Cordylanthus palmatus

Today’s photographs were shared via the UBC Botanical Garden forums by member mollymCA: Alkali Sink Vernal Pools, Livermore, CA. Thank you very much! Molly has also written a great account about this area, so I’ll share her writings here. Molly writes:

The Springtown Vernal Pools should be especially spectacular this year of late rains. This area, enclosed by development, has so far been saved by the presence of the endangered (FE/SE: Federal and State) Cordylanthus palmatus, palmate-bracted bird’s beak. It is in the Scrophulariaceae (Daniel — now in Orobanchaceae) and thus a relative of Indian paintbrush, and like many in the family a hemiparasite on roots of other plants. It may be able to survive without a root association, but is said to develop more color in the bracts–the 3-pronged structures that clutch the stem–according to the extent of such a relationship (if true, this plant hadn’t yet found a friend!).

The Cordylanthus is a salt-excreter and you can see the crystals on the rather succulent leaves and bracts. The flowers (like those of Indian paintbrush) are insignificant even when fully out — on May 9, 2008 they were not quite fully extended from the bracts.

The white areas in the landscape photograph are dried vernal pools and stream areas, crusted with the salt that accumulates over years of leaching from the soil into the landlocked depressions (or nearly so: there is a rather feeble flow out from some of the streams). The bird’s beak would be found on the edges of the salt areas.

The green plant growing with the Cordylanthus palmatus is Salicornia, also called pickleweed, and the dry stuff lying on the ground is dormant Distichlis spicata, both typical of salty or salty-alkaline swampy areas.

Botany resource link (added by Daniel): Botany Photo of the Day was featured in the latest publication of the Berry-Go-Round blog carnival over at Foothills Fancies: check out Issue No. 39 of Berry-Go-Round to see a great selection of recent plant- and botany-based writing around the web.

Cordylanthus palmatus
Cordylanthus palmatus
Cordylanthus palmatus

8 responses to “Cordylanthus palmatus”

  1. David Hollombe

    Now Chloropyron palmatum; the three subgenera of Cordylanthus are now treated as separate genera.

  2. Daniel Mosquin

    Aha, thanks David — I see that the paper in reference to that is: Tank, DC et al. 2009. Phylogenetic Classification of Subtribe Castillejinae (Orobanchaceae) (PDF). Systematic Botany. 34(1):182-197.

  3. Mark Egger

    Here is a link to my photo set of this unique species, all taken at the same site as the photos posted here. It is an unimposing place, evidently used as an itinerant trash dump and back lot by many of the residents of the surrounding suburban sprawl… On the other hand, it’s wonderful that this area was not filled and paved over long ago. It is a definite credit to the local conservationists that this plant has not already been added to the extinct list… Long may its rather unlovely spikes be pollinated!

  4. Molly M

    Oops, sorry, I forgot to update the family.
    Has the new genus name gone through the procedures and become official or is it just a proposal? CalFlora still lists it as Cordylanthus–
    I consider the untamed area absolutely magical and a wonderful resource for the neighborhoods, as do the local kids and all the neighbors I talked to. In addition to the vernal pools which are wondrous in their time of water when there is a rich complex of shorebirds, the area supports many other birds not often seen in the middle of a development (though I did notice that the homeowners’ plantings had become much more bird-friendly over the years since I was first there). Lots of raptors, including the occasional Golden Eagle, and I’ve almost always seen a Loggerhead Shrike when I visit. The common herbivore is the rabbit rather than the ground squirrel found in typical overgrazed California grassland.
    C. Palmatus was in a database for that patch of undeveloped land, so the developer owners had to deal with it when they wanted to try to develop it and hired a consulting company to do a habitat determination — the habitat determination found several areas where there were a few plants, and the report came down pretty hard on its peculiar habitat requirements, which negated the plan to create a gated lot for the plant. The last time I was on the site the patches of C. palmatus had greatly increased in size and number for the most part since I first went looking for it,not for any reason to do with human interference that I can think of, unless the dirt bike tire treads had been spreading the seeds.
    The upland area is also interesting (if stickery) in spring, with many native plants that are not so easy to get close to these days, some of which (if I remember) are pollinated by the solitary bees which require just such dry un-interfered-with “wasteland” to do their stuff on the native plants, which are much more effectively pollinated by the bees that evolved with them than by the introduced honeybee.

  5. Deb Lievens

    This goes on my wish list for my next trip to CA. Love the Orobanchaceae. Thanks to Mark, too, for his link to his additional pix. I found some nice Cordylanthus maritimus in Mill Valley, CA. I’m guessing it is a salt excreter also. And is it Chloropron, too? Thanks from NH.

  6. Mark Egger

    Thanks, Molly, and sorry if I sounded mean or cynical. I really didn’t explore the entire area, as I was pressed for time. The part I visited in the year I visited was kind of trashy, but it sounds like things have improved & there’s good community support!
    And, yes, all the changes to Chloropyron have been properly published (see Daniel’s link at the top of this thread for a PDF). This paper lists all the former Cordylanthus species that have been moved to Chloropyron, including C. maritimum. The new names are used in the 2nd edition Jepson, which is at the printer, from what I hear, so CalPhoto/CalFlora will catch up eventually…

  7. Eric in SF

    Is this site open to the public? The description from Molly sounds like it is on private land, albeit restricted from development.

  8. Mark Egger

    Eric — The approach I took was basically at the end of a suburban street — I just parked & went in. Nothing was posted & I saw no one while I was there. However, it is probably not in bloom yet. As with most Cordylanthus types, they are mostly mid-summer bloomers. The new Jepson treatment says June-August. However, it might be worth a try before you leave — you might find some early flowers….

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