Sierra Nevada Natives on Dry Slopes

Colochortis leichtlinii (Leichtlin's Mariposa Lily)

I just returned from a very wonderful hiking vacation in the Mokelumne wilderness of the Sierra Nevada. Mr. Mouse and I decided we needed some time away from computers and phone and signed up for a trip with the Sierra Club. We picked a lodge-based trip to combine the comforts of a bed, a hot shower, and fresh food with the opportunity to spend a lot of time outside and meet some fellow hikers and nature lovers. (We had such a good time that we're already plotting where to go next, but work does get in the way).

Even though this has been a fairly dry winter, our oldest fellow-hiker, who had been on over 50 Sierra Club trips, said that he'd rarely seen such a spectacular display of wildflowers. So, in the next few posts, I'll be sharing some of the photos I brought home (click any photo to enlarge it).

The Mariposa Lily above was abundant in  dry areas, often combined with lupine. I believe this might be  Lupinus obtusilobus (silverleaf lupine), but with over 70 species of lupine in California, I can't be sure. 

Lupinus obtusilobus (silverleaf lupine) (?)
On each hike, I carried my small camera and my trusted Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada (written and illustrated by John Muir Laws). Because I was hiking with a group, it did not make sense to bring my larger camera, but I enjoyed looking up plants I had seen during our breaks.

Above, the landscape we hiked in. Geologically, the Mokelumne wilderness is very interesting, with a combination of Sierra granite and more recent volcanic rock, as well as volcanic rock with older rock embedded in it (this looks as if someone had brought concrete to mix up some aggregate). Below, an "aggregate" rock with fairly large rocks embedded in the volcanic rock, we also saw others with 1-2 inch pebbles.

A great read about the geology of the area is Assembling California by John McPhee. I had the book along on the trip and it helped me understand better what I was seeing - though I still have a lot to learn. Regardless, back to the flowers.

In the driest areas we saw a thistles like this. The guide book says the prostrate thistle, only a few inches high, is Cirsium scariosum, and while a few of the plants we saw were maybe a foot high, the leaf pattern matches that of Cirsium scariosum so I'm going to assume that's what we saw.

Cirsium Scariosum (elk thistle) ?
While the thistle was something special primarily for the native plant lover, the succulents and buckwheats caught everyone's eye.

River of succulents and buckwheats

Here's a close-up of the succulent, which I believe is Dudleya cymosa (Liveforever).

And here a photo of Sedum obtusatum (Sierra stonecrop) on our one rainy day. A very different photo, but it's easy to identify the Sedum because of the rosettes of thick succulent leaves.

Sedum obtusatum (Sierra stonecrop)
Here a different view, mixed with a low-growing plant - maybe a shrub? - that I never did manage to identify. 

And finally a close-up of the lovely buckwheat we saw everywhere. I believe this to be Eriogonum incanum (hoary buckwheat) because of the clumped flower clusters. We also saw Eriogonum ursinum (bear buckwheat) and Eriogonum nudum (naked buckwheat).

Eriogonum incanum (hoary buckwheat)

This concludes today's tour. Soon, I'll show you some of the flowers we saw along the little streams and the lakes.


Country Mouse said…
Oh my what a wonderful trip! And great flowers and landscapes! The eriogonum is so bright - all lovely (the thistle included!!) -- BTW an Eriogonum arborescens popped up near those South African succulents you gave me, whose names I can never remember - I figure a seed must have taken a ride along with. Unfortunately I had to pull it out because of the hybridization issue. Oh well.
(Cotyledon orbiculata? Try the common name - pig's ears)
Mani said…
Thanks for the photographs and the notes!
Andrea said…
Wow that was an exciting tour, with lots of unusual plant growths and flowers. But the land looks really dry and crumbly!
Anonymous said…
Hi TM,

Great post, very informative!

ryan said…
Sounds like a great trip. I've never been up in the Mokelumne, but it looks like I need to go. Interesting that the veteran hiker was thinking it was such a good year. I was just up in Yosemite and I thinking the same thing.