Field Trips Log
January 2006

Wednesday, 11 January 2006 (Anza-Borrego Desert State Park)

Regrettably I suffered a fall just before Christmas in which I injured my chest and shoulder. It bothered me during the time my family and I were back in Virginia for the holidays, and when I returned to Los Angeles, I scheduled an appointment with an orthopedist and an MRI which revealed that I had torn the rotator cuff in my shoulder, an injury which was serious enough to necessitate arthroscopic repair. Knowing that I would have my arm in a sling for six weeks followed by a period of physical therapy and would just be prevented from doing my normal field trips and photography, I decided that one more trip down to Anza-Borrego would be possible before the surgery. Tom Chester had been periodically checking the status of the Pilostyles which infests its host the desert shrub Psorothamnus emoryi to see when and if it would be blooming, and he had reported some plants in bloom. I have been intrigued with this plant for some years, so this was the main thing I was interested in seeing.

I met Tom and Wayne Armstrong at the head of the wash leading to Font's Point out in the Badlands. The Emory indigobush was all over the place but only a few of the shrubs had the Pilostyles thurberi on them. This is a fascinating plant, not the least of which because while it is one of the smallest of the vascular plants of California, it is a close relative of the plant with the largest bloom in the world, the Southeast Asian Rafflesia. Thurber's stemsucker, as it is appropriately called, lives most of its life inside the stems of the indigobush. During its blooming season, which is usually around this time, little reddish buds appear on the surface of the indigobush stems and miraculously they open into miniscule flowers. Once these flowers die and dry up, they fall off leaving tiny circular scars like little pits. Not a great deal is known about the reproductive life of Pilostyles, but I refer you to the excellent online article with his usual tremendous photographs by Wayne here. Tom and Wayne were taking measurements and trying to determine the extent of the infestation of this peculiar rootless and leafless plant, and once I had the photographs I wanted, I headed over in the direction of the Visitor Center, where there were some other things I wanted to look for.

Near the Visitor Center, at the very beginning of the California Riding and Hiking Trail, I photographed Guadalupe cryptantha (Cryptantha maritima). Then I hiked up the main section of that same trail from the Hellhole Canyon trailhead for the first 2-1/2 miles. It is a fairly steep and rocky trail that leads up to the Culp Valley campground, crossing a high ridge at about 2500'. Since I am writing this log report six weeks after the fact, I am not going to try to do anything other than mention some of the specific and new (for me) plants I saw and photographed along the way. Among these were LeConte's barrel cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus var. lecontei), yellowheads (Trichoptilium incisum), spearleaf (Matelea parvifolia), unfortunately past blooming, shrubby brittlebush (Brickellia frutescens) and desert sage (Salvia eremostachya). There was also some woolly indian paintbrush (Castilleja foliolosa), chuparosa (Justicia californica), Arizona spurge (Chamaesyce arizonica), desert lavender (Hyptis emoryi) and desert lotus (Lotus rigidus) in bloom.

It was getting quite dark by the time I headed down the final slope and I was beginning to worry about the fact that I didn't have a flashlight with me, but made it just in time back to the trailhead before full dark. My shoulder was bothering me some from the jolting of the rough trail, but I felt it had been a very worthwhile excursion.

This will probably be my last log report for a while, probably until the beginning of April. I have tried to think what would have been a better time for this to have happened, and probably it would have been better to have had the surgery in December, but that's water under the dam now. I am currently signed up for two Jepson Herbarium field trips in late April and early May, one to the East Mojave and the other to Santa Cruz Island, and I still hope I will be recovered sufficiently to go on those. So far the rainfall has been pitiful this season, and this may not turn out to be one of our better years.