Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Importance of Reading Ernest

It's well known that exploring a new area is always better with a local guide.

They know the short cuts, hidden gems, dives and hot spots that take total-immersion to learn.

Well, the same adage holds true for botany.

For the Tehachapi Mountains, the local guide I carry is Ernest C. Twisselmann - in the form of his book, A Flora of Kern County, California.

Published in 1967, and well out of print, many of the details are also a tad out of date. You see, much has changed in the world of botany in the 44 years since Ernest's Flora appeared in the Wasmann Journal of Biology. New species have been found, others lost, and a whole lot of taxonomic twists & turns have been made.

And, the taxonomy isn't all that's out of date. Flora is printed all in black and white, and doesn't have a single flower photograph, illustration or plant ID key in it.

So why is it an indispensable resource?

Because ranch-born Twisselmann was a local, and he really knew how to write reference.

Not only does he eloquently cover geography, geology, climate and natural history of the area, he gives plant associations (what grow with what), and range limits (what species start or end in the county). He also covers the history of botanical collecting in Kern, and his Catalogue of Plants - his species accounts - are excellent, giving solid details on habitats and exposures, abundance, bloom time, where in the county to find each species, and where it was collected.

All precious fodder for the flora-finding naturalist.

Here's some of the flora of Kern County that I've had the pleasure of seeing this year on the stunning lands I'm helping to survey. Many were found and/or identified with the help of Ernest.

more shevockii
Spanish Needle Onion, Allium shevockii - a CNPS List 1B.2 rare species endemic to Kern County and CA - one of the prettiest native onions for sure

mound o' calcicola
Limestone Liveforever, Dudleya calcicola - a List 4.3 uncommon succulent

Tracy's Woollystar, Eriastrum tracyi - a low-key List 1B.2 State Rare endemic

3 new monkeys for me - and I love the monkeys...

funky monkey
Calico Monkeyflower, Mimulus pictus - also a List 1B.2 rarity

parish's monkey
Perky and pink Parish's Monkeyflower, Mimulus parishii

downy monkey
The furry Mimulus pilosus, or Downy Monkeyflower

Other lippy lovelies:

The big perennial Grinnell's Beardtongue, Penstemon grinnellii

child's blue-eyed mary
Child's Blue-eyed Marys, Collinsia childii, hiding in the shade under canyon oaks

coulter's jewel
Caulanthus coulteri, Coulter's Jewelflower

3 farewell-to-springs, named in tribute of William Clark, of Lewis and Clark:

speckled clarkias
Clarkia cylindrica, also called Speckled Clarkia

red spot
Clarkia speciosa, also called Redspot Clarkia

love the gunsight
Clarkia xantiana, also called Gunsight Clarkia

Two Venus-monikered beauties bloomed in the Tehachapi summer:

mariposa lily
Butterfly Mariposa, Calochortus venustus - the venustus of the area tend towards stark white petals, dark red markings, and very hairy nectaries

always my venus
Venus Thistle, Cirsium occidentale var. venustum - a statuesque and stunning native thistle that likes to grow solo and not in dense monocultures like many non-natives

Flowers with stalks were well represented:

3 candles
Our Lord's Candle, Hesperoyucca whipplei ssp. caespitosa, which truly 
lights up the rocky mountain sides

lost piperiad
A random Coast Rein Orchid, Piperia elegans - not rare in CA per se - 
but not supposed to be in the Tehachapis - not much coast in the mountains...

A couple of species with lots of stamens caught my eye too:

veatch's blazing star
Veatch's Blazing Star, Mentzelia veatchiana

bright beavertails
Big and showy Beavertail Cactus, Opuntia basilaris

All-in-all, we've documented almost 300 species of flora on the Tehachapi survey lands this past season. WAY too many to ever show on a single blog post.

But here's 16 more cool ones. :)

kern larkspur  kern brodiaea
Kern Larkspur and Kern Brodiaea

oak gooseberry  rattlesnake weed
Oak Gooseberry and Rattlesnake Weed

pale suncup  foothill poppy
Pale Suncup and Foothill Poppy

bush woollystar  ashy silk tassel
Bush Woollystar and Ashy Silk Tassel

grass-leaved death camas  grape soda lupine
Grass-leaved Death Camas and Grape Soda Lupine

slender-flower gilia  cotton thorn
Slender-flower Gilia and Cotton Thorn

ithuriel's spears  golden stars
Ithuriel's Spear and Golden Stars

golden eardrops  indian pink
Golden Eardrops and Indian Pink

Thanks Ernest. And muchas gracias to the other botanical ninjas that guide my way too, such as my wise mentors Paul and Ken, and the ever-amazing Jepson Manual.



  1. This is an incredible post. Thank you. I feel the need to travel to other parts of CA to see these beauties first-hand.

  2. Stupendous photos, Ken, and a great post -- always glad to see an old timer get credit due, esp. in these times of decade-long memory (and even in scientific literature).

  3. That thistle is a real beaut.

    Great series as always.

  4. The calico mimulus alone would be worth the trip. I wonder if the silk tassel is another coastal migrant.

  5. The Venus thistle is the one that really stuck out to me too. Great collection of photos.

  6. Nice showcase of beauty in this world!

  7. Glad y'all like the end-of-summer wildflower roll-calls - more to come.

    And you have great taste - the Calico monkey is precious, and the Venus thistle one of my faves - I have them growing in my backyard now and they should bloom this year. I've seen some over 7 feet tall.

    John - good observation on the silk tassel, but this species is Garrya flavescens, the Ashy Silk Tassel, an inland version similar to our Coastal species Garrya elliptica.

  8. arf! I don't know what to say, SO many LOVELY, unusual, exciting flowers and such fabulous photos. And a great vote for Ernest. And it's nice to see rattlesnake weed again, and old friend from my San Diego coastal sage scrub days.

    LOVELY STUFF, woo-hoo!

  9. Whether for botany, entomology, or geology, California tops almost any list of naturalist's paradise!

  10. Neat to stumble across this blog and see the references to Twisselman, a most remarkable man...self-taught botanist, sheepherder by trade...his Kern County Flora is an indispensable reference for naturalists who poke around in that part of California. Thanks!


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