Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Adding to the Life-List

By Duncan Bell, SoCal Rare Plant Treasure Hunt Field Botanist

A “life-list” is a term used by birders, botanist, entomologists and other groups of the natural sciences to refer to a list of all the different species they have identified. You will occasionally hear someone in the field say “That’s a lifer!” which means they have identified a species for the very first time and can then add it to their life-list if they choose to.

One of my favorite things I love about taking volunteers out to the desert is not just showing them rare plants but introducing them to common plants as well. Often every plant we come across is a “lifer” for them. It’s always fun to watch them fall in love for the first time with some of my old favorites such as Desert Calico (Loeseliastrum matthewsii) with its flowers like little faces looking back at you, Frost Mat (Achyronychia cooperii) with its star fish like branches, Parachute plant (Atrichoseris platyphylla) with its beautifully bizarre succulent leaves, and Ghost Flower (Mohavea confertiflora) which often grows with and mimics Blazing Star (Mentzelia involcrata) and takes advantage of its pollinators.

I personally don’t keep a life-list but I admit that I will occasionally shout out “That’s a lifer!” on occasion when I find something new and exciting. I have been exploring the plants of our great California deserts for about three years now and it always surprises me how many species I come across that are life-list species for me. I’m really starting to believe that our California deserts are so botanically diverse that one can spend a lifetime exploring them and still always find something new and different.

Just in the past few months I have come across over two dozen life-list species all of which are CNPS California rare plant ranked plants. I thought it would be great to share a few photos and finds with everyone.

Grusonia parishii (Cactaceae) [CNPS CRPR 2.2] is commonly known as “dead cactus” and for good reason, it actually looks like it’s dead. I was very excited when I came across this species this year but was immediately concerned as it appeared that the plant we found was just a dried up dead shell. I gave it a little prod and found it turgid and very much alive, thank goodness.
Physalis lobata (Solanaceae) [CNPS CRPR 2.3] commonly called “lobed ground cherry” was a lucky find out at the Sheephole mountains as it appears to be dependent on those patchy and uncommon late summer rains which this area was lucky to have received last year.

Ipomopsis tenuifolia (Polemoniaceae) [CNPS CRPR 2.3] commonly known as “slenderleaf skyrocket” is found in the southwest corner of the Colorado desert growing in granitic soils among boulders in the Jacumba mountains. Very showy.

Wislizenia refracta ssp. palmeri (Cleomaceae) [CNPS CRPR 2.2] commonly known as “Palmers jackass clover” is only known from a few populations in California. This one was found while out on a sunrise hike across the Palen sand dunes.

Enceliopsis covillei (Asteraceae) [CNPS CRPR 1B.2] commonly known as the “Panamint daisy” as they are only found in the Panamint mountains. We returned to the type locality which is where this species was first collected during the Death Valley Expedition 121 years ago. Also, you may not know this but this is the large daisy that adorns the CNPS logo.

Mentzelia hirsutissima (Loasaceae) [CNPS CRPR 2.3] commonly known as “hairy stickleaf”. We went looking for this species at several locations last year with no luck. Third times the charm? This was found this year just a few miles north of the U.S./Mexico border.

Linanthus maculatus (Polemoniaceae) [CNPS CRPR 1B.2] commonly known as the “Little San Bernardino Mtns. Linanthus” but no longer only known from the Little San Bernardino mountains as the populations are now known from near the town of Ocotillo in Imperial county and unique as they are all missing their spots. This species is a true “belly plant” as you must get down onto your belly to observe them as they are so small; on average they are about the size of a penny. Unfortunately these cute little guys are threatened by the Ocotillo Express wind project that has begun bulldozing the area.

Selaginella eremophila (Selaginellaceae) [CNPS CRPR 2.2] commonly known as “desert spikemoss” may not be the cutest plant but I had never seen it before and was very excited when I found it growing in amongst the boulders I was climbing.

These are just a few of the “lifers” I found this year and hopefully I will find some time to post more at a later date. If you would like to add a rare plant to your life-list or just go looking for rare plants in general then feel free to contact someone at CNPS and they can direct you on how to do so. This is also a good time to remind everyone that rare plants are rare for a reason and any collecting of rare plants without a special permit is absolutely illegal. One of the best rules to follow is to take only photographs and leave only footprints. And try to leave as few footprints as possible. And watch out for those “belly plants”!

1 comment:

  1. Nice blog. I love anything Desert-y (if that's a word) I miss the deserts. Presently I reside in Sweden where the only deserts would be up north above the Arctic Circle.

    I just finished an article the other day on Bigelow's Spike Moss Selaginella bigelovii which is common amoung the chaparral habitats and extremely important for erosion control.

    There are so many places out in the Mojave desert I would have loved to explore, but didn't have the time. Been to some places, but spent most of my exploring in San diego, Riverside & Imperial Counties and where ever I could find interesting places in Arizona. So much to explore so little time to do it.