Tag Archives: Nevada

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.

Carsonia at Tonopah Junction

I’ve posted previously on visiting the low sand dunes at Tonopah Junction in Mineral County, near Rhodes Marsh. Sarcobatus vermiculatus (Greasewood) and Suaeda nigra (Bush seepweed) dominate the vegetation here, largely stabilizing the dunes. I visited again this month (May 2022) and was greeted with a spectacular display of Carsonia sparsifolia (Fewleaf spiderflower or Naked spiderflower). Carsonia is a monotypic genus (just one species) in the Spiderflower family, Cleomaceae, although Carsonia was originally placed in the closely related genus Cleome.

Carsonia flowers have 4 green sepals, 4 yellow recurved petals, and 6 exserted stamens. Fruits are slender and generally borne on an elongated gynophore (a basal stalk that extends the ovary and fruit beyond the receptacle where sepals and petals are attached). Leaves are usually palmately compound, often trifoliolate (with 3 leaflets), with a short, orange-yellowish petiole-like stalk (a petiolule) at the base of each leaflet. The uppermost leaves are often simple, looking like a single leaflet.

Within its range, Carsonia most resembles several species of Cleomella and Peritoma that have similar yellow flowers and trifoliolate leaves. Cleomella fruits are short (up to 6 mm long) and may be nearly as wide; Carsonia fruits are longer (15–45 mm) and thin (1–3 mm). Peritoma has a dense, many-flowered inflorescence; Carsonia has a very open, relatively few-flowered inflorescence.

Carsonia in the foreground, Pilot Peak in the background.

As you can tell from these photos, Carsonia inhabits sand dunes, as well as sandy areas on alkaline lake margins. Carsonia has been collected throughout the western Great Basin, from Owens Lake and Ash Meadows north to the Black Rock Desert and Winnemucca, and from Carson Valley east to Railroad Valley and Sand Spring Valley. This population at Tonopah Junction has been previously documented in herbarium collections, but not on iNaturalist.

Does Carsonia occur in the Bodie Hills? Probably not, but it has been seen around the northeast side of Mono Lake.

Also flowering here this time of year: Oenothera deltoides ssp. piperi (Birdcage Evening Primrose).

Oenothera deltoides ssp. piperi (Birdcage Evening Primrose)

Copyright © Tim Messick 2022. All rights reserved.

Botanizing Tonopah Junction

Tonopah Junction simmers in the summer heat of the vast and nearly uninhabited Soda Spring Valley in Mineral County, Nevada. In the southern, lowest part of the valley lies the crusty and mostly glaring-white bed of Rhodes Marsh, which is itself a remnant of Pleistocene Lake Rhodes. US Highway 95 skirts the lake bed, a little north of half-way from Hawthorne to Tonopah.

So, why botanize here? Twice this year I’ve stopped near the intersection of US-95 and NV-360, curious to look at the sand dunes southwest of Rhodes Marsh to see if Dune horsebrush (Tetradymia tetrameres) or other interesting dune endemics might be found here. Neither early April nor late August were botanically optimal times to visit. June might be the time to find the greatest number of plants in bloom.

Greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus). Smoke from fires in the Sierra Nevada are obscuring the Candelaria Hills.

This is not a tall, impressive dune system, though it covers about 1.5 square miles. The dunes are all low and stabilized by vegetation. In spite of (or maybe because of) these characteristics, such dunes can provide habitat for some interesting plants (and invertebrates). The dunes near Tonopah Junction are all anchored beneath greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus); many also have Bush seepweed (Suaeda nigra) on their sides or in swales between the dunes. I believe I saw one Naked spiderflower (Carsonia sparsifolia) seedling in April, but it was far from flowering yet. I would expect to find Nevada wormwood (Euphrosyne nevadensis) here during the summer. In late August, an acre or more of the distinctive skeleton-like remains of Dune evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides) was seen. I’ve yet to find Dune horsebrush there, but remain hopeful.

Bush seepweed (Suaeda nigra)
Bush seepweed (Suaeda nigra)
Dune evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides)
Dune evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides)

Nothing is left of the historic Carson and Colorado Railway and station at Tonopah Junction apart from an eroded roadbed and some debris. The only attraction left here is the ruin of an old stone house, now sadly filled with trash and defaced by graffiti. This was apparently part of Sully’s Tourist Camp, started by C.E. “Sully” Sullivan of Hawthorne in 1937. It looks as though the project was never completed—which is sad, because I think this would be a delightful place to rent a rustic cabin, tepee, or yurt for a few days. There’s hardly any information about Sully’s on the internet, but Tami, at the the Gouge Eye Chronicle blog, has unearthed a few details.

Sully’s Tourist Camp at Tonopah Junction
Sully’s Tourist Camp at Tonopah Junction
Sully’s Tourist Camp at Tonopah Junction

Anyone looking to make useful contributions to the documentation of biodiversity in the Great Basin on iNaturalist might consider an expedition to Rhodes Marsh, Teels Marsh (in the next valley to the west), and the surrounding hills. Very few observations or collections have been made in this area.

Tonopah Junction and Sully’s Tourist Camp (Source: Google Earth, 2021)
Other-worldly patterns in Rhodes Salt Marsh (Source: Google Earth, 2021)

Copyright © Tim Messick 2021. All rights reserved.