Helenium bigelovii, Bigelow's sneezeweed, as an Indicator Species at San Jacinto Mountain

by David Stith

Fig. 1. Photographs of Helenium bigelovii, Bigelow's sneezeweed, from Wellman's Cienega on 10 September 2010. This is the only extant location at San Jacinto Mountain for this species, which formerly was known from at least one other location.
Click on the pictures for larger versions.

Bigelow's sneezeweed, Helenium bigelovii, is a member of the sunflower family that grows from Southern California to Oregon. It inhabits wet meadows, bogs, marshes, stream banks, and the margins of ponds and lakes.

At the time of this writing in 2015, there were fourteen vouchers from the San Jacinto Mountains listed on the Consortium of California Herbarium with dates from 1880 to 1928. Some are duplicates, and most have nondescript locations such as "San Jacinto Mountain, w slope San Jacinto Mt., or Meadow N of Tahquitz Valley" making them difficult to relocate with any certitude. One voucher by E. C. Jaeger in 1922 gives the locality precisely at San Jacinto Mtns: Skunk-Cabbage Meadow. From this we can deduce that at least some of the other vouchers may be from that same location.

In our botanical surveys of the San Jacinto Mountains we carefully scrutinized every bog, meadow, and stream bank that was within our reach looking for Lemon lilies which flourish in a similar type of habitat as Sneezeweed. One area of particular interest was Skunk Cabbage Meadow, but we found no Sneezeweed on any of our surveys there. The only place that we did find Sneezeweed was at 9000 feet elevation in Wellman's Cienega and there only a small number of plants.

It is curious that Sneezeweed should entirely disappear from Skunk Cabbage Meadow while other associated plants continue to survive, but it is not a preposterous notion. At least one species of orchid once found in the meadow, White Bog Adder's Mouth, Malaxis monophyllos var. brachypoda, has not been seen in nearly a century and is presumed to be extinct on the mountain.

Since the San Jacinto Mountains are the southernmost extension of the range of Bigelow's sneezeweed, H. bigelovii may be an important species to monitor as an indicator of the effects of climate change as well as human activities past and present on the local flora. Conceivably at that latitude it is just barely able to survive at high elevations, and may disappear here if the climate becomes warmer and drier.

Related Links

Michael Charters has an excellent photo gallery from Wellman Cienega.

The results of our floristic surveys:

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Copyright © 2015-2018 by David Stith.
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Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Updated 3 March 2018.