Friday, May 11, 2012

habitat ~ 05/11/12 ~ Fort Ord National Monument

Fort Ord National Monument
aka on Nature ID as Fort Ord - BLM InterGarrison and Fort Ord - BLM Creekside
and eventually parts of Fort Ord - Army Lands
May 11, 2012

This was a most unusual excursion for me, hence why I'm publishing this habitat post before the specific IDs. The IDs will follow in the coming days and will be linked in the section above or scrolled down to be read below.

On April 20, 2012, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation to designate the Fort Ord BLM and Army Lands (only the areas set for open space) as a National Monument. I've linked to all my location posts above that will be included in this new moniker. Plus, there's already a 3-year-old Fort Ord Dunes State Park, and the local California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) has been around for 17 years on former Army Lands. And as I learned recently, there's a University of California Fort Ord Natural Reserve (UC Natural Reserves) managed by the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). However, the rest of the former Fort Ord Army Lands (almost half; it was a very big place) is set for housing and commercial use across city borders and county lands, which continues to create endless local controversy.

Then, yes, despite my protests over the years, I have finally joined a group - the Monterey Bay Chapter (MBC - my acronym) of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS). I've already been to my first monthly meeting and found the people to be very sociable, knowledgeable, and (pardon if I offend anyone) not all as old as I thought they'd be. They threw out scientific names that left my head spinning, but I was surprised at how much I already knew from doing Nature ID. I've thought about why I decided to join this "society" as affable Brian LeNeve pointed out while I proclaimed my hesitation to join any group. Truth be told, thanks to webmaster Chris Hauser, who redesigned the local chapter's website, I easily discovered the calendar of the hikes local CNPS members have, often on private land. Oooh! As you'll notice, about 95% of my locations on Nature ID are from publicly accessible lands. Private access and discount on books convinced me to throw in my $45 for the year. So, there you have it.

As a result, this hike was posted on the calendar as being led by California State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly SLO; there's also a Cal Poly Pomona) professors David Keil and Matt Ritter. I signed up and was told that Bruce Delgado (BLM Botanist and Marina Major - hmm, he'll readily admit that he tries to stay out of conflicts of interest since the city of Marina gets part of the Fort Ord lands) would lead us to the current best vernal pool spots. Little did I suspect that at least 20 Cal Poly undergrads, numerous UCSC grad students, and various other professional folks would also be in attendance. We all rode in a big red fancy bus during the tour with a couple stops here and there. I didn't speak to Dr. Keil (Emeritus Professor), but he is admired by many. Dr. Ritter (Associate Professor) seemed to be absorbing all the information presented as if he were a student. Most of the plant information came from 9-year+ volunteer David Styer, who, in his words, "keeps the official plant list for Fort Ord", which numbers at around 900 species so far. Unfortunately, it is not all included in the official 2012 MBC CNPS Fort Ord BLM Area, Seaside and Marina plant list. I happened to meet Dr. Styer (a former math professor) previously while hiking from the InterGarrison entrance on April 1, 2012 (posts not up on Nature ID, yet).

Matt introduced this tour as the 100th year inaugural phytogeographical excursion of the California Botanical Society (CBS), which are also known as phyto-jogs. There will be 5 phyto-jogs this year across CA. Although, I believe there's already been a joint SoCal chapters' CNPS phyto-jog done down in Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden this past March 10th. I'm still trying to figure out the difference between CBS and CNPS.

Butterfly Valley
the most diverse vernal pool and mima mound area at Fort Ord

I believe this mima mound area of Butterfly Valley is off-limits to the public and is on cleared Army Lands. The trail down to it is covered with branches to keep the mountain bikers out. It's also where they trap wild California pigs. I'd hate to be the volunteer who has to carry the several hundred pound dead pig up the hill over the bramble of branches. I'll post special IDs from this location later.

Engineer Canyon Road

David Styer said through his many years of taking inventory, he's found the north-facing slopes seem to have more diversity. He's separated out Fort Ord into around 70 sectors merely based on divisions by roads, not habitats. According to Dr. Styer, this part of Engineer Canyon Road (which is close to where Andy and I used to access Fort Ord before the Creekside entrance was built) has the most plant diversity than any of his other sectors. One of the grad students is hoping to describe a new Fritillaria sp. from here. I'm going to contact him to see if it's okay to post pictures of a plant he's yet to officially describe. If you click on the picture above, there's a fellow with a large white plastic bag filled with collected plants. While some were picking and pressing plants for additions to herbaria collections, I noticed several students simply making cute little bouquets of rare flowers. Seeing the quickly wilting bouquets disturbed my sensibilities, because I was taught never to pick wildflowers.

view of Toro County Park and Mt. Toro

Several of my Fort Ord habitat posts feature vistas of Toro County Park and Mt. Toro in the distance. I have yet to visit either place. Once or twice a winter, including late this past dry winter, Mt. Toro is dusted with snow, which is quite beautiful. It can best be seen from a boat on the Monterey Bay but also from the Hwy 68 ramp off Hwy 1 towards Salinas and, eh-hem, our kitchen window. My favorite view is during peak spring green, like it was on March 14, 2009.

Um, have you read this far, yet? So, I have a dilemma, and I hope to hear some feedback. We signed up for another Fort Ord Army Lands tour for this next Saturday, like we did last year. Unfortunately, the dedication ceremony for the Fort Ord National Monument will be held within the same time and almost at the same place (map to ceremony, but reservations were needed). This seemed like poor coordination between all the different agencies involved. Oh, did I mention it will also be CSUMB's graduation ceremony day? The traffic will be unusually heavy. Andy and I are undecided about which event to attend. We've done the Army Lands burned area tour already, but it would be nice to see the changes after a year, especially after an unusually dry winter. Then, again, how often is a place designated as a National Monument? The ceremony could be really boring with a bunch of endless speeches without any real information. Your opinion?

fritillary ~ 05/11/12 ~ Fort Ord

possible new to science fritillary
Fritillaria sp.

Master's Student Sean Ryan from California State University, San Diego (aka San Diego State University) believes this may be an undescribed species of Fritillaria. Checker lily (Fritillaria affinis), which I've only seen once at Garland Ranch, tends to have wider leaves and is the only Fritillaria currently recorded from Fort Ord. I received Sean's permission to post these pictures online just in case it does end up being a new species. He said something about this fritillary being dispersed through bulblets, but then my notes got iffy as I was focusing more on taking pictures. Sean took the seed pod back to SDSU for study. I believe he attended this field trip since he did his undergraduate work at Cal Poly SLO and is still in contact with his former professors. I'll be curious to hear back from him with his findings.

vernal pool bent grass ~ 05/11/12 ~ Fort Ord

vernal pool bent grass
Agrostis lacuna-vernalis

I'd offer additional ID links to this newly described species, but it has yet to show up on or the CNPS Inventory of Rare, Threatened, and Endangered Plants of California, which I suspect will be included at some point. As you can tell by the several boots in the background, everyone and their brother were taking pictures of this diminutive grass. Apparently, very few pics have found their way to online search engines. I've been contacted by a SLO CNPS rare plant coordinator to have my pictures of the vernal pool bent grass added to CalPhotos. Phooey, you know I really do not like joining things, but I'm finally giving in after several encouragements from various contacts and will become a CalPhotos contributor... if only I can figure out how to shrink my photos to the size they require.

marsh scorzonella ~ 05/11/12 ~ Fort Ord

According to David Styer, we were about an hour and a half too late to see this rare flower in full bloom. He must be out here quite a bit to know that information. It looks very much like the typical weedy dandelion. While the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is also found at Fort Ord, David said the marsh scorzonella is easily confused with cat's ears (Hypochaeris glabra and Hypochaeris radicata), which are also on his Checklist of Vascular Plants of Fort Ord, California. Geez, I never fully appreciated how many kinds of plants look like dandelions.

popcorn flower ~ 05/11/12 ~ Fort Ord

Hickman's popcorn flower
Plagiobothrys chorisianus var. hickmanii
CNPS 8th Edition Inventory

This post is for Graeme, because he asked about it. I know for certain this is the uncommon Hickman's popcorn flower with 3 of our 4 field guides (people, not books) confirming its ID in Butterfly Valley. Speaking of which, as I was searching for additional information, I know for sure that this spot of land is, in fact, on Army Lands and consists of Mima mounds and 6 vernal pools. Hickman's popcorn flower is not an easy flower to identify to sp., let alone to variety, since many look very similar. According to there are 68 records of spp./var. of Plagiobothrys in CA, and depending on whose list one references (CNPS or David Styer's) there are anywhere from 4 to 7 spp./var. of popcorn flowers found at Fort Ord. I've seen popcorn flowers grow much taller than shown here, but then again, they could have been different spp., or it could have been a result of our unusually dry winter. To see exactly how tiny this flower is, compare it to my dwarf brodiaea pictures.

dwarf brodiaea ~ 05/11/12 ~ Fort Ord

dwarf brodiaea
Brodiaea terrestris ssp. terrestris
2011 online Jepson description
Themidaceae (aka Asparagaceae and formerly Liliaceae)

This was my favorite flower from the entire excursion (even though I keep spelling it incorrectly). It was everywhere in the Butterfly Valley vernal pool. I've seen it before, but never knew what it was. The pic with my finger is to show how tiny and close to the ground these beautiful flowers grow. And of course, I had to include one of the several white versions I found, which I pointed out to several students. One fellow who is into plant genetics said that the white versions of flowers are due to a gene being knocked out (don't really know how that happens, and I didn't hear the rest of his explanation).

For the ssp., I'm using the printed list that David Styer passed around. I'm also now including the new 2011 Jepson online descriptions in my IDs, even though it's linked from my usual embedded links to in the scientific plant names. Plus, as I go through plants, I'll be changing all the family names to the 2011 Jepson version, versus the APG versions that are often used on Wikipedia. Jepson seems to be the bible of CA plants for CNPS.

ps 05/21/12 - As Graeme of Imperfect and tense asked in the comments, the even tinier, white Primula-looking sp. growing with the dwarf brodiaea is Hickman's popcorn flower (Plagiobothrys chorisianus var. hickmanii) in Boraginaceae. Click here to see my other popcorn flower posts.