Category Archives: Flora

Thysanocarpus curvipes (fringepod)

DSCN1214This small plant has somewhat unremarkable flowers, but fruits that are quite striking.  In early spring, fringepod plants have a raceme of tiny, white, 4-petalled flowers that are easily missed.  In fruit, however, this plant produces delicate, lacy, fruits that are about a quarter inch wide.  Each contains a single seed within.  The scientific name is derived from the Greek for “fringed” (thysanos) + “fruit” (karpos).

Fruits of plants in the mustard family are described as siliques, which have two fused carpels and are in general much longer than they are broad.  In genera such as Thysanocarpus and Lepidium, however, when fruits are as broad as they are long, the fruits are referred to as silicles.  Fringepod has a broad distribution across the California Floristic Province.


  • Species: Thysanocarpus curvipes
  • Plant Family: Brassicaceae (mustard family)
  • Where I saw it: In foothill grassland, High Trestle Trail, Lassen National Forest

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Cercis occidentalis (western redbud)

DSCN1193Cercis occidentalis is a shrub in the pea family.  Like most pea flowers, they are described as papillonaceaous because the broad upper petal is reminiscent of a ‘papillon’ (French for butterfly).  In a pollinator-friendly configuration, this upper petal attracts insects, while the lower petals act as landing pads and protect  the stamens and stigma.

Redbud’s magenta flowers are first to emerge in the spring, followed by broad reniform (kidney-shaped) or cordate (heart-shaped) leaves.  In the photo below, new leaves are just beginning to emerge atop the inflorescence.  When in fruit, this species will produce pods that are several inches long.   

  • Species: Cercis occidentalis
  • Plant Family: Fabaceae (pea family)
  • Where I saw it: In foothill chaparral, High Trestle Trail, Lassen National Forest

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Clematis lasiantha (chaparral clematis)

DSCN1196Clematis lasiantha is a liana, or woody vine.  This species twists and twines around the other shrubs that it uses for support.  In the photo below, it is climbing Cercis occidentalis (western redbud).  While many woody plants invest energy into rigid stems and branches that will thrust their leaves toward the sun, clematis can instead devote more of its energy toward growth and reproduction. Most lianas occur in tropical rainforests, where dense canopies are at great heights, and this twining adaptation is particularly useful to allow plants to snag some sunlight for themselves.  But for Clematis lasiantha, this adaptation has proved beneficial in foothill chaparral as well.  Clematis species twine with their elongated leaf petioles (see below), which will wrap around whatever structure they encounter.

This species is in the buttercup family.  What appear to be four white petals are actually cream-colored sepals.  Clematis lasiantha has opposite leaves (see below), each with three  coarsely toothed leaflets that at first glance, in poison-oak country, can give one pause!


  • Species: Clematis lasiantha
  • Plant Family: Ranunculaceae (buttercup family)
  • Where I saw it: In foothill chaparral, High Trestle Trail, Lassen National Forest

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Silene laciniata ssp. californica(California indian pink)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis bright red bloom belongs to Silene laciniata ssp. californica, or California indian pink.  The genus Silene  has many representatives in our area (Silene lemmonii, Silene occidentalis, and Silene douglasii to name a few).  They share with S. laciniata opposite leaves and divided petals, however these other species all have white flowers.  Silene laciniata ssp. californica is the only northern California catchfly that is red in color.

These plants are members of the pink family (a family that includes carnations, dianthus, and many other garden flowers).  “Pink” refers not to the color of the flowers, but to the appearance of the petals of many of the species in this family, which look as though someone has taken a pair of pinking shears to them.

  • Species: Silene laciniata ssp. californica
  • Plant Family: Caryophyllaceae (pink family)
  • Where I saw it: Yellow Creek area, Plumas County
    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Brasenia schreberi (watershield)

DSCN0028 Although attempts to relocate Brasenia schreberi at Mountain Meadows during a CNPS treasure hunt event last July were thwarted, there are other known populations in our area.  One is at Round Valley Reservoir, where this aquatic plant covers a good portion of the lake near the eastern shoreline.  And I stumbled across another occurrence last weekend at Last Chance Marsh, the meadows surrounding the northern arm of Lake Almanor.

The more I read about this plant the more interesting tidbits I discover!  Watershield is a type of water lily, but has been split out into a small family, Cabombaceae that it shares with just one other genus worldwide.  Water lilies are among the most primitive plant lineages.  Brasenia schreberi has a global distribution, but can be rare within its range.  Currently, this species has a California Rare Plant Ranking of 2.3.  Watershield are easily identified by their peltate leaves, meaning that the petiole attaches to the underside, not the edge of the leaf.   An additional distinguishing character is that the underside of the leaves and the petioles are covered with a thick, mucilaginous coating.

Watershield has a nifty strategy, called dichogamy,  to discourage self-pollination (per Taylor and Osborn 2006 and Osborn and Schneider 1988).  These plants are the only water lilies that are wind pollinated, and they flower over a two-day period.  On the first day, the stigmas are exposed (as in the photo at left) to receive pollen from other plants.  The flower closes, and the the next day reopens with pollen-bearing anthers exposed (see photo below).

  • Species: Brasenia schreberi
  • Plant Family: Cabombaceae (watershield family)
  • Where I saw it: pond near Last Chance Marsh, Lake Almanor

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Penstemon newberryi (mountain-pride)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Penstemon is one of my favorite genera, and hot-pink mountain-pride is certainly one of the showiest.  Though this species occurs at high (>4,000 ft.) elevations throughout the Cascades, Sierra Nevada, and Klamath ranges, I am much more likely to encounter other Penstemon species such as P. neotericus, P. speciosus, P. gracilentus, P. deustus, P. rydbergii, and P. sudans on the Lassen National ForestI encountered P. newberryi  in bloom last week, growing atop a massive boulder along Rattlesnake Creek, a tributary to Deer Creek.  This is typical habitat for the species, which I have also seen growing on granitic rock above Homer Lake and near Bucks Lake.

Penstemon flowers display bilateral symmetry, meaning that they are symmetric only across one central axis.  Petals are fused into a two-lipped tube that creates a landing pad for pollinators.  These include bees, flies, and even (unlike blue- and white-lowered penstemon species) hummingbirds.  While I failed to scramble up this rock for close-ups, I snapped some photos (below) of plants that I purchased last year from Floral Native Nursery in Chico and planted into crevices in a rock wall.  With minimal irrigation, they are thriving, and a constitute a beautiful, native addition to our yard!

  • Species: Penstemon newberryi
  • Plant Family: Plantaginaceae (plantain family)
  • Where I saw it: atop boulder adjacent to Rattlesnake Creek, above Highway 32

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Iris hartwegii ssp. pinetorum (Hartweg’s iris)

DSCN8933This delicate iris with a clunky name also graced the understory around Round Valley.  This subspecies of Iris hartwegii is a California endemic, with most recorded occurrences located within Plumas County.  Karl Hartweg was a 19th century German botanist who collected  throughout the Americas, from Columbia to California.

  • Species: Iris hartwegii
  • Plant Family: Liliaceae (lily family)
  • Where I saw it: mixed conifer forest understory, near Round Valley Reservoir

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Rosa gymnocarpa (bald-hip rose)

DSCN8927Out near Round Valley Reservoir on a family woodcutting trip, my focus was mainly devoted to issues more urgent than local flora.  Namely, Keeping The 3-Year-Old Away from the Chainsaw.  And Staving Off Tantrums with Juice and Snacks.  But between these urgent duties, I had time to take a peek around the understory of this north-facing, Sierran Mixed Conifer stand to watch June unfold.  Rosa gymnocarpa, shown here, was a common understory component, along with Iris hartwegii (Hartweg’s iris), and Arnica discoidea (rayless arnica).

We have several native roses in our area.  This one, bald-hip, rose is easiest to spot in the fall when the sepals fall off the rose-hips.  In other local species of rose, the sepals persist, and flare out from the tip of the rose-hip.  And another identifiable character of this species, visible here, is that the pedicels (flower stalks) have gland-tipped bristles.

  • Species: Rosa gymnocarpa
  • Plant Family: Rosaceae (rose family)
  • Where I saw it: mixed conifer forest understory, near Round Valley Reservoir
    DSCN8929

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Castilleja exserta (purple owl’s clover)

DSCN8454Another show-stopper from North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve, and one of the most exuberant of our paintbrushes.  This is purple owl’s clover, a species that is particularly fun to examine under a hand-lens.  Up close, each of the flowers does look a bit like a puffed-up owl (CalPhotos hosts a nice close-up image here), though I am uncertain if this is what the common name is intended to describe.  Like other members of the Orobanchaceae, this species is a hemiparasite that derives part of its nutrition by parasitizing the roots of other plant species.

  • Species: Castilleja exserta
  • Plant Family: Orobanchaceae (broomrape family)
  • Where I saw it: North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve

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Lewisia rediviva (bitterroot)

DSCN8416I stepped out of our car at Table Mountain two weeks ago and was immediately greeted with spectacular bitterroot, with its two to three-inch wide blooms.  Bitterroot inhabits rocky outcroppings and gravelly substrates across the western states, but it is a species that I have rarely encountered on the Lassen National Forest.  I know it better from my years in the Northern Rockies (it is the state flower of Montana).

While many of the eye-catching species on Table Mountain are annual species, bitterroot is a perennial.  It thrives on inhospitable rock substrates where most plants could not survive, thanks to several adaptations.  Bitterroot has a thick taproot that enables the plant to take root in rock crevices.  The above-ground portions of the plant will soon vanish without a trace, and the plant will reserve its energy below-ground.  When conditions are  favorable in some subsequent spring, the plant will return to life (‘rediviva’ in Latin) and produce its showy blooms once again.  In addition, the tissue of rounded and succulent bitterroot leaves store water that the plant can utilize while flowering.

  • Species: Lewisia rediviva
  • Plant Family: Portulacaceae (purslane family)
  • Where I saw it: North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve

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