Jepson Prairie!

AKA, in Which Carl has a Lifer Fern Family.

And two lifer fern genera.

Photo: Will Freyman

We had a fantastic pseudo-Rothfels lab expedition to the Jepson Prairie Reserve this past weekend. This site is part of the UC reserve system, a fantastic suite of protected natural areas dedicated to research, education, and conservation. The Jepson Prairie, for example, is a rare remaining remnant of California’s vernal pool habitats, and with the rain this year, it was in its glory, even though we visited well past the prime bloom.

Vernal pool annuals edging around Olcott Lake. Photo: Will Freyman


Mostly Lasthenia


Mostly Navarretia. (N. leucocephala subsp. bakeri)

Our intrepid team consisted of me (Carl), Forrest, Cathy Rushworth, Seema Sheth, Will Freyman, and Adam Schneider, and we spent a delightful several hours crouching low, muttering about the distinguishing features of, e.g., various species of Downingia.

Tromping through the dying stalks of invasive grasses (and the occasional Golden Nugget) on our way to the playa. (Forrest, Cathy, Adam, Seema, Carl.) Photo: Will Freyman


This is what we looked like most of the time.


Really getting into the plant identification action.


Forrest’s keen ability to differentiate among very small grass-like plants led to my first honest-to-goodness Pilularia americana, in Marsileaceae! This heterosporous beauty was devilishly difficult to pick out among all the Juncus, etc. that invariably surrounded it.

There be Pilularia!!!!! Making woolly marbles (ha!) look large.


Somewhat of a close-up. (Ignore the Plantago.) Photo: Will Freyman


In case you don’t believe me (well, really, don’t believe Forrest), here’s a photo from back in the lab showing the characteristic sporocarps.


And here’s a close-up of said sporocarps. They were unexpectedly tightly arranged along the rhizome.









And that’s not all! Forrest also pointed out a colony of Marsilea vestita, one of the “water clovers”, for a clean sweep of North American Marsileaceae genera.

Marsilea leaves happily bobbing in the saline waters of Olcott Lake.


Collecting Marsilea was moderately involved, and refreshing. Photo: Cathy Rushworth


And, of course, no trip with Forrest would be complete without the most inconspicuous of inconspicuous plants–Isoetes! In this case, the California floristic province vernal pool specialist, Isoetes orcuttii.

Isoetes orcuttii towering over Carl’s finger.


Jepson Prairie was all about heterospory–the Pilularia, Marsilea, and Isoetes exhausted the local supply of seed-free vascular plants (although Azolla, also heterosporous, has been reported from the site). We were, however, able to delight in members of that third evolution of heterospory, in the form of crazy vernal pool annual angiosperms.


Calochortus luteus, Gold Nuggets, with a native pollinator. Photo: Seema Sheth


Probably Downingia concolor, the Fringed Downingia (the Downingias became a little overwhelming, and started to all blur together). Photo: Cathy Rushworth


Downingia insignis, the Cupped Downingia. Photo: Seema Sheth


Downingia pusilla, Dwarf Downingia, rather the odd one out among its congeners. Photo: Seema Sheth


Close-up of Downingia insignis. Photo: Seema Sheth


Castilleja campestris, Field Owl’s Clover, fraternizing with Navarretia, Downingia, etc. Photo: Will Freyman


Achyrachaena mollis, Blow Wives. Photo: Will Freyman


And finally, we even saw some non-plants! Loggerhead Shrikes put on a good show, Seema found a fence lizard, there were lots of tadpole shrimp exoskeletons scattered around the margin of the playa, and American Avocets took noisy exception to our presence.

Stay away from my playa! Photo: Forrest Freund


Pacific Chorus Frogs were very common around the playa. Photo: Seema Sheth