Tag Archives: Botany

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.
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A Fen in the High Desert

Cinnabar Canyon Bog

There’s a tiny fen (about one-half acre in area) within a somewhat larger meadow (about 1 acre) in Cinnabar Canyon in the Bodie Hills. The most abundant and characteristic plant in this meadow is a Sphagnum, or peat moss (possibly S. fimbriatum, but this needs to be checked using the most recent keys). The peat growth is deep and spongy wet, even late into the dry season. It’s a “mound fen” — water seeps slowly from a spring at the highest point in the meadow. Vascular plants in the meadow include abundant Nebraska sedge (Carex nebrascensis) and Tufted hair grass (Deschanpsia cespitosa), with a few very scrawny Swamp laurel (Kalmia polifolia) plants. The Kalmia was probably more robust and much more at home here during the cooler climate of the Little Ice Age (circa 1300 to 1850).

Cinnabar Canyon Bog

Sphagnum sp.

Cinnabar Canyon Bog

Kalmia polifolia

Cinnabar Canyon Bog

Carex and Deschampsia

This place fills me with questions, but skimming through the on-line literature about peatlands in the Great Basin and Sierra Nevada reveals very few answers.

Cinnabar Canyon Bog

Why is this bog here? What is it about the geology, hydrology, or history if this place that led to the formation (or persistence?) of a fen here, and not in any number of other seemingly similar meadows? Why aren’t there more peaty wet meadows in the Bodie Hills? (There is a suggestion in the literature of just one other that I haven’t seen, near Dry Lakes Plateau.)

Cinnabar Canyon Bog

How long has the fen been here? Peat deposits at other locations in the Great Basin and beyond (some actively growing, some not) have been examined to determine the relative abundance of different kinds of pollen and diatoms at various depths. The peat deposits can be dated at various depths with the aid of identifiable volcanic ash layers. These findings are used to infer changes in vegetation and climate over centuries or millennia. I’m not a palynologist, but I would love to know what a few core samples might tell us about the history of this place.

Cinnabar Canyon Bog

Are there invertebrates that favor these acidic fens, and are they present here? Is there anything unusual about the chemistry of the water in this spring? The water feels cold, but how does the hydrology of this meadow relate to the band of hydrothermal activity (some still active, some long dormant) extending from roughly Cinnabar Canyon northwest to Travertine Hot Sprigs, near Bridgeport?

Cinnabar Canyon Bog

The spring

Unfortunately, the meadow is not in the best of shape. I wish it could be fenced. Trampling by sheep has disturbed the surface and shallow subsurface of the growing peat layer. (But it looked about the same 35 years ago.) This trampling probably reduces the abundance of some plants, degrades the habitat for some invertebrates, and introduces nutrients unfavorable to some of the flora and fauna here.

Cinnabar Canyon Bog

Trampled peat

 


Copyright © Tim Messick 2017. All rights reserved.
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The Checklist: New 2017 Edition

I’ve made some corrections and additions to Plants of the Bodie Hills: an Annotated Checklist, based on some fieldwork and other research during 2016. CLICK HERE to visit the Downloads page. The January 2017 edition of the checklist is a 47-page, 5.1 mb PDF file. [UPDATE, January 16: A few more typos corrected. You may want to download again if you downloaded prior to 1-16-2017.]

Checklist Cover 2017

The Bodie Hills encompass about 417 square miles in northern Mono County, California, western Mineral County, Nevada, and southern-most Lyon County, Nevada. The checklist includes 679 taxa of vascular plants, of which 575 are definitely known to occur in the Bodie Hills and 104 others are considered likely to be present. The list includes 52 families of dicots, 15 families of monocots, and 8 families of vascular cryptogams.

Travertine Hot Springs

Travertine Hot Springs has extensive alkaline wet meadows and dry outcrops.

Cinnabar Canyon

Cinnabar Canyon contains pinyon-juniper woodland and an unusual wet meadow.

Bodie Mountain

Bodie Mountain supports high-altitude sagebrush scrub with lots of
cushion plants and several alpine species.

Bodie

Bodie is in the south-central Bodie Hills.

 


Copyright © Tim Messick 2017. All rights reserved.
DOWNLOAD THE CHECKLIST