Thursday, March 27, 2014

Weekend Warriors

Thursday, March 20th- 23rd, 2014, will be a field trip for the memory bank.

It was a trip chocked-full of collecting. Sarah De Groot, a recent PhD graduate, assisted me in the field for three fun-filled days. There was so much to see and collect. The wildflowers were going crazy, especially the Gilia. Sarah decided that Horse Canyon will now forever be known as Gilia Lake Canyon. There was so much Gilia, is was out of control.
I am so thankful that the last rain event spurred this much growth. I can't believe that it was the right amount of water at the right time.

The field days for this trip were very long. Therefore, I've decided to document this trip as a photo-log with intermittent text.

We left RSABG Thursday afternoon and reached Bird Springs Pass around 8:00 pm. We set up camp, ate dinner and then it was lights out.

Friday, March 21st

I was glad to be back in my study site. I have been obsessing about it in my head. Where to go next? What will I find? Which canyon will be producing?
In the morning we started my mini project, "A Flora of the Pacific Crest Trail in the Kiavah Wilderness."
Bird Springs Pass. PCT trailhead
We collected and collected and collected.
Tragopogon dubious (?) a non-native 
Chamaesyce sp. So tiny. I have a soft spot for little plants
Lupinus concinnus. Common but cute
A different Poppy! Not the CA poppy!
Nama sp. and Eschscholzia sp. Beautiful spring colors!
After spending hours documenting the PCT we decided to check out the west side of Bird Spring Pass. To my surprise is was slightly on the dryer side but producing more than last year.
Green as far as the eye can see. Bird Spring Canyon
Although there were plants on the west side, the diversity was not happening. We collected what we could and moved on to Cane Canyon. Cane Canyon was disappointing. Lots of broken glass and trash and nothing much in flower. We drove over to Cholla Canyon and set up camp.

Welcome to Cholla Canyon
Day 2
Saturday, March 22nd
Camp at the end of Cholla Canyon Road
We broke camp and started our hike towards a large rock outcrop.

Sarah leading the way to the outcrop
Pterostegia drymarioides 
Cucurbita palmata 
Eriogonum sp. Tiny cute annual buckwheat
The plants in the rock outcrop were interesting but when we hiked up the sandy slope, things got really interesting.
A lupine and Camissonia claviformis
A capitate Gilia 
Bunches of California poppies
One of the most beautiful natural floral bouquets 
We ventured towards the end of the left side of the canyon and found even more!
Salvia carduacea!
Salvia habitat
Leaving Cholla Canyon as the clouds rolled in
We left Cholla Canyon in the evening and drove to Short Canyon. We were almost malled by a pack of "domesticated" dogs. Before the owner let his dogs loose, he reassured us that his dogs would not attack us. However, they came bolting after us, biting at our collecting bags and pants. We showed no fear and the owner hollered at his dogs to return to him.

Short Canyon was not short of surprises, it's where we possibly made a noteworthy collection of a fern!
Notholaena californica. Possibly the first record for Kern county!
Check out the chalky surface of this fern
We collected what we could and decided to go over to Walker Pass Campground to put my specimens in the drying press and then we called it a night.

Day 3
Sunday, March 23rd

In the morning I decided to go back to Horse Canyon. Last Saturday Horse Canyon was pretty impressive and I wanted to see how much it had changed in a weeks time. We started down Highway 178. I was explaining to Sarah how well the BLM portion near the highway was doing the last time I was there with Tommy Stoughton. We parked in a turnout and dropped into a wash to find a beautiful display of hundreds and thousands little flowers in bloom.
We collected what we could and realized that we could have spent the entire day in this one wash. But time was running short and we had to get over to Horse Canyon to see it in all of its glory.

Highway 178 desert wash. A lone Leptosyne
Bunches of Malacothrix glabrata on the bank of the wash
I hate ants, but I love them in their natural habitat 
A happy little sun cup
Xylorhiza tortifolia var. tortifolia. Finally! My first collection of it
Horse Canyon

We made it over to Horse Canyon and it was amazing! In over a week, the hillsides were painted with more color. More blue from Gila, more yellow from Leptosyne and orange from the poppies. I drove up the switchbacks to see how high in elevation things were growing.

And then I had to photo document something that continues to be a threat to my study site. OHV trespassing. Ugh. Seriously. Come on. Fresh tire tracks could be seen in the sandy soil. It seems that this year there is more illegal tire tacks in the Wilderness compared to last year. I also documented many broken "no motorized vehicles past this point" signs. I'm pretty upset that people feel the need to destroy signage and the Wilderness.

 The signs are not working. Spike strips might halt illegal activity
I call them the three sisters. I've been keeping a close eye on them. First time seeing bloom
Astragalus sp. such vibrant colors
An Allium sp. ? about to bloom!
Our last collections for the trip
Overall it was a super productive collecting adventure. Sarah was an amazing field assistant. It was an intense three days in the field because we collected and pressed so many specimens. I've said this before and I'll say it again, I can't wait to go back.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What's growing on?!

Saturday- March 15th, 2014, I returned to the Wilderness. Just less than a week and I was back. This time Rachel Poutasse, a Curatorial Assistant in the Herbarium at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG), and Julio Maldonado, her partner in crime, joined me in the field. It took little persuading to get them to come along. All I had to say was, "there's flowers" and they accepted my invitation.

It was a beautiful day to return to the field. We started bright and early. The drive up was spectacular. Wildflowers painted the desert floor. Bright yellow and green could be seen for miles. Not all parts of the desert were lush but for the most part, a lot of it was. Some patches were dry and drought-stresssed. After 2.5 hours we reached our destination. The drive into the Wilderness was a little disappointing. Nothing in flower or green! I was silently stressing out in my head. All I could think about was how I had easily persuaded my field partners to assist me because I told them we would see WILDFLOWERS. And nothing was growing in sight. I kept reassuring Rachel and Julio that we would see these so called"wildflowers" once we reached the base of the Scodie Mountains.

Phacelia fremontii and Layia glandulosa covering the hillsides in Cow Haven Canyon
Then it happened, just like I said it would. Green vegetation entered our field of view and my stress disappeared. Excitement replaced the stress and we drove to the end of Cow Haven Canyon to get a closer look at the wildflowers.

A Happy and Healthy Layia glandulosa
We parked the car and immediately scoured the hillsides and collected. I kept saying out loud "What is going on here? This is crazy! This didn't happen last year!" I'm pretty sure I sounded like a broken record. But seriously, nothing happened last year. Nothing like this!

I found out that this was Julio's first time collecting with botanists. It was he who pointed out the most amazing collection of the day. As Rachel and I collected, Julio asked, "what's this?" I turned around to see and pretty much flipped. It was Caulanthus coulteri and it was beautiful! This was the first time I had ever seen it. It was stunning and tall, and the flowers were just amazing.

Caulanthus coulteri in full flower with Leptosyne bigelovii
Stunning flowers and glabrous stems of Caulanthus coulteri
After spending about three hours in Cow Haven Canyon, we decided to assess the flowering situation in Sage Canyon.
As we were driving towards the end of Sage Canyon a magnificent field of blue covered a flat portion near Boulder Spring. The blue was so vibrant. We had to find out what it was. We stopped and parked the truck when we came upon the blue fields a little farther up the canyon. It was Gilia sp.! Hundreds and thousands of it. I could not believe my eyes.

Rachel walking though the Gilia field
Rachel Collecting Gilia 
We also went to the end of Sage Canyon. There too, I could not believe my eyes. Poppies! Lot of em. I was in shock. How could this have happened? Last June, I saw one sad stunted poppy and that was it. This year there are so many and they are huge. I would never have imagined that this is what the Kiavah Wilderness could look like. I was seriously in shock.

Rachel with the California poppies
Looking at the end of Sage Canyon. So much green.
I was put on a mission to collect and document incidences of Salvia columbariae by a fellow graduate student and friend, Jessica Orozco.  It was in Sage canyon that Rachel, Julio and I stumbled upon the most freakishly huge Salvia columbariae I have ever seen.

What did your mother feed you?! Salvia columbariae on crack
Inflorescence and flower of Salvia Columbariae
After checking out Sage Canyon, we had a couple hours left. We decided to head over to Horse Canyon to see what that canyon looked like. I'm glad we saved this canyon for last because it was there that we collected Platystemon californicus. This was the first time I had seen it in the field. It was so cute! The bush lupines were also flowering. It was a spectacular display.

Platystemon californicus in all its glory
A robust Lupinus excubitus. Smelled good too
Overall this was a successful trip and one of the most exciting days in the field. The floral displays were amazing. Rachel and Julio were fantastic field assistants. I hope they get a chance to go back out. I can't wait to go back the Kiavah Wilderness. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Holy Toledo

After the storms had passed, I decided to wait a couple of weeks before returning to the Kiavah Wilderness. I was pretty sure the Kiavah would be bone dry, just like last year. I did not get my hopes up high because last year was so barren and just plain sad. All I could think about was why I did not decide to do a flora of an area that gets tons of rain. But that's the thing about Southern California. You never know where the rain is going to fall or if it will.

Fortunately, I was able to visit the high desert near Pearblossom this past weekend, March 9th, 2014. Oh my! Certain areas in the desert were just spectacular! We found Muilla coronata in flower! This was the sign I had been waiting for. This was the sign that screamed, "Get out there! Go to the Kiavah ASAP!"
Fellow classmates smelling desert annuals near Pearblossom, California
On Monday, I decided that I needed to see the Scodie Mountains. Could it be green? Could that 2.13 inches of rain really be enough? I was sure that it wasn't and that it would be a bust. I thought hard and long about who I could ask to assist me in the field. Tommy Stoughton, a fellow classmate, had been asking me about visiting the Wilderness. And then I had my answer. After a few quick email exchanges  between the two of us, I had my first field assistant lined up and ready to go into the field with me on Tuesday.

Day 1
Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tommy and I left from Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, around 11:30 a.m. We headed up the 395 with ease.
It was a great day to go to the field. We parked on the side of Highway 178, geared up and started our hike straight up the slopes into the Sequoia National Forest Boundary. Our destination was Pinyon Peak. We were going to backpack in and botanize the flat dry meadow at the top.

At about sunset and after climbing over 1000 vertical feet for three hours, we decided to set up camp, eat dinner and call it a night.

Setting up camp. Owens Peak in the background.
Day 2
Wednesday, March 12, 2014

From camp we loaded daypacks with collecting gear and the essentials and headed over to the dry meadow. It took about an hour or so to get to. As we were hiking we noted tons and tons of Allium leaves, but no flowers in sight. At one point all of the Allium leaves looked like grass blades. It was spectacular. I cannot wait to see which species it could be.

Tons of Allium sp. leaves littering the ground. Photo by T. Stoughton
As we approached the meadow we did not see anything in flower. That is when we realized that we were not going to collect much on this trip. When we got to the meadow it was extremely dry! I was a little disappointed because I was sure we would get to see some water in it.

Dry as a bone meadow.  Carex sp. popping up. Pinus Jeffreyii bordering the meadow.
We headed over to the area I like to call "the Badlands" and we did collect an Antennaria dimorpha. It was so cute and little. Lewisia rediviva was scattered all over this site but still in a very immature state. I hope all of them decide to flower. It will be a spectacular display if they all do.

Little Lewisia rediviva leaves. Photo: T. Stoughton
After exploring the area for a bit and finishing our lunch we decided to head back down to camp. We made great observational data and I now have my sites set on certain taxa the next time I return to this spot.
We reached base camp, packed up our gear and headed out. As we were hiking out we noticed that a couple of things were in bloom but near the lower elevations. We picked up the few things we found and finally reached the car.
Phacelia fremontii Photo by T. Stoughton

We decided that we could stop along the highway and collect in the BLM area since we had a little time before sunset. We found a turn out, parked, got out of the car and then it happened. TONS and TONS of annuals! All over! This was what I was looking for and I only had less than 45 minute to scour the desert floor in sandals. Tommy and I hunted like mad botanists in pursuit of something great. We must have looked crazy. One would scream a plant name, "BOECHERA!" and the other collector would yell, "CASTELLEJA!" It was a collecting frenzy.

Collecting desert annuals. Lots of green going on
Pressing our bounty
Compared to last year this was a gold mine. Last year was just a sad miserable dry year. This year is starting off with a bloom! I plan on revisiting the Wilderness this weekend. I cannot wait to get back out there!
Tommy and Boechera pulchra in a Joshua tree woodland.
Overall it was a successful trip. It was a great kick-off for the start of the field season. Tommy was a great field assistant. It was a real pleasure to collect with him. He really knows his plants. I'm so glad he was was able to join me. If you are in need of an awesome botanist to join you in the field be sure to take Tommy with you. You'll be glad you did.