The at-least-16 year old Munchkin Lemon Lily on the Devils Slide Trail

Fig. 1. The munchkin lemon lily on 16 June 2012, when it was at least 12 years old. Left: closeup of the plant hidden amidst the Carex fracta leaves. Right: Dave pointing to the plant, which is nearly impossible to notice unless you are specifically looking for it. See also picture from 3 July 2015, three more years of drought after the pictures shown in Fig. 1.
Click on the pictures for larger versions.


Table of Contents

Introduction
Observations
Photographs in Time Order
Change in its Habitat due to the Drought


Introduction

To our knowledge, there are few records of how long an individual lemon lily, Lilium parryi, can live. Data from the wild are almost non-existent. In cultivation, individual plants are said to be fairly short-lived, taking three to five years after germination to produce a flower stalk, and living for "several years" thereafter.

In 2016, we know of two plants with advanced ages, a cultivated plant that is 14 years old, and a wild plant that is at least 16 years old, which give a minimum number of years that a well-situated plant can survive:

These long lifetimes are probably not representative of a typical cultivated or wild lily, but do show that an individual plant can live at least this long if conditions are right.

For clarity, we are giving the age as is typically done for plants, where a first year plant is in the first growing year of its life. This is different from the ages given to humans in the United States, where a human baby is in the zeroth year of its life until 12 months after they were born. Specifically, Kathy collected her lemon lily seed in August 2002, planted it in November 2002, and one leaf appeared in March 2003. Its first year was thus in spring 2003, and its 14th year was in spring 2016.

The Munchkin lemon lily had its first year no later than spring 2001, and it would have had to be on a very-fast growing schedule to produce a stalk in 2003, in its third growing year, especially considering that 2001-2002 was a severe drought year, and it may not have even appeared in spring 2002. Thus the Munchkin lemon lily had its first growing year no later than 2001, and would be in at least its 16th growing year in 2016. It is much more likely that the Munchkin lemon lily is at least two years older than that minimum age, and it could well be significantly older.

This page discusses that single plant in the wild we have observed, which we have named the Munchkin lemon lily, since despite its great age (for a lemon lily), in most years it produces only a very small rosette of leaves. The reason for its longevity is that the Munchkin lemon lily is growing inside a Carex fracta, where it is protected from predation by gophers. Gophers love lemon lilies, and one or more gophers have consumed nearly every plant in the area in which the Munchkin lemon lily grows, except for plants of Carex fracta. If the Munchkin lemon lily had germinated anyplace here other than inside a Carex fracta, it would have succumbed to a gopher long ago.

Our study of the Munchkin lemon lily also shows its response to very different moisture conditions.

It actually is quite surprising that the Munchkin lemon lily has survived the past five years of drought. Prior to the drought, the seep area in which it grows used to regularly make this section of the Devils Slide Trail muddy, and there would often be standing or even flowing water on the trail. Even in the first year of the drought, in 2012, the seep became dry enough to allow gophers to enter the area. By the second year of the drought, in 2013, with its very low rainfall, the former seep area was dry, and nearly barren of plants; see Change in its Habitat due to the Drought below. Somehow this Munchkin lemon lily, despite growing inside a Carex fracta, was able to survive on a much diminished water supply, even though it had to compete for the water with the Carex fracta.

Observations

The Munchkin lemon lily is the only lemon lily that grows on the Devils Slide Trail now in its current alignment (the trail itself has changed greatly over the years, and previous incarnations of the trail may have had additional lily plants). It grows in the uppermost seep on the trail, in the Powderbox Spring drainage, the highest of the seven wet drainages crossed by the trail, at mile 2.35 in the plant trail guide.

Much of the time, the Munchkin lemon lily is nearly invisible, displaying only a small rosette of leaves that are completely hidden in the much longer and more numerous leaves of a Carex fracta. In wet years, unless and until it produces a stem, it is even harder to spot due to the surrounding dense population of other plants, including Agrostis idahoensis and Mimulus moschatus; see Fig. 3, as well as Figs. 1 and 4.

Fig. 3. The Munchkin lemon lily is nearly impossible to spot most of the time, as shown in these pictures. Left: A view from the trail showing the Munchkin lemon lily completely invisible behind the leaves of a Carex fracta. Right: Dave has pulled back some of the leaves of the Carex fracta, revealing the leaves of the Munchkin lemon lily, outlined in white (see also larger picture without the outlining). This picture is a close-up taken at a slightly-different angle than the one on the left, so features have been rotated slightly and those closer to the camera have been relatively-enlarged.
Click on the pictures for larger versions.

Tom first observed the Munchkin lemon lily on 28 August 2003, on his first survey of the Devils Slide Trail that year. Tom had previously surveyed this area in 2002, but 2001-2002 was a severe drought year, and it is probable that the Munchkin lemon lily either did not come up that year; or it was in its usual nearly-invisible state as a hidden rosette; or it had already dried up when the survey was done.

In 2003, the Munchkin lemon lily was vegetative, but it produced enough of a stalk to be visible, so it almost surely was in at least its third growing season at that time. Given how unchanged it mostly has been over the next 13 years, the Munchkin lemon lily might well have been significantly older than three years old in 2003.

Tom was just learning the plants of San Jacinto at that time, and wasn't sure of the determination since there were no flowers. He thought the plant was similar to the Smilacina on the nearby Willow Creek Trail, so put that as a possible determination for this plant on the plant trail guide at that time.

Tom subsequently checked the location of this plant on 10 April 2004, 1 October 2004, and on a number of trips in 2006, 2007 and 2008, in order to pin down the determination. But despite knowing the location to within less than 50 feet along the trail (from the surrounding species in the seep area whose first occurrence in the plant trail guide was extremely close to the Munchkin), the plant was never seen again on any of these trips. However, Tom never checked for a very small hidden rosette, and would only have spotted the plant if it had produced a stalk similar to that seen in 2003.

On 1 June 2011, Dave intensely scrutinized this seep area to see if he could find any baby lemon lilies, and he found this plant while it was still a small rosette! By that time, we both knew it was a lemon lily, since it was two years after we conducted our census of the lemon lily populations in Tahquitz Valley, where we observed a number of similarly-small plants. Young plants of Smilacina are indeed similar enough to a lemon lily that one of our companions on one lemon lily census trip insisted at first that young plants of Smilacina were young lemon lilies.

After Dave rediscovered the Munchkin lemon lily, it was photographed for the first time on that date, and on repeated trips that summer as it appeared to be getting ready to bloom. Unfortunately, the stalk got munched off between 8/16/11 and 9/30/11.

We observed and photographed the Munchkin lemon lily again the next year, on 16 June 2012. Once again, the stalk got munched off, this time between 16 June and 16 July 2012.

We only hiked the Devils Slide Trail once in 2013, on 18 June, but despite an intense search, we found no evidence of the Munchkin lemon lily. The 2012-2013 rainfall year had only about half the normal amount of rain, significantly less than the three years in which the Munchkin lemon lily was previously observed, 2003, 2011 and 2012. We speculated that perhaps the low rainfall that year wasn't enough to stimulate the Munchkin to grow.

However, in the low-rainfall year the next year, the Munchkin was back; we observed it on 7 June 2014. The difference might have been the timing of the rains, which was very different in 2012-2013 than in 2013-2014. And despite the continued drought conditions, we observed the Munchkin the next two years as well, on 3 July 2015 and on 26 July 2016.

Photographs in Time Order

Fig. 4 shows pictures of the Munchkin lemon lily in time order. The pictures are not exactly to the same scale, although they are close. We have kept the horizontal size of the picture constant in Fig. 4, allowing the vertical size to show the growth of the stem with time. This results in a messy-looking Figure, but more accurately shows the relative size of the plants from time to time.

The pictures in the leftmost column are the first pictures taken in a given year. Most years have only that single picture. There are three pictures for 2011, and two pictures for 2012, showing the changes with time. There are two pictures for 2016, since it appears we caught the Munchkin lemon lily in the act of calling it quits for the year, due to running out of moisture. In the first picture, the leaves look sickly compared to the other years, and in the second picture, all the leaves have vanished except for the very lowermost ones. In the field, Tom saw no trace of the upper leaves being eaten. The lemon lilies grown by Kathy Bates-Lande also were turning yellow about the same time.

2011

1 July 2011

16 August 2011
(intentionally blank)
30 September 2011
2012

16 June 2012

16 July 2012
2014

7 June 2014
(intentionally blank)
2015

3 July 2015
(intentionally blank)
2016

26 July 2016

2 August 2016
2017

21 June 2017 by Bruce Watts
 
Fig. 4. Photographs of the Munchkin lemon lily in time order. See the text for how the photographs are presented.
Click on the pictures for larger versions.

Change in its Habitat due to the Drought

Prior to the drought, the seep area in which the Munchkin lemon lily grows used to regularly make this section of the Devils Slide Trail muddy, and there would often be standing or even flowing water on the trail even in late summer; see photo of water on the trail on 30 August 2010. Even in the first year of the drought, in 2012, the seep became dry enough to allow gophers to enter the area. By the second year of the drought, in 2013, with its very low rainfall, the former seep area was dry, and nearly barren of plants.

Fig. 5 shows the change in the seep area between 2006 and 2016, and Fig. 6 shows a gopher decimating the area in 2012.

Fig. 5. Change in the uppermost seep on the Devils Slide Trail between 2006 and 2016. Left: The abundant water in the seep in 2006 produced the dense growth of moisture-loving species such as Agrostis idahoensis and Mimulus moschatus. Right: After five years of drought and predation by gophers, all the moisture-loving species are gone, leaving mostly bare dirt and a few plants of Carex fracta which can survive with less water and are probably unpalatable to gophers. Click on the pictures for larger versions.

Fig. 6. The seep area was dry enough on 16 June 2012, the first year of our five year drought, for a gopher to eat the plants in the seep, which are normally protected from gophers by the saturated soil. Left: a portion of the seep showing the many gopher mounds, with the culprit shown in the white circle. Right: Closeup of the tunneling terrorist. Click on the pictures for larger versions.


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Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Updated 22 June 2017.