Plants of Southern California: Baccharis emoryi / B. pilularis at Upper Newport Bay

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Fieldwork
III. Analysis


Some specimens of Baccharis emoryi and B. pilularis are difficult to identify readily in the field. We measured eight specimens at the Upper Bay of Newport Beach, California, on 2 December 2006 in order to see how reliably such specimens could be identified, whether there was any evidence of hybridization, and whether our "at-a-glance" field determinations were accurate. We find that only the pistillate involucre length and pappus length, both measured in full fruit, are reliable in identifications. Most of our field determinations were in fact confirmed.


Baccharis emoryi and B. pilularis are usually easy to distinguish in the field. B. emoryi is a taller plant, with more upright branches (especially noticeable in the inflorescence) and larger leaves. In fruit, female plants of B. emoryi generally produce stunning displays of white from its longer pappus, compared to generally less stunning displays from B. pilularis. B. emoryi is confined to drainages and moist areas, whereas B. pilularis is found in those habitats as well as drier ones.

However, some plants are problematic, since there is considerable overlap in habit, as well as in length of pappus in fruit. For example, there is one B. pilularis specimen growing next to a drainage at the Santa Rosa Plateau that seems a clear B. emoryi from its large leaves and many upright tall branches. Yet it very clearly proved to be B. pilularis from measurements in full fruit in two successive years. (The first author checked its fruit in two successive years since he wanted to double-check the determination from fruit from a single year!)

The Back Bay of Newport Beach is a moist environment that has many specimens of Baccharis emoryi. However, some specimens look a lot like B. pilularis, and others seem hard to determine just by looking at them. Hence on 2 December 2006 we measured eight specimens to see how well they separated.


On 2 December 2006 we selected eight specimens near the Big Canyon Parking Lot in the following way. We selected two specimens that seemed clear B. emoryi at a glance, two specimens that seemed clear B. pilularis at a glance, and four random specimens in a single location. That location was selected because Michael Charters photographed plants here in a previous year that appeared to show both species side by side.

All plants were in full seed, which is important for the measurement of the pappus length, and perhaps the involucre length as well. Most Asteraceae pappus does not grow after flowering, and so can be measured perfectly well in bloom. Baccharis pappus, however, grows significantly during fruit development, and you will get the wrong determination if you use that measurement to compare against the floras.

We measured 12 characteristics for each specimen. Two characteristics, glabrous stems and fruit length of ~1 mm, were the same for all specimens. The other 10 characteristics are given in Table 1 (note that leaf and bract length and width are two characteristics each, but are each given in one column below):

Table 1

GPS #Height (feet)% LeafyLargest Leaf (mm)Aspect of BranchesTypical Bract (mm)Bract ShapeInvolucre Length (mm)Pappus Length (mm)Field DeterminationFinal Determination
17.070%28 x 8ascending to erect15 x 3narrowly oblanceolate6-79-10B. emoryiB. emoryi
2 NE6.580%50 x 20ascending to erect23 x 6linear to oblanceolate6-79-10B. emoryiB. emoryi
2 MSW8.0100%35 x 15erect11 x 8oblong to oblong / lanceolate9-10B. emoryiB. emoryi
55.0100%35 x 15ascending to erect17 x 7linear to oblanceolate6.5-7.510-12B. emoryiB. emoryi
2 MNE7.0100%30 x 12erect23 x 10oblong to widely oblanceolate4-57-8B. emoryi?B. pilularis
2 SW6.0100%22 x 7erect12 x 3linear to oblong57B. pilularis?B. pilularis
37.8100%22 x 9ascending to erect12 x 5oblanceolate4-59B. pilularisB. pilularis
46.5100%22 x 14ascending to erect13 x 6oblanceolate57B. pilularisB. pilularis

The four random specimens are all at GPS #2, identified by their cardinal relative orientation from NE, Middle NE (MNE), Middle SW (MSW), and SW. Specimen 2 MSW was the only specimen which did not have any intact involucres left, and hence it is missing that measurement in the above table and in the first set of plots below.

The field determination was not made based on any of our measurements; it was based on the gestalt of the plant to our eyes at a glance. The gestalt was probably derived from some combination of the following: compactness and erectness of the inflorescence; the leaf spacing; and perhaps the leaf color.

The final determination was made after analyzing all the data, summarized in the plots below, and especially in the Principal Components Analysis.

The % Leafy was based on looking only at this year's growth, checking for any leaves that were dropped. Note that we scoured the plants to find the largest leaf still present on the plant, but for the bracts we tried to sample a typical bract. Bracts are simply the leaves that are next to the flowers or at the base of the inflorescence branches. They are are generally smaller in size than leaves found lower on the plant. The bracts continue to get smaller toward the top of the inflorescence, and are thus smaller at the base of individual flowers. We simply tried to sample what looked like a typical middle-inflorescence bract, as one should do to compare against the floras (see below).


The Jepson Manual key to separate these species is:

7.  Bracts gen linear, entire; lvs light green; involucre of pistillate heads 6-8 mm; fr pappus 8-12 mm .......................... B. emoryi
7'. Bracts obovate, sometimes toothed; lvs dark green; involucre of pistillate heads 3.5-5 mm; fr pappus 5.5-9 mm ... B. pilularis

The following plot shows the only numeric characteristics in the above key, the involucre length and fruit pappus. This and subsequent plots use the average value for all characteristics with ranges in Table 1.

The plot shows that all specimens fall clearly within the range specified in the Jepson Manual for each species; no intermediates are seen.

The bract shape is shown in the following plot, plotted against the involucre length so that it is easy to compare against the previous plot:

The bract shape only works well to separate the species if the bracts are clearly obovate (a value of 2 in the above plot), which is in the sense of the Jepson Manual key. However, note that one specimen of B. pilularis had linear bracts, indicating that its branch of the key needs the word gen as well.

All other measured characteristics only weakly separate the species, if at all, as seen in the following plots and in a principal component analysis (PCA). We performed PCA on all measured characteristics and on subsets of the characteristics. All sets showed clean separation between the species, but nearly all the separation comes from just three characteristics, the bract shape and the involucre and pappus lengths:

A plot that includes the ratio of bract to leaf sizes in the PCA looks identical to the above plot. Plots that include all measured quantities show greater numeric separation of the species, but also have greater scatter since the analysis is dominated by the variance in the leaf and bract lengths (see below).

It is unlikely there is any significance to the apparent curvature in the points for each species, which is produced for each species by a single outlying specimen. The first plot above shows that it is likely that the curve would become a filled rectangle if more specimens were sampled.

The following plots have all eight specimens shown; the previous plots excluded specimen 2 MSW due to its lack of a involucre length measurement.

B. emoryi has bigger leaf and bract sizes on average, but there is much overlap between the species:

Note in particular the one B. pilularis with a bract size of 23 x 10 mm (2 MNE in Table 1). In the field, we called this a possible B. emoryi, possibly in part due to its large leaves and bracts.

In fact, the Jepson Manual description gives 8-55 mm for the length of the leaves of B. pilularis. Since all our measured leaf lengths from both species are within that range, clearly leaf length cannot be relied upon to make a species determination in general. However, in small areas like here, where the plants are growing together in similar conditions, separation by leaf size may work fairly well.

The Jepson Manual description gives 35-70 mm for the length of the leaves of B. emoryi; that is clearly too small of a range. The largest leaf we could find on specimen 1 above was 28 mm long; it had many shorter leaves.

Taking the ratio of the bract size to the maximum leaf size appears to separate the species better:

Note that B. pilularis specimen 2 MNE now no longer falls within the B. emoryi range; in fact, it is now the farthest point from the B. emoryi range, the isolated point at the upper right!

However, the majority of the specimens are close enough together that this doesn't make a very useful test for an individual plant.

Finally, some specimens of B. emoryi drop some of the leaves by the time they are in fruit, but many plants had all their leaves still present:

The height of the plant is clearly not useful as a discriminant here; the tallest and shortest plant were both B. emoryi.

While writing this up, we realized that our field determinations depended at least in part on how densely spaced the leaves were, and on the color of the leaf. We didn't think of measuring the leaf spacing, but will try to do that in the future. The color of the leaf was not measured since that is most useful only in comparing samples side-by-side; it is nearly impossible to use in the field by beginners.

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Copyright © 2006 by Tom Chester and Dick Newell
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to us at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Last update: 3 December 2006