Tag Archives: Mineral County

Mystery Plants in the Bodie Hills

I need your help—those of you who live somewhat close to the Bodie Hills. Three plants have yet to be identified there because they have not been seen up close, photographed clearly, or observed under the right conditions for identification. Since my home is a nearly 5-hour drive from their locations, I don’t know when I might be in the right places at the right times to identify these plants. So, I invite anyone who is interested to do a bit of “citizen science” botanical field work and post the observations on iNaturalist. Details follow.

Mystery Plant #1: An Aphyllon Near Aurora

This plant has been observed twice, in June 2021 and April 2022 at the base of a road cut along the road to Aurora (Mineral County, Nevada), about 0.85 mile south of the intersection with the road through Del Monte Canyon to Bodie (elevation about 6,400 feet). Both times the plants were well past flowering, dried out and crumbling to the point where critical features for identifying the species were no longer present.

When might these plants be in fresh, identifiable condition? Similar plants have been observed in Adobe Valley southeast of Mono Lake (Mono County, CA)(elevation about 6,500 feet). Plants in that area appear to have been in good condition during July. The plants in the photos above had probably flowered during the previous summer.

This plant is clearly in the genus Aphyllon (Broomrapes) of Orobanchaceae (Broomrape family). They are parasites. Lacking chlorophyll, they derive sugars and other nutrients needed for growth from the root systems of nearby shrubs, often sagebrush or rabbitbrush. The inflorescence emerges directly from the ground. It tends to be mostly purplish, yellowish, or brownish in color, with the corollas various combinations of purple, pink, yellow, and white. A taxonomic note: All Broomrapes in North America (about 17 species) were formerly in Orobanche, before that genus was split mid-Atlantic, with all the New World Broomrapes placed in genus Aphyllon and all Old World species remaining in Orobanche (see PhytoKeys 75: 107–118 for an explanation).

Our mystery plant also clearly has an elongate above-ground stem that bears flowers on short pedicels, as in Aphyllon parishii and several other species. In some other species the flowers emerge on much longer pedicels from a very short, below-ground stem—which is the case in two other species of Aphyllon found in the Bodie Hills: A. corymbosum and A. fasciculatum.

The Aphyllon observations in Adobe Valley have been difficult to identify and it’s been speculated (here and here) that an undescribed taxon may be lurking in that area. Could the Aphyllon near Aurora fit into this potentially new taxon also? Photographs showing details of flowers, bracts, and stem are needed.

Mystery Plant #2: A Silene Near Cow Camp Road

This plant is definitely in Caryophyllaceae (Pink family); I think it’s a Silene (because of the notched petals), maybe Silene nuda (Sticky catchfly). But in these photos that came to me by way of the Eastern Sierra Land Trust, from someone wanting to identify it, the image resolution is just a bit too low for a confident identification, so it needs to be revisited in the field. This was seen (in early August, 2019) in the central Bodie Hills, roughly mid-way between Cow Camp Road and Rough Creek, a little north of “Halfway Camp”, elevation about 7650 feet.

Another tall, perennial Silene reported to occur in the eastern Sierra is S. verecunda (San Francisco campion). In Silene nuda, the pedicel and calyx are glandular-puberulent to glandular-hairy. In Silene verecunda, the pedicel and calyx are puberulent (short-hairy), but not glandular. Photos of the plants should therefore include close-ups of the flower, calyx, and pedicel. Clear views of the basal and cauline leaves (showing shape, hairiness, and relative size) would be helpful as well.

The nearest collection of Silene nuda is in Douglas County near Topaz Lake. The species occurs in the northern Sierra Nevada—mostly north of Tahoe—to south-central and southeast Oregon, southern Idaho and across northern and central Nevada. If confirmed here, the Bodie Hills would be the southwestern-most known occurrence of Silene nuda.

A map of Silene nuda collections (sources: CCH2 and IRHN)

Mystery Plant #3. A Pine Near Millersville

High on a remote mountain slope 1.2 miles north-northwest of Potato Peak, above the head of a steep gully at 9,540 feet, and surrounded by thickets of mountain-mahogany, is a small stand of pines. But which one? I think they’re most likely Limber pines (Pinus flexilis), because that’s what occurs at a similar elevation on the north slope of Bodie Mountain, but Lodgepole pines (Pinus contorta subsp. murrayana) occur in scattered, mostly small stands in the central Bodie Hills too. A much closer look at these pines is needed, ideally documenting their overall appearance, the number of needles per fascicle, and the size and appearance of the cones.

Viewed from far down in Aurora Canyon, the details needed for a confident identification are not visible. This stand of pines is a little north of the site of Millersville (topic of an earlier post).

Copyright © Tim Messick 2023. All rights reserved.

Plants of the Bodie Hills, 2023 Edition

Plants of the Bodie Hills, January 2023 Edition, is now available on the Downloads page (a free PDF). As in previous years, the new edition contains additions, corrections, nomenclatural updates, and refinements to the keys. A key to genera in the grass family (Poaceae) has at last been added.

New additions to the flora this past year are:

  • Astragalus platytropis (Broad-keeled milkvetch)
  • Eatonella nivea (Woolly bonnets or White false tickhead)
  • Eriogonum cernuum (Nodding wild buckwheat)
  • Glossopetalon spinescens var. aridum (Spiny greasebush) (Crossosomataceae)
  • Polemonium occidentale ssp. occidentale (Western polemonium)
  • Sporobolus cryptandrus (Sand dropseed)

Plants that had been expected and were finally found in the Bodie Hills in 2022 were:

  • Arceuthobium divaricatum (Pinyon dwarf-mistletoe)
  • Chaenactis macrantha (Mojave pincushion)
  • Claytonia perfoliata ssp. intermontana (Miner’s lettuce)
  • Festuca octoflora (Sixweeks fescue)

Many of these finds were made not by me, but by others posting their observations to iNaturalist (thanks to all who do this!). All observations within the Bodie Hills can be seen 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. I highly recommend printing the 124 pages 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 a few plants I was pleased to see last year while roaming the Bodie Hills:

Cleomella hillmanii

Polemonium occidentale

Lomatium foeniculaceum

Stylocline psilocarphoides

Cymopterus globosus

Claytonia perfoliata

Amsinckiopsis kingii

Copyright © Tim Messick 2023. All rights reserved.

Spring 2022 Additions to the Bodie Hills Flora

The Nevada side of the Bodie Hills continues to be an area where species previously undocumented in the area are found. Already this spring, three flowering plants new to the flora have turned up. Two were found by avid botanical explorers who shared their observations on iNaturalist; a third by me.

Why on the Nevada side? Probably a combination of factors. The area has been relatively little explored botanically prior to the last decade. Many of the early collectors of plants in the Bodie Hills were from California and focused on the more accessible California side of the range. In the northern perimeter of the Bodie Hills, the elevation is lower, so that temperatures warm up earlier than most of the rest of the Bodie Hills, favoring, in many cases, a different set of plants. The geology is varied, as indicated by the many exposures of colorful (white to red or orange) soils.

In the northern Bodie Hills.

The three species new to the Bodie Hills flora so far this year (all in May 2022) are:

Eatonella nivea (Woolly bonnets or White false tickhead): This diminutive annual in the Sunflower family (Asteraceae) is the only species in its genus (https://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/eflora/eflora_display.php?tid=2511). This was encountered independently by separate visitors to shallow sandy washes near NF-028 in Lyon County, west of Red Wash Creek: Chloe and Trevor Van Loon (iNaturalist observation) and David Greenberger (iNaturalist observation).

Before the flower heads open, Eatonella is a small, densely hairy cluster of leaves and buds, and could be mistaken for a member of the Cudweed tribe (Gnaphalieae), which locally includes Stylocline psilocarphoides, Gnaphalium palustre, and Antennaria spp. When the tiny heads open and the small white ray flowers emerge, however, it becomes more obviously a member of the Tarweed tribe (Madieae). Other tarweeds in the Bodie Hills are Madia glomerata, Layia glandulosa, Eriophyllum lanatum, and Arnica spp.

Eatonella nivea © DavidGreenberger/iNaturalist
Eatonella nivea © Chloe and Trevor Van Loon/iNaturalist

Astragalus platytropis (Broad-keeled milkvetch): This member of the Pea family (Fabaceae) is in the mega-genus Astragalus, which includes 97 species in California, 156 species in the intermountain region, 380 species in North America, and more than 2,500 species worldwide (approximate numbers, not counting varieties).

It was found on Bald Peak (north of Beauty Peak, northeast of Dry Lakes Plateau), again by Chloe and Trevor Van Loon (iNaturalist observation). Broad-keeled milkvetch is well documented in the Sweetwater Mountains just north of here, south to the Charleston Mountains near Las Vegas, on high ranges across the Great Basin to western Utah and northern Nevada, central Idaho, southwest Montana, and even a site west of Cody, Wyoming (map). Nearly all occurrences appear to be on rocky hilltops and ridges, on open slopes and in forest openings at subalpine to alpine elevations, often on limestone (none of this in the Bodie Hills), but also on granitic or volcanic substrates. It’s on rhyolite at Bald Peak.

Astragalus platytropis © Chloe and Trevor Van Loon/iNaturalist
Astragalus platytropis © Chloe and Trevor Van Loon/iNaturalist

Glossopetalon spinescens var. aridum (Spiny greasebush): Glossopetalon is a genus of only about 5 species in a family that is also new to the Bodie Hills flora, Crossosomataceae. I encountered Glossopetalon spinescens unexpectedly near the summit of a hill I had not previously climbed (there are still many of these), east of The Elbow, overlooking the East Walker River (iNaturalist observation).

It’s a small, densely branched shrub, with sharp, thorny stem-tips. It lives in dry, rocky places, often on on limestone, but here on a volcanic ridge-top. At first glance, its appearance made me think of Menodora spinescens (Oleaceae), also present in this area, but the flowers were different, with much narrower petals, not fused into a tube.

Glossopetalon spinescens
Glossopetalon spinescens
Overlooking the East Walker River. South end of the Pine Grove Hills across the river at right; Sweetwater Mountains in the distance. Glossopetalon spinescens near the rocks at left.

Three other species have been confirmed in the Bodie Hills that were previously listed as “uncertain or unconfirmed status in the Bodie Hills,” i.e., species likely to be present, but not yet documented, or else reported decades ago, but needing confirmation: Chaenactis macrantha (Mojave pincushion), Arceuthobium divaricatum (Pinyon dwarf-mistletoe), and Festuca octoflora (Sixweeks fescue).

The Chaenactis (Asteraceae) is an annual with much larger flower heads than other pincushion species in the area. It was found in coarse alluvium along Red Wash Creek by Conor Moore (iNaturalist observation).

Chaenactis macrantha (photographed at Fort Churchill, NV)

The Arceuthobium (Viscaceae) is a parasite that occurs only on pinyon pines, though it is sometimes treated as part of Arceuthobium campylopodum (Western dwarf-mistletoe), which is common on Ponderosa and Jeffrey pines. It was found to be locally abundant in a stand of pinyons along the road from Fletcher to Aurora (iNaturalist observation).

Arceuthobium divaricatum

The Festuca (Poaceae, formerly in genus Vulpia) is an early-season annual grass found on the same hill as the Glossopetalon (iNaturalist observation), and likely to be common in rocky places around the northern and eastern margins of the Bodie Hills. It dries out and falls apart by early summer, though, so it’s easy to overlook in all but very early-season surveys.

Festuca octoflora

Are still other “new” species out there waiting to be added to the Bodie Hills flora? Almost certainly. Where and when might they be found? I would suggest looking in places that haven’t been thoroughly explored in the past, including the canyons and tributaries of Rough Creek (downstream from the Bodie-Masonic Road) and Bodie Creek (Del Monte Canyon), and the more remote peaks in the range, such as Bald Peak and Mount Hicks. I would also look anywhere with moist soil during the spring of increasingly infrequent “wet” years, after a good amount of winter snow and spring rain.

Bodie Creek in Del Monte Canyon.

Copyright © Tim Messick 2022. All rights reserved.