Tag Archives: Natural History

Botanizing the Bodie Hills

A rainy day at Bodie

A rainy day at Bodie

Earlier this year I was asked to contribute an article for the Bodie Hills Conservation Partnership newsletter and web site on Botany in the Bodie Hills. That was a tightly edited version for a general audience. Here, for the intrepid reader, is a slightly longer version with more details (and more photos).

The early months of 2019 were uncommonly wet in the Bodie Hills, so the soils were saturated, the creeks were flowing, and the seasonal “dry lakes” contained standing water. Years like this are especially good for exploring plant life in the Bodie Hills. At least 640 (possibly as many as 750) different species and varieties of plants occur in the Bodie Hills. This impressive diversity is due in large part to the variety of habitats and plant communities and other environmental gradients across the area.

Eriogonum on a hill south of Bodie

Eriogonum caespitosum on a hill south of Bodie

Most of the range is clothed in sagebrush scrub (dominated by Artemisia tridentata) and pinyon-juniper woodland (Pinus monophylla and Juniperus osteosperma). These plant communities contain much more plant diversity than is apparent at first glance. Moisture and temperature gradients from the west to east sides of the range and from low to high elevations contribute to this diversity.

The western slope and central highlands of the Bodie Hills (facing Bridgeport Valley and the Sierra Nevada) are home to many plants that are common in the Eastern Sierra region. Among these you will find perennials like antelope brush (Purshia tridentata), desert peach (Prunus andersonii), spiny hopsage (Grayia spinosa), snowberry (Symphoricarpos rotundifolius), desert paintbrush (Castilleja chromosa), sulfur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum), Great Basin wild-buckwheat (E. microthecum), several kinds of milkvetch or locoweed (Astragalus spp.), and others. There are native perennial grasses such as squirreltail (Elymus elymoides), sand ricegrass (Stipa hymenoides), Great Basin wild-rye (Elymus cinereus), several kinds of bluegrass (Poa spp.), and others. In spring and early summer you will see annuals including the bright yellow Brewer’s navarretia (Navarretia breweri), pale blue Wilcox’s woollystar (Eriastrum wilcoxii), and several white-flowered cryptanthas (Cryptantha spp.), and many annual wild-buckwheats (Eriogonum spp.).

Morning in Bridgeport Canyon

Morning in Bridgeport Canyon:
sagebrush scrub and pinyon-juniper woodland

The lower east and north slopes of the Bodie Hills (on the Nevada side, facing the Pine Grove Hills, Fletcher Valley, and Wassuk Range) is home to many other plants associated with desert floras of the Great Basin and northern Mojave. The woody ones include winter fat (Krascheninnikovia lanata), three kinds of saltbush (Atriplex spp.), Nevada ephedra (Ephedra nevadensis), Bailey’s greasewood (Sarcobatus baileyi), budsage (Artemisia spinescens), spiney horsebrush (Tetradymia spinosa), and others. Herbaceous wildflowers in this category include globose springparsley (Cymopterus globosus), Nevada suncup (Eremothera nevadensis), shortstem lupine (Lupinus brevicaulis), and the small but spectacular ground nama (Nama aretioides).

North side of the Bodie Hills, Road NF 128

Low on the north side of the Bodie Hills, on road NF 128

From the “Elbow” bend of the East Walker River to Potato Peak in the center of the Bodie Hills, elevations range from about 5,600 to over 10,200 feet above sea level. Heat intensity and length of growing season vary a lot over these 4,600 feet, so the shoulders and summits of the highest peaks support plants you might not expect to find in the Bodie Hills. Above about 9,800 feet on Bodie Mountain and Potato Peak you will find sub-alpine and alpine plants more commonly seen in the high Sierra Nevada. These include bush cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa), Eschscholtz’s buttercup (Ranunculus eschscholtzii var. oxynotus), mountain sorrel (Oxyria digyna), alpine hulsea (Hulsea algida), and Brewer’s draba (Draba breweri). A few of the highest peaks (Bodie Mountain, East Brawley Peak, and Mt. Hicks) also support small stands of limber pine (Pinus flexilis).

East Walker River at The Elbow

East Walker River at The Elbow (elev. 5,600 ft)

Potato Peak from the north side of Bodie Mountain

Potato Peak (elev. 10,237 ft) from the north side of Bodie Mountain

Snow accumulation sites are common on the steep north and east slopes of peaks and ridges. These areas tend to have sandier soils, extra spring moisture, and shorter growing seasons. At mid-elevations these are often where you find groves of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides). At higher elevations (as along the Bodie-Masonic Road), these places may support small stands of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) and other plants less common in the surrounding sagebrush, like dwarf lupine (Lupinus lepidus) and Parry’s goldenbush (Ericameria parryi).

A snow accumulation site

Lots of lupines in a snow accumulation site north of Potato Peak

Aquatic plants have limited opportunities to thrive in the Bodie Hills, and in dry years they may not be able to grow at all. In wet years, at places like Dry Lakes Plateau and Chemung Lake (on the northwest side of Masonic Mountain), spikerush (Eleocharis macrostachya) will be standing a few feet tall in the shallow water. Water mudwort (Limosella aquatica) and the tiny smallflower gymnosteris (Gymnosteris parvula) may be abundant around the receding shorelines. As the soil dries out, the bright yellow flowers of tansy-leaf evening primrose (Taraxia tanacetifolia) will light up the lake beds, which may be visible from miles away.

Throughout the Bodie Hills are creeks, springs, and meadows where greater moisture and richer soils provide habitat for plants that need to keep their feet wet. These include many different sedges, grasses and rushes. Common shrubs along creeks and around springs include several different willows (but mostly narrow-leaf or coyote willow, Salix exigua), Woods rose (Rosa woodsii), aspens (Populus tremuloides) and occasionally buffalo berry (Shepherdia argentea). Clearwater Creek and Mormon Meadow, both along the paved highway to Bodie, are good places to explore these habitats.

Mormon Meadow

Mormon Meadow (before the sheep move in)

Additional plant diversity is made possible by variations in geology throughout the area. For example, Travertine Hot Springs, a BLM Area of Critical Environmental Concern just east of Bridgeport, has extensive wet, alkaline soils and crumbling travertine crusts that support plants uncommon or absent elsewhere in the Bodie Hills. Older sites of ancient hydrothermal (hot spring) activity have altered soils (often white or yellow in color) that absorb more water and support isolated patches of Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi).

Travertine Hot Springs

Arrowgrass (Triglochin) at Travertine Hot Springs

High on Masonic Mountain, which is mostly granitic, you will find a spike-moss (Selaginella watsonii) and Torrey’s milkvetch (Astragalus calycosus) which are common on high Sierran granites, but rare in the Bodie Hills. Chalky white Miocene lakebed deposits are exposed several places in the eastern Bodie Hills, north of Aurora. At least one uncommon species of wild-buckwheat (Eriogonum alexanderae) is found only on these soils.

Masonic Mointain

On Masonic Mountain, looking toward the summit

But listing and naming these plants can’t possibly convey the delight of finding them in the field. So, during your next visit to the Bodie Hills, make an extra stop or two at a meadow, hilltop, aspen grove, or any bright splash of color in the sagebrush, and see how many different plants, flower colors, and growth forms you can find. Notice the insects that visit them and the geology under foot.

You can download the free PDF annotated checklist of plants in the Bodie Hills HERE. To see what plants and wildlife other people are observing throughout the Bodie Hills, visit www.inaturalist.org/places/bodie-hills.

Mt Biedeman and aspens

Mt. Biedeman and a grove of aspens


Copyright © Tim Messick 2019. All rights reserved.
DOWNLOAD THE CHECKLIST

Plants of the Bodie Hills Checklist: January 2018 Edition

I’ve made a bunch more corrections and additions to Plants of the Bodie Hills: an Annotated Checklist, based on fieldwork and other research during 2017. CLICK HERE to visit the Downloads page. The January 2018 edition of the checklist is a 50-page, 8.1 mb PDF file.

The Bodie Hills encompass about 417 square miles in northern Mono County, California, western Mineral County, Nevada, and southern-most Lyon County, Nevada. This checklist now includes 701 taxa (species, subspecies, or varieties). Of these, 593 are definitely known to occur in the Bodie Hills and 108 are of uncertain status in the area (quite possibly present, but not yet confirmed). Altogether, there are 558 dicots (in 53 families), 130 monocots (in 15 families), and 13 vascular cryptogams (in 8 families).

Some places in the Bodie Hills worth visiting:

Chemung Lake

Chemung Lake, Chemung Mine, and Masonic Mountain

Upper end of Mormon Meadow

The upper end of Mormon Meadow

East Side of the Bodie Hills

The northeastern Bodie Hills, along the Sweetwater-Aurora Road

Road to Aurora

The road to Aurora

Bridgeport Canyon

Bridgeport Canyon

Mt Biedeman and storm

Mt. Biedeman from the road to Bodie

 


Copyright © Tim Messick 2018. All rights reserved.
DOWNLOAD THE CHECKLIST

Fun with iNaturalist

I’ve started uploading some observations of plants and occasional other critters to iNaturalist.org. iNaturalist is a project of the California Academy of Sciences that serves as an on-line place “where you can record what you see in nature, meet other nature lovers, and learn about the natural world”.

For me, iNaturalist is one more place (aside from the Consortium of California Herbaria, Intermountain Regional Herbarium Network, and CalFlora) where I can see what others are finding in the Bodie Hills, Hot Springs Valley, and other places I like to visit. It’s also a way to get acquainted with some invertebrates and other organisms that I don’t have the training to identify easily myself. You can also help other people identify what they’ve observed, ask for help identifying some of your observations, create “Places” (like the Bodie Hills) as geographic filters for lists of observations, and follow or communicate with other observers. There’s also an app that lets you record observations in the field.

There are a few drawbacks — photos don’t always capture the characters needed for accurate identification, and an observation may get labeled “research grade” even if two people agree on the same identification that happens to be incorrect. On the whole, though, the community of observers (a mix of amateurs and professionals) seems to get things right, providing a useful and user-friendly addition to the knowledge-base on biodiversity.

The project is still young and it will be interesting to watch it grow in the years ahead. iNaturalist began as a student’s final project in the UC Berkeley School of Information in 2008. It was acquired by Cal Academy in 2014 and has a small staff supporting the project. Do you have photos of identifiable biota in Mono County or anywhere else in the world? Share them on iNaturalist!

 


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