Plant of the week–Caulanthus amplexicaulis

wpid-2015-10-28-17.36.42.jpg.jpegThis week’s plant is Caulanthus amplexicaulis, also known as the claspingleaf wild cabbage. It is endemic to parts of Southern California, where it blooms from May through July. It is another intense soil specialist–one of its subspecies is a serpentine specialist in found in the Santa Rafael Mountains. It is usually found in sloping areas. Its oval, glabrous (smooth) leaves are a strong contrast to many of the other leaves of plants I have shared, which were covered in fine hairs (hirsute).

Follow-up on Caulanthus coulteri

wpid-20151005_141624.jpgSeveral weeks ago, I made a post about Caulanthus coulteri (see here), because I couldn’t resist its adorable basal rosette that looks to me almost like a green sunflower. Here it is in full, glorious bloom. The cell phone camera image doesn’t do justice to the yellows and oranges mixed into that deep crimson coloring. Like Streptanthus insignis, it has that sterile flower structure topping its stem.

Plant of the week: Streptanthus farnsworthianus

Flowering S. farnsworthianus

This week’s Plant of the Week is Streptanthus farnsworthianus. Its common name is Farnsworth’s jewelflower, and it is found primarily in the woodlands of the Sierra Nevada foothills. Its flowers are very similar morphologically to the other jewelflowers I have shared recently (which is expected, since flower form is one of the primary characters that has been used in the past to designate taxonomic group, and unlike many other characters that are actually examples of convergent evolution, is comparatively reliable).

S. farnsworthianus with its first true leaves

This one is particularly interesting because of the dramatic morphological changes its leaves undergo as they get older. As you can see in the images, the first leaves are highly lobed, while the older leaves are entire (“entire” refers to leaves with smooth margins, or edges) and have an almost waxy look. They also turn this beautiful lavender color–usually mustards are purple when they’re stressed, but these ones are supposed to look this way.

Plant of the week 9/11/15

I’ve decided that while I’m studying and don’t have time for long reflective posts, I can still post pictures of baby mustards.


This cutie is Caulanthus coulteri, a species in the same tribe (a level of classification including more species than a genus but fewer than a family) as the plants I posted last week. Its common name is Coulter’s wild cabbage, and it is found in dry habitats such as the Mojave desert. It’s in its basal rosette stage in this image, but eventually it will grow bolt, growing a long stem and purple flowers similar to the Streptanthus from last week.

Jewelflowers in bloom

I’m trying to concentrate on my studying as much as possible of late, but I couldn’t resist sharing these two beauties that are blooming in my mustard collection.


This first one is Streptanthus albidus sub. albidus. It’s federally endangered and known only from a few occurrences in Santa Clara County. Commonly, it is known as the Metcalf Canyon jewelflower. Much like many plant species, there is a currently a war waging over the proper classification–it also goes by the taxonomic identity Streptanthus glandulosus sub. albidus. It is found on harsh serpentine soils that other plants are unable to exist on.


This second species is Streptanthus insignis, also known as the plumed jewelflower. The top flower, which is showier than the other flowers and often sterile, is where it gets its name. It makes its home primarily on serpentine soils in San Benito county.

Loving the little things in the scientific process

Some (many) times in science, experiments move slowly. You have to wait for your organisms to grow. You have to collect a year’s worth of data before it’s useful to analyze. I’ve told my students over and over this summer that they have to learn to be excited by small victories, or the vacuum of having no achievable short-term goals will asphyxiate their will to go on.

So we love the little things, like multicolored labeling tape and completing a new protocol successfully and a breezy day in the field.

They look like space meals.
They look like space meals.

That in mind, here are some of this week’s celebrations:

After an extensive permitting and application process, we’ve received 50 new mustard accessions from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in the United Kingdom! (Shout-out to Janet Terry, the seed curator, for putting up with my complete lack of knowledge on how to import seeds.) We’re still waiting on another 50, but they should be coming soon. At that point, it will be back to the cycle of planting seeds, praying to quantum probabilities for high germination rates, and panicking when there are more plants than we know what to do with.

Caulanthus flavescens
Caulanthus flavescens

The annuals that were sown in early June are starting to flower. They’re pretty, but also a reminder that organisms move inexorably forward through their life histories towards reproduction and death, and we have to collect as much data as we can while we can. In a sense, this is good–it’s another way we can remind ourselves of our larger goals, and that there is an end, even if it isn’t always in sight.