Carsonia at Tonopah Junction

I’ve posted previously on visiting the low sand dunes at Tonopah Junction in Mineral County, near Rhodes Marsh. Sarcobatus vermiculatus (Greasewood) and Suaeda nigra (Bush seepweed) dominate the vegetation here, largely stabilizing the dunes. I visited again this month (May 2022) and was greeted with a spectacular display of Carsonia sparsifolia (Fewleaf spiderflower or Naked spiderflower). Carsonia is a monotypic genus (just one species) in the Spiderflower family, Cleomaceae, although Carsonia was originally placed in the closely related genus Cleome.

Carsonia flowers have 4 green sepals, 4 yellow recurved petals, and 6 exserted stamens. Fruits are slender and generally borne on an elongated gynophore (a basal stalk that extends the ovary and fruit beyond the receptacle where sepals and petals are attached). Leaves are usually palmately compound, often trifoliolate (with 3 leaflets), with a short, orange-yellowish petiole-like stalk (a petiolule) at the base of each leaflet. The uppermost leaves are often simple, looking like a single leaflet.

Within its range, Carsonia most resembles several species of Cleomella and Peritoma that have similar yellow flowers and trifoliolate leaves. Cleomella fruits are short (up to 6 mm long) and may be nearly as wide; Carsonia fruits are longer (15–45 mm) and thin (1–3 mm). Peritoma has a dense, many-flowered inflorescence; Carsonia has a very open, relatively few-flowered inflorescence.

Carsonia in the foreground, Pilot Peak in the background.

As you can tell from these photos, Carsonia inhabits sand dunes, as well as sandy areas on alkaline lake margins. Carsonia has been collected throughout the western Great Basin, from Owens Lake and Ash Meadows north to the Black Rock Desert and Winnemucca, and from Carson Valley east to Railroad Valley and Sand Spring Valley. This population at Tonopah Junction has been previously documented in herbarium collections, but not on iNaturalist.

Does Carsonia occur in the Bodie Hills? Probably not, but it has been seen around the northeast side of Mono Lake.

Also flowering here this time of year: Oenothera deltoides ssp. piperi (Birdcage Evening Primrose).

Oenothera deltoides ssp. piperi (Birdcage Evening Primrose)

Copyright © Tim Messick 2022. All rights reserved.

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.

Botanizing Tonopah Junction

Tonopah Junction simmers in the summer heat of the vast and nearly uninhabited Soda Spring Valley in Mineral County, Nevada. In the southern, lowest part of the valley lies the crusty and mostly glaring-white bed of Rhodes Marsh, which is itself a remnant of Pleistocene Lake Rhodes. US Highway 95 skirts the lake bed, a little north of half-way from Hawthorne to Tonopah.

So, why botanize here? Twice this year I’ve stopped near the intersection of US-95 and NV-360, curious to look at the sand dunes southwest of Rhodes Marsh to see if Dune horsebrush (Tetradymia tetrameres) or other interesting dune endemics might be found here. Neither early April nor late August were botanically optimal times to visit. June might be the time to find the greatest number of plants in bloom.

Greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus). Smoke from fires in the Sierra Nevada are obscuring the Candelaria Hills.

This is not a tall, impressive dune system, though it covers about 1.5 square miles. The dunes are all low and stabilized by vegetation. In spite of (or maybe because of) these characteristics, such dunes can provide habitat for some interesting plants (and invertebrates). The dunes near Tonopah Junction are all anchored beneath greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus); many also have Bush seepweed (Suaeda nigra) on their sides or in swales between the dunes. I believe I saw one Naked spiderflower (Carsonia sparsifolia) seedling in April, but it was far from flowering yet. I would expect to find Nevada wormwood (Euphrosyne nevadensis) here during the summer. In late August, an acre or more of the distinctive skeleton-like remains of Dune evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides) was seen. I’ve yet to find Dune horsebrush there, but remain hopeful.

Bush seepweed (Suaeda nigra)
Bush seepweed (Suaeda nigra)
Dune evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides)
Dune evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides)

Nothing is left of the historic Carson and Colorado Railway and station at Tonopah Junction apart from an eroded roadbed and some debris. The only attraction left here is the ruin of an old stone house, now sadly filled with trash and defaced by graffiti. This was apparently part of Sully’s Tourist Camp, started by C.E. “Sully” Sullivan of Hawthorne in 1937. It looks as though the project was never completed—which is sad, because I think this would be a delightful place to rent a rustic cabin, tepee, or yurt for a few days. There’s hardly any information about Sully’s on the internet, but Tami, at the the Gouge Eye Chronicle blog, has unearthed a few details.

Sully’s Tourist Camp at Tonopah Junction
Sully’s Tourist Camp at Tonopah Junction
Sully’s Tourist Camp at Tonopah Junction

Anyone looking to make useful contributions to the documentation of biodiversity in the Great Basin on iNaturalist might consider an expedition to Rhodes Marsh, Teels Marsh (in the next valley to the west), and the surrounding hills. Very few observations or collections have been made in this area.

Tonopah Junction and Sully’s Tourist Camp (Source: Google Earth, 2021)
Other-worldly patterns in Rhodes Salt Marsh (Source: Google Earth, 2021)

Copyright © Tim Messick 2021. All rights reserved.