Friday, May 23, 2014

Nevada Oasis

I had to be in Las Vegas for reasons unrelated to botany, but as always I brought my camera along, optimistic that outside of the cacophany of glitter and sin there might be something blooming.  Having heard about record droughts in the southwest, however, I didn't expect too much.  I was pleasantly surprised.
Mummy Mountain, part of the Spring Mountain Range sits above high desert
populated by Joshua trees, pinyon pines and junipers.

Before going I checked online for a rainfall map for Nevada, and noticed that just east of Las Vegas there was a bright green spot surrounded by the expected red and orange.  On closer inspection this turned out to be the Spring Mountains, home of the Toiyabe National Forest. With several peaks ranging from 10,000 to nearly 12,000 feet in elevation, this isolated range catches rainfall that otherwise would probably blow on by and evaporate somewhere over the desert.

The Nevada desert is brightened by its own red hibiscus,
Sphaeralcea ambigua.
The approach to the mountains proved to be quite fruitful for wild flowers.  Bright red globe mallows were abundant along the road, though not fully open, along with desert paintbrush and the sunflower-like Packera glabella.   Mormon tea shrubs, Ephedra torreyana, were also in "bloom," shedding pollen from their tiny cones.

Packera glabella, a member of the
sunflower family, Asteraceae, is
common along Nevada roadsides. 

Ephedra torreyana is Mormon tea.  It does not provide the
drug ephedrine, which is found only in Asian species.

There seems to be a species of Indian Paintbrush nearly everywhere in the western U.S.  This appears to be Castilleja chromosa.
Further up the slopes, I found Lesquerella tenella in the mustard family, Cryptantha tumulosa, Astragalus amphioxus, and a shrub in the genus Amelanchier blooming. Large ponderosa pines dominated the forest.
Ponderosa pines are the grandest of the western pines,
dominating mid-elevation, semi-dry forests everywhere.
One of the currants, Ribes malvaceum, blooms in the spring,
with berries to follow later in the summer.

The mustard family, Brassicaceae, can be counted on
for fields of bright yellow. Here in southern Nevada is
Lesquerella tenella.
Cryptantha tumulosa mingles with Ponderosa pines
in the Spring Mountains.

The locoweed, Astragalus amphioxus, puts out its first
blooms of the spring.
The further up we went, the earlier the season.  The road to Mt. Charleston ends about 8000 feet in elevation. The pines here looked more like lodgepole pines, with their finer bark.  Aspens were flushing out with fresh green leaves while grasses and sedges were popping up in force.  About 3 PM, we were forced off the mountain by a mini blizzard - yes real snow flurries in early May!  That is not uncommon in the west, but I really wasn't expecting it within an hour's drive of Las Vegas.
Around 8000 feet in elevation, aspens were just putting out their new green leaves.  It was at this point that it began to snow.