Monday, May 23, 2016

Mt. Pinos and beyond part 2

Grape soda lupine, Lupinus excubitus.
Earlier in the week I had gathered together a list of interesting locations to check out, mostly based on records through Calflora. There were a number of species I was hoping to stake out. Many records are a decade or more old, however, and in that time habitats can completely change, so this isn't always reliable. But at the least it brings me to some interesting habitats, so it is usually worth it in the end. On the drive down Cuddy Valley I had to stop for a stunning white flowering form of grape soda lupine. On the side I keep a list of "white forms", and this is a welcome addition.

The first port of call was making a second attempt at the San Emigdio blue spot, which again did not pull through. I did see Boisduval's, melissa and western pygmy blues though, so it was not a complete loss! In addition there were some new things to see in the form of golden linanthus and a stunning spider, Castianeira occidens! This spider waves its front pair of legs like antennae and along with its unusual walking motion serve to mimic ants. It's brightly coloured too, so that's another plus!

Golden linanthus, Linanthus aureus.
Castianeira occidens

The next stop was Seymour Creek in search of the enigmatic pine-green gentian. Unfortunately we were stopped by a metal gate completely drenched in No Trespassing signs. The nearby trees and posts were also adorned in such signs, so clearly someone didn't want people around. We didn't want to take the risk so we let it be and turned around.

I made sure to scout out the accessible portion of the creek nearby though, as if the gentian was growing down the road than perhaps it was down here too, and, at the least, there would be some interesting associate species to see. I quickly found some new plants: red triangles, Fremont's phacelia, Lemmon's mustard, and the seldom encountered California fiddleleaf. It is easy to see why this plant is overlooked, because the flowers are very tiny and inconspicuous. However this endemic to California is very sparsely distributed anyway, so this was a great find and I'm very happy to see it!

Red triangles, Centrostegia thurberi.
Lemmon's mustard, Caulanthus lemmonii.
California fiddleleaf, Nama californica.
California fiddleleaf, Nama californica.
For good measure here is one of my personal favourites, a miniature daisy species known as Pringle's woolly sunflower. I've seen it once before but my photo did not come out well, so this opportunity to revisit it was greatly appreciated.

Pringle's woolly sunflower, Eriophyllum pringlei.
Further finds down the creek include a surprise veined blue(!), followed by beautiful rockcress, adobe yampah, woollypod milkvetch, and a white-flowering variety of spotted locoweed (var. nigricalycis). I also saw what must have been Child's blue-eyed Mary, even if it was brighter pink and shorter-leaved than usual.

Veined blue, Plebejus neurona.
Adobe yampah, Perideridia pringlei
To make up for this shorter than expected stop we headed to see if Green Leaf Springs was any more accessible, and maybe even better habitat for the gentian. The "road" was a bit rough going but despite what was not obviously public access we made it to the creek area. I checked my map and saw that a large portion of the area was filled with yellow. According to the map legend, it said this indicated a beach! Curious of what that really indicated, I set off down the trail. In the forested areas nearby I found sea muilla, basalt milkvetch, and the sulphur blooms of foothill desert-parsley. When I finally reached the "beach" I did actually see sand! But it was all covered over, by the greatest largest stand of sandbar willow that I had ever seen. These shrubby willows are only just over head height, and in their forest cradled the ground with their verdant shade. Through these willows trickled one of the most promiscuous streams I have seen in drought-stricken California. Walking with the canopy of these trees only just over your head, and with a secret realm trickling beside my feet was oddly surreal. Such a cool place, it could have jumped right out of a fairy tale.

Foothill desert-parsley, Lomatium utriculatum.
The outskirts of the willow forest. Excuse the poor phone photo, I
had no lens suited for the purpose!

Noting that somehow it was already nearing 5pm, I rushed back to the car and we made haste for San Guillermo mountain, where I had intel suggesting the presence of a large vernal pool. This habitat is rare in California and almost always indicates the presence of rare plants and invertebrates. A particular target was the rare Phacelia exilis, a lavender flower with an intricate lacy texture. The first plant I saw was the unusual spring lessingia, an endemic member of the daisy family that is limited to certain drainage habitats. It is usually yellow like other lessingia, but this population was one of the pinkish forms. With the compass set, I hiked in a straight line up the mountain. Soon I bumped into one of the coolest plants of the day, the alpine Kennedy's buckwheat. This plant is a subalpine specialist that inhabits only a select few rocky steppes at very high elevation. I have a soft spot for high altitude mountain plants and this was an amazing plant to find. Even better, these guys were in full bloom.

Spring lessingia, Lessingia tenuis.
Kennedy's buckwheat, Eriogonum kennedyi var. kennedyi.
Before hitting the vernal pool I was soon treated to several other specialties, such as Mt. Pinos onion (Allium howelli var. clokeyi) and western hawksbeard. When I finally reached the vernal pools I quickly found an interesting phacelia. It was not the rare phacelia I was looking for but limestone phacelia, another uncommon plant with a very disjunct distribution over southern California. This plant was completely carpeting the vernal pool area, alongside a few undesirables such as the highly invasive Erodium cicutarium. There were also burnt remains of a campfire in the middle of one of the pool sites which was disappointing. Content that the rare phacelia I was after was not on show, I started descending back down before we ran out of sun.

Mt. Pinos onion, Allium howelli var. clokeyi.
Limestone phacelia, Phacelia affinis.
Halfway down the hillside and I noticed something odd. On one patch of open ground towered several spires of pale, flowering stem. I thought, cool, perhaps this is the desert species of Toxicoscordion. But when I stepped closer I saw that it was not that, but the delicate blue-speckled flowers of pine-green gentian! A creek bed associated plant, growing on the slopes of this dry hillside. But many plants on this hillside were almost all dependent on significant moisture, so there was clearly more to this location than meets the eye. Eventually I was able to break my gaze from this incredible plant and trek back down. This is a truly unique plant and it was incredible to see it.

Pine-green gentian, Frasera neglecta.
Pine-green gentian, Frasera neglecta.

And wouldn't you know, while I was walking back down along the road to the car, I noticed the lacy splendour of Transverse Range phacelia, the same rare phacelia I was out here seeking! Amazing. What are the chances?

Another really incredible plant, not only in biology, but...just look at it and you'll understand!

Transverse Range phacelia, Phacelia exilis.
Before we completely lost daylight we stoppped by a particularly lush ridgeline, at least according to historical records. Here I found great quantities of the rare heart-leaved thornmint, as well as a great showing of the rare fritillary known as stinkbells (although they were all fruiting or wilted), and scattered tufts of another rare plant, pale-yellow layia.

Heart-leaved thornmint, Acanthomintha obovata ssp. cordifolia.
Heart-leaved thornmint, Acanthomintha obovata ssp. cordifolia.
Pale-yellow layia, Layia heterotricha.

Although sunlight was practically lost, I checked by a second spot for San Emigdio blue to end the day. Some pink Calochortus along the road were C. splendens, not palmeri as I secretly hoped. Inside those flowers I did find a new longhorn beetle though, Judolia scapularis. The final highlight of the day was an interesting green buckwheat by the name two-tooth buckwheat, an uncommon endemic species with only a few photographs online. Unfortunately no San Emigdio blue, but there is always another day for those.

Judolia scapularis.
Two-tooth buckwheat, Eriogonum viridescens.
Thanks again Wanda for an amazing outing!

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