Mid-April Update, Potomac Gorge


miterwort, aka bishop’s cap
Mitella diphylla


The wildflowers continue to start blooming about two weeks earlier than last year. I’m told that twinflower is done and gone to seed already. Bloodroot is done, too, and so is cutleaf toothwort, though slender toothwort is just starting. Trout lilies are done in some locations, but still going strong in others. Virginia bluebells are waning.



early meadow rue (male flowers)
Thalictrum dioicum



Everything else I’ve posted about in the last few updates is still going strong. To that list, add:



early meadow rue (female flowers)


Endemic – restricted to one area. A species that is endemic to a place (Death Valley, for example) will be found nowhere else.


On my last morning in Death Valley I decided to re-visit a few highlights. I went to see the globemallow again, and to see if the nearby beavertail cactus buds had opened yet. Nope. But before that, I visited a particular trail that had a good number of gulches with a good variety of flowering plant species. I was on my way back to the car when I caught sight of this.



Death Valley sage, Salvia funerea, Lamiaceae


Death Valley sage is of course endemic to Death Valley.  It’s a shrub that can grow to about 4 feet tall, but usually is shorter. This specimen was a little more than knee-high. The pale-green foliage looks silvery from the short white hairs all over it (hence another common name, woolly sage).

I’d seen a few of these over several days, but this was the only one flowering. Those purple flowers are slightly smaller than a pinky-nail.



Craters and Poppies


Ubehebe Crater, in the northeastern part of Death Valley National Park, is a beautiful and fascinating geological feature, the remains of a volcanic explosion that happened only 300 to 800 years ago (estimates vary).  The crater is about half a mile wide and 600 feet deep, and there’s a trail that circumnavigates the top.



The area is covered in cinders and colorful gravel and only very few plants. Actually it was a great place to get specimen photos, since the plants grew so sparsely, and almost always well apart from each other.



I was poking about, alternately admiring the flowers and gaping at the geology, when (yet another) yellow flower caught my eye.



This is Mojave gold poppy, aka desert poppy, Eschscholzia glyptosperma (Papaveraceae).  I saw maybe half a dozen of them in a small area between the parking lot and the viewing area at the top of the crater. Note the elongated seedpod above the flowers in the photo to the right.

Apparently this poppy is common across the Mojave desert, but I didn’t see them anywhere else during my trip.


Small But Showy


lesser mohavea, aka golden desert snapdragon
Mohavea breviflora


And back to Death Valley…

Like so many other flowers I saw in Death Valley, lesser mohavea is found in the Mojave Desert of California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. It’s an annual, growing to about eight inches tall.

Of course the common name makes me wonder, is there a greater mohavea? Apparently not. There’s only one other species in the genus (M. confertiflora), and its common name is ghostflower.



Bigelow monkeyflower
Mimulus bigelovii


While there are only two Mohavea species, there are 70 some Mimulus species, all but four of which are found in the western US. (I wrote last July about Allegheny monkeyflower and winged monkeyflower.) M. bigelovii has about the same range as lesser mohavea, stands at about the same height (though it can flower when much smaller), and is also an annual.


Tiny Dancer


sessile bellwort; straw lily; wild oats
Uvularia sessilifolia
Colchicaceae [formerly Liliaceae]

And back to the Potomac Gorge…

Thanks to a tip from a fellow muddy-kneed photographer, I was able to (finally!) get some decent pictures of sessile bellwort. This is a dainty plant, standing only a few inches tall, with a few narrow leaves and an inch-long, pendant, pale yellow flower.  It can be found in moist woodlands in the eastern US and Canada, the Midwest, and parts of the Great Plains states. Like so many of the other plants now blooming in the Gorge, it’s an ephemeral: in about a month it will be done for the year, and die back to the ground.


In 2012, I hiked the Billy Goat trails for fun and to see the flowers. In 2013, I started taking pictures of them with my iPhone, so I could identify them at home. In 2014, I bought my first real camera (Nikon D3200) to use as a tool for better identification and study, but my goal was finding the plants. Midway through 2015, I bought a better camera (Nikon D750), because my goal had shifted from finding plants to getting better pictures of them. Now, in 2016, I find I’m no longer hiking in search of plants. Rather, I’m hiking to places where I know certain plants can be found, in order to spend time taking pictures of them. I’ll be posting about another one of those soon.

Funny where a trail can lead you if you let it. I had never been interested in photography before.


I’m All Ears


desert paintbrush (see below)
Castilleja species
[Scrophulariaceae in some older references]


When hunting wildflowers, obviously you have to keep your eyes open, and sometimes it helps to keep your nose open. But sometimes it pays to keep your ears open, too.

On my second day in Death Valley, I was waiting in line for the only loo in the lower Dante’s View parking area (loos are hard to come by in Death Valley) when I overheard the woman behind me say to her friend “did you see the Indian paintbrush?”

“No, where?” says the other woman.

“Right over there, behind my car,” says the first.

Well.  I wasn’t going to lose my place in line, but as soon as I finished that task I joined the small crowd gathered around this plant, the only specimen I saw on the trip.


Just like with the past few plants I’ve posted about, I had a bit of trouble nailing down which species this is. I finally decided on Castilleja applegatei ssp. martinii (one of four subspecies) because that’s the one in the pamphlet I purchased at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center; the description reads “May grow through shrubs for support; in mid to high elevations.” As you can see this was growing through a shrub, and that parking lot is a little under 5000′ above sea level.

However… I can never leave good enough alone.  Calflora doesn’t show that species growing anywhere near Dante’s View. A little more research, and I came up with another ID: C. chromosa. Which is a name no longer accepted by ITIS, which calls it C. angustifolia var. dubia.  Which is plausible. I don’t have the details to say which species it is.

About the common names… seldom have I seen so many variations.  These two species may be known variously as:

  • desert (Indian) paintbrush
  • wavyleaf (Indian) paintbrush
  • pine paintbrush
  • Martin’s paintbrush
  • showy northwestern (Indian) paintbrush

I dunno. Maybe I should just call it “paintbrush” and be done.

One More Belly Flower


Nama demissa


Sorry that I keep going back and forth between Death Valley and the Potomac Gorge. I still have lots to post about that trip, but things are happening fast at home, so the blog posts are going to bounce around for awhile yet.

So, back to Death Valley… Purplemat is not particularly showy, given that it stands no more than three inches above the ground, but it is pretty up close. There are two varieties, demissa and covillei; without more detailed pictures I can’t be sure, but I believe the plant shown here is the former.



penny for scale




About the botanic name: ITIS accepts the specific epithet demissa, and demissum as an unaccepted orthographic variant.  Nonetheless, you’ll see demissum often on the internet. Also, other sources place this plant in the Hydrophyllaceae.

view from above