Mojave Desert Monsoonal Bloom in September 2012
Introduction and Overview
Additional Observations From Our Trip
Checklist of Species Observed, with Species in Bloom Noted
Introduction and Overview
The summer monsoon was quite vigorous in 2012, with thunderstorms in and near the San Jacinto Mountains in Riverside County for a period of two months from mid-July to mid-September. The National Weather Service predicted a chance of rain in Idyllwild on 11-14, 18, 23, 30 and 31 July; 1-23, 28-31 August; and 1-11 September. Radar showed extensive thunderstorm areas in the desert areas to the east during those dates, as well as on additional dates when the monsoon had moved east of the San Jacinto Mountains.
We anticipated that all this rainfall would cause good monsoonal annual blooms, and we were ecstatic when Michael Charters informed Tom of this report from Jim Andre on 10 September 2012:The entire Mojave National Preserve is aflush with the best overall bloom I've ever seen. You can't miss. The NY Mtns are most fabulous because of the diversity...but one minor caution - roads might be washed out in places because of all the rain. I haven't had too much problems with a 4WD.
Tom immediately made plans to go see this bloom. Due to schedule constraints for some of the participants and reports of essentially all roads in the New York Mountains being closed, we planned a trip for the weekend of 22-23 September. This seemed a good compromise between waiting for roads to be reopened and the fading of the annual bloom due to the summer heat.
That trip was done by Tom Chester, Kate Harper, RT and Shaun Hawke, Anne Kelly and Aaron Schusteff. We botanized from Whitewater Canyon near Palm Springs to the New York Mountains, transecting the Mojave Desert from south to north through 29 Palms, the Sheep Hole Mountains, the Granite / Marble Mountains pass, Kelso, Cima and Ivanpah. See Overview map of route (red line) with elevation profile (profile begins in the south at 29 Palms). In the New York Mountains, we stopped three times along the Ivanpah / New York Mountain Road, beginning at the end of the pavement to Keystone Canyon at 4000 feet elevation, with other stops at 4200 and 4500 feet, and then botanized in Keystone Canyon from 5300 feet to 5500 feet elevation.
That trip was fabulous! We found a total of 111 species in bloom, a number that essentially matches full bloom in the spring in a good year. We saw a total of 171 species on that trip, many of which we had never seen before in California since the New York Mountains has a lot of species that don't grow elsewhere in southern California.
Road conditions were excellent. The Ivanpah / New York Mountain road was in great shape up to Keystone Canyon; a Toyota Prius could have driven it. The Keystone Canyon Road is only driveable for the first two miles, up to the first wash. Those two miles are a bit rough, but my old 1983 Honda Civic Station Wagon could have driven it; only decent clearance is needed.
Fig. 1 shows a map of the area, summarizing roughly the richness of the bloom along our route:
Figure 1. Map Showing Richness of the 2012 Monsoonal Bloom.
Fig. 1. Map Showing Richness of the 2012 Monsoonal Bloom. The red (bone dry), yellow (sparse plants in bloom) and green (rich with plants in bloom) contours roughly indicate the richness of the bloom that we saw from the car in driving along the route covered with dense blue diamonds from our GPS track. Species seen in bloom were numbered along our botanizing route, with only the first occurrence of bloom from each species noted. The labels at various spots in the map indicate which species were found in bloom, with the species identified by number in Table 1 below. The green contour at upper left, surrounding the Teutonia Peak area, is from a report by John Marquis from 12 September 2012, who also provided input for some of the other contours.
Jane Strong researched the rainfall for the Mojave Preserve, and found the biggest event occurred on 21-22 August 2012, which was large enough to get a Rainfall and Flood Event Report. Rainfall totals from that event are given here, and are plotted on top of the Figure 1 map here. Over FOUR INCHES OF RAIN fell in the New York Mountains area over a period of 24 hours!
Our observations clearly confirm this rainfall pattern. We found only 7 species in bloom from 29 Palms to Amboy; an additional 16 species in bloom at Granite Pass, for a total of 23 species in bloom up to Kelso. In contrast, we found another 86 species in bloom in the New York Mountain area, including at Cima! Of course, there are many more species in the New York Mountains due to its diverse range in habitats and elevation. But without rain, few of them would be in bloom.
Since it was very clear that the New York Mountains were the place to be, as advertised by Jim Andre, RT and Shaun returned to that area on the next weekend, accompanied by Pam MacKay and Tim Thomas, making some of the same stops along the Ivanpah / New York Mountain Road, and then spending most of their trip in Caruthers Canyon. On that trip, they saw an additional 23 species in bloom, making a total of 134 species in bloom seen over two weekends. They saw an additional 46 species on that trip, making a total of 217 species seen in the two weekends.
The list of all observed species, along with those observed in bloom, is given in Table 1 below.
Many of the species we saw on our trip were photographed by Michael Charters in 2003 and 2004 on trips led by Jim Andre, and in 2009 on a trip led by Jim Andre and Tasha La Doux; see Michael's pages for his beautiful pictures. Jim Andre and Tasha La Doux regularly lead two day trips in September with the great name of Legends of the Fall: exploring the clandestine flora of early fall in the eastern Mojave Desert.
Our trip was made immensely richer by the plant checklist for the entire Mojave Preserve made by Jim Andre in 2006. With that list in hand, and the Jepson Desert Manual, we were able to identify the vast majority of species that we saw. We deeply appreciate all the work that Jim Andre did to create that list, and to the National Park Service for putting it online.
Our list of observed species in Table 1 derives almost exclusively from Andre's checklist. We found only three species not in his checklist: Opuntia parishii = Grusonia parishii; Solidago velutina; and Zea mays. The first two were undoubtedly just inadvertently omitted from the 2006 checklist, since there are vouchers in the Mojave Preserve of them. In fact, we didn't recognize the Grusonia parishii in the field, thinking it was just a very weird Echinocereus engelmannii that possibly was infected by some virus. (:-) Jim gave us the correct determination, for which we were quite grateful, since none of us had ever seen that species before.
We were very surprised to see cultivated corn, Zea mays, not only thriving but in bloom in several places along our trip, all close to the railroad line that parallels the road from Kelso to Cima. We suspect these are just waifs from seed from a passing train.
Note that we make no guarantees about any of the determinations for species we saw. We were on vacation, and just having fun seeing species we'd never seen before. Most determinations were made quickly, picking the most likely determination from Andre's list, and some of our determinations could be wrong.
Additional Observations From Our Trip
The following are somewhat random additional observations from our trip.
- Temperatures were just about 90° during our entire trip, except in the early morning. These temperatures were probably 5 to 10° above normal. We were very lucky to have some unusual high clouds most of the time, which were streaming in from the Pacific due to an unusual split in the jet stream.
- We were surprised that nearly every stop had a different unusual good fragrance! We usually could not track it down to a specific source, but we definitely enjoyed it. In the New York Mountains, we found that the flowers of Polygala acanthoclada had a wonderful smell, but they weren't the source of the good smell at that stop.
- On the 22-23 September 2012 trip, we were stunned to find zillions of butterflies flying across the road, and nectaring on many plants in bloom, in many places along our route. There were so many that we couldn't avoid hitting at least ten or so per mile in areas where they were the densest. The most common species seemed to be California Patch, Chlosyne californica.
We also found a number of caterpillars, some of which looked just like the Sphinx Moth caterpillars in the Borrego Desert. In the New York Mountains, caterpillars had essentially reduced the native Portulaca oleracea variety to stubs, which was another indication that this variety of Portulaca oleracea was native.
Surprisingly, these butterflies were essentially gone one week later, on the 29-30 September tri.
- The views were simply superb. The Granite Mountains alone are enough to make your heart ache at their beauty. As always in the desert, the vistas are to die for.
- We were simply stunned by the pristine-ness and botanical diversity of the New York Mountains. There were hardly any non-native grasses or forbs. We saw not a single plant of Brassica tournefortii or Erodium cicutarium.
We saw many new species for all of us, some that shocked some of us. For example, the Mirabilis coccinea has a habit and leaves exactly like Sarcostemma. But its flowers are definitely different!
Tom and Anne enjoyed seeing plants that we had only previously seen in the Grand Canyon.
Perhaps the biggest shocker was to find out that the very large plants of Portulaca oleracea we observed were NATIVE to this area (information from Jim Andre). The Kallstroemia parviflora plants we saw also pretty clearly behaved like natives here, even though the Jepson Manual says they are introduced to California. The SEINet distribution map shows that it is entirely expected that the New York Mountains would be part of its native range.
- The desert was green nearly everywhere along our trip from healthy, happy-looking creosote plants, even where we found no plants in bloom. It was odd to see so many happy creosote plants, yet find so few in bloom or fruit.
- There actually was a desert tortoise trying to cross the highway near 29 Palms, and someone had already stopped and was running to it to help it get off the road safely.
- Near 29 Palms, we saw perhaps the prettiest cholla we've ever seen. (:-)
- It was a real treat to stop at the Kelso Depot, park under the shade of blooming planted Chilopsis trees (they might have been hybrids), and treasure a scoop of Ice Cream from The Beanery there.
- We saw fields and fields of Hilaria rigida = Pleuraphis rigida in bloom. This species clearly responds best to monsoonal rain, which we had seen previously in the Borrego Desert.
- Of course, the absolute highlight were all the species in bloom, as well as species not in bloom that we had never seen before.
- It was interesting to see how different some species were here than in the Borrego Desert. For example, the starfish spurge, Chamaesyce setiloba, didn't look anything like the plants in DSon at a glance. They were still distinctive at a glance; just distinctive in a "different way". (:-)
Checklist of Species Observed, with Species in Bloom Noted
Table 1 is sorted first by category in the same order as Andre's list - ferns, conifrs, dicots and monocots - and then by family and scientific name. The Family and Scientific Name are from the Jepson Manual 1993 First Edition.
The first two columns are from Trip 1, the 22-23 September trip. The column titled Obs. indicates whether a taxon was observed if there is an entry in the column. An entry of "X" indicates we saw a taxon. An entry of "sp" means we don't know which species it is, and a random one was picked just to indicate that we observed the genus. An entry of "ssp" means the same for subspecies, and same for "var".
The column titled Fl. indicates whether we observed at least one plant of that species in bloom. The number given in that column is the order in which RT Hawke recorded the species as being in bloom, and corresponds to the numbers given for each location in Fig. 1.
The column titled Trip 2 indicates species seen on the 29-30 September 2012 trip of RT and Shaun Hawke, Tim Thomas and Pam MacKay. Since all those species were from the New York Mountains, they are not numbered. That single column indicates both blooming (b) and non-blooming (X) species. Two Astragalus species are marked with "or", since this plant was not in bloom and could be either one of these two species.
Caveat on the bloom list: we counted grass species as in bloom if they had a recognizable inflorescence with intact spikelets; we did not look for fresh anthers or styles. We also didn't check for viable anthers or styles on the paintbrushes; if we saw red, we counted them in bloom. One species on the list, Mirabilis coccinea, wasn't technically in bloom, but it was a species most of us had not seen before, and like the grasses, there was enough of an inflorescence in good shape to identify it. Hey, we were on vacation, and especially interested in species we hadn't seen before. (:-)
Table 1. Checklist of Species Observed, with Species in Bloom Noted
Scientific Name Trip 1 Trip 2 Obs'd Fl. PTEROPHYTA (Ferns) Pteridaceae (Brake Family) Pellaea mucronata var. mucronata X CONIFEROPHYTA (Conifers) Cupressaceae (Cypress Family) Juniperus californica sp X Juniperus osteosperma X X Ephedraceae (Ephedra Family) Ephedra nevadensis sp 45 X Pinaceae (Pine Family) Pinus monophylla X ANTHOPHYTA - DICOTYLEDONEAE Amaranthaceae (Amaranth Family) Amaranthus albus X 67 Amaranthus blitoides X Amaranthus fimbriatus X 12 b Amaranthus torreyi b Anacardiaceae (Sumac Family) Rhus trilobata X X Asclepiadaceae (Milkweed family) Asclepias asperula ssp. asperula X X Asclepias erosa sp Asclepias subulata X 7 Asteraceae (Sunflower Family) Adenophyllum cooperi X 25 Ageratina herbacea b Ambrosia acanthicarpa X 29 Ambrosia artemisiifolia b Ambrosia eriocentra X X Artemisia bigelovii b Artemisia dracunculus X Artemisia ludoviciana ssp. albula X 60 X Artemisia tridentata ssp. tridentata X X Baccharis sergiloides X 99 X Baileya multiradiata var. multiradiata X 24 b Brickellia californica X 78 b Brickellia incana X 31 Brickellia oblongifolia var. linifolia X 110 b Chaetopappa ericoides X 58 b Chrysothamnus depressus ? Chrysothamnus nauseosus ssp. hololeucus X b Chrysothamnus paniculatus X 37 Cirsium arizonicum var. tenuisectum X 89 b Encelia actoni X 57 Encelia frutescens X 18 Encelia virginensis X 106 Ericameria cooperi var. cooperi X 82 b Ericameria cuneata var. spathulata X X Erigeron concinnus var. concinnus b Gutierrezia microcephala X b Gutierrezia sarothrae X b Hymenoclea salsola var. salsola ssp X Hymenopappus filifolius var. megacephalus X 92 X Hymenoxys acaulis var. arizonica X 75 b Hymenoxys cooperi X 98 Machaeranthera arida b Machaeranthera canescens var. leucanthemifolia X 61 b Palafoxia arida var. arida X 6 Pectis papposa var. papposa X 1 b Psilostrophe cooperi X 43 b Sanvitalia abertii X 73 b Schkuhria multiflora var. multiflora X 86 b Senecio flaccidus var. monoensis X 10 Senecio multilobatus b Solidago velutina X 96 b Stephanomeria pauciflora X 22 b Tetradymia argyraea sp Viguiera parishii b 111 b Berberidaceae (Barberry Family) Berberis fremontii X X Berberis fremontii X Berberis haematocarpa X Chilopsis linearis ssp. arcuata X 4 X Boraginaceae (Borage Family) Cryptantha flavoculata X Tiquilia plicata X 40 Brassicaceae (Mustard Family) Arabis perennans b Lepidium montanum var. cinereum X 105 b Stanleya pinnata var. pinnata X 93 Cactaceae (Cactus Family) Escobaria vivipara var. rosea var var Echinocereus engelmannii X X Echinocereus triglochidiatus X X Ferocactus cylindraceus var. lecontei X Opuntia acanthocarpa var. coloradensis X X Opuntia basilaris var. basilaris X X Opuntia chlorotica X Opuntia echinocarpa X Opuntia parishii X Opuntia phaeacantha X X Opuntia erinacea var. erinacea X X Capparaceae (Caper Family) Isomeris arborea X Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle Family) Symphoricarpos longiflorus X Chenopodiaceae (Goosefoot Family) Atriplex canescens X X Chenopodium fremontii X Krascheninnikovia lanata X X Salsola paulsenii b Salsola tragus sp 88 X Crossosomataceae (Crossosoma Family) Glossopetalon spinescens X Cucurbitaceae (Gourd Family) Cucurbita foetidissima X Arctostaphylos pungens X Euphorbiaceae (Spurge Family) Chamaesyce albomarginata X 36 b Chamaesyce fendleri b Chamaesyce micromera X 33 b Chamaesyce polycarpa X 3 Chamaesyce revoluta X 52 b Chamaesyce serpyllifolia X 76 b Chamaesyce setiloba X 32 Eremocarpus setigerus X 17 Euphorbia exstipulata var. exstipulata X 77 Tragia ramosa X 59 b Fabaceae (Pea Family) Acacia greggii X X Astragalus bernardinus X Astragalus lentiginosus var. fremontii X 20 b Astragalus newberryi var. newberryi or Astragalus nutans X 109 Astragalus purshii var. tinctus or Caesalpinia gilliesii X 38 Dalea searlsiae X 102 b Glycyrrhiza lepidota X Hoffmannseggia glauca X 69 b Lotus argyraeus var. multicaulis ~ Psorothamnus arborescens var. minutifolius X Senna armata X 39 Fagaceae (Oak Family) Quercus chrysolepis X X Quercus turbinella X X Garryaceae (Silk Tassel Family) Garrya flavescens X X Gentianaceae (Gentian Family) Swertia albomarginata X 104 b Geraniaceae (Geranium Family) Erodium cicutarium X Hydrophyllaceae (Waterleaf Family) Eriodictyon angustifolium X X Krameriaceae (Rhatany Family) Krameria erecta X 56 b Krameria grayi X 34 X Lamiaceae (Mint Family) Marrubium vulgare X Salazaria mexicana X 46 b Salvia columbariae X Salvia dorrii var. pilosa X 47 b Salvia pachyphylla X 95 Linaceae (Flax Family) Linum lewisii X 108 X Linum puberulum sp Loasaceae (Loasa Family) Petalonyx thurberi ssp. thurberi X 5 Malvaceae (Mallow Family) Sphaeralcea ambigua var. ambigua X 13 b Molluginaceae (Carpet-Weed Family) Mollugo cerviana X Nyctaginaceae (Four O'Clock Family) Abronia nana ssp. covillei X 103 Allionia incarnata X Boerhavia coulteri b Boerhavia intermedia X 49 Boerhavia wrightii X 48 b Mirabilis bigelovii var. bigelovii X 50 b Mirabilis coccinea X 62 X Mirabilis multiflora var. pubescens X 87 X Mirabilis oblongifolia X 107 Oleaceae (Olive Family) Forestiera pubescens X Menodora scoparia X 70 b Menodora spinescens X X Onagraceae (Evening Primrose Family) Camissonia californica X Epilobium canum ssp. latifolium b Gaura coccinea X 97 b Oenothera caespitosa ssp. crinita sp Oenothera californica ssp. avita X 28 b Polemoniaceae (Phlox Family) Ipomopsis arizonica X 90 b Leptodactylon pungens X 101 Polygalaceae (Milkwort Family) Polygala acanthoclada X 54 b Polygonaceae (Buckwheat Family) Eriogonum deflexum var. deflexum X 15 Eriogonum fasciculatum var. polifolium X 9 b Eriogonum inflatum X 44 b Eriogonum microthecum var. simpsonii X 68 b Eriogonum palmerianum X 14 b Eriogonum plumatella X 16 Eriogonum umbellatum var. juniporinum b Eriogonum wrightii var. wrightii b Portulacaceae (Purslane Family) Portulaca halimoides X Portulaca oleracea (native variety) X 23 X Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn Family) Ceanothus greggii var. vestitus X X Rhamnus californica ssp. californica X b Rhamnus ilicifolia X Rosaceae (Rose Family) Fallugia paradoxa X 79 b Holodiscus microphyllus var. microphyllus X Prunus fasciculata var. fasciculata X X Purshia mexicana var. stansburyana X 80 b Purshia tridentata var. glandulosa X X Rubiaceae (Madder Family) Galium parishii X Salicaceae (Willow Family) Salix exigua X Scrophulariaceae (Figwort Family) Castilleja angustifolia X 51 b Castilleja linariifolia X 91 b Cordylanthus parviflorus X 100 Penstemon centranthifolius X Penstemon eatonii var. eatonii X 83 b Penstemon palmeri var. palmeri X Penstemon rostriflorus X 94 b Penstemon thompsoniae b Solanaceae (Nightshade Family) Datura wrightii X 11 b Lycium andersonii sp X Lycium cooperi X Physalis hederifolia var. fendleri X 53 sp Tamaricaceae (Tamarisk Family) Tamarix ramosissima X 21 Verbenaceae Aloysia wrightii X 55 b Verbena gooddingii X 63 b Viscaceae (Mistletoe Family) Phoradendron juniperinum X X Zygophyllaceae (Caltrop Family) Kallstroemia californica X 41 Kallstroemia parviflora X 85 X Larrea tridentata X 30 X Tribulus terrestris b ANTHOPHYTA - MONOCOTYLEDONEAE Cyperaceae (Sedge Family) Carex praegracilis sp Cyperus squarrosus ~ Liliaceae (Lily Family) Yucca baccata X X Yucca brevifolia X X Yucca schidigera X Poaceae (Grass Family) Achnatherum c.f. coronatum X Achnatherum hymenoides X X Achnatherum parishii X 66 Achnatherum speciosum X Aristida adscensionis X 2 Aristida purpurea var. fendleriana var var Bouteloua aristidoides var. aristidoides X 19 b Bouteloua barbata var. barbata X 8 b Bouteloua curtipendula X 64 b Bouteloua eriopoda X 71 b Bouteloua gracilis X 72 b Bromus madritensis ssp. rubens X X Bromus tectorum X 81 X Elymus elymoides ssp. elymoides X Enneapogon desvauxii b Eragrostis cilianensis X 65 b Eragrostis pectinacea var. pectinacea X b Erioneuron pulchellum X 42 X Muhlenbergia fragilis b Muhlenbergia porteri X 35 b Muhlenbergia rigens X 84 b Pleuraphis jamesii X 74 b Pleuraphis rigida X 26 b Sporobolus cryptandrus X X Zea mays X 27 Typhaceae (Cattail Family) Typha latifolia X
We thank Jim Andre for alerting us to the Mojave Desert bloom, pointing the way to the New York Mountains as the best spot, and help with identifying some of the species we saw. We thank Jane Strong for researching the rainfall for this area.
Copyright © 2012 by RT Hawke, Shaun Hawke, Tom Chester, Kate Harper, Anne Kelly, Pam MacKay, Aaron Schusteff and Tim Thomas (authors listed alphabetically after RT and Shaun Hawke)
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to me at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Last update: 9 October 2012