Will the REAL Claytonia lanceolata please stand up?

Lab Note #2
May 07, 2014
Hey all!

I wanted to take this opportunity to give you a brief overview of my dissertation research, hopefully explaining a bit better how my own research relates to the AWESOME project I’m flying for a limited time only on experiment.com in collaboration with Dr. Ingrid Jordon-Thaden — I know you’re interested in supporting a good cause, so check it out! See the project here.

Many of you may think that you have seen Claytonia lanceolata some time during one of your forays out into the field, but have you REALLY seen it, or just something that looks like it?! Where were you when you saw it? If your answer isn’t Sweetwater, Idaho, than I’ve got some news that could make you want to reconsider what you think you saw — it is possible that you’ve been duped by a lance-leaved imposter!!! Don’t worry, you’re not the only one…

Above is an illustration of Claytonia lanceolata from the original description published in the Flora Americae Septentrionalis (Pursh 1814). The illustration is putatively drawn from the type material collected by M. Lewis, although one cannot be entirely sure given how poorly Claytonia seem to make the transition from live plants in the ground to becoming flattened museum specimens — their succulence does not do them any favors in terms of preserving diagnostic morphological characteristics. Did your plants look like the one in the above illustration from the original description? What about the plants below photographed in the Klamath Region of northern California, last year, growing very near to North Trinity Mountain — did your plants look like these? As far as I can tell, this is the REAL Claytonia lanceolata, or at least something VERY closely related, the best proxy I’ve got (for now) for C. lanceolata sensu stricto.

I mention these might be only very near C. lanceolata sensu stricto because these plants have entire petals — C. lanceolata is described as having bifid petals, probably more similar to something like what you see on the flowers of C. sibirica. The basal leaves are also lacking in the plants pictured above from northern California (only observed to be associated with non-flowering individuals in the population), but the sessile, triple-ribbed, ovate cauline leaf pair and the lax, elongate, solitary inflorescence is a dead ringer for C. lanceolata Pursh. The plot thickens when you step off of the granite and onto ultramafic substrates…

Wait a second — is that a second raceme I see? Lance-linear cauline leaves with a single vein? And are those leaves ALTERNATE?! Surely this is not the same as C. lanceolata sensu stricto — this is one of many lance-leaved imposters masquerading as C. lanceolata Pursh. For better or for worse, the Operational Taxonomic Unit (OTU) above is treated as C. lanceolata in the recent monograph for Claytonia (Miller and Chambers 2006) as well as in current treatments in the Jepson Manual and the Flora of North America. The following plants photographed in populations from throughout California also are ALL treated as C. lanceolata under the current circumscription by Miller and Chambers (2006):

Whoa — I feel like this kind of variation might not ALL be related to ‘plastic’ responses to a heterogeneous environment… and my preliminary molecular data seems to agree thus far. This is where the Experiment Project is a TREMENDOUS help — It’d be great to get more samples from outside of California… expanding onto more substrates from across the distribution of C. lanceolata sensu lato, which ranges from Canada to Mexico. Idaho, Montana, and Yukon Territory are on this bill…

The REAL kicker? Check out the last line in Pursh’s 1814 description of C. lanceolata below:

“In the collection of A. B. Lambert, Esq. I found a specimen collected by Pallas in the eastern parts of Siberia, perfectly agreeing with the present species.”

Did you see my post about going to Siberia? I’m working on a grant for that right now… I’m really eager to see more plants in the field — as I mentioned previously, these plants don’t preserve all that well! :(
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