Monthly Archives: August 2016

The Center of Diversity for Boechera

Did you know that Mono County is home to more species of Boechera (“rock-cress,” in the mustard family) than any other county in the United States?

Boechera retrofracta

Boechera puberula north of Masonic.

Neither did I, until I ran across a web page with 103 maps showing the number of species per county for the “Largest Genera in Continental North America”. This analysis is part of the Biota of North America Program (BONAP) (Kartesz 2015a, 2015b). The overall distribution patterns these maps reveal are interesting, and perusing the maps for familiar genera and favorite places is also enlightening. For example:

Inyo County, CA boasts the greatest diversity of Eriogonum (55 spp.), Phacelia (43 spp.), Lupinus (40 species), Cryptantha (24 spp.), and Ericameria (24 spp.).
San Bernardino County, CA has the greatest variety of Mentselia (24 spp.), Gilia (23 spp.), and Galium (20 spp.).
Garfield County, UT has the greatest numbers of Astragalus (59 spp.), Penstemon (31 spp.), Oreocarya (16 spp.), and Cymopterus (11 spp.).
Juncus is most diverse in Plumas County, CA (33 spp.).
Castilleja is most diverse in Fresno County, CA (21 spp.).
Artemisia is most diverse in Fremont County, WY (18 spp.) and nearly as diverse in Elko  County, NV.
Calochortus is most diverse in Kern County, CA (17 spp.).
And so on. As one might expect, the larger and more physiographically diverse counties are favored to have high numbers of species for large genera in the arid western states (e.g., Inyo, San Bernardino, Nye, and Coconino Counties). Perhaps grouping some adjacent small counties together would shift the locations of some hot spots.

Boechera retrofracta

Boechera puberula up close.

Mono County, then, is the center of diversity for Boechera, with 36 species (listed below). Sixteen of these are known or appear likely to occur in the Bodie Hills. No wonder I didn’t find them all during my field work 30-some years ago, and no wonder I gave up trying to key all my specimens and shipped them off to Reed C. Rollins (1911–1998), a professor of botany at Harvard University, and the renowned expert on many Cruciferae, including what we then called Arabis. He kindly annotated them all and shortly thereafter cited several of my specimens in describing Arabis bodiensis (now Boechera bodiensis) as a new species from material previously identified as Arabis fernaldiana var. stylosa. Rollins (1982) wrote, “Furthermore, an extensive sampling of Arabis populations of the Bodie Hills by Tim Messick has shown that what we name A. bodiensis below is consistent in its characters and is present on many appropriate sites throughout the area. This adds up to the necessity of recognizing the Bodie Hills material as an undescribed species.”

Boechera sp.

Boechera Grover Hot Springs in Alpine County.

The rock cress species are fairly challenging to identify. One often needs flowers (for their color), leaves (for their shapes and trichomes or hairs), intact fruits, and mature seeds to run a specimen successfully through the keys. Most Boechera plants don’t provide all of these parts in good condition all at the same time. One may need to key the same population in both spring and summer (taking notes and photographs) to do the job well. Familiarity and practice make for easier and more reliable identifications in any large group of plants, so the key to getting good with Boechera may be to live in or near Mono County.  Or Inyo County, which has nearly as many Boechera species.

Boechera sp.

Boechera sp. at Travertine Hot Springs

And finally, the elephant in the room is of course: How does one pronounce the name Boechera?  “BOH-chera” (long O) appears likely or even obvious to most Americans, but “oe” in Latin names is always pronounced “ee” (long E), as it should be in Oenothera or Oenanthe. So is it BEE-chera? Boechera is named for Tyge W. Boecher (1909–1983), a Danish botanist, evolutionary biologist, plant ecologist, and phytogeographer. But the Danish spelling is Böcher (with an o-umlaut), and this would suggest the “oe” (or ö) should be pronounced more like the “oe” in the French words oeil (eye) and oeuvre (an artist’s collected works). This sound can’t be spelled in English, but “BUH-chera,” with a listless enunciation of the first syllable, comes close. Or maybe “BOO-chera.” Take your pick.

Boechera sp.

Boechera sp. in Bridgeport Canyon. These are not especially showy plants.

The 36 species of Boechera in Mono County (according to CalFlora) are listed below. Those known or likely to be in the Bodie Hills are followed by a “(BH)”.

  1. Boechera arcuata (BH)
  2. Boechera bodiensis (BH)
  3. Boechera cobrensis (BH)
  4. Boechera covillei
  5. Boechera davidsonii
  6. Boechera depauperata
  7. Boechera dispar
  8. Boechera divaricarpa
  9. Boechera elkoensis (BH)
  10. Boechera evadens (BH)
  11. Boechera glaucovalvula
  12. Boechera howellii
  13. Boechera inyoensis
  14. Boechera lemmonii (BH)
  15. Boechera lyallii (BH)
  16. Boechera microphylla
  17. Boechera pauciflora (BH)
  18. Boechera paupercula (BH)
  19. Boechera pendulina
  20. Boechera pendulocarpa (BH)
  21. Boechera perennans
  22. Boechera pinetorum
  23. Boechera pinzliae
  24. Boechera platysperma (BH)
  25. Boechera puberula (BH)
  26. Boechera pulchra (BH)
  27. Boechera rectissima
  28. Boechera repanda
  29. Boechera retrofracta (BH)
  30. Boechera shockleyi
  31. Boechera sparsiflora (BH)
  32. Boechera stricta (BH)
  33. Boechera suffrutescens
  34. Boechera tiehmii
  35. Boechera tularensis
  36. Boechera xylopoda


Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2015a. North American Plant Atlas. ( Chapel Hill, N.C.

Kartesz, J.T. 2015b. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP) [maps]

Rollins, Reed C. 1982. Studies on Arabis (Cruciferae) of Western North America II. Contributions from the Gray Herbarium. 212: 103-114

Boechera sp. with Puccinia rust

Boechera becomes infected with the yellow, flower-mimicing Puccinia rust. (See the Puccinia post.)

Copyright © Tim Messick 2016. All rights reserved.

The View from Lucky Boy Pass

Cory Pk from Lucky Boy Pass

Looking Northwest from Lucky Boy Pass: Corey Peak
in the southern Wassuk Range

The earliest map I’ve found showing a road over Lucky Boy Pass, in the southern Wassuk Range of Mineral County, NV (just east of the Bodie Hills), is the 1873 “Topographical Map of Central California Together with a Part of Nevada” [Sheets II and IV], by Charles F. Hoffman of the California Geological Survey (link to Sheet IV in the David Rumsey Map Collection). Part of this is shown below.

1873 Hoffman CalifGeolSurvey (1)

Here’s a closer view (below), with a red dot over Lucky Boy Pass. A few other things to note on this map: the city of Hawthorne (near the south end of Walker Lake) isn’t there yet. Hawthorne was established about 1880. The label “Cory’s Peak” is a little off-target. It’s placed on today’s Mt Grant (highest in the Wassuk Range). Cory Peak should be the first knob north of the red dot. “Mt. Brady”, south of Aurora, is now called Brawley Peaks (although that’s apparently a mis-spelling of Braly). The little back dot at the crossroads north of Aurora marks the stage stop at Fletcher.

1873 Hoffman CalifGeolSurvey (2)

The road over Lucky Boy Pass became a main road connecting Hawthorne with points to the west, perhaps during the peak of activity at Aurora (1863-64) and Bodie (mid-1880s). The arrival of the Carson and Colorado Railroad at Hawthorne in 1881 also boosted activity along this road. Today the road is wide and well maintained, having recently served the now mostly inactive Borealis Mine (just south of Lucky Boy Pass) and  Esmeralda Mill (just east of Aurora in the Bodie Hills).

Buller Mtn

Looking Southeast from near Lucky Boy Pass: Buller Mountain
in the southern Wassuk Range

On a clear day, there are fine views into the remote eastern slopes of the Bodie Hills, and glimpses of the Sierra Nevada beyond.

Mt Hicks from Lucky Boy Pass

Looking South: Mt. Hicks (right) and the distant Sierra Nevada (left).

Bodie Hills from Lucky Boy Pass

Looking South-southwest: Brawley Peaks near Aurora (center). Fletcher Valley in the foreground, with Mud Spring Wash in front of the dark volcanic flows crossing the middle of the picture.

Bodie Hills from Lucky Boy Pass

Looking Southwest: Dunderberg Peak in the Sierra Nevada (center), then Bodie Mountain and Potato Peak in the Bodie Hills (right of Dunderberg). More of Fletcher Valley beyond foothills in the foreground.

The Wassuk Range from Fletcher Valley

The southern portion of the Wassuk Range from Fletcher Valley (looking north). Corey Peak (10,520 ft, right of center) appears to be the highest. Mount Grant (11,239 ft), although taller, is much farther away, barely visible as a low bump left of center. Lucky Boy Pass is near the right edge of this picture.

Lucky Boy Pass Road probably takes its name from the Lucky Boy Mine, discovered in 1908 several miles south of Hawthorne. But who was this lucky person? And what was he lucky with—prospecting, cards, love?  I haven’t found the answers, but he appears to have moved around a lot: there are “Lucky Boy” mines in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, and Washington, as well as Nevada.

Copyright © Tim Messick 2016. All rights reserved.

A Botanical Treasure Hunt

The Bodie Hills are well known for the mineral wealth extracted at several locations, especially Bodie Bluff. There are more riches in these hills than just gold and silver, however. Numerous plants occur in the Bodie Hills that are limited in distribution to relatively small areas of eastern California and western Nevada. Some of these are restricted to unusual soils or microenvironments. These plants have no known “uses” or monetary value to people, but they are treasured elements of the biological diversity of this area.

I recently joined some friends from the California Native Plant Society for a “Rare Plant Treasure Hunt” in the Bodie Hills. Our quest was to confirm the continued presence of some of these plants at previously documented locations in the Bodie Hills. It was late July, a time when many of the mustards, annuals, and other early-flowering plants had already dried up and broken apart, no longer identifiable to species. So we explored the higher elevations on Bodie Mountain and the perennially moist areas at Travertine Hot Springs.

Bodie Mountain

Bodie Mountain

On Bodie Mountain, one of our party was looking for Valeriana pubicarpa (Valerian), collected in this area (probably near where Geiger Grade crosses Rough Creek) by Annie Alexander and Louise Kellogg on July 2, 1945. It hasn’t been seen since, although the similar Valeriana californica is also in this area. The valerians had finished blooming for this year, though, and I didn’t see any.

Several other interesting, locally uncommon plants were doing well on the steep, rocky, northern slopes of Bodie Mountain. These slopes are colder, wetter habitats than the surrounding sagebrush, because they accumulate more snow during winter and thus have a longer, cooler spring season than the rest of the mountain. More about this another time, but one very characteristic plant of these areas is Heuchera parvifolia (Little-leaf alum-root).

Heuchera parvifolia

Heuchera parvifolia

Back in the day, these plants were recognized as a related, but separate species, Heuchera duranii, with a distribution limited to the White Mountains and other high ranges of the far western Great Basin. With more collecting throughout the Great Basin in recent decades, though, H. duranii has come to be considered within the geographical and morphological limits of H. parviflora, and H. duranii has faded into synonymy.

Heuchera parvifolia

Heuchera parvifolia

The next day we strolled around Travertine Hot Springs (see also the previous post), looking for Mentzelia torreyi (Torrey’s blazing star). The larger-flowered Mentzelias, the “blazing stars,” are summer-blooming plants, so late July was exactly the right time to be seeking this one.

Travertine Hot Springs

Biologists at Travertine Hot Springs

We found numerous small, widely scattered patches of M. torreyi. It seems to be doing well here, mostly undisturbed by visitors coming for a dip in the hot spring pools.

Mentzelia torreyi

Mentzelia torreyi

Mentzelia torreyi

Mentzelia torreyi

Torrey’s blazing star is known from several other locations in eastern California and at numerous locations across central and northern Nevada. Another variety (M. t. var. acerosa) occurs in southern Idaho.

The much taller, larger-flowered, more common and widespread Mentzelia laevicaulis (Giant or Smooth-stem blazing star) also occurs at Travertine Hot Springs, sometimes within yards of M. torreyi. But you will find it in other rocky and disturbed places, such as washes and road cuts, throughout the region.

Mentzelia laevicaulis

Mentzelia laevicaulis on a road cut north of Aurora

Mentzelia laevicaulis

Mentzelia laevicaulis at Travertine Hot Springs


Copyright © Tim Messick 2016. All rights reserved.