Category Archives: Botany

Primitive Mustards: Thelypodium in the Bodie Hills

Thelypodium laciniatum

Thelypodium laciniatum

Thelypodium (thely-POD-ium) is a genus of about 29 relatively stunning species in the mustard family (Brassicaceae, a.k.a. Cruciferae). The genus ranges across much of the desert and intermountain west, Columbia Basin, southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Four species occur in the Bodie Hills, Mono Basin, and adjacent areas: T. crispum, T. laciniatum, T. milleflorum, and T. integrifolium subsp. complanatum. A fifth species, T. flexuosum occurs to the north and east (as close as Carson City), but has not been documented in the Mono-Mineral-Lyon county area.

Thelypodium flowers (in our area) are mostly whitish, with slender petals. In most of our species the flowers are packed into a dense, tall, slender raceme with many dozens of flowers (but fewer flowers in a short inflorescence in T. integrifolium). In fruit, the plants develop long, slender, spreading or ascending siliques (fruits), parts of which often persist long after they have opened and scattered their seeds. I’ve noticed that late in the year, or early the following spring, these tall, dried-out stems with the remains of old fruits may be much easier to spot from a distance than fresh plants of the current growing season — especially in early morning light or against a dark background.

For more than a century, taxonomists studying Thelypodium and related plants have found it difficult to decide what species to include in this genus as opposed to other allied genera. Most of the species are fairly easily defined; the generic boundaries are not (Al-Shehbaz 1973). Little surprise, then, that learning to recognize Thelypodium as a genus is best accomplished by learning to recognize some of its species. The genus becomes recognizable once you have a feel for the differences and similarities among its species. Several other genera share various characteristics with Thelypodium, and together these are recognized as a larger group, the tribe Thelypodieae (thelypod-EE-ee-ee). Other genera of Thelypodieae found in this area include Stanleya, Caulanthus, Streptanthus, and Streptanthella.

The name Thelypodium is based on the Greek: thēlys for ”female” and podion, a diminutive for “foot.” This refers to the distinct “gynophore” in most species of Thelypodium. A gynophore is a kind of stalk or stipe (or foot) that raises the ovary and fruit above the receptacle of the flower. Payson (1923) asks, “What is the significance of this stipe? Recent students of the Cruciferae are nearly unanimous in the belief that this family has been derived from the Capparidaceae [Caper family, also treated as part of Cleomaceae] or from capparidaceous-like ancestors. . . . In the Capparidaceae a stipe [or gynophore] is almost universally present and is often very long. Granting this relationship between the two families, the presence of a stipe in the Cruciferae, in which it is not of common occurrence, must be considered either a primitive character or an atavistic [ancient or ancestral] variation. For the sake of argument . . . the stipe in this group will be assumed to be a primitive characteristic.” So, Thelypodium retains what is considered a primitive structure (the gynophore) in a family that has evolved (eventually losing its gynophores) and diversified with great success worldwide.

Photos showing the pedicel, receptacle, gynophore, and fruit in Thelypodium (left) and Cleomella (right). The presence of a gynophore in Thelypodium suggests an evolutionary link between mustards (Brassicaceae) and capers (Cleomaceae).

Upon finding a suspected Thelypodium in the field, here are the characteristics to look for (and photograph, if you’re posting to iNaturalist, Calflora, or CalPhotos):

  • Habitat: Where is it growing? On a rocky cliff or outcrop? In loose, dry, sandy or silty soil? In or near a moist, perhaps alkaline meadow, spring, or creek?
  • Leaf shape: These plants are biennials and the basal leaves wither as the flowering stems develop, so you will most often be looking at cauline leaves (leaves on the stems). The cauline leaves become smaller and narrower, with shorter petioles and less-developed lobes or teeth higher along the stem. Look at the lower and mid-stem leaves: are they deeply lobed, merely toothed, or entire? Are the leaf blades petioled or sessile?
  • Inflorescence shape: Is it a tall, elongated raceme of many flowers, or are the flowers and fruits condensed into a short, almost tuft-like raceme at the end of long branches?
  • Pedicel shape: The pedicel is the little stalk from the stem to the base of each flower. In flowers that have gone to fruit, or are beginning to produce fruits, is the pedicel spreading (more or less straight out from the stem)? Or is it bent, curving upwards?

Thelypodium crispum (Wavy-leaved thelypody) may be the commonest of the four species in the Bodie Hills, but it has the narrowest geographic range overall. It is found from Inyo and Esmeralda counties north along the eastern Sierra Nevada and western Great Basin to Lassen and Washoe counties. It grows mostly in moist, alkaline or mineralized, sandy or gravelly soils near meadows or springs, but occasionally also in sagebrush scrub or pinyon-juniper woodland. I’ve seen it also on subalpine glacial moraines above Virginia Lakes.

Thelypodium crispum

Thelypodium crispum

Thelypodium crispum

Thelypodium crispum

It’s generally the shortest Thelypodium in this area — typically under 3 feet tall, often just 1–2 feet tall. Mid-cauline leaves are narrowly lance- or arrow-shaped, sessile, and clasping the stem. The leaf margins are entire (neither lobed nor toothed), and may be either flat or wavey (leaves with wavey margins are called “crisped”; hence T. crispum). The fruiting pedicels are ascending, often pressed against the stem, and the fruits are straight, stiff, and less than 2 inches long. T. crispum is similar to and sometimes misidentified as T. brachycarpum. The latter occurs mostly in far-northern California and southern Oregon; its fruiting pedicels are horizontally spreading.

Good places to look for T. crispum include Travertine Hot Springs, Coyote Spring, other hot or mineralized springs, and Long Valley (east of Mammoth).

Thelypodium crispum

Thelypodium crispum

The next two species may appear similar from a distance — larger plants of both may stand as tall as a person, rising above the surrounding shrubbery, with striking, many-flowered racemes of white (or creamy- or greenish-white) flowers. Both have slender fruits 1.5–4 inches long, that tend to bend, curl, or droop when fully grown. On closer inspection, these two are easily recognized by differences in leaf shape, pedicel shape, and habitat.

Thelypodium laciniatum (Cutleaf thelypody) is a cliff-dweller. It favors rocky crevices and outcrops, and its distribution suggests it may favor volcanic rather than granitic substrates. Fruiting pedicels are spreading to just slightly angled upward, not strongly curved. The lower leaves are laciniate, i.e. irregularly lobed, often deeply so. The inflorescence may contain dozens to well over a hundred flowers. Plants may be few-stemmed or be virgately branched, i.e., with numerous stems fanning out from the base.

Thelypodium laciniatum

Thelypodium laciniatum often has many stems (but this may be 2 or 3 plants).

Thelypodium laciniatum

Thelypodium laciniatum is a cliff-dweller.

Thelypodium laciniatum

See how the pedicels of Thelypodium laciniatum are all straight? (yellow arrows). Except for one that read the wrong instructions.

Good places to look for T. laciniatum include the cliffs east of Hwy 182 and the East Walker River 1.1 road miles north of Bridgeport Reservoir Dam, cliffs above NF-028 at The Elbow, and the Owens River and Lower Rock Creek gorges. You may need binoculars for a good look at these plants.

Thelypodium milleflorum (Many-flowered thelypody) inhabits  sandy or deep silty soils. The pedicels are bent strongly upwards (this becomes more apparent as the flowers go to fruit, so early in the season look around for last year’s stems). Aven Nelson (1911), in his description of this species (from collections in Idaho), says the fruits are “normally strongly ascending or suberect, but often irregularly spreading as if from their weight.” The lower leaves are dentate—toothed or shallowly lobed, but not deeply lobed. The epithet “milleflorum” suggests it has “a thousand flowers.” Nelson offers no explanation and I haven’t counted, but clearly there could be several hundred flowers on a robust plant with several inflorescences (and the same could be said for T. laciniatum). This is a CNPS “List 2B.2” plant—”Rare or Endangered in California, common elsewhere. Fairly endangered in California.”

Thelypodium milleflorum

Sometimes Thelypodium milleflorum grows in dense stands like this; other populations are more dispersed.

Thelypodium milleflorum

Young stems of Thelypodium milleflorum. These will grow much taller and the racemes will develop many more flowers over the next 2 to 3 months.

Thelypodium milleflorum

Thelypodium milleflorum in soft, silty-sandy soil at the edge of a pinyon pine grove. It’s done flowering, but the fruits are still green.

Thelypodium milleflorum

See how the pedicels of Thelypodium milleflorum all curve up? (yellow arrows).

Good places to look for T. milleflorum include Goat Ranch Cutoff, Dobie Meadows Road, and probably other sandy places around the north and east margins of Mono Basin.

Thelypodium integrifolium is the most widespread of the species here — with five subspecies, its range extends throughout much of the desert and intermountain west. In the Bodie Hills, however, we have only one subspecies: T. integrifolium subsp. complanatum (Foxtail thelypody), which is the one seen from the eastern Sierra across most of central and northern Nevada. Its inflorescences are short and strongly congested at the ends of long, nearly naked branches. The flowers are usually a pale lavender-purple, sometimes white. It grows in moist to wet, alkaline or silty soils of meadows, creeks, and sometimes adjacent uplands.

Thelypodium integrifolium

Thelypodium integrifolium

I’ve seen it only along a wet ditch beside the road from Fletcher to Aurora (in Nevada), but there are a few other records from the Mono Basin. This is another CNPS “List 2B.2″ plant—”Rare or Endangered in California, common elsewhere. Fairly endangered in California.”

Thelypodium integrifolium

Thelypodium integrifolium

Not Thelypodium

Here are a few other plants that could trick you into thinking they might be a Thelypodium:

Stanleya pinnata

Stanleya pinnata is a very primitive mustard (with long gynophores). It has bright yellow flowers and pinnately lobed lower leaves.


Cleomella hillmanii (left) and Peritoma serrulata (right) are in the Cleomaceae, from which the primitive mustards may have evolved. These too have gynophores. Their compound leaves (with three leaflets) are very different from Thelypodium leaves.

Al-Shehbaz, Ihsan A. 1973. “The Biosystematics of the Genus Thelypodium (Cruciferae).” Contributions from the Gray Herbarium of Harvard University, no. 204 (1973): 3-148. This authoritative (145-page) reference on Thelypodium can be viewed page-by-page on JSTOR at or downloaded as part of a larger PDF containing Nos. 203, 204, and 205 from the Biodiversity Heritage Library at

Nelson, Aven 1911. “New Plants from Idaho.” Botanical Gazette 52, no. 4 (Oct., 1911): 261-274. PDF available at:

Payson, Edwin B. 1922. “A Monographic Study of Thelypodium and Its Immediate Allies.” Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Sep., 1922), pp. 233-324. A half-century earlier study than Al-Shehbaz, but still relevant. A complete PDF is available from JSTOR at

Copyright © Tim Messick 2018. All rights reserved.

The More You Look, The More You Find: Additions to the Bodie Hills Flora

Gilia brecciarum

Gilia brecciarum

One of the guiding principles for any floristic survey (looking for all the plants that occur in an area) is that the more time you spend looking, the more different things you are likely to find. Corollary to this is that the more people who look and the more different habitats they all explore, the more kinds of plants will turn up. (The same principle holds for faunal surveys as well.)

Mimulus breweri

Mimulus breweri

This is part of the excitement and the lure for people interested in exploring and documenting biodiversity: the job is never done. There’s always something else to find.

When I first surveyed the Bodie Hills in the early 1980s, my main source of information was my own collections (during three summers) plus some records in the California Natural Diversity Database, a few mentions in botanical books and journal articles, and correspondence with a few other botanists making occasional visits to the area.

Cymopterus purpurascens

Cymopterus purpurascens

Since then, my “search intensity” has expanded greatly through hundreds of specimen collection records, some dating back many decades, that have become available on the internet. The main sources for these have been the Consortium of California Herbaria (CCH), Calflora, and the Intermountain Regional Herbarium Network (IRHN). The internet has also provided access to other floristic studies, plant lists, environmental studies, and resource management plans, all with lists of species seen or collected in parts of the Bodie Hills.

Recently, and especially in the last year, additions to the Bodie Hills flora have come to light through (1) generous sharing of collection data by Ann Howald, who is compiling a flora for all of Mono County, (2) last year’s collection data on CCH from Jim Andre, and (3) observations posted by several keen observers to iNaturalist.

Kelloggia galioides

Kelloggia galioides

Here, then, is a list of 27 additions to the Bodie Hills flora that have come to my attention in just the last six months, since the release of the January 2018 edition. Additional details, including sources for each find, are in a 3-page PDF you can download from the Downloads page.


Cymopterus purpurascens. Widewing springparsley. Northeast edge of Bodie Hills.
Perideridia parishii subsp. latifolia Wide-leaved Parish’s yampah. Cottonwood Canyon Rd., south of Bodie.
Sium suave. Hemlock waterparsnip. Bridgeport Valley and Bridgeport.

Antennaria rosea  ssp. confinis. Rosy pussytoes. Upper Rough Creek drainage.
Arnica longifolia. Spearleaf arnica. Rough Creek near Geiger Grade and meadow in saddle between Bodie Mountain and Potato Peak.
Chaenactis xantiana. Fleshy Pincushion. Lower Rough Creek, southwest of Nine Mile Ranch.
Dieteria canescens var. leucanthemifolia. Hoary-aster. Near Geiger Grade, north of Bodie; upper Rough Creek drainage.
Erigeron divergens Spreading fleabane. Hwy 270 at Cinnabar Canyon.

Cryptantha glomeriflora. Cluster-flowered cryptantha. Upper Rough Creek drainage near Potato Peak.
Cryptantha mohavensis Mojave cryptantha. Ridge on south side of Aurora Canyon.
Cryptantha pterocarya var. purpusii. Wingnut cryptantha. Cottonwood Canyon Rd, south of Bodie, white sandy ash.
Plagiobothrys kingii var. kingii. Southern great basin popcornflower. Hwy 270 at Cinnabar Canyon.

Chorispora tenella. Purple mustard, Crossflower. Disturbed areas, near East Walker River; Mono Basin near Conway Grade.
Descurainia nelsonii. Nelson’s Tansy-mustard. Hwy 270 at Cinnabar Canyon.

Lupinus argenteus var. montigenus. Silvery lupine. East side of Potato Peak.

Erodium cicutarium. Redstem filaree. Near East Walker River; Mormon Meadow.

Abronia turbinata. White sand verbena. Beside NF-028 in Fletcher Valley.

Mimulus breweri. Brewer’s monkeyflower. Upper Rough Creek drainage near Potato Peak.

Gilia brecciarum subsp. brecciarum. Nevada gilia. Between Masonic Mountain and New York Hill.
Gilia modocensis. Modoc gilia. Radio tower ridge northeast of Conway Summit.
Navarretia linearifolia subsp. linearifolia. Linear-leaved navarretia. Ephemeral drainage near mine south of Mormon Meadow.

Rumex crispus L. Curly dock. Meadow at Coyote Spring.

Myosurus apetalus var. montanus. Bristly mousetail. East of Hwy 395; upper Rough Creek drainage.

Kelloggia galioides. Kelloggia. Ridge on south side of Aurora Canyon.


Eleocharis bella. Spikerush. Ephemeral drainage near mine south of Mormon Meadow.

Juncus bufonius var. occidentalis. Western toad rush. Chemung Lake, Coyote Spring, stream below mine south of Mormon Meadow.

Deschampsia danthonioides. Annual hairgrass. South shore of Chemung Lake.

Photos in this post other than mine are licensed for reuse under Creative Commons.

Copyright © Tim Messick 2018. All rights reserved.

Plants of the Bodie Hills Checklist: January 2018 Edition

I’ve made a bunch more corrections and additions to Plants of the Bodie Hills: an Annotated Checklist, based on fieldwork and other research during 2017. CLICK HERE to visit the Downloads page. The January 2018 edition of the checklist is a 50-page, 8.1 mb PDF file.

The Bodie Hills encompass about 417 square miles in northern Mono County, California, western Mineral County, Nevada, and southern-most Lyon County, Nevada. This checklist now includes 701 taxa (species, subspecies, or varieties). Of these, 593 are definitely known to occur in the Bodie Hills and 108 are of uncertain status in the area (quite possibly present, but not yet confirmed). Altogether, there are 558 dicots (in 53 families), 130 monocots (in 15 families), and 13 vascular cryptogams (in 8 families).

Some places in the Bodie Hills worth visiting:

Chemung Lake

Chemung Lake, Chemung Mine, and Masonic Mountain

Upper end of Mormon Meadow

The upper end of Mormon Meadow

East Side of the Bodie Hills

The northeastern Bodie Hills, along the Sweetwater-Aurora Road

Road to Aurora

The road to Aurora

Bridgeport Canyon

Bridgeport Canyon

Mt Biedeman and storm

Mt. Biedeman from the road to Bodie


Copyright © Tim Messick 2018. All rights reserved.