Smith’s Fairybell

This gallery contains 9 photos.

Smith’s fairybell (Prosartes smithii) is a perennial native belonging to the Lily Family. It occurs in redwood forests and other moist, shady forests  near the coast from Southern Vancouver Island through California. The branched, fuzzy Smith’s fairybell stems arise from … Continue reading

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Boisduval’s Blue

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Boisduval’s blue (Plebejus icarioides) is a butterfly that ranges from British Columbia to Baja and east to the western edge of the Great Plains. It can be found in mountain meadows, forest openings and sagebrush areas, wherever there is a … Continue reading

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Shasta Snow Wreath

In my last post (05-14-18 “Hidden in Plain Sight”) I introduced a shrub that was only “discovered”, described and named in 1992. As of 2017 there were only 33 known populations of Shasta snow wreath (Neviusia cliftonii), all located in Shasta County CA within a few miles of each other near Lake Shasta and the eastern Klamath Range.

Shasta snow wreath is a thicket-forming shrub thought to mainly reproduce vegetatively. Individual stems (ramets) arise from the root system. Taller Shasta snow wreath thickets with more stems are associated with less tree cover. The largest known populations occur at higher elevations and on west facing slopes.

The oval Shasta snow wreath leaves are arranged alternately on wiry, arching, reddish stems. The deciduous leaves are toothed and have short petioles.

A cluster of 3 to 5 flowers forms the Shasta snow wreath inflorescence. Most flowers have no petals and are composed of 50 to 100 stamens and resemble tiny white puffs. Occasionally some flowers have one or two white remnant petals. The 5 toothed, green sepals are outspread. Plants growing at higher elevations have more inflorescences per stem.

The fruits, soft-bodied achenes, are rarely observed.

Originally Shasta snow wreath was thought to be associated with limestone substrates because that was the habitat in which the first populations were found. In 2006 Lindstrand and Nelson showed that about 47% of the populations know at that time occurred in areas with non-limestone geology.

These Shasta snow wreath plants were growing along Water Gulch Trail in Shasta County CA near Lake Shasta and photographed in May.

Shasta snow wreath – finally checked off on our botanical “bucket list”.

 

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Hiding in Plain Sight

Snow Wreath

In 1992 Leonard and I were excited by reports that a new species in the Rose Family was discovered on a limestone deposit in a canyon along CA Highway 299 near Ingot CA, which is not too distant from our home.

According to newspaper articles at the time, Dr. Dean Taylor and Glenn Clifton, consultants at an environmental consulting group, described a new plant found on the far bank of Cow Creek, which closely follows Highway 299 near Ingot. They named the plant Neviusia cliftonii, Shasta snow wreath. The story I remember, which may be inaccurate, notes that Clifton, while driving by, noticed an unusual shrub in bloom on the far bank of Cow Creek, which closely follows Highway 299 near Ingot. After observing the plant from afar for a while, he eventually donned a pair of fishing waders, cross the creek and retrieved specimens of the plant. After further study, the plant was determined to be a new species in the genus Neviusia. Glenn Clifton was probably the first person to “see” this plant as a different species since he is honored by the species designation.

Shortly after Taylor and Clifton described Shasta snow wreath, other occurrences were reported in the mountains around Shasta Lake in Shasta County CA. There are now about 33 small populations of Shasta snow wreath known, all in the Lake Shasta Area of Shasta County CA.

How did a plant exist until 1992 without being discovered? And once it was described, why were other populations identified? Shasta snow wreath is a shrub that “hides in plain sight”. It occurs in remote mountainous areas and almost always in association with poison oak. These are not places where many people venture. More importantly, Shasta snow wreath leaves, and the plant itself, which only flower for a short period each spring, closely resemble ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor) and ninebark (Physocarrus capitatus) when not in bloom. For years, Leonard and I casually looked for Shasta snow wreath and never found it. This spring we again returned to Waters Gulch Trail near Lake Shasta where we previously searched and found Shasta snow wreath in blossom (photo). The plants, without flowers,  were ones we thought were ninebark. We were misidentifying Shasta snow wreath and  probably much more experienced botanists did the same.

Neviusia is a genus that previously contained only one species, Neviusia alabamensis, Alabama snow wreath, native to and found in Southeastern United States.  The discovery of Shasta snow wreath in a location widely separated geographically from Alabama snow wreath is an example of disjunct distribution. An extinct Neviusia species, dunthornei, is also known from the Early Eocene fossil record in British Columbia.

Neviusia was named by Asa Gray for Dr. Ruben Denton Nevius (1827 – 1913), a minister who supplied Gray with Alabama snow wreath plant material. Interestingly there is some conflict concerning genus name. Generally the first person to “find” a plant gets to name the plant or has the plant named in their honor. Professor W. S. Wyman and Dr. Nevius were out together. Professor Wyman moved a distance ahead of Dr. Nevius and first saw the new snow wreath. But Dr. Nevius sent the specimens to Dr. Gray. Discussion continues about who should be honored by the genus name.

In my next post I will discuss this rare, elusive plant further.

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Two Species?

Willet

Currently there is only one species of willet (Tringa semipalmatus). Some birders recognize two subspecies, the western inornatus and the eastern semipalmatus, and believe the subspecies should be designated as separate species. Species (and genus) designation decisions are made by the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU) Checklist Committee and are based on published research. Currently the status of the willet is being considered by the Committee.

The eastern willet is about 10% smaller than the western subspecies. It also has approximately a 15% shorter bill and legs that are also about 15% shorter. The bill of the western willet, in addition to being longer, is thinner and more often upturned.

The western willet is paler (more grey) in all plumages. The eastern is more heavily barred on the chest and back, particularly in breeding plumage. The distinctive black and white striped wing pattern seen in flight has a broader white stripe in the western inornatus.

Western inornatus willets winter in fresh and saltwater marshes along the Pacific Coast. This subspecies moves inland to breed in freshwater and alkaline marshes. The eastern semipalmatus inhabits Atlantic and Gulf Coast saltwater marshes. They do not move inland to breed. There is no contact on between the two populations on the breeding grounds nor do their ranges overlap.

The subspecies can also be differentiated by their calls. Although it is difficult for most people to discern the difference, research shows the two groups easily distinguish between recorded calls. All songs and calls of the western subspecies are lower pitched than those of the eastern.

I expect that before long there will be two species of Tringa willets – the eastern semipalmatus and the western inornatus. This would not be the first taxonomic name change for the willet. Previously the willet was considered the only species in the genus Catoptrophorus, but in 2006 the AOU moved it to the genus Tringa.

No matter what it is called, Leonard and I always await the return of the willets each spring, usually around April 1st in our area. This willet was photographed along the Bieber/Lookout Road in Lassen County CA.

 

 

 

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Female Sara Orangetip

The taxonomy of Sara orangetip butterflies (Anthocaris sara) is in flux. There are several subspecies of A sara and some taxonomists have elevated these subspecies (stella and julia, in particular) to full species status. This butterfly, which occurs along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to Baja and to the east of the Rockies, appears to be undergoing evolutionary radiation (divergence of morphology or genetic and ecological characteristics over time resulting in speciation). For now, I am ignoring this debate and continue to consider these very early spring fliers Sara orangetips or Anthocaris sara.

Male and female Sara orangetips have slightly different coloration. In the male the forewings are white with a variable black barring framing a red-orange spot on the tip

Male

The female Sara orangetip also has a white forewing. However, her red-orange spot is smaller with a black bar on the inner side and a white wedge between the spot and the marginal black-brown markings.

Female

The forewing coloration continues on the underside in both sexes. The hindwings of males and females are white with variable brownish black markings along the margin. The hindwing undersides are marbled with dark green or yellow green.

Adult Sara orangetip butterflies feed on the nectar of mustards, fiddlenecks, thistles and brodiaeas, among other wildflowers. They are found in open places such as meadows, fields, ridge tops, canyons, open forests and deserts. They are one of the earliest spring fliers.

More information about Sara orangetips may be found in an earlier post: “Sara Orangetip” on 03-21-2016.

The male specimen was photographed on the spillway between Baum and Crystal Lakes (Shasta County CA). The female was searching for nectar on Big Valley Mountain beyond Day CA (Modoc County).

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Tolmie’s Pussy Ears

This gallery contains 7 photos.

Dr. William Fraser Tolmie (1812 – 1886) discovered and named Calochortus tolmiei, commonly known as Tolmie’s pussy ears or Tolmie star tulip. Dr. Tolmie was born in Scotland and ended up with the Hudson Bay Company in the Pacific Northwest. … Continue reading

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