Tag Archives: Mono 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 Receding Shorelines

Shoreline habitats around water bodies with fluctuating water levels present challenging conditions for most plants. Such habitats occur along the shores and in the shallows of man-made reservoirs and natural depressions containing seasonal lakes. These habitats may be either dry and exposed for several years in succession during periods of drought, or continuously inundated during periods of above average precipitation.

Exposed lakebed on Dry Lakes Plateau

Some plants readily tolerate annual cycles of inundation and exposure, but fewer can thrive where there is both multi-year dewatering and multi-year inundation. Examples of such habitats in northern Mono County include the natural shallow seasonal lakes on Dry Lakes Plateau, and the shallows of Bridgeport Reservoir and Grant Lake Reservoir.

Surprisingly, some plants actually thrive in receding shoreline habitats, both natural and artificial. Some are annuals, some are perennials, some are native, some are introduced. They are most prevalent where the ground is nearly level or sloping only gradually; steeper slopes tend to be eroded, with thinner, less favorable substrates. The following highlights several species I’ve seen flourishing in these habitats during the recent series of drought years.

Taraxia tanacetifolia (Tansy-leaf evening primrose) can be the most abundant and colorful plant in receding shoreline habitats. In low-water years it creates a spectacular carpet of yellow across the exposed eastern shallows of Bridgeport Reservoir. Similar displays can occur across the beds of both seasonal lakes on Dry Lakes Plateau. These carpets of yellow can be seen from miles away.

Exposed lakebed at Bridgeport Reservoir

Tansy-leaf evening primrose is a stemless, taprooted perennial with leaves that are deeply and irregularly pinnately lobed, 4 petals up to an inch long that open bright yellow and fade to orange, and a capitate stigma that extends beyond the 8 anthers. It looks a lot like Oenothera flava, but Oenothera flowers have a prominently 4-branched stigma.

Potentilla rivalis (Brook cinquefoil) can be abundant too, but not necessarily together with the Taraxia, and its yellow flowers are much smaller and less showy. It can, nevertheless, form a patchy to dense groundcover in strands along the east shore of Bridgeport Reservoir and on shallow flats near the south end of Grant Lake Reservoir. This is a widespread species, found in many ecoregions and in a variety of habitats across western and central North America. It isn’t restricted to receding shoreline habitats, but it’s well adapted to be very successful in some such areas.

Brook cinquefoil is an annual or biennial with ascending stems. Its leaves are palmate with 3–5 leaflets; it has open, branching (cymose) inflorescence with many flowers, but tiny petals barely 2 mm long. It is a prolific seed producer, and you are likely to see uncountable thousands of these tiny achenes scattered on the ground among the plants.

Potentilla newberryi (Newberry’s cinquefoil) is known mostly from the shallows and shorelines of natural seasonal lakes in northeastern California (Modoc Plateau), south-central Oregon, and northwestern Nevada. It’s been collected in west-central Nevada from Silver Lake in Washoe County south to a pond in the Pine Nut Mountains in Douglas County. In 2021 it was discovered along the sandy/gravelly eastern shore of Bridgeport Reservoir, with additional observations there in 2022. Also in 2022 it was found on the south shore of Lake Tahoe.

When flowering, this plant is clearly Potentilla-like (though it was originally described as an Ivesia), with pinnately compound leaves and prostrate to decumbent stems, and is unusual among cinquefoils of our region in having white petals.

Verbena bracteata (Bigbract verbena) looks unlike anything else in this area, with its many narrow-triangular, hairy bracts along many-flowered spikes on long, lax stems. This is another widespread (mostly western) North American native, usually found at pond or lake margins or other open, disturbed places. These photos show it at the south end of Grant Lake Reservoir.

Persicaria amphibia (Water smartweed) flourishes during periods of shallow inundation rather than drought, but clearly it survives the dry periods easily. These photos show it rooted in a sandy beach at Bridgeport Reservoir. When the water is high, this site is a few feet under water. When inundated, the plants have several ovate-elliptic leaves floating on the surface, and a terminal spike of bright pink flowers.

Artemisia biennis (Biennial wormwood) occurs in moist, disturbed sites across much of North America. It’s locally common in sandy soils at Bridgeport Reservoir, especially north of the boat launch at Ramp Road. The Flora of North America considers Artemisia biennis to be native in the northwestern United States and possibly introduced in other parts of its range; it is introduced in Europe.

The above is far from being an all-inclusive list of plants that can be found in these habitats. The list will vary from one lake or reservoir to another, depending on a variety of factors. The take-away for me, after looking at Bridgeport and Grant Lake Reservoirs particularly, is that the vegetation of receding shoreline habitats is not all weedy—some interesting and unexpected native plants are likely to be found there too.

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.