Tag Archives: Nevada

A Guide to Plants of Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park

Cover for Plants of Berlin Ichthyosaur State Park

EARLIER THIS YEAR I posted a preliminary checklist of plants in and around Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in northwestern Nye County, Nevada. I’ve expanded that list so that it’s now the first edition of a “guide” to the flora there. It’s intended to help visitors who are curious about plant life in the area recognize some of the rich biodiversity of this park and the central Great Basin region. This is a free PDF you can obtain from my Downloads page.

Native and naturalized plant species are listed by major taxonomic group (Gymnosperms, Dicots, and Monocots), then alphabetically by family and species. Each plant is described very briefly with regard to its habitat and/or location in the park, plus a few prominent identifying characteristics. I also prepared a new map of the area, derived from USGS topographic quadrangles (edited in Adobe Illustrator, with Avenza MAPublisher). Sorry, no illustrations yet. . . perhaps in a future edition.

This is still a work in progress. Some identifications may be incorrect and some are uncertain for plants that should keyed again with better flowering or fruiting material. Additional plants not yet included are to be expected, especially among the grasses and the annual dicots. (Please let me know if you have additions or corrections!)

Penstemon sp.

Penstemon sp.

Not surprisingly, the genus genus Astragalus (Milkvetches or Locoweeds) appears to be the most diverse genus in the area, with at least 7 species. Penstemon (Beardtongues) and Eriogonum (Wild-buckwheats) come in a close second, with at least 5 species in each. The largest plant families include Asteraceae (Sunflower family) with at least 20 species, Brassicaceae (Mustard family) with at least 13 species, and Fabaceae (Pea family) with at least 11 species.

Astragalus newberryi

Stanleya pinnata

Stanleya pinnata

Sources for this list include my own field observations during 2018–2020, observations posted by others on iNaturalist, and specimen records in the Intermountain Regional Herbarium Network. Photographs of the plants, lichens, insect galls, and animals that I and others have observed in the area can be seen on iNaturalist, at https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=129800&subview=grid.

Map of Berlin-Ichthyosaur area


Copyright © Tim Messick 2020. All rights reserved. DOWNLOADS

Plants of Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park: a Preliminary Checklist

Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park

Looking west from Berlin (Ione Valley and the Paradise Range)

Over the last couple of springs and summers I’ve made an effort to become more familiar with the flora of the central and western Great Basin, east of Mono County and the Bodie Hills. Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, in northwestern Nye County, has become a favorite destination. Searching the internet for information about the flora of this area turned up very little, so that was reason enough to focus on compiling an initial catalog of plant life in this very pleasant and remote unit of the Nevada State Parks.

Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park

Trail near the campground

Berlin-Ichthyosaur sits at about the 7,000-foot elevation on the west slope of the Shoshone Range, overlooking Ione Valley. The park features the remains of Berlin (a mining town active from about 1863 to 1911), a large fossil shelter housing in-situ fossilized remains of several Ichthyosaurs (the Nevada state fossil), a campground, several trails, quiet solitude, and much plant and animal life to explore.

Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park

Were it not for the pandemic, I would be there again this month, looking for additions and corrections to my list. Later this year, I hope. For now, though, there’s enough in the list to make it worth sharing as a first-draft work-in-progress. I hope readers will find it interesting, take it as a challenge to find more species, and contact me with corrections, additions, or comments. You can find this first edition (a 2-page PDF) and any subsequent revisions on my Downloads page.

Photographs of many of the plants in this list (and a few other life forms) can be found here, on iNaturalist.

Calochortus bruneaunis

Calochortus bruneaunis

Astragalus newberryi

Astragalus newberryi

Penstemon kingii

Penstemon kingii

Along the Richmond Canyon Trail

Along the Richmond Canyon Trail

Astragalus calycosus

Astragalus calycosus

Physaria chambersii

Physaria chambersii (in flower)

Physaria chambersii

Physaria chambersii (in fruit)

West Union Canyon and Buffalo Mountain

West Union Canyon and Buffalo Mountain


Copyright © Tim Messick 2020. All rights reserved.
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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.
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