Tag Archives: Travertine Hot Springs

Juniper Galls in the Bodie Hills

Juniper galls

Back in May, while skittering down a slope of trachyandesitic scree near Travertine Hot Springs, I encountered a Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) with anomalous growths at the ends of a few branchlets. Having recently read up on some galls on oaks at Grover Hot Springs, and galls on sagebrush beside the East Walker River, I thought another wasp or midge might be at work here.

Who did this? Sources I’ve found on the internet suggest it’s a still undescribed species of Juniper gall midge (Walshomyia sp.). See CalPhotos for another image (and another). Gall midges are tiny flies (Order Diptera) in the family Cecidomyiidae, subfamily Cecidomyiinae. Walshomyia includes the Juniper urn gall midge (W. juniperina), whose gall I’ve seen on a juniper at Grover Hot Springs, and the Cypress gall midge (W. cupressi).

At a glance, I can’t tell if these galls are developing on the apical buds of branchlets or on the young seed cones of these trees (normal growth shown below).

Utah juniper fruits

Below: Juniper gall midge habitat on a hill between Travertine Hot Springs and Bridgeport Valley. Buckeye Canyon and Flatiron Ridge in the background.

Junipers on scree

Copyright © Tim Messick 2017. All rights reserved.


A Botanical Treasure Hunt

The Bodie Hills are well known for the mineral wealth extracted at several locations, especially Bodie Bluff. There are more riches in these hills than just gold and silver, however. Numerous plants occur in the Bodie Hills that are limited in distribution to relatively small areas of eastern California and western Nevada. Some of these are restricted to unusual soils or microenvironments. These plants have no known “uses” or monetary value to people, but they are treasured elements of the biological diversity of this area.

I recently joined some friends from the California Native Plant Society for a “Rare Plant Treasure Hunt” in the Bodie Hills. Our quest was to confirm the continued presence of some of these plants at previously documented locations in the Bodie Hills. It was late July, a time when many of the mustards, annuals, and other early-flowering plants had already dried up and broken apart, no longer identifiable to species. So we explored the higher elevations on Bodie Mountain and the perennially moist areas at Travertine Hot Springs.

Bodie Mountain

Bodie Mountain

On Bodie Mountain, one of our party was looking for Valeriana pubicarpa (Valerian), collected in this area (probably near where Geiger Grade crosses Rough Creek) by Annie Alexander and Louise Kellogg on July 2, 1945. It hasn’t been seen since, although the similar Valeriana californica is also in this area. The valerians had finished blooming for this year, though, and I didn’t see any.

Several other interesting, locally uncommon plants were doing well on the steep, rocky, northern slopes of Bodie Mountain. These slopes are colder, wetter habitats than the surrounding sagebrush, because they accumulate more snow during winter and thus have a longer, cooler spring season than the rest of the mountain. More about this another time, but one very characteristic plant of these areas is Heuchera parvifolia (Little-leaf alum-root).

Heuchera parvifolia

Heuchera parvifolia

Back in the day, these plants were recognized as a related, but separate species, Heuchera duranii, with a distribution limited to the White Mountains and other high ranges of the far western Great Basin. With more collecting throughout the Great Basin in recent decades, though, H. duranii has come to be considered within the geographical and morphological limits of H. parviflora, and H. duranii has faded into synonymy.

Heuchera parvifolia

Heuchera parvifolia

The next day we strolled around Travertine Hot Springs (see also the previous post), looking for Mentzelia torreyi (Torrey’s blazing star). The larger-flowered Mentzelias, the “blazing stars,” are summer-blooming plants, so late July was exactly the right time to be seeking this one.

Travertine Hot Springs

Biologists at Travertine Hot Springs

We found numerous small, widely scattered patches of M. torreyi. It seems to be doing well here, mostly undisturbed by visitors coming for a dip in the hot spring pools.

Mentzelia torreyi

Mentzelia torreyi

Mentzelia torreyi

Mentzelia torreyi

Torrey’s blazing star is known from several other locations in eastern California and at numerous locations across central and northern Nevada. Another variety (M. t. var. acerosa) occurs in southern Idaho.

The much taller, larger-flowered, more common and widespread Mentzelia laevicaulis (Giant or Smooth-stem blazing star) also occurs at Travertine Hot Springs, sometimes within yards of M. torreyi. But you will find it in other rocky and disturbed places, such as washes and road cuts, throughout the region.

Mentzelia laevicaulis

Mentzelia laevicaulis on a road cut north of Aurora

Mentzelia laevicaulis

Mentzelia laevicaulis at Travertine Hot Springs


Copyright © Tim Messick 2016. All rights reserved.

Dr. Munz at the Hot Springs

Travertine Hot Springs

A travertine ridge at Travertine Hot Springs (Sierra Nevada in the background).

Philip A. Munz (1892–1974) is a name well known to generations of California botanists. In the 1950s he collaborated with David Keck to write A California Flora, published in 1959 by the University of California Press. A decade later Munz compiled the Supplement to A California Flora (1968), and in 1973, U.C. Press published the combined volume A California Flora and Supplement. This is the 1,900-page book I carried with me on most of my plant collecting forays in the Bodie Hills, beginning in 1978. This is the book in which I keyed most of my collections for many years.

Munz visited the Bodie Hills several times from 1928 to 1960. He seems to have found Travertine Hot Springs, a mile southeast of Bridgeport,  an especially interesting place to collect. According to my geographic search of herbarium specimens using Calflora, he collected at Travertine Hot Springs on:

  • 21 May, 1947 (18 specimens)
  • 16 June 1949 (67 specimens)
  • 28 July 1950 (20 specimens)
  • 12 September 1960 (12 specimens)

He also collected 36 specimens in the Masonic Mountain area on 20 July, 1955, plus several more along Virginia Creek near the confluence with Clearwater Creek in June 1928 and May 1947.

Travertine Hot Springs

One of the wet meadow areas at Travertine Hot Springs.

Some of the plants Munz collected at Travertine Hot Springs more than a half-century ago have not been documented by subsequent visitors to the area (including me, during my 1978-81 visits), as far as I can determine from my searches of herbarium databases. I doubt the plants have gone away—but to find them—especially the annuals—you need to be in the right place at the right time during a favorable year, and you need to be looking and paying attention. Most visitors to Travertine are focused on taking dip in the springs. Still, it would be great to confirm the continued presence of the plants Munz found here.

So here’s a challenge for interested field botanists: Before or after immersing yourself in a pool of hot water, look for the following plants at Travertine Hot Springs, note their location, and please let me know if you find them:

ASTERACEAE: Crepis runcinata subsp. hallii (Hall’s meadow hawksbeard), “Wet alkaline flats and meadows.”
BORAGINACEAE: Cryptantha gracilis (Slender cryptantha), “On disintegrated travertine.”
BORAGINACEAE: Cryptantha scoparia (Gray cryptantha), “Abundant in dry loose disintegrated travertine.”
PLANTAGINACEAE: Antirrhinum kingii (King’s snapdragon), “Abundant in dry loose disintegrated travertine; pinyon-juniper woodland.”
POLEMONIACEAE: Aliciella humillima (Smallest aliciella), “Abundant in dry loose disintegrated travertine; pinyon-juniper woodland.”
POLEMONIACEAE: Aliciella leptomeria (Sand aliciella), “Hot springs, in dry loose disintegrated travertine, pinyon-juniper woodland.”
POLEMONIACEAE: Gilia ophthalmoides (Eyed gilia), “loose dry disintegrated travertine.”
POLEMONIACEAE: Ipomopsis polycladon (Branching gilia), “Disintegrated travertine.”
POLYGONACEAE: Eriogonum hookeri (Hooker’s buckwheat), “Infrequent annual on sunny, dry, loose, alkaline soil.”
POLYGONACEAE: Eriogonum ovalifolium var. purpureum (Purple cushion wild buckwheat), “Crevices in travertine deposit.”

ALLIACEAE: Allium atrorubens var. cristatum (Crested onion, Inyo onion), “Dry volcanic heavy soil, wet in early season.”
LILIACEAE: Calochortus excavatus (Inyo County star tulip), “Infrequent on dry disintegrated travertine. More common in nearby volcanic soil.”
POACEAE: Elymus multisetus (Big squirreltail), “along foot of travertine ridge.”

On a recent visit to Travertine Hot Springs (early June 2016), I did run into a population of  Symphoricarpos longiflorus (Desert snowberry), collected here by Munz in 1949. Here it is, along with some of the other cool plants I saw during the same visit:

Symphoricarpos longiflorus

Symphoricarpos longiflorus (Desert snowberry)

Symphoricarpos longiflorus

Another Symphoricarpos longiflorus with paler corollas

Penstemon speciosus

Penstemon speciosus (Showy penstemon)

Packera multilobata

Packera multilobata (Lobeleaf groundsel)

Cleomella parviflora

Cleomella parviflora (Slender cleomella)

Minuartia nuttallii

Minuartia nuttallii var. gracilis (Nuttall’s sandwort)

Triglochin maritima

Triglochin maritima (Common arrow-grass)


Copyright © Tim Messick 2016. All rights reserved.