Monday, March 25, 2013

Advisor knows best

Not even a week from my last visit and I was back in the Scodies. I was in the Scodies on Monday and ventured back on Saturday.

Another Gilla, with Mentzelia, Bromus, Erodium and Muilla(?)
I'm noticing an interesting pattern in the flower timing in the Southern Sierra.
Last Monday we were in Kern Canyon, near Hospital Flat Campground and we noticed hardly anything flowering. That same day we went to my study site and a couple of species (about four) were flowering. THEN on Saturday we visited my study site and a couple more species were blooming. The same day we ventured back to Kern Canyon near the same campground and the flowers in the canyon were going (semi) crazy.

Therefore, I hypothesize the Scodies will be in better flowering condition in two weeks.
a) Due to warmer weather in the coming weeks
b) Flowering time is late due to little rainfall
These drainages are prime habitat for annuals
c) Flowering time is moving from north to south, from west to east

However, that is not to say that there are not interesting flowers right now in the Kiavah Wilderness. I found a cute little Lepidium and Allophyllum. Dr. Mark Porter (the Polemoniaceae expert) thought that the Allophyllum collection is very interesting due to phenotypic plasticity. The Allophyllum was not more than an inch tall.  I don't have a picture of the Allophyllum because my camera was not cooperating with me due to a dying battery. Next time before going out to the field I'll make sure the camera battery is charged.

There are many seedlings all over the Kiavah Wilderness. Some need more time and others are starting to fruit. From this trip I found that the annuals are flowing in the 4000ft-5200ft elevation range. Anything below 4000ft and the plants are crispy and stressed. Above 5500ft and new sprouts are taking root.

At 5500 ft under a Pinyon forest canopy. What could theses be!?
I can't wait to find out.
My Advisor, Dr. Travis Columbus, was right about me worrying over my site. I was stressing out over nothing. Eventually the plants will do their thing in the next couple of weeks. The plants are late bloomers this year. Boy was he right. The annuals are starting their engines...slowly.
I'm still waiting for the Joshua Trees to open their flowers (any day now) and the Junipers are fruiting in full force. In a place where little rain has fallen, the driest air I have every experienced and brightst blue skies, it really is a an amazing place to study and be a part of.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lets not give up so easily

Today I briefly visited my study site today to check in on some seedlings and to scout Scodie Canyon. With this trip comes some lessons learned.

1. Spring has sprung or is just beginning to.

  • Seedlings are starting to flower. Not many, but some (see pictures below). Erodium and Bromus tectorum are getting their start. Some perennial shrubs are also starting to send out new growth. The most spectacular thing I noticed was the Joshua Trees are going to bloom (I didn't photograph those, but the inflorescences are budding). 

2. Scodie Canyon is not easily accessible, nor is Cap Canyon.

  • These canyons are fenced off and managed by California Fish and Wildlife. I will need to contact CFW and figure out how to get access to these canyons. They are ecological reserves, wildlife corridors, set up in 2005. A new obstacle to overcome. 

Perennial starting to bud.

Blue Army men scattered among Erodium seedlings.

The Blue Army men in their natural habitat.

This is where we found the Army men and a little yellow flower.

The little yellow flower. I'm pretty sure it is a weed, but it is the first annual of my study.
(Annotation: 3.27.2013 Not a weed! Tropidiocarpum gracile )

Ventured back to my 4x4 road to explore it again.

Gilia! Found these and more of it in decomposed granite.

Coreopsis, also in decomposed granite. 
I also picked up an Amsinkia and Lupinus at the site where I found the Gila and Coreopsis. These plants were all rather small and sparsely scattered. From the looks of it there will be a Phacelia blooming soon. I am really excited to have found these flowers, especially since my first trip was void of flowers. I cannot wait to see what else the Scodies have to offer.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Lock and load
This week my field supplies arrived. I think I might have been over zealous purchasing three Rite in the Rain notebooks, since it appears my entire flora will fit on one page. This past Friday, March 8th 2013, my study site actually received some precipitation! Hopefully this event will spark some germination and life into the Kiavah Wilderness.
The soil knife is somewhat like a field sword, I literally cannot wait to break ground with it.
Why the bright colors? The better to see my gear. There is a natural tendency to forget gear in the field. Especially during a lunch-break or collecting event.
Its time to break-in the field press!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Got water?

This weekend I visited my study site in search of plants. Combing through the desert I searched high and low. To my surprise I found one plant in bloom. I won't give away the species just yet. 

This trip was more of an exploratory trip but I was also in search of annuals doing their thing. I loaded the Tacoma with all my gear, a field assistant and high hopes. On Saturday, we left the Claremont area around 7:30 a.m. and reached Walker Pass, Highway 178, around 10:30 a.m. It was an amazing clear day. Minimal cloud cover, blue skies and the temperature was just right.
I wanted to explore Horse Canyon, the only canyon with a road which leads to the top of the plateau. In order to get to the canyon one must first traverse across the desert floor, zigzagging along spiderwebbing dirt roads to reach the base of the Scodie Mountains. I successfully accomplished navigating to the road of interest by using (dare I say it?) my iPhone.

Something is missing here.... 

Well, this is the sad part of my adventure. (Annotation: 3.27.2013 Not sad, just early)

As we began our off-road adventure the first thing we noticed was not a single flower in sight. We thought for sure we would see some seedlings, but instead we saw dry, crispy, gray, sad looking shrubs. We figured it was a terrible rain year for the desert and as we gained elevation we would certainly see some green life. As we drove through a Joshua tree woodland, switchbacked along south facing exposed slopes and reached the summit, we saw only ONE plant in bloom. I was S-H-O-C-K-E-D, shocked! Certainly there had to be other plants. Ok, well, there were, but they were in small localized patches (about two patches total) and in their first true leaf phase of life. There was a nice patch of Allium beginning to send their first leaves up and some Phacelia seedlings too. Looks like I have some time on my hands and I'll need to wait it out.

At the summit of the ridge we parked the truck and walked around. We hopped around a rock outcrop, saw some sad looking Eriogonum shrubs and walked a short distance on the Pacific Crest Trail. No signs of flowers anywhere. It is probably too cold at the top. There was some residual snow drifts along the trail and road. Maybe in a month some seeds will be stimulated by the little moisture up there.
At the top of the ridge, facing south.

The Pacific Crest Trail, remnants of snow

The one species in bloom was Lomatium mohavensis. We found this population at the base of the switchbacks on Horse Canyon road. I took the field data and my field assistant dug over a foot deep into the earth to get the entire plant. He gracefully gave up when he found out that the root just kept going and going, so he snapped it out of the ground. The thick woody taproot was extraordinary! I can see why this is the only plant brave enough to face the cruel desert environment. Oh yeah, the Allium is also pretty tough too! (Annotation 3.27.2013 I believe it is a Muilla. No flowers yet though). My floristic study is sounding more like a stew study, carrots and onions, thats what I have so far, carrots and onions.
About an inch above ground. In the background a grass seedling and in the 
far back Allium (sea foam green color). (Annotation: Muilla?)

An amazing starchy storage taproot. Go Lomatium!
Chul, digging and digging

After we made this collection we headed to the backside of the Scodies to see if the north exposures were in better shape. As we drove around the backside, along highway 178, the outlook was the same. Nothing in bloom. I did manage to earn my 4x4 badge of honor on this trip. With Chul's expert advice he helped coach me through what he called, "a baby 4x4 road." We did notice some Lupinus seedlings but they definitely need more time.

The backside of the range, with clouds moving in 
We ventured through Kelso Valley and noticed that the hillsides of the Scodies were just as crispy and yellow as the south. Again, nothing! We drove along SC120, a neat trail that crosses Pinyon Creek wash, we thought we would see something flowering in the wash, but unfortunately we didn't see a single seedling. 
When you don't even see an Erodium, Bromus or Brassica anywhere in sight, you know it is a bad year.(Annotation: 3.27.2012 It was really early. These weedy species are now flowering)