Lily Spring Survey: Discoveries!
Article from Fall 2010 edition of The Paintbrush
By Graham Bothwell
The project is taking shape nicely, with a small, dedicated team. Currently Jane Tirrell and Walter Fidler are the most regular visitors to the study area, often weekly or even more frequently. Shirley Imsand goes when she can, as I do, and Jane Strong provides a foundation of experience and expertise, as well as her participation in the field work. Sometimes field trips are by a single person, sometimes two, and occasionally up to four persons.
Overall the team is in a development mode, getting to know the study area, identifying the vegetation habitats, learning to identify the plants, and developing field reporting methods. While useful data is now being collected, there won’t be a full year of data for 2010. That should happen next year, 2011.
After its winter closure, Highway 2 between Islip Saddle and Vincent Gap opened on May 7, thereby providing access to the study area, but conditions were still too cold and snowy for an immediate start of activities. What a contrast with 1981, a relatively dry, warm year when Sawyer was able to begin his regular survey from the beginning of May.
It was still cold and wintery, with considerable snow on the slopes, for our field workshop on May 22, when we all assembled on the highway below Little Jimmy Spring, where Jane Strong showed us how to identify plants in the area. There were few flowers, but this was ideal as it taught us much about recognizing plants purely from their leaves.
Early trips to the higher elevations revealed sights that would disappear by the time most hikers arrived later in the spring or summer, such as normally bare, gravelly banks covered by a seeming ocean of onion leaves, typically Burlew’s onion (Allium burlewii).
We have explored Sawyer’s study area in some depth, from one side to the other, up and down. Some parts are too steep for easy access, but the remaining areas are ample for the study purposes. The diversity of habitats includes shrubby and gravelly slopes, open sunny crests, coniferous forests, and permanently wet areas. The wet areas support dense populations of water-loving plants such as corn lily, shooting star, scarlet monkey flower, sneezeweed, giant paintbrush, and orchids.
A highlight has been visiting the survey’s namesake, Lily Spring, a pleasant location within a tall stand of Jeffrey pine, about mid way between Highway 2 and the Pacific Crest Trail, at an elevation of just over 8,000 feet. In past years it was a well-used camping spot for hikers, but the steep half-mile trail up to the PCT is now largely obliterated. A small torrent of water from the spring flows through the old camping area. Either side of the grove of tall trees are fascinating wet areas packed with the delicate greenery of boggy ground.
Sawyer’s published paper (in Crossosoma, February 1987) lists approximately 100 flowering plants that he observed, and to date we have seen more than half of them in bloom.
Interestingly, we are finding some plants that Sawyer did not report, in some cases for good reason. A notable example is that in mid 2010 the red rayed hulsea (Hulsea heteroochroma) is prolific near the crest of the mountain range. It is a fire follower, present this year in response to the Curve Fire of 2002, and no doubt absent in 1981.
Even after eight years, the effects of the Curve Fire on the upper slopes are highly visible from Highway 2 when driving from Islip Saddle towards Dawson Saddle, — and that accounts for much of our study area.
Of the approximately 10 flowering plants observed to date that are not listed in Sawyer’s paper, the truly exciting discovery is goosefoot yellow violet (Viola pinetorum ssp. grisea), which is a new rare List 1B species for Los Angeles County. Jane Tirrell’s photographs created much discussion when studied by Jane Strong and Tom Chester, revealing that this plant was different from anything previously recorded for the area. The identification has been confirmed by Dr. John Little, who wrote the Viola treatment in The Jepson Manual.
One does not expect such stunning discoveries to continue throughout the Lily Spring Survey, but even this one occurrence underscores the value of the work, and makes the considerable effort of routinely hiking this steep terrain so worthwhile. We hope that others will also become interested and join us in this delightfully satisfying venture.