• Another New Species on Tejon Ranch? Working to Solve the Puzzle of the Blue Ridge Lomatium

    Lomatium, LimestoneRdg Tejon, 20Apr13 (2a)The Blue Ridge Lomatium, Photo by Neal Kramer

    Last August, on one of my first days of field work on Tejon Ranch, I spent some time collecting plants on a virtually-unexplored carbonate rock outcropping on Blue Ridge with Neal Kramer. Neal had recently found a large population of the Tejon endemic buckwheat, Eriogonum callistum, at this location and we were eager to uncover what other gems might occur at this location. That day we made collections and observations of a Lomatium in very late phenology-only in fruit and almost completely dormant.

    The genus Lomatium, also known as biscuit roots, is a large group of plants in the carrot family (Apiaceae) restricted to North America, and containing approximately 75 described species. In California, there are 47 taxa (this term includes species, varieties and subspecies), 21 of which are listed as rare by the California Native Plant Society.

    IMG_0659The habitat of the Blue Ridge Lomatium, August 2013

    Based on those few drying plants, Neal and I thought the plants might be close to either L. utriculatum or L. mohavense, but the characters just didn’t seem to fit either of these species. At that point in time, we made note to return to this population the following year to collect better specimens that include all of the characters needed for identification.

    This field season I made observations and collections of the Blue Ridge Lomatium at a number of locations, making sure to obtain samples of the plants in flower, and in fruit. These specimens were resting contently in my herbarium cabinet when Jeff Greenhouse, a research associate at the Jepson Herbarium, sent me an email a couple of weeks ago asking if I’d had the chance work on the Lomatim Neal had collected on Tejon Ranch. He indicated that he and Neal had spent some time looking the specimen Neal had collected last year and were having a hard time placing a name on it. That same day I spent several hours looking at my specimens, comparing them with Lomatium specimens housed in the RSABG herbarium. Much like the Jeff and Neal’s experience, I was puzzled by attempts to identify my specimens of the Blue Ridge Lomatium.

    Lomatium, LimestoneRdg Tejon, 20Apr13 (2a)Photo by Neal Kramer

    Fast forward a couple of weeks, I have now spent hours looking at Lomatium specimens, shown my plants to numerous researchers here at RSABG, and sought help and advice from my advisor, Dr. J. Mark Porter. Mark suggested that we start to solve this problem by doing some comparisons of morphological characters of the Tejon plants with similar species. I think it is now safe to say that I have gotten Mark hooked into helping me to solve the Tejon Lomatium puzzle. Mark has now spent countless hours rehydrating leaves, inflorescences, and fruits from many Lomatium specimens and taking photos with a camera attached to a dissecting microscope. This detailed work is necessary to compare the traits of the Blue Ridge Lomatium with other species.

    Based on this research we are becoming more convinced each day that the Blue Ridge Lomatium is an undescribed species. It is now clear that the Tejon plants are probably closely related to L. macrocarpum, a species that reaches the southern end of its distribution in the southern Sierra Nevada.

    At this point in time, however, there are a number of characteristics that lead us to think that these plants are quite different from L. macrocarpum. Below is a table comparing preliminary data from measurements of the Blue Ridge Lomatium with L. macrocarpum:

      L. macrocarpum Blue Ridge Lomatium
    Involucel (the bracts below each flower cluster) shape very reduced on 1 side to absent on 1 side not reduced on one side or only slightly so
    Involucels reflexed in fruit yes no
    Involucel tip acute toothed
    Fruit length 9-20 mm 6.9-9.7 mm
    Flower color white, cream, purple bright yellow
    Leaflet shape linear to oblong ovate to lanceolate

    As you can see there are many characters that easily differentiate these two plants. We are also currently analyzing additional morphological characters that may prove to be informative in distinguishing the Blue Ridge Lomatium from other taxa. Further research will involve comparing one or more gene regions from this putative new species with other Lomatium species to determine its phylogenetic placement (essentially where it is located in the Lomatium family tree). This information will help us to determine if the Blue Ridge Lomatium should be published as a new species or a new variety of L. macrocarpum.

    As I prepare for my next collecting trip (yes, there are still plants to collect even in September of this very dry year!) I am elated and filled with anticipation, because in under-explored regions like Tejon Ranch you truly never know what you are going to find. This Lomatium and the other potentially new species, including a Streptanthus and Heterotheca, that I continue to conduct research on are evidence of this. For me, being involved in the process of scientific discovery is one of the things that make me passionate about conducting botanical research.

     IMG_1719

     Remember my earlier post on Eriogonum callistum? Well, here is one of the plants we grew in the nursery at RSABG, flowering in its first growing season. What a beautiful plant!

     

  • Closing the Gap: Recent Botanical Discoveries on Tejon Ranch

    IMGP8475Mimulus (Diplacus) fremontii, Fremont’s monkeyflower, known from less than a handful of locations on Tejon Ranch.

    Its comes as no surprise to many botanists that Tejon Ranch, and the Tehachapi Mountains in general, are a “gap” in distribution for many plant species. During the course of my research, one of my goals is to determine if this is a true “gap” in distribution (i.e. the plants simply do not occur on Tejon) or if this is the product of a lack of detailed botanical inventory. While there is still much work to be done, recent collections have begun to lend some insight into the answer to this question. Here is a quick tour of some of the highlights.

    LocationMapA map of Ecoregions Based on The Jepson Manual, 2nd Edition (Baldwin et al. 2012)

    Brickellia nevinii (Nevin’s brickellbush)

    Current distribution maps of this species show Tejon Ranch as a gap in distribution between known collections in the Western Transverse Ranges and the Southern Sierra Nevada. Late last summer, I made collections of Brickellia nevinii from two locations high on Blue Ridge closing a gap in distribution for this species.

    BrickelliaNeviniiMaking the first Tejon collection of Brickellia nevinii. Photo courtesy of Neal Kramer.

    Hulsea heterochroma (redray alpinegold)

    This species has a distribution very similar to Brickellia nevinii, but a single collection in Little Oak Canyon closes the gap for this species. Dr. J. Mark Porter was fortunate to stumble upon this species while we were out collecting just a couple of weeks ago!

    IMGP8485Hulsea heterochroma, a beautiful plant, indeed!

    Eriogonum saxatile (rock buckwheat)

    This species also has a similar distribution to Brickellia nevinii, known only from the Southern Sierra and Western Transverse Ranges. Within the Tehachapi Mountains it was previously known from a historical specimen with vague location information- maybe attributable to Tejon Ranch. This spring, however, I was able to make a collection of this species in Big Sycamore Canyon on the south slope of the Tehachapi Mountains, once again closing a distribution gap.

    SaxatileEriogonum saxatile, photo courtesy of Neal Kramer.

    Eriogonum microthecum var. simpsonii (Simpson’s buckwheat)

    This taxon represents a somewhat different case, as it was previously known primarily from the eastern Mojave Desert and the San Gabriel Mountains. The collection of this taxon from several locations on Tejon represents a range extension to the north and west by more than 100 miles!

    Frasera neglecta (pine green-gentian)

    Chris Winchell and I discovered this remarkable, CNPS Rank 4 species growing on carbonate rocks on an open ridge just last month. Previously this species was only known from the Western Transverse Ranges, so this represents an eastward extension of its range and a new ecoregional record.

    DSC_0289Swertia neglecta, photo courtesy of Dr. J. Mark Porter

    These five examples are really just a sampling of the range extensions being found regularly on Tejon.

    In addition, collections are enhancing what we know about the distribution of many plants previously known from a small number of locations on the ranch. For example, Syntrichopappus lemmonii (Lemmon’s syntrichopappus) is a rare plant included on Rank 4.3 of the CNPS Inventory. While this plant is known from the Western Transverse Ranges and South Coast Ranges it was previously known from only two locations in the Tehachapi Mountains. Recent fieldwork has now documented four additional locations on Tejon Ranch. This information will be shared with CNPS and the California Natural Diversity Database so that the distribution of this species can be mapped more accurately.

    IMGP8459Syntrichopappus lemmonii-Oh so cute!

    Stay tuned for more updates on the exciting botanical discoveries on Tejon Ranch!

    CalochortusWe are all suckers for Calochortus-this is your reward to making it to the bottom of this post :)

     

     

     

     

  • Just Add Water

    IMGP8249Vast fields of poppies in the Antelope Valley, photo by Sandy Namoff

    A couple of months back I spent the day with Dr. Mike White and Laura Pavliscak of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy doing some planning for the upcoming field season. At that time the situation looked bleak. Both the San Joaquin  and Antelope Valley sides of the ranch were brown, and devoid of the germination of seedlings needed for spring wildflowers. Pretty much the only germinating plants that I saw was a meager amount of poppies in the lower Mojave Desert and a thin band of green at around 2000-3000 feet in elevation in the Tehachapi Mountains.

    IMGP8419Chinese houses (Collinsia bartsiifolia)

    For a student with a funding limit of two years working on the flora of an area as large as Tejon Ranch (nearly 500 square miles) this is just about the worst-case scenario for an upcoming field season. One thing that many people don’t know about botanists is that many of us are avid weather watchers.

    IMGP8401A hawkmoth doing some pollinating on evening primrose (Oenothera californica)

    Some of us check the weather forecast obsessively, reading the technical discussions issued by the National Weather Service, crossing our fingers for any signs of rain. And so, in January and February, I kept a close eye on the Doppler radar and long-term forecasts, wishing for the life-giving precipitation necessary for a floriferous spring.

    IMGP8162A beautiful bloom of poppies, tidy tips (Layia glandulosa) and scale bud (Anisocoma acaulis) in a wash

    The California water year started in October of last year and in that month, according to the Grapevine Peak weather station on Tejon Ranch, 0.36” of rain fell. On November 22, Tejon witnessed a large rain event with 1.48” falling in a single day, giving a monthly total of 1.56.” December was fairly dry with only 1.06” of precipitation. The dearth of precipitation in January was notable with a whopping total of 0.88.” The situation in February was even worse with only 0.41” of rain falling through the 27th of the month. Then, on February 28th things started to change with 1.09” falling in the 24-hour period. Early-March was fairly dry until March 30th when 1.51” fell in a single day giving a monthly total of 1.87.” As April comes to a close, the grand total for the month is 2.97”-making this the wettest month of the year so far. Summing this all up: Grapevine Peak has received 10.2” trough May 1st, nearly 60% of which has fallen in past two months!

    IMG_7004 A show of Bigelow’s coreopsis (Leptosyne bigelovii)

    You might be asking, what does this all mean for the plants? Well, as you might have guessed from the photos in this post, things are looking pretty good.  Botanists often wax on about what weather pattern is best for spring wildflower shows. The conversation revolves around the timing and quantities of precipitation events. Some weather patterns seem to favor non-native grasses over native forbs, and the timing of cold weather seems to be important. A weather pattern that favors a good bloom in the Mojave Desert may not provide for a good show in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, and vice-versa. The bottom line is that nobody truly knows.

    IMGP8224Gilia brecciarum

    What is clear this year is that this weather pattern has created an incredible bloom of diverse wildflowers in the Antelope Valley and the adjacent eastern foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains. On the other hand, the San Joaquin Valley currently looks a lot more like mid-August than mid-April. The contrast in diversity and abundance of wildflowers in different parts of the ranch is astounding. Whether these observed patterns are the products of the inherent properties of the plants that occur in different parts of the ranch or differences in microclimates resulting in variation in precipitation patterns is unknown.

    IMGP8425Wildflowers galore light up a hillside on Tejon!

    I, for one, am amazed at the ability of the plants in the Mojave Desert to respond so quickly to spring rains. I have visited numerous places that are now covered with carpets of wildflowers where there was nary a seedling in February. Back in 1991, late-arriving rain in March produced a huge show of wildflowers in the Mojave Desert and this event has been termed the “March Miracle.” While, I am still searching for a catchy phrase for this year- how does “Amazing April” or “Astonishing April” sound?

    IMGP8216      Bajada lupine (Lupinus concinnus)

    IMGP8409

     Hey you! Don’t eat too many of those wildflowers!

  • The Story of Arapejo Grass (Muhlenbergia utilis): Good Botanical Intuition Paying Off

    IMG_6937Bronco Canyon Spring, home of Arapejo grass (Muhlenbergia utilis)

    Today as I sit here planning this weekend’s fieldwork on Tejon Ranch I am contemplating the value of intuition in conducting plant surveys. This important characteristic of good field biologists was exhibited expertly this winter by Tejon Ranch Conservancy Conservation Science Director, Dr. Mike White. Back in early January Mike sent an email  to me, and couple of other botanists with pictures of a grass growing in a spring in the upper reaches of Bronco Canyon, on the southern side of the Tehachapi Mountains. His gut reaction was that the grass resembled saltgrass (Distichlis spicata), but that it did not look quite right.

    grass3Muhlenbergia utilis, Arapejo grass, Photo by Mike White

    I showed the email to Dr. Hester Bell, a postdoctoral research associate at RSABG, who studied Distichlis for her PhD dissertation. While the photos made it difficult to make a conclusive identification her first indication was that the plant was possibly just saltgrass.  Fast-forward a couple of weeks later in January, I a spent a day on the ranch with Mike checking on the phenology for the spring field season, during which we visited the spring in Bronco Canyon. When I inspected the plants growing in the spring I agreed that the plants did not look quite like saltgrass. Specifically, the leaves appeared to be too fine and the inflorescences seemed too small and delicate for that species.  Based on this assessment I decided to make a number of herbarium specimens, so that their identification could be determined back at the RSABG herbarium.

    IMG_6950The view of the Antelope Valley from the Tehachapi Mountains above Canyon de la Lecheria

    A week or so later when I showed the specimens to Hester, she exclaimed, “that’s not Distichlis.” After some time in the herbarium comparing the plants with other specimen, and in consultation with curatorial assistant, LeRoy Gross, we determined that the grass is Muhlenbergia utilis, commonly known as Arapejo grass.

    IMG_6943Lupinus excubitus likely var. johnstonii, grape soda lupine, a rare plant collected in March

    Arapejo grass is currently known from a very small number of populations in California: Big Springs in Inyo County, Red Hill near Upland in San Bernardino County (the site of a county park, population now extirpated), Murrieta Canyon in Ventura County, two Locations in San Luis Obispo County, and two locations on Tejon Ranch in Kern County (in March I collected plants at a new location southwest of Bronco Canyon). Arapejo grass is restricted to riparian, pond, and freshwater spring habitats in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Texas. While this species is not considered rare throughout its range, it is certainly very uncommon in California (six total occurrences). In addition, the collection of the species in the Tehachapi Mountains represents a regional range extension within California. Based on this information it is my opinion that Arapejo grass should be considered for addition to Rank 2B (plants rare in California, but more common elsewhere) of the CNPS Rare Plant Inventory.

    IMG_6977Shannon Still, Eve Laeger, and Ed Kentner (left to right) enjoying the view and one of Tejon’s majestic oaks

    This field season I am looking forward to searching for more populations of Arapejo grass on Tejon Ranch. Due to this year’s paucity of precipitation there will be no vast fields of annual wildflowers on the ranch. In particular, much of the low elevation habitat in the San Joaquin Valley (for example, the Tejon Hills) is already bone-dry and the current vegetation looks more like it should in August than in April. On a positive note, rain in February and March has led to quite a lot of germination of annual seedlings in the lower elevations of the Tehachapi Mountains, and the upper slopes of the Mojave Desert portions of the Ranch. In particular, the ranch has seen almost two inches of rain since last Friday!  This should ensure that the seedlings that have already germinated will be able to flower, and a good show of perennials at higher elevations later this spring and summer.

    IMG_6938Dendromecon rigida, bush poppy

    Furthermore, many of us are watching NOAA’s El Niño forecast for next fall and winter.  Currently, all models are pointing toward a 50% chance of an El Niño pattern developing this summer and fall, and have upgraded the El Niño Alert System Status to an “El Niño Watch.”  Should the El Niño climatic pattern come to fruition next winter could be wetter than normal and wildflower fields on Tejon so bright that sunglasses will be necessary.

    Bronco springBronco Canyon Spring, the prominent grass is  Muhlenbergia rigens , deer grass (yes, another Muhlenbergia!)            Photo by Mike White


     

  • The curious case of the Tejon Heterotheca, or What is a herbarium specimen and why do they matter?

    3316The carbonate habitat of Tejon Ranch

    Many of you are well versed in the collection, processing, and curation of herbarium specimens, but just in case here is a quick look at one of the cornerstones of botanical research. In the simplest sense an herbarium specimen is a piece of a plant (or sometimes a whole plant or several whole plants) collected in the field, placed in a plant press, and dried. Pressed plants 2-dimesional versions of their former living 3-dimensional selves, mounted on archival paper, and then stored in museum for centuries (or longer??).

    IMG_0764_crop

    Wish I had photos of this cute little thing in the wild, but here it is, a specimen of the Tejon Heterotheca

    Herbarium specimens are mounted with labels that contain location, habitat, and ecological and descriptive information that can be helpful in determining a plants identification.  These specimens, handled carefully, can be examined over and over again, and serve as the physical proof of a plant’s presence at a specific location at a specific point in time. For example, the herbarium at RSABG houses a specimen from Cook’s voyage in the 18th century! Herbaria often contain many specimens from locations that have been developed, and where natural vegetation no longer occurs. Historical specimens can help researchers track changes in vegetation over time. For example, one could track the spread of an invasive plant species by examining the frequency and location of where and when said invasive plant has been collected. Now, let’s take a look at an example of how herbarium specimens have been useful so far in my work on Tejon Ranch!

    IMG_0657Another pretty mountain photo, carbonate habitat in the distance

    Back in the summer and fall of last year I collected a number of plants that were not easily identifiable in the field (see this post on the Tejon Streptanthus). One of these specimens was a small perennial member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) found growing on an open limestone ridge with the beautiful Tejon buckwheat (Eriogonum callistum). Attempts to key pressed specimens of the plant helped me and several botanists/friends determine that this plant was likely a Heterotheca (goldenaster). Since I was not satisfied with our ability to identify this plant to species, I decided to send a few pictures of the plant to the world’s Heterotheca expert, Dr. John Semple, at the University of Waterloo. Dr. Semple originally thought that the plant might be Heterotheca villosa var. minor, a common species not previously collected from Tejon Ranch, and recommended  that I send him a specimen for verification.

    IMG_0767Leaves of Tejon Heterotheca

    So, I decided to package up one of my specimens and send it up to the cold north for Dr. Semple to examine. After a review of my specimen from Dr. Semple concluded that it is, “similar to H. villosa var. minor, but the hairs on the corolla lobes are long for that taxon.  It did not jump at me as something new like H. monarchensis did and that has longer corolla lobe hairs than in Heterotheca except for the H. sessiliflora complex.  So, maybe this is something new after all, but it would be close to H. monarchensis.”

    IMG_0769A flower head and a seed

    Further communication with Dr. Semple concluded that one of the next steps that necessary to determine if the Tejon Heterotheca is indeed a new species will be for me to collect more herbarium specimens of these plants in order to take detailed morphological measurements. I will also be collecting seeds to send to Dr. Semple, so that he can make a count of the plants’ chromosome numbers (a useful cellular character in determining the identification of some plant species).

    The discovery of a potentially new species of Heterotheca, possibly related to H. monarchensis would be a significant botanical discovery. Heterotheca monarchensis is an extremely rare species known from only 2 locations on carbonate rock outcrops in Kings Canyon National Park, some 200 miles to the north of Tejon Ranch. One striking similarity is that the plants on Tejon Ranch also grow on soils originating from carbonate rocks! The location of the Tejon Heterotheca has been subject to very little botanical exploration. In fact, I located these plants at a newly documented location of Tejon Buckwheat discovered by Neal Kramer last summer. Heterotheca monarchensis was discovered in a remote area of Kings Canyon NP in 1996 by intrepid botanist Dana York. Heterotheca monarchensis and the Tejon Heterotheca certainly share at least two things in common: 1. They both grow on a harsh substrate often home to rare plants of restricted habitats, and 2. They occur in areas with little history of botanical exploration.

    HetMonHeterotheca monarchensis in Kings Canyon National Park, photo copyright Dana York

    Much work is still needed to determine if the Tejon Heterotheca is indeed a new species, or if it represents a new population of a species that is already known to science. Searching for new populations and making more herbarium collections of the Tejon Heterotheca will be a major priority during my fieldwork this summer.

    The contribution of herbarium specimens toward scientific progress, and our understanding of biodiversity cannot be underestimated. They play a central role in the discovery of species, and our understanding of diversity in this changing world.

    IMG_0659

    This is where I am headed this weekend! Yeah for the start of the field season!

     

     

     

  • Very callistum (beautiful) and Rare, the Tejon Buckwheat

    1

    Close-up of the flowers of Tejon buckwheat. Photo courtesy of Neal Kramer.

    Back in 2006, Tejon Ranch became the site of one of the most significant botanical discoveries in recent memory. While performing botanical surveys associated with the construction of an energy transmission line on the ranch, Dr. Rob Preston encountered a morphologically-distinct Eriogonum (known commonly as wild buckwheats) growing on carbonate substrates (derived from sedimentary rocks such as limestone or dolostone, and typically high in pH and calcium) at around 4500 ft (1400 m) in elevation. The distinctness of these plants from other Eriogonums  was immediately apparent to him, and Dr. Preston sent an herbarium specimen to Dr. Jim Reveal (the world’s expert on Eriogonum) for identification.

    IMG_0668-2

    Tejon buckwheat, in habitat.

    Dr Reveal’s diagnosis of the Eriogonum from Tejon as a species new to science was essentially a no-brainer. In communication with me back in 2008, he indicated that, “the discovery of another undescribed member of Eriogonum Michx. (Polygonaceae Juss., subf. Eriogonoideae Arn.) from California is not, in itself, a surprise, but one so distinct as to represent a new section…is at least unusual.”  Eriogonum is California’s most diverse genus, with 215 taxa (species and varieties) recognized as native to the state.

    IMG_0659Habitat of Eriogonum callistum

    Dr. Reveal chose to call the Tejon (or Tehachapi) buckwheat  Eriogonum callistum.  The specific epithet, callistum, comes from the Greek work calli, and means “very beautiful.”  I think this is a fitting name for such a wonderful plant.  As alluded to in the previous paragraph, the characteristics of the Tejon buckwheat are so unique that it also necessitated the naming of a new section of Eriogonum subgenus EucyclyaLanocephala, which is characterized by hairy flowers arranged in dense heads (capitate infloresences), and hairy stems (pedicels) leading up to each flower. These characters combined with leaf characteristics, growth habit, habitat, and geographic distribution separate the Tejon buckwheat from all other species.

    3312Just starting to flower. Photo courtesy of Neal Kramer.

    As you can see from these photos, the Tejon buckwheat is truly a striking, unique plant.  The fact that it took until 2006 for this species to be be discovered provides evidence that Tejon Ranch is a botanical frontier where new species are likely to be encountered.

    2239Close-up of flowers. Photo courtesy of Neal Kramer.

    When I was working for CNPS back in 2008, I had the pleasure of preparing the documentation (known as a status review) for the proposed addition of the Tejon buckwheat to the CNPS Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants.  The plant was subsequently added to Rank 1B, a category containing the rarest plants in the state. Back then, Eriogonum callistum was only known from a single location, and the Tejon Ranch Conservancy-reserving 90% of the ranch from development-had yet to be created.  Recent surveys conducted in 2013 by Neal Kramer and Tejon Ranch Conservancy staff located a number of additional locations of Tejon buckwheat on carbonate soils on the higher elevations of the ranch.  Even with these additional locations, Eriogonum callistum, is known from no more than a couple thousand individual plants, and can be considered one of California’s rarest species.  In essence, the whole known distribution of the species is restricted to a few thousand acres of potential habitat in openings in shrubland on carbonate rock outcroppings on a singe ridge of the Tehachapi Mountains. This is one incredibly rare species!  Some good news is that the vast majority of the habitat of Tejon buckwheat is unlikely to be affected by development, ensuring that it will be conserved for future generations to enjoy.

    3318Leaves. Photo courtesy of Neal Kramer.

    In the coming field season I will continue to search for additional locations of the Tejon buckwheat. Owing to the fact that such a unique species was discovered so recently, this indicates that Tejon Ranch may be the home to additional species new to science (see my previous post on the Tejon Streptanthus). This was certainly on my mind when in September of last year I collected a small, perennial member of the sunflower family growing at a newly discovered location of the Tejon buckwheat. While certainly more work is needed on this plant, I have, with the help of Dr. John Semple, identified this plant as possibly a new species of Heterotheca (golden aster), likely related to Heterotheca monarchensis, known only from Kings Canyon National Park.  Stay tuned for more information of the Tejon Heterotheca.

    IMG_0668These plants make a striking sight in their native habitat!

    Lastly, a number of us here at RSABG have recognized that a beautiful plant such as Tejon buckwheat might just make a pleasant addition to native plant gardens. Back in last September Seed Program Manager, Evan Meyer, and fellow graduate students Manuel Lujan and Tommy Stoughton, and I made the first seed collections of Eriogonum callistum.

    3316Another habitat shot. Photo courtesy of Neal Kramer.

    Seeds of Tejon buckwheat will be stored in the conservation seed bank at RSABG, where they will be preserved for decades under cold storage, and will be available for limited research use. In addition, Evan and I germinated a couple seeds of Eriogonum callistum, and they are now growing quite nicely in 2 inch pots.  Let me tell you, these are cute little seedlings! Provided that they continue to grow well, we will try growing them in the garden here at RSABG, and in the near future possibly introduce them into the horticulture trade. Who wouldn’t want a Tejon buckwheat in their garden?

    seedlingA seedling of Tejon buckwheat in the nursery at RSABG!

     

  • The mystery of the Tejon Ranch Jewelflower (Streptanthus sp.)

     

    IMG_0687The Tejon Ranch jewelflower, in flower

    Last day of August, 2013

    Streptanthus (also known as jewelflowers) is small genus in the mustard family (Brassicaceae) with its distribution centered in Western North America.  California is home to 35 out of 46 plants included in this group, 30 of which (85%) are considered rare by the California Native Plant Society.

    On a late summer collecting trip I was driving along one of Tejon Ranch’s many dirt roads with Dr. Ed Kentner, David Varner, and Russell Kokx, when Ed spotted an interesting plant out of the corner of his eye.

    IMG_0673Plants grow out of a granite outcrop.

    I quickly stopped the truck and we hopped out to see what had piqued Ed’s interest. It was initially clear that the plant in question was a Streptanthus, and we went about the careful work of trying to determine which species it was.  First, we thought that the plant might be Streptanthus cordatus, but a comparison of characteristics determined it was probably not that species. Further efforts to determine its identification yielded no conclusions.  At that point we decided to make some specimen collections for deposit in an herbarium (essentially a museum housing plant specimens in an archival state) and take pictures of the plant and its habitat in order to make a final determination later.

    That night we took turns under the microscope trying to identify the Tejon Ranch jewelflower to species with no success.  Back at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden Herbarium I compared my specimens to other species of Streptanthus known to occur in Southern California.  When that process yielded no conclusions to the plant’s identification I began to think that I may have made a collection of scientific significance.

    IMG_0678Plants in fruit, seed wing size is very large for Streptanthus species

    At that point I decided to send a specimen of the plant to Dr. Ihsan Al-Shehbaz of the Missouri Botanic Garden, a renowned expert on Streptanthus. Dr. Al-Shehbaz  (personal communication, 2013) concluded that the plant possesses a unique combination of characteristics, is quite possibly a species new to science, and warrants further study.

    A couple months later, after comparing my plants on a molecular (using a region of nuclear DNA) and morphological basis with likely close relatives, I am nearly ready to conclude that the Streptanthus from Tejon Ranch  is, indeed, a new species.  This evidence is quite compelling when combined with knowledge of the geographical distribution of its close relatives (known based on molecular and morphological data),  Streptanthus bernardinus and Streptanthus campestris, both of which are rare species only known to occur in the San Gabriel Mountains and south.

    Next summer, it will be quite exciting to explore potential habitat on Tejon Ranch and search for additional populations of this undescribed species. Once I find new populations of the Tejon Ranch jewelflower, I will take detailed measurements of the plants’ physical characteristics and leaf samples that can be used in a more comprehensive DNA-based analysis.  These vital steps are necessary to confirm conclusively that the Tejon Ranch jewelflower truly is a new species.

    IMG_0682Leaves.

    Pending the results of these analyses I plan on naming the Tejon Ranch jewelflower after my friend and mentor, Joe Medeiros. Joe is a long-time professor of botany at Sierra College, naturalist, and conservationist, who has inspired in countless individuals a desire to study and preserve California’s biodiversity. Look for an update on “Streptanthus medeirosii” late in 2014.

    IMG_0705

     

     

  • Welcome to the Flora of Tejon Ranch

    IMG_0848The view from Blue Ridge, July 2013

    Most people will find it hard to believe that the single largest, contiguous piece of private land in California, situated just a little more than an hour drive from Los Angeles still remains an area of botanical mystery.

    Encompassing an area of 270,000 acres or 420 square miles, the ranch occupies one of the most interesting and complex ecological transition zones in California.  There is no other single place in the world where the floristic regions known as the San Joaquin Valley, Western Transverse Ranges, Mojave Desert, and southern Sierra Nevada converge. Additionally, a significant portion of the Tehachapi Mountains (essentially the extreme southern end of the Sierra Nevada) is occupied by Tejon.  As a result of this location, Tejon Ranch is thought of as being an area of ecological transitions, interesting assemblages of plants from seemingly disparate regions, and quite possibly a whole host of undescribed species, new to science.

    DSCN0813Collecting specimens in September 2013, photo by David Varner

    At this point in time you might find yourself thinking, “Surely the flora of such an interesting region so close to Los Angeles must have been studied in great detail?”  Would you be surprised if I told you that on average there is only a single plant specimen collection for every 110 acres of Tejon Ranch?  And what’s more, most of these collections are centered on the few areas that have had formal botanical surveys or were historically easily accessible by collectors.

    The reason for this relatively sparse amount of botanical survey history lies in the history of Tejon Ranch. As a private, working cattle ranch since the 1840s, Tejon was almost entirely closed to scientific research until 2008 when the Tejon Ranch Conservancy was created.  Under this landmark deal, approximately 100,000 acres of the ranch were placed under conservation easements, and an additional 140,000 acres were reserved from the potential of future development.  This amounts to approximately 90% of the ranch being conserved for future generations. As a result of the creation of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy, the ranch is now effectively “open” for scientific research.

    IMG_0727Looking north into the San Joaquin Valley over the vast landscape of Tejon Ranch

    The goal of my research is to perform a florsitic survey leading to a better understanding of the plants on Tejon Ranch and adjacent ecological regions.  I look forward to sharing with you stories about the flora of Tejon, my discoveries, and the results of my research.  This research is made possible through the generous support of and collaboration with the Tejon Ranch Conservancy and Company.

    Stay tuned-it is going to be a wild ride!

    For more information about me, Nick Jensen, please click here.

    And, for more information about my research please click here.

    For more information on the Tejon Ranch Conservancy please click here.

    Welcome to Tejonflora.org

     IMG_0735You think you had a bad day? Check out this tarantula being “escorted” by a tarantula hawk.  See, all of this is not just about plants.

    IMG_0687And, for a bit of a teaser-check out this Streptanthus, possibly an undescribed species. Stay tuned for more info!