juniperus occidentalis Hook.

Western Juniper

Ranging in size from large shrub to trees, western junipers are beautiful and gnarly plants. Found growing between roughly 325-10500 ft. thought out the eastern edge of the state, western junipers can achieve an impressive height. The "berries" of this species are in fact modified, fleshy cones, as junipers are gymnosperms, and do not produce a true fruit like that of an angiosperm (flowering plant).

Western juniper, like most junipers, is classified by the California Poison Control System as being a minorly toxic plant.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Rhodiola integrifolia Raf.

Ledge stonecrop

Found in the mountains and fell-fields of the Sierra Nevadas, Rhodiola integrifolia Raf. is a perennial herbaceous plant. Like most Crassulaceae, this plant has a fleshy, succulent look.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Lycium andersonii A. Grey

Anderson's thorn bush

A large, perennial shrub to bush found in the southern parts of California and beyond, Lycium andersonii A. Grey is a member of the nightshade family. Armed with true thorns, these plants are difficult to handle without injuring one's hands. The plants produce many white to lavender flowers in the spring, which mature into small, orange-red berries later in the year. Though the fruit is technically edible, getting to it is often not worth the effort (or injury).

Monday, September 3, 2012

Asclepias californica Greene


Found throughout most of southern California, Asclepias californica Greene is a perenial herbacious plant that is found growing in grassy flats, hillsides and low mountains. Aside from the showy flowers, one of the most distinctive characteristics of A. californica is that it's stems and the undersides of its leaves are densely tomentose, giving the plant a white appearance.

Flowers appear in April and usually last through July.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Frasera puberulenta Davidson

Inyo Frasera

Found in the Sierra Nevada, Inyo and White mountains, Frasera puberulenta Davidson is easy to miss, but an interesting plant none the less. Found in dry mountain woodlands, the leaves of these plants are highly puberulent on the underside and margin, giving them a soft, white edge. The flower stalk is not as large as some other Frasera, only reaching 1-3 decimeters in height.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Isoeteaceae Rchb.

Quillwort family

Among my favorite plants are the quillworts, or Isoetes. Though little known outside of botanist circles, the quillworts are a fascinating and unusual family of non-flowering plants.

Isoetes occidentalis L. F. Henderson thrives underwater
The family dates back to the early Carboniferous period, where they were the dominant plant type in many of the large swamp and woodland areas. After the late Devonian drying, the quillworts declined considerably. Today, they are comprised of a single genus, Isoetes, among which there are roughly 200 extant species.

In California, there are a total of 6 fully recognized species of Isoetes. Three of these are aquatic plants, and must be continually submerged under water. Two are found in vernal pool systems, and are able to survive desiccation during the hot summer months. One of the species is fully terrestrial, but is still found in mostly wet habitats.

Isoetes bolanderi Engelmann can survive out of water
The stem of an Isoetes plant is distinctive, in that it does not produce roots like euphylophytes (ferns, horsetails, conifers and flowering plants), but rather, uses modified leaves as its root structures. Also, the leaves themselves are interesting in that they are not homologous structures to the leaves of euphylophytes, but rather, were independently evolved (i.e. analogous structures).

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cirsium scariosum Nutt.

Dwarf thistle

 Unlike the common weedy thistles we commonly associate with the name, Cirsium scariosum is a native. Found across California, these low-growing perennial thistles are not very showy, but have strong thistle characteristics, including tightly packed flower heads, and spiny leaves. They can be found in both rocky areas to meadows and marshy regions.

These perennial plants flower in the summer, and eventually die back to a rootstock later in the fall-winter.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Corallorhiza maculata (Raf.) Raf.

Spotted or summer coralroot

 A non-photosynthesizing, myco-heterotrophic member of the orchid family, C. maculata is found in shady areas in mountainous regions. Lacking chlorophyll, these plants are instead parasitic on the mycorrhiza of neighboring plants to steal photosynthates. One of the orchid's common names, the spotted coral root, derives from the red-brown spots on its flowers. These plants lack leaves, instead appearing as a long rachis with flowers arranged around the axis.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Hyptis emoryi Torr.

Desert lavender

A mint found in both the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, H. emoryi are small to large shrubs usually found in canyons, washes and scrub with loose, gravely to sandy soil. The plant's foliage tends to be rather sparse, but densely hairy, giving the whole plant a white-silver look. The flowers are small, lavender, and are found in tight clusters near the branch tips.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Draba corrugata S. Watson

Southern California Draba

Found on high elevation slopes of the Transverse range and Peninsular range of California and Baja California, D. corrugata is a small, semi-showy mustard that typically lives on slopes with mixed conifers.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Physaria kingii (S. Watson) O'Kane & Al-Shehbaz subsp. bernardina (Munz) O'Kane & Al-Shehbaz

San Bernardino Mountains Bladderpod

Found in only a few localities in the San Bernardino mountains, P. kingii subsp. bernardina is listed as endangered by the California Native Plant Society and the Federal government. Found on higher outcrops of grano-dioritic rock, the plant itself isn't all that impressive, but is a pleasing burst of color against the white of its native substrate.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Orthilia secunda (L.) House

Sidebells wintergreen

Orthilia secunda (L.) House in flower at
Rock Creek canyon, Kern co.
Found in the Sierra Nevada mountains to the west of the Mojave, Orthilia secunda is a species of heath that is found in a circumboreal distribution throughout the northern hemisphere. Though originally placed into the genus Pyroloa, commonly called wintergreens, it was later moved into its current genus, which as of the moment is monotypic (meaning there is only one documented species within it).

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Lilium kelleyanum

Kelly's Lilly

L. kelleyanum in the Rock Creek watershed
Found in the Sierra Nevada mountains abutting the north-western edge of the Mojave desert. As a member of the "tiger lilly" group, this plant puts on a dazzling show each July till August. Mostly found on moist hillsides, seeps and near creeks.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Langloisia setosissima ssp. setosissima


Another of the desert belly flowers, L. setosissima ssp. setosissima differs from its sister taxa L. s. ssp. setosissima most obviously by its lack of floral speckling. Currently, Langloisia is a described as a monotypic genus, meaning that this species is the only one currently contained within.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Found at various sites around the Mojave, pictographs are prehistoric reminders that Europeans were not always the dominant hominid in the area. Many of the sites where this rock art is found are kept secret from the public, as vandalism is all to common. Others are protected by virtue of being on military bases, where acces to the sites is highly restricted. One such site is at the China Lake Naval Weapons Development Facility, and requires a special tour to visit.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Washingtonia filifera

California fan palm

The only native palm species to California, W. filifera is found most often in the southern Sonoran Desert of the state, with some extending up into the Mojave. These palms are found only near locations with ground water that reaches near the surface, or actively flows above ground.

Due to increased human water consumption, these trees face a considerable threat. Being as dependent on the level of the water-table as they are, reducing the aquifer levels in their home ranges could have serious, potentially disastrous results for the species.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Salt flats

In the Mojave desert, there were once large lakes that filled the valleys. When the lakes drained and dried up, they left large deposits of salt. Many of these salt flats are almost completely devoid of life, as the salinity is so high that they are instantly lethal to plant seedlings that attempt to take hold.

In some areas, where there are seeps or where a canyon creek system drains onto the flats, they can support some halophytic plants like Salicornia, Atriplex or salt grasses.

Despite the desolation of the salt flats, they have a surreal beauty to them. The crystals that form on the surface of the ground can be especially pretty. Sometimes, you can find unusuall sculpturing of the salt, such as these glassy sphere like structures.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Salicornia sp.


Able to survive in the saltpan at the edge of seasonal desert lakes and springs, Salicornia is extremely halophytic (salt tolerant), to the point that it is one of the only plants able to survive in an area. They make extensive use of the C4 metabolic pathway.

The patches depicted here are from Panamint valley, which is on the southern end of the Death Valley junction.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Lepidium fremontii

Desert pepperwood

A member of the mustard family, Lepidium fremontii is one of the most fragrant plants found in the Mojave desert. The scent of this plant is very sweet and slightly musky, and can be recognized from quite a long way away.

These plants are found in a variety of environments, including canyons, washes, rocky slopes, and juniper woodlands.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Phacelia mustelina

Death-valley phacelia
Boraginaceae (formerly Hydrophyllaceae)

Found in a very small number of canyons near Death Valley, P. mustelina is a BLM protected special status plant. Small and unobtrusive, its petite flowers are easly missed, but are quite a treat when found. Like most phacelias, its stems and leaves bear long trichomes with aromatic secretions. In some people, these chemicals can prompt an allergic reaction similar to that of Toxicodendron diversilobum.