Tag Archives: Boechera

Plants Described from the Bodie Hills

Masonic Mountain from the north

Masonic Mountain from the north. Three plant species were described from here.

Four plant species have been described from the Bodie Hills. Some kind of synchronicity must have been in effect, because all four were collected in the summer of 1945. Three of them are mustards (Brassicaceae), and all of those were described by Reed C. Rollins (a professor at Harvard University, and a renowned expert in the taxonomy of the mustard family). Two of the type specimens were collected by Annie Alexander  and Louise Kellogg (ambitious collectors of the California flora from 1939 to 1949); the other two were collected — on the same day in the same location, perhaps only minutes apart — by Ira Wiggins (a professor at Stanford and author of several floras) together with Reed Rollins. All four of these plants have a similar, very limited distribution in northern Mono, southern Lyon, and western Mineral counties, with the majority of known occurrences being in the Bodie Hills.

Published descriptions of these and all other plant species reference a type specimen and a type locality. A type specimen is an individual specimen (or a group of specimens) to which a scientific name is formally attached. For vascular plants, this is usually an 11.5 x 16.5-inch sheet of herbarium paper with a pressed specimen and one or more printed labels glued onto it. The collector’s collection number and the herbarium’s accession number are on the sheet so the exact same specimen can be found and examined again later. A type locality is the geographical location where the type specimen was originally found.

Here are the four plants with type localities in the Bodie Hills:

Boechera bodiensis (Bodie Hills rock-cress) was described by Reed Rollins (in Contributions of the Gray Herbarium 212:113, 1982) from material originally identified (in 1945) as a hybrid of Arabis sparsiflora and A. fernaldiana. Additional specimens collected over the next 4 decades provided the basis for its recognition as a new species in 1982. In the early 2000s, molecular studies showed that Arabis actually consisted of two distantly related clades, with morphological similarities attributed to evolutionary convergence. All the species in the Bodie Hills previously treated as Arabis now belong in Boechera. Boechera species are notoriously difficult to define, key, and identify. The Flora of North America notes that “a rare confluence of hybridization, apomixis, and polyploidy makes this one of the most difficult genera in the North American flora.” Perhaps it’s still an actively evolving group. Boechera bodiensis is still regarded as being of hybrid origin, but with B. falcifructa as one of the parents.

Boechera bodiensis

Boechera bodiensis with sagebrush (Photo © James D. Morefield via Natureserve)

The type specimen is Ira L. Wiggins and Reed C. Rollins #536, collected on August 3, 1945 (UC727326) northwest of Masonic Peak, perhaps between Chemung Mine and Lakeview Spring. Habitats of Bodie Hills rock-cress include dry, open, rocky, high or north-facing slopes, exposed rocky ridges and summits, moisture-accumulating microsites in sagebrush, under shrubs, and disturbed soils of prospector’s diggings.

Boechera bodiensis has been found mostly on and around Masonic Mountain in the Bodie Hills and Glass Mountain, southeast of Mono Lake. A few additional collections are from the Wassuk Range and the southern White Mountains.

Boechera bodiensis

Boechera bodiensis in flower (Photo © James D. Morefield)

Streptanthus oliganthus (Masonic Mountain jewelflower) was described by Reed Rollins (in Contributions of the Dudley Herbarium 3(11):372-373, 1946) from another collection by Wiggins and Rollins on the same day (maybe even the same time and location) as the type specimen for Boechera bodiensis. The type specimen is Ira L. Wiggins and Reed C. Rollins #535, collected on August 3, 1945 (UC727392) (see the specimen here).

Streptanthus oliganthus

Streptanthus oliganthus (Photo © Janel Johnson via iNaturalist, CC BY-NC 4.0)

Streptanthus oliganthus grows in dry, open pinyon pine woodland and sagebrush scrub habitat. Most collections have been around Masonic Mountain and the east side of the Sweetwater Mountains. Collections near Sonora Pass, in the White Mountains near Westgard Pass, and in the Copper Mountain area southwest of Conway Summit have been attributed to S. oliganthus, but may be S. cordatus. Streptanthus cordatus is similar in size and habitat, but is is more prevalent in the eastern Sierra Nevada and Great Basin ranges. The two are  distinguished as follows:

Streptanthus key

Cusickiella quadricostata (Bodie Hills Cusickiella) was described by Reed Rollins (in Contributions of the Dudley Herbarium 3:366, 1946) as Draba quadricostata. Cusickiella (named for W.C. Cusick, an Oregon plant collector, 1842–1922) is a small group of only two species now segregated from Draba. Cusickiella differs from Draba most noticablely in the shape of the fruits. The fruits of Cusickiella have rounded or keeled valves, whereas in Draba the valves are typically cylindric or flat. Also, the fruits of Cusickiella contain only 1–4 ovules or seeds, whereas Draba has 10 or more.

Cusickiella quadricostata

Cusickiella quadricostata (Photo © Tim Messick)

The type specimen of Cusickiella quadricostata is Annie Alexander & Louise Kellogg #4543 (UC694166), collected on July 28, 1945. The type locality is “on the road to Bodie, 2 miles southwest of Masonic Spring, southeast flank of Masonic Mountain, altitude 8600 feet.” They encountered this plant earlier the same day at New York Hill (#4540), and might have found it around the north side of Masonic Mountain too, had they stopped in the right place. This specimen (#4543) appears to be the very last collection the team of Alexander and Kellogg ever made in the Bodie Hills. They collected elsewhere in Mono County in 1946, including in Bridgeport Meadows, but they did not return to the Bodie Hills.

Cusickiella quadricostata is known from quite a few locations in the Bodie Hills, with additional locations in the Sweetwater Mountains, Pine Grove Hills, and southern Wassuk Range of Mono, Mineral, and Lyon counties. Its habitat is usually gravelly slopes, ridges, and flats, associated with scattered low sagebrush or cushion plants. The other species of Cusickiella, C. douglasii, is also found in the Bodie Hills, but it has a much wider range, extending to Nevada, Washington, Idaho, and Utah. They differ as follows:

Cusickiella key

Phacelia monoensis (Mono County phacelia) was described by Richard Halse, of Oregon State University in Corvallis (Madroño 28:124, 1981) from material previously identified as Miltitsia lutea. Miltitzia is a group of yellow-flowered annuals now treated as a section of Phacelia, in the part of Boraginaceae previously treated as Hydrophyllaceae. The type specimen is Annie Alexander & Louise Kellogg #4346 (UC736041), collected on June 30 1945.

Phacelia monoensis

Phacelia monoensis (Photo © Tim Messick)

The type locality, quoted from the specimen label, is “Altitude 7375 feet; in scraped ground of red, caked adobe above road and meadow, Mormon Ranch, 8.5 miles south-west of Bodie.” The label also notes that the plants were “associated with Nemacladus rigidus.” Topographic maps of this area from 1911 to 1958 place “Mormon Ranch” near the east end of Mormon Meadow, about where Clearwater Creek crosses today’s State Route 270. The nearest and most extensive area of clayey red soil is on the low hills on the south side of Mormon Meadow, just east of today’s Coyote Springs Road. Unfortunately, much of this area has been heavily trampled for several decades by sheep concentrated around a sheep herder’s camp.

Phacelia monoensis is known from several other locations in the Bodie Hills, Sweetwater Mountains, Pine Grove Hills, and far-northern White Mountains in Mono, Mineral, Lyon, and perhaps Esmeralda counties. The “monoensis” epithet is apt, because a majority of the known populations are still to be found in Mono County. It favors dark red or red-brown clayey soils that are loosened by natural shrink-swell processes or by the occasional passing of vehicles along unpaved roads.

Phacelia monoensis

Phacelia monoensis (Photo © Tim Messick)

Bonus: a Mineral, Bodieite
Minerals have type specimens and type localities too. The recently-described mineral Bodieite has one of its two co-type localities in the Bodie Hills near Masonic Mountain.

Bodieite (photos here) is a soft, colorless to yellow or green, crystalline mineral. It is unique in being both a tellurate and a sulfate of bismuth [Bi2(TeO3)2(SO4)]. Bodieite was “named for the Bodie Hills volcanic field, in which the Pittsburg-Liberty mine is located, and for the town of Bodie, California, which is about 19 km SSE of the Pittsburg-Liberty mine.”

Bodieite has two rather widely separated co-type localities: (1) the Pittsburg-Liberty Mine, at New York Hill in the Masonic District of the northern Bodie Hills, and (2) tailings of the North Star Mine (Star Consolidated Mine), on the south side of Mammoth Peak, near Mammoth (but not the Mammoth in Mono County), in the East Tintic Mountains of Juab County, Utah (southwest of Provo and Utah Lake).

Thanks to Jim Morefield and Janel Johnson for their photos of the Boechera and the Streptanthus!

Copyright © Tim Messick 2019. All rights reserved.

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 sp.at 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. (http://bonap.net/napa). 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.

Floral Mimicry in the Bodie Hills

Soon it will be early spring in sagebrush country, and insects will be eager to find plants that provide nectar, pollen, or other yummy flower parts for food. Many early-spring flowers are in the mustard family (Brassicaceae) and buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). Many mustards and buttercups have bright yellow flowers. Bright yellow is a good color for attracting insects, because this color is also bright in ultraviolet, which many insects see well.

Puccinia monoica

But not all bright yellow plants are flowers. The yellow stuff above and below is a parasitic fungus—a type of rust (order Pucciniales)—growing on the leaves of a rock cress (Boechera sp.). The rock cress hasn’t flowered yet, and because of the fungal infection, this plant won’t produce real flowers at all this year. It will attract insects, though, because the fungus has produced zillions of little bright yellow spermatogonia on the leaves that cause the leaves to look superficially like flower petals. These spermatogonia exude spores (spermatia) that are carried by the visiting, feeding insects to other rock cress plants, just as they would normally carry pollen from flower to flower.

This particular rust is Puccinia monoica (no relation to Mono County, as far as I can determine, though I’m not sure what the name refers to). Puccinia was named after Tommaso Puccini (1749-1811), a professor of anatomy in Florence, Italy.

Floral mimicry is a deceitful, counterfeit way to make a living, but the rusts are obligate parasites and they have few options. Not all rusts are floral mimics, but those practicing this ruse are experts in their trade and are highly successful because if it. The rusts, like many parasites, have beautifully complex life cycles. Puccinia monoica infects additional hosts (the grasses, Koeleria, Trisetum, and Stipa, all of which live in this area), for another stage in its reproductive cycle. While on the grasses it does not engage in floral mimicry — that would be wasted effort indeed.

Puccinia monoica
Puccinia should not, however,  be confused with Puccinellia, which is not a fungus, but a grass, Alkali grass. Three species (P. distans, P. lemmonii, and P. nuttalliana) occur in the Bodie Hills — at Travertine Hot Springs and other moist alkaline places in the region and across much of western North America. Puccinellia was named after another Italian, botanist Benedetto Luigi Puccinelli (1808- 1850).

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Phragmidium is another genus of rusts that infects leaves, stems, fruits, and flowers of roses, blackberries, and other members of the rose family (Rosaceae). Here’s one on Woods rose (Rosa woodsii) near the stream in the aspen grove in Masonic Gulch, near Lower Town Masonic.


Phragmidium rusts are not floral mimics, and their spores may be largely wind-dispersed, but the bright orange of their spore-filled uredinia may attract some insect attention.




Copyright © Tim Messick 2016. All rights reserved.