This late-May set of photographs is from the Leslie Gulch area of eastern Oregon, USA. I had long been interested in visiting the region, as it is both botanically and geologically fascinating. The area is known for its rock formations and volcanic history, but to botanists and plant enthusiasts it is also a special place. Dr. Barbara Ertter describes Leslie Gulch as a (relatively) recently-discovered botanical hotspot in her article Floristic Surprises in North America North of Mexico. Dr. Ertter, who studied in the area as an undergraduate, notes that “The unique ash-flow tuffs of Leslie Gulch have thus far yielded a total of 5 plant taxa new to science: Senecio ertterae [named in her honour] T.M. Barkley, Mentzelia packardiae Glad, Ivesia rhypara Ertter & Reveal, Artemisia packardiae J.W. Grimes & Ertter, and Phacelia lutea var. mackenziorum J.W. Grimes & P.L. Packard…”. Several other rare taxa which had been previously recorded from nearby sites are also found in the area. I felt privileged to observe 3 of these 5 taxa while there, through my own explorations.
Mentzelia packardiae, or Packard’s stickleaf, is named after Dr. Patricia Packard, a professor at the College of Idaho and curator of the Harold M. Tucker Herbarium for thirty years. It was described and named by Judith B. Glad. The Center for Plant Conservation (CPC) has a factsheet about Mentzelia packardiae, which includes some details about Glad: “Judith Glad began her career as a Science Fiction writer. However, time and time again, her stories were rejected for being too romantic. Frustrated and looking for a change, she returned to school to pursue a Master’s degree in Botany. While a graduate student at Oregon State University, Glad discovered two species unknown to science, Packard’s mentzelia (Mentzelia packardiae) and Thompson’s mentzelia (Mentzelia thompsonii). Glad returned to writing and is now both a successful romance novelist and an ecological consultant”.
A small (20-40cm) annual herbaceous species, Mentzelia packardiae is found on potassium-laden volcanic soils of the Leslie Gulch area primarily, with a disjunct population near Elko, Nevada. I observed the species at two separate sites in Leslie Gulch, both being bases of gravelly exposed slopes. This is seemingly the only type of site it will grow in; the Mentzelia packardiae factsheet (PDF) from the Oregon Department of Agriculture states, “occurs at the base of talus slopes along canyon walls in rocky, volcanic ash substrates”. A portion of one of these talus slopes is displayed at the base of the landscape photo. One of these two sites was a research plot, clearly delineated by four rocks and rebar posts. It wasn’t obvious to me whether the study site was for Packard’s stickleaf or the associated species Senecio erterrae (also in the plot), but the stickleaf was growing in the dozens at the site while I only observed a few Senecio erterrae from the plot’s edge (I was being observant for rattlesnakes, so fortunately didn’t stumble my way into the plot and affect any research).