Category Archives: Plant Identification

Plants of the Bodie Hills, 2022 Edition

Last year I thought there would be few changes or additions needed in this year’s edition of Plants of the Bodie Hills. Surely, after all these years, it should be very nearly finished. Wrong! Local floras like this are never, ever complete or finished, but over time, if there are no deadlines, they can become gradually more complete, even during periods of drought.

Plants of the Bodie Hills, March 2022 Edition, is now available on the Downloads page (a free PDF). It includes quite a few additions, corrections, nomenclatural updates, and refinements to the keys.

  • New or confirmed additions to the flora include Artemisia dracunculus, Tricardia watsonii, Orthocarpus luteus, Erythranthe floribunda, Plantago major, Toxicoscordion venenosum, Danthonia unispicata, and an unidentified Aphyllon. Three more additions that are barely on the edge of the Bodie Hills, since they are in the drawdown zone on the east edge of Bridgeport Reservoir, are Potentilla newberryi, Potentilla rivalis, and Crypsis alopecuroides. I’ve found a few of these myself, but most of these additions are the result of explorations in the field by others, particularly Ann Howald, and others posting observations on iNaturalist.
  • Taxonomy for the Order Boraginales has been updated: instead of the whole order being dumped into one very large and diverse Family Boraginaceae (in the broad sense), a newer 11-family system has been proposed by the Boraginales Working Group, and numerous updates to genera and species in western North America have been made by the Amsinckiinae Working Group. These changes have been adopted by the Jepson eFlora. Three of the 11 families are known to occur in the Bodie Hills: Boraginaceae (in the strict sense), Hydrophyllaceae, and Namaceae. A fourth, Heliotropiaceae, is likely to turn up one of these days.
  • Some of the keys have been improved (hopefully) by the addition of more distinguishing characters, or by the addition of species that are not in the Bodie Hills, but may be familiar to readers and are easily confused with species that do occur here.
  • The table listing Special-Status plants has been updated based on the most recent sources. There is still only one California State-listed Rare plant in the Bodie Hills: Long Valley milkvetch (Astragalus johannis‐howellii). No federally-listed plants occur here.

As before, you have two options for how to use this document: 1) load the PDF onto a mobile device or 2) print the PDF yourself.

  1. Using a mobile device: I’ve found the PDF to be quite readable on my iPhone (in the Books app), although it helps that I’m near-sighted. It’s even easier to read on an iPad, other tablet, or laptop.
  2. Printing the PDF: You can print the PDF yourself or at a local print shop, and I highly recommend printing it 2-sided to conserve paper and reduce bulk and weight in the field. A comb or spiral binding, binder clip, or other binding will hold it together.

Your additions, corrections, comments, or questions are always welcome.

Here are some interesting observations I made in 2021 while roaming the Bodie Hills:

Penstemon palmeri, near Aurora
Aphyllon sp. (fresh material needed to identify), near Aurora
Rhinotropis (=Polygala) intermontana, north of Masonic
Eriogonum nutans var. nutans, north of Masonic
Toxicoscordion venenosum, at a meadow in Bridgeport Canyon
Eriogonum alexanderae, near Red Wash Creek
Eriogonum rupinum, near Red Wash Creek
Asclepias crypyoceras, in Del Monte Canyon
Salvia dorrii, in Del Monte Canyon
Cryptantha pterocarya, in Del Monte Canyon

Copyright © Tim Messick 2022. All rights reserved.

Plants of the Bodie Hills, 2021 Edition!

Cover of the March 2021 edition of Plants of the Bodie Hills

The 2021 edition of Plants of the Bodie Hills is now available as a free PDF on the Downloads page.

This new edition is at last more of a proper “Flora” than an “Annotated Checklist,” because it now includes keys to all of the species. It includes keys to families and genera too, except for two (not so minor) exceptions: the key to dicot families (class Magnoliopsida) and the key to grass genera (family Poaceae) are still in progress. These are both very challenging technically, whether they are built up from scratch or simplified down from existing keys that encompass many more taxa in a much wider area than the Bodie Hills. I hope to add those last two keys in a future edition.

Adding numerous keys and several more species has stretched the document to 116 letter-size pages. Note that you have 2 options for how to use it: 1) load the PDF onto a mobile device or 2) print the PDF yourself.

  • Using a mobile device: I’ve found the PDF to be quite readable on my iPhone 8+ (in the Books app), although it helps that I’m near-sighted. It’s even easier to read on an iPad, other tablet, or laptop. A phone or tablet is pretty easy to carry in the field, but you may want to secure it with a lanyard or wrist strap. (Personally, I like the ones from PodFob.)
  • Printing the PDF: You can print the PDF yourself or at a local print shop, but I highly recommend printing it 2-sided to conserve paper and reduce bulk and weight in the field. A comb or spiral binding, binder clip, or other binding will hold it together.

Your additions, corrections, comments, or questions are always welcome.

Happy botanizing!

Flower field west of Lakeview Spring. Dunderberg Peak and other high Sierran summits in the distance.
Amelanchier utahensis (Utah service berry) on Masonic Mountain.

Copyright © Tim Messick 2021. All rights reserved.

Mapping Mule’s Ears

One common factor contributing to mistakes when people are identifying plants is the scarcity of user-friendly visual documentation (i.e., maps) showing where different species occur in the world. Sure, more than one species of a genus will often co-occur in the same general area, but maps can help you quickly narrow down the number of possibilities in a given area.

Another aid that’s commonly missing is an explanation of how one species differs from a small set of related or similar species, where they may occur near each other. Keys can provide the technical details for distinguishing one plant from all others in a genus-wide or family-wide context, often over a wide area, but may obscure the simple details that can distinguish “Species A” from “Species D” where just those two happen to occur together.

How nice it would be to have more maps of species distributions based on current data for collections and observations. Such maps, together with keys and notes on how to distinguish one species from others in the same area, could facilitate more accurate identifications—especially in genera with little to moderate overlap of species ranges.

Wyethia mollis

This could be a fun project to help pass a pandemic winter, yes?

To explore the idea a bit further, I looked for a genus of modest size in western North America, with at least one species in Mono County. There are many genera to choose from. I selected Wyethia, commonly known as Mule’s Ears (or Mule Ears or Mules Ears), a genus with 14 distinct and well-documented species scattered across the mountains, hills, and deserts of western North America. Hikers in the upper elevations and east side of the Sierra Nevada will know Woolly Mule’s Ears (Wyethia mollis) as one of the brightest and showiest sunflowers of the region.

Here, then, is Mule’s Ears: an Atlas and Guide, a free PDF on my Downloads page. Look it over and let me know if you find this approach and format useful (corrections and suggestions are always welcome).

A Note on Taxonomy
Traditionally, the 14 species of Mule’s Ears have been grouped all together in the genus Wyethia. (As of this date, the Jepson eFlora still treats all California species under Wyethia.) Currently, however, most sources recognize 3 separate genera in this group: Wyethia in a stricter sense (with 8 species), Agnorhiza (with 5 species), and Scabrethia (with 1 species). These are differentiated mostly by the shape, relative sizes, and distribution of leaves. Personally, I’m not always a fan of splitting genera by their sections, but in this case, I think it helps us recognize very visible differences within the group and makes the keys more manageable.

Methods
I downloaded location data (in CSV format) for herbarium collections of each species from the California Consortium of Herbaria (CCH), the Southwest Environmental Information Network (SEINet), the Intermountain Regional Herbarium Network, and the Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria, along with crowd-sourced observation data from iNaturalist. These I imported to a base map of US states and counties, Canadian provinces, and Mexican states using QGIS (a free, open source GIS application).

For each species I exported a PDF dot map of collections and observations. These I placed into Adobe Illustrator, aligned with a clean base of only the state and county boundaries. I then traced the approximate boundaries of the occurrence clouds. In doing so, I did quick reality checks on occurrences that appeared inconsistent with overall distribution patterns or distributions reported in the literature. Many of these anomalies turned out to be obvious misidentifications or incorrect mapping of collection coordinates. Colors and patterns were used to differentiate species in the maps.

The final booklet, together with photographs licensed for non-commercial use by iNaturalist contributors (acknowledged in the booklet), was assembled in Adobe InDesign.

How to use this Booklet
1. Download the 16-page PDF from the DOWNLOADS PAGE. I suggest saving this into the library of the books app on your smart phone or tablet (e.g., Books on Apple devices) to keep it handy in the field. The pages are formatted as half-letter size (5.5 X 8.5 inches), so it’s fairly readable on your phone (if you’re near-sighted) or on your tablet.

2. You can also print this as a 16-page booklet from your computer using Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader (and probably other PDF apps). Tell the application to print all pages in Booklet format, both sides, left binding, and auto-rotate pages. Use letter-size (8.5 X 11) paper, and select your specific printer (not the generic “Any Printer”) and “US Letter” paper size in the printer dialog. This should result in the pages being filled and with centers properly aligned for folding. After printing, arrange as needed to make sure the page numbers are in proper sequence, fold the stack in the middle, and staple along the fold (a long-reach stapler works best for this).

3. Go forth and Botanize!


Copyright © Tim Messick 2021. All rights reserved.