Field Notes From Plant Explorations

Walker Ridge • McNab cypress

Walker Ridge has been on my plant exploration list for many years—having repeatedly heard about the rare plants, serpentine landscape, and epic wildflower displays—it has also been proposed for designation as Serpentine National Park, as a radical approach to try to halt a major wind turbine project slated for the ridgeline. While I was excited to finally explore this place, my main motivation was to locate what has been called the largest stand of McNab cypress in the world. What I found was something entirely different.
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Regenerating McNab cypress
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Spring and Summer 2014

Here is a list of a few events that I will be a part of in the near future, join me if you can. Hopefully some plant exploring will occur between work, family time, and these events. If so, a blog post or two will be created—but until then...


Ronald M. Lanner • Whitebark Pine – Clark’s Nutcracker Mutualism

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Ron Lanner

"Working in concert, Clark's Nutcracker and the whitebark pine build ecosystems."

—Ron Lanner, Made for Each Other


Click to listen or download Ron discussing the mutualistic relationship between Clark's nutcrackers (Nucifraga columbiana) and whitebark pines (Pinus albicaulis) from a presentation on January 19th, 2014 in Chico, California at the Field-based Studies on Whitebark Pine in California - A Data Sharing Session Northern California Symposium of Botanists.

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Foster and Lion Lake - Trinity Alps Wilderness

Part two of whitebark pine negative reports in the Trinity Alps Wilderness

As mentioned in my last post, part of last summer's whitebark pine conservation assessment and mapping project involved predicting location where the species might occur but was not yet documented. While I found success with some predictions, others turned into negative reports with "ground-truthing." One negative report was in the Trinity Alps Wilderness around Stonewall Pass, another was in the Foster and Lion lakes region where I based my prediction on the significant landmass above 7,500'.

The geology of the Foster-Lion lake region is built from a majority of granitic rock with some intermixing of mafic and ultramafic rocks. Most of the peaks and ridgelines around these lakes are themselves granite, but these granites are an "island" in a sea of ancient serpentines. I did not find whitebark pine here and have since asked "why?" Maybe nutcrackers never brought seed caches here. Maybe the trees were once here but have since been out-competed by western white pine, foxtail pine, mountain hemlock and Shasta fir as the climate has slowly changed. Maybe there are still a few whitebark pine and I just did not find them. These are just a few of my predictions. Visit and explore the phytogeographic mysteries found around every corner of Conifer Country.


Foxtail pine above Coffee Creek - trinity Alps Wilderness
Foxtail pine on granite, high above Coffee Creek in a summer thunderstorm.
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Stonewall Pass - the Red Alps

Part of last summer's whitebark pine conservation assessment and mapping project involved predicting location where the species might occur but had not yet been documented. While I found success with some predictions, others turned into negative reports with "ground-truthing." One of these areas was in the Trinity Alps Wilderness around Stonewall Pass where I predicted WBP would occur because there is significant landmass above 7,500'.

The geology of the Stonewall Pass region is built from a majority of mafic and ultramafic rocks. Granite and Gibson peaks are themselves granite, but the remainder of the landscape is composed of serpentine, which makes survival difficult for many species. Interestingly, whitebark pine are found on the serpentine of the Scott-Trinity Mountains around China Peak and Mount Eddy, but it turns out they are absent from the Stonewall Pass serpentines. Whitebark's absence on the granite of Gibson and Granite peak is most likely due to the size of the inhabitable area offered by the small granite plutons here as well as the increased competition from granite-loving species like mountain hemlock and Shasta fir.

Middle and Granite Peak, Trinity Alps Wilderness
Foxtail pine on Middle Peak looking southeast toward Granite Peak.

The Stonewall Pass region was sparsely inhabited with beautiful<< MORE >>

A Solstice Reminder: The Yule Tree

This infographic explores the long and storied history of bringing evergreen conifers into our homes near the end of each calendar year. From the tradition's beginnings in northern Germany to the creation of the artificial tree, explore the origins and evolution of our unique love affair with conifers.

The Yule Tree
Visit Conifers of the Pacific Slope to see this as a webpage.

Return to Mount Hilton

Almost 2 years ago, I tried to climb Mount Hilton and was stopped a few hundred feet from the summit by snow and ice. A successful return led me to a scattered forest of whitebark pine, within which I collected some data for the project assessing and mapping populations of the species in California. It is a stark landscape near the summit, nurturing hardy yet mostly diminutive specimens. Because of their small stature and spotty distribution, the populations will most likely be resistant to large-scale bark beetle infestations but whitepine blister rust is present in low concentrations (~5% in November 2013). Therefore, these trees should continue to be monitored. What follows are a few pictures from the adventure. More pictures and updated information can be found here. Happy plant exploring.


A whitebark pine, isolated in a boulder pile.


Surely one of the highest elevation whitebark pines in the Klamath Mountains—reaching for the sky


A view across the white and red alps as well as across to the Cascades. Notice Lassen Peak in the back right.

Play "Guess Those Peaks" with a picture I took from near the summit of Mount Hilton and get a chance to win a book from Backcountry Press. And thanks, as always, for your support and love of wild places!


Click HERE for a larger image. Comment below or on Backcountry Press' facebook page. Books given away on December 1st, 2013.

A Summer with Whitebark Pine

In conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service and the California Native Plant Society, I was asked to help assess the health of and map whitebark pine in northern California. Pinus albicaulis is a species of concern across its range because populations are being decimated by the synergistic interactions of mountain pine beetles, white pine blister rust, fire suppression, and climate change. In 2012, Canada listed whitebark pine on the endangered species list because of high mortality rates across the country.

What I have put together on my Conifers of the Pacific Slope website is a collection of pictures and brief field notes from my journeys this summer—to almost every population of whitebark pine in the north state. While the project and explorations are far from over, I hope you enjoy this updated and comprehensive perspective and are inspired to learn more about this amazing species.

NorCal Whitebark PineClick the map above to explore whitebark pine in northern California.

Explore by region:

Learn More:

Timbered Crater - Lassen National Forest

This place has been on my list to visit for some time now. Exploring the Medicine Lake Highlands at the end of a week of field work searching for whitebark pine (more coming soon on this one), I found myself close enough to justify a stop here on my return to HWY 299 and ultimately the coast. It is a difficult place to find in many ways, since signs are all but non-existent, but the extent of the Baker cypress groves (7,000+ acres!) make the trees easy enough to find with a small amount of adventure.

Timbered Crater is the type-locality for Baker cypress, an exotic location for relict vernal pools, and ultimately a crossroads for Cascade and Great Basin species. Read more by Todd Keeler-Wolf  in his Research Natural Area report. It is also recommended as a wilderness study area—probably because of the lava flows make penetrating road-building nearly impossible. Hopefully wilderness designation will come to fruition, especially since there aren't too many topographically flat wilderness areas—anywhere.

What follows are a few pictures, tinged by drifting smoke from the Salmon River and Oregon fires.
Baker cypress (Cupressus bakeri) in Timbered Crater
Two Baker cypress recolonizing a recent (<20 years) burn area in the Timbered Crater.

Timbered Crater landscape
Looking across the patchwork of vegetation types sculpted by frequent fire return intervals.

The Pacific Slope

I first came upon the term “Pacific Slope” when introduced to a book by George B. Sudworth called Forest Trees of the Pacific Slope. Sudworth first published this manifesto in 1908 back when the phrase “Pacific Slope” was nearing its end as a common vernacular. Along the west coasts of both North and South America, it appears the phrase was commonly used by early explorers to describe the western slopes of Pacific Slope Definedthe Continental Divide—indicating the directional change of the watersheds. Technically, the “Pacific Slope” references an extensive land mass but now regionally has come to describe mountains close to the Pacific Ocean.

Sudworth makes no mention of why he selected the title, but clearly chose to define it as Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California. Other sources indicate that, if referencing the Pacific Slope in western North America, then Nevada, Idaho, western Montana, Utah, and Arizona should also be included.

I chose this broad and ambiguous phrase in the title of my book because I think it describes my intentions well, as it did for Sudworth. I also wanted to honor Sudworth’s book by contributing to the natural history of the Pacific Slope in the United States. In addition to California, Oregon, and Washington, this book includes all conifers in Idaho, Nevada, northern Baja California and southern British Columbia.