Castle Peak Botanical Treasures

By Shane Hanofee

Here are some botanical highlights of a late spring field trip to the Castle Peak area.

Castle Peak as seen from basin to range




Sierra Primrose (Primula suffrutescens) (Prim-you-lah suff-rue-tess-ens). Truly interesting flower morphology. A type of dimorphism called heterostyly. This species exhibits a “Pin and Thrum” form. The Pin form has the stigma at the end of the flower tube and the anthers down in the tube. The Thrum form has the anthers at the end of the flower tube and the stigma down below. Individual plants have either form, but both forms can exist in a population. Flowers of one form pollinate the other form. This strategy promotes outcrossing and discourages self-pollination.

Toothed Owl’s Clover (Orthocarpus cuspidatus) (Oar-though-car-pus cuss-pih-date-us). A member of the Paintbrush family, Orobanchaceae. This genus differs from others in the family by having rounded, closed corolla lobes, spike inflorescences, alternate leaves, and unequal male flower parts.





Watermelon snow.  The pink coloration seen here has a biological cause. It is formed by an algae, Chlamydomonas nivalis (Klah-my-doe-moan-ahs nivv-ah-liss), known as Watermelon Snow. This algae produces a red pigmentation to protect itself from the harsh UV radiation. This pigment also acts as a heat sink, raising surface temperature and melt the snow around the cell, providing it with fresh water. In spring, the cells release motile flagellate cells that travel to the surface, where reproduction takes place. A single teaspoon of melt water may contain a million algae cells.



Gray’s Bedstraw (Galium grayanum). A high-elevation species with prominent hairs on the seeds, the length of which is useful in identification. Actually, it is not botanically inaccurate to refer to these as “hairy nutlets.”





Lichenscape on exposed boulders. How many species can you count? And more lichen — Black and yellow. Black and yellow. Black and yellow. Black and yellow.

Cushion Buckwheat (Eriogonum ovalifolium var. nivale) (Ehr-ee-ah-go-numb oh-vaal-ih-foal-ee-um nivv-ah-lay). This species grows low and dense here, protecting it from the harsh winds.





The male cones of Mountain Hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana) (Sue-gah mer-ten-see-ann-uh). These are technically known as microstrobili and contain microsporophylls (basically modified leaves), which produce microsporangia (basically pollen sacs). The female cones, the ones we typically associate with conifers, are called megastrobili and contain megasporophylls, which produce ovules that form seeds when pollinated.



Nuttall’s Sheep Moth (Hemileuca nuttalli) (Hem-ee-luke-ah nut-tahl-eye) holding onto the vegetation in the winds somehow. The host plants for this species include Purshiana, Symphoricarpos, and Ribes, all seen nearby. Halloweeny coloration. And a beautiful striped abdomen.

Flat Topped Broomrape (Aphyllon corymbosum) (Ay-feye-lon core-ihm-boe- sum). An achlorophyllous (lacking chlorophyll) root parasite. I am quite enamoured with this genus!




Clustered Broomrape (Aphyllon fasciculatum) (Ay-feye-lon fass-ih-cue-late-um). Growing nearby the preceding species. After I posted this on my iNaturalist account, an Aphyllon expert based out of Wisconsin contacted me and pointed out that this was an unusual specimen for its rather acute corolla lobes which end in a tooth.

Aphyllon anther. Interesting anther attachment! This species likely represents a complex differing by host plants and likely morphology as well. I know this is being worked on as I type this.


Aphyllon style. Ovary, style, and split stigma. Word to the wise, a recent issue of Systematic Botany contained a new paper on this group. All of the yellow clustered Aphyllon used to be called this name, but now the name applies only to higher-elevation species growing on Artemisia roots. The lower-elevation plants on Phacelia and other herbs is now called Aphyllon fransiscanum. Both grow in our area.

Ballhead Ipomopsis (Ipomopsis congesta) (Eye-poe-mop-siss cuhn-jest-ah). Vegetative but still stunning! An alien-mound of rosettes.





An alpine scrub community near the treeline growing low, due to environmental impacts such as wind and snowload. Grows with Artemisia, Purshiana, Symphoriocarpus, and many of the species I’ve covered so far.


Tiling’s Monkeyflower (Erythranthe tilingi) (Eh-rih-thran-thee till-ing-eye). A higher-elevation species easily confused with the widespread E. guttata. Jepson lists root characteristics as the main difference, mat-forming or not. But I’ve noticed another distinction that I’ve never seen mentioned. In my experience, E. guttata has fleshy leaves, and E. tilingi has mucilaginous, slimy leaves much like E. moschata, especially when young.

Single Head Rabbitbrush (Ericameria suffruticosa) (Erica-mare-ee-ah suff-root-ih-coe-sah). Ericameria are hard, and I’m only minutely confident with this ID. The ray flowers seemed to fall off easily and early, and individuals that I’m pretty sure were the same species growing nearby retained their rays. So I took the route in the key for rays present and got here. Take with a grain of salt.

Fasciated stem on an eriogonum, likely frosted buckwheat (E. incanum). Reminded me of those sour candy ropes, if you know what I’m talking about.





Seep community of Angelica, Lupinus, Senecio, Salix, Veratrum, and many more.






Shasta Clover (Trifolium productum) (Try-foal-ee-um pro-duct-um). Note the pointed apex above the flower and the reflexed flowers. Making this a relatively easy clover to identify. Only one that occurs anywhere nearby with which it might be confused is T. ciliolatum, but that occurs at low elevations.



Meadow community. Those erect stalks are little elephant’s head (Pedicularis attolens), gone to seed.



Lemmon’s Paintbrush (Castilleja lemmonii) (Cass-till-ey-ha leh-moan-ee-eye). Note the calyx, just in front of the spike-like flower, is split deeply in the front, much more than on the sides. A stunning purple paintbrush of the higher elevations in the Sierra, occurring lower down as you move south in its range.

Fir Broom Rust (Melampsorella caryophyllacearum) (Mell-amp-sore-ell-ah care-ee-oh-feye-lay-see-air-um). A fungal agent that causes witches brooms on true firs. It results in this yellowish coloration and weirdo form.

This rust fungus alternates its host between firs and chickweeds (Genus Stellaria). It is more obvious on the firs though, due to the broom formation. The needles are discolored, shorter, and become winter-deciduous. Seen here are the spore pustules called aecia, which produce aeciospores. These result from a perennial mycelium in the fir tissues. The spores are windborne and infect the leaves and stems of their chickweed hosts, which then form uredia, an orange-colored pustule that forms urediospores. These infect newly forming fir buds in the spring and the cycle begins again

Red-berried Elder (Sambucus racemosa ssp. racemosa) (Sam-buke-us race-ih-moe-suh). Quite obvious identification in the fruiting season. In California, this species occurs primarily in the Sierra, the Klamaths, and the coast. It is also found in other parts of the U.S., Canada, Asia, and Europe. All parts of the plant are toxic except the flesh of the ripe berries, which can be eaten. Another subspecies occurs here, ssp. melanocarpa, which has blackish fruits.


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