Category Archives: Plant Identification

Fun with iNaturalist

I’ve started uploading some observations of plants and occasional other critters to iNaturalist is a project of the California Academy of Sciences that serves as an on-line place “where you can record what you see in nature, meet other nature lovers, and learn about the natural world”.

For me, iNaturalist is one more place (aside from the Consortium of California Herbaria, Intermountain Regional Herbarium Network, and CalFlora) where I can see what others are finding in the Bodie Hills, Hot Springs Valley, and other places I like to visit. It’s also a way to get acquainted with some invertebrates and other organisms that I don’t have the training to identify easily myself. You can also help other people identify what they’ve observed, ask for help identifying some of your observations, create “Places” (like the Bodie Hills) as geographic filters for lists of observations, and follow or communicate with other observers. There’s also an app that lets you record observations in the field.

There are a few drawbacks — photos don’t always capture the characters needed for accurate identification, and an observation may get labeled “research grade” even if two people agree on the same identification that happens to be incorrect. On the whole, though, the community of observers (a mix of amateurs and professionals) seems to get things right, providing a useful and user-friendly addition to the knowledge-base on biodiversity.

The project is still young and it will be interesting to watch it grow in the years ahead. iNaturalist began as a student’s final project in the UC Berkeley School of Information in 2008. It was acquired by Cal Academy in 2014 and has a small staff supporting the project. Do you have photos of identifiable biota in Mono County or anywhere else in the world? Share them on iNaturalist!


Copyright © Tim Messick 2017. All rights reserved.

More Great Plants in the Northern Bodie Hills

The previous post focused on some plants that were new or confirmed additions to the Bodie Hills flora. Here are some more wonderful plants, already known to occur in the range, that were a pleasure to see along the northern edge of the Bodie Hills.



This sunny Balsam-root (Balsamorhiza) was in a small gully along Dead Ox Pitch, that steep grade just west of “The Elbow” in the East Walker River. The pinnatifid leaves with crenate margins and the fruity-aromatic, sticky-glandular puberulence all up and down the flower stalks and leaves lead one to B. hirsuta in the Jepson e-Flora key. In the Intermountain Flora, however, Arthur Cronquist argues for including this in the widespread and variable Hooker’s balsamroot, as B. hookeri var. hirsuta.

Allium anceps

Twin leaved onion (Allium anceps) was very common in some areas among scattered low sagebrush along the road heading south to Masonic.

Eriogonum ovalifolium

Cushion wild buckwheat (Eriogonum ovalifolium var. ovalifolium) is scattered among sagebrush throughout the area.


Ground nama or Purple nama (Nama aretioides) is a small clumping annual with flowers that are under a centimeter across. What the flowers lack in size, they make up for in color saturation.

Cymopterus globosus Cymopterus globosus

Globose cymopterus (Cymopterus globosus) is an odd member of the umbel (or carrot or celery) family, with an inflorescence shaped more like a golf ball than the rays of an umbrella.

Astragalus malacusAstragalus malacus

Astragalus is a large and diverse genus of legumes in which many species are difficult to key out. Woolly milkvetch (Astragalus malacus) is an exception—easily recognized by the long, spreading hairs, especially on its fruits.

Viola purpurea

A violet with bright yellow flowers would seem to be misnamed as Viola purpurea, but the epithet refers to the purplish color on the back sides of all or most petals. One of many subspecies, this is Viola purpurea subsp. aurea, the Golden violet.

Mimulus nanus

The Skunky monkey flower (Mimulus nanus var. mephiticus) emits a slight skunk-like (mephitic) odor, but the flowers are so small, you have to get your nose very close to notice it. These are a couple of very robust plants, growing in sandy soil beside a sagebrush after an unusually wet winter.

Copyright © Tim Messick 2017. All rights reserved.

Plants of Hot Springs Valley: a New Checklist

Phlox diffusa

A couple of years ago, at Grover Hot Springs State Park (in Alpine County, California), I asked if they had a list of plants in the park. “No, but we would sure like one!” So I Googled the topic and found that a botanical survey had been prepared by a group from UC Davis several years earlier, focusing on the flora and plant communities in the meadows and adjacent forest within the park boundaries.

Grover Hot Springs State Park

Near Hot Springs Creek, in the middle of Hot Springs Valley

The field surveys were conducted in 2010 by Ellen Dean and colleagues from the UC Davis Center for Plant Diversity. The report was submitted to the California Department of Parks and Recreation in 2011. This survey was very thorough, but it didn’t encompass all of Hot Springs Valley, some of which is outside the park boundaries, within Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Most of the trail to the waterfalls at the west end of the valley (a popular hiking destination) is outside the UC Davis survey area.

Grover Hot Springs State Park

Hot Springs Valley and the alkaline meadows below the springs

I wanted a list for the whole valley—covering as much as possible of the areas commonly seen by visitors throughout Hot Springs Valley. So over the last couple of summers I’ve explored the valley and added a few dozen species to the 278 taxa listed in the UC Davis report. I contacted Ellen Dean, who kindly agreed to review and co-author the combined list, providing some other additions and corrections.

Map of Hot Springs Valley

I also prepared a new map of the area. Elevation contours are from the USGS Markleeville quad; trails, roads, and lower Buck Creek are redrawn from Google Earth.

The printed list is available at the park (unless they run out), or you can download a PDF to print yourself, right here. (It’s also on the Plant Lists and Floras page at the UC Davis Center for Plant Diversity—go see what else they have to offer.)

Grover Hot Springs is nearly a two-hour drive from Bodie, but these places are connected: they are the two oldest California State Parks on the east side of the Sierra Nevada, the Friends of Grover Hot Springs is a branch of the Bodie Foundation, and over a period of many years, numerous staff have worked at both parks. Now you can also download plant lists for both areas from the same web page.

Grover Hot Springs State Park

The pools at Grover Hot Springs

Copyright © Tim Messick 2017. All rights reserved.