Fall Flames

I had an unexpected end to my season in the Lincoln National Forest. The looming government shutdown had me holding my breath, wondering how I would spend my last month. On top of that, Evie had been called for jury duty and was planning on leaving early. In a turn of events, both were avoided. We finished this month strong with seed collecting and grazing allotment vegetation surveys. During our “off” days, we helped Range with allotment surveys. We followed the “Common Non-Forested Vegetation Sampling Protocol” (CNVSP), which collects data on vegetation composition, species richness/abundance, ground cover conditions, and dry-weight composition. I’m glad we were able to help out with these surveys, as they flexed our growing botanist muscles. Every plant in the survey needs to be keyed out, meaning no plant gets left behind. It’s tough keying plants because of how dry everything is. Not many species have fruits or foliage left (if they had any to begin with).

Quaking aspens (Populus tremuloides) along the Sunspot Highway

The forest has been ablaze this month (in color, not flames). The aspens, insects, and sun have taken the edge off the evening chill with their fiery displays. I’m used to fall in Ohio, where you’d be lucky to have a single day without a cloud in the sky. Here in New Mexico, that’s a common occurrence. The annular eclipse, however, was not. On the morning of Saturday, October 14th, the moon waltzed in front of the sun. I met up with Evie and Spencer (a Natural Resources technician with the Forest Service) at Bitter Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, northeast of Roswell. The path of totality fell directly on Bitter Lakes, meaning we could see the infamous “ring of fire.”

We patiently waited for the first sliver of celestial shadow to appear in the upper right corner of the sun. An astronomy hobbyist graciously let us borrow his hydrogen telescope for a better look. Not only could we see the moon’s outline, but also sunspots and solar prominences. As the eclipse progressed towards totality, the Refuge started to hum with excitement from fellow eclipse watchers. Yet, the air had its warmth steadily drained as the solar energy was blocked by the moon. It was the same temperature–if not cooler–as when we had arrived at 8 a.m. Time sped up and slowed down. Shadows behaved strangely, masquerading as miniature displays of the eclipse overhead. Because it was an annular eclipse, the sun was never entirely blocked by the moon. Plenty of light made its way around the moon’s edges, making it unsafe to look at without eye protection. Totality lasted 4 minutes but felt much shorter. The eclipse wasn’t inherently spectacular to a layperson, but the shared experience of such a unique moment made it memorable.

This season was filled with other memorable moments, from seeing my first Mexican spotted owl or looking for Sacramento Mountain salamanders to nearly getting hypothermia while participating in a Hawkwatch survey (everyone underestimated how cold it would be). I’m grateful for the wonderful memories, lessons learned, and friends I’ve made along the way.

I may be leaving Lincoln National Forest and Ruidoso, but my time in New Mexico is not done! I will be working in Carlsbad, NM, as a Botany Support Specialist (through Conservation Corps New Mexico) with the Bureau of Land Management immediately following this position. There, I hope to use what I learned about seed collecting and the flora of New Mexico to assist other Seeds of Success (SOS), Assessment, Inventory, and Monitoring (AIM), and Special Status Plant Species (SSPS) crews with their work.

The Deepest Cave to the Tallest Peak: A Reflection on Environmental Exclusion and the “Ecological Other”

The view of Sierra Blanca Peak (11,981′) in the background from Nogal Peak (9,957′)

I’ve had trouble fitting in post-work hikes with the days rapidly shortening. Earlier this month, I made the time to climb Nogal Peak (9,957′), which juts out from the surrounding pinyon-juniper hills. Despite being a 2.5-mile hike, it features 1300 feet of elevation gain in one mile. Goodding’s Onion and Sacramento Mountain Prickly Poppy surveys were comparable in difficulty but in their own way. The following weekend, I found myself at the deepest point in Carlsbad Caverns open to the public–King’s Palace–which rests 840 feet below the desert surface.

A section of “The Big Room” at Carlsbad Caverns

Something that’s been bothering me since diving into my botanical obsession during the start of COVID-19 is my internalized perception of designated “natural” spaces like Nogal Peak and Carlsbad Caverns. These spaces include National Parks, Forests, Wilderness Areas, Refuges, State Land, and Preserves. Spending the whole summer working and recreating in National Forests, Parks, and Monuments has caused this concern to resurface.

The Pandemic incentivized me to explore as much of Ohio as possible and reconnect with where I grew up. One of the first places I visited was Brown’s Lake Bog State Nature Preserve–a biodiverse rarity just half an hour’s drive from my house. Pitcher plants, cranberries, orchids, sundews, and sedges ensnared my younger rapacity for learning the local flora. Even cooler is the geologic history of the bog, as it’s an example of a “kettle hole,” hinting at Ohio’s glacial past. Kettles are typical features of glacial landscapes, formed by chunks of ice that break off from a retreating glacier, leaving a depression in the ground from their weight. As they melt, water and organic matter fill the depressions. If there is enough decomposing organic matter, the water acidifies, creating a bog. Hazel Willis Woods, Malabar Farm State Park, and Mohican State Park are formative places from my childhood that I revisited during the Pandemic (in addition to numerous State Nature Preserves like Brown’s Lake Bog). These spaces provided the opportunity to teach me about the area’s natural history in greater depth than as a child. I felt like I was rereading a book for the first time in 10 years with a new (but flawed) perspective.

In areas with varying levels of recreational pressure, I noticed a difference in biodiversity and noxious weeds. I could no longer enjoy a walk at Malabar or Mohican without cringing at the sight of cutleaf teasel, mullein, or glossy buckthorn. This led to me making value judgments based on disturbance levels and invasive presence. Granted, it’s important in conservation to prioritize certain areas over others based on similar assessments. Areas with relatively high species diversity/richness (or many endemic species) should take priority. In my classes and fieldwork, I learned that the conservation or suppression of diverse ecological processes can benefit or harm native biodiversity. Succession is always acting! In my job last summer, a lot of effort was put into woody species control (both non-native and native) in wet fen meadows to prevent the habitat loss of state and federally-listed species. I started viewing places overrun with invasives or where natural ecological processes (like wildfire) had been suppressed as “impure.”

Another recent observation I made about these spaces is the difference in physical (in)accessibility among them. At work, my own physical capabilities weigh on my mind. I’m not an athlete by any means, but I am fit enough to perform in my job (and hike to Nogal Peak). This led me to research ableism in the environmental movement and conservation, where I discovered The Ecological Other: Environmental Exclusion in American Culture. This book, by Sarah Jaquette Ray, examines the treatment of “ecological others.”

This excerpt from the introduction describes who the “ecological others” are:

“. . . In each of the chapters that follow, I focus on three distinct case studies of ecologically other corporealities. First, I examine what I consider the prototypical corporeal other—the disabled body—which has operated (and continues to operate) as the implicit other against which environmentally healthy subjects are defined. Second, I draw on these assumptions about the disabled body to scrutinize the body of the Native American, which was “sacrificed” (in conjunction with “sacrificed” landscapes) through processes of colonialism . . .

. . . Finally, I investigate the bodies of undocumented immigrants as “trash,” bodies sacrificed in the momentum of globalization. This dominant disgust toward immigrant bodies as trash masks the ways in which immigrants’ bodily labor makes middle-class comfort possible for a vast majority of American citizens. While “shadow labor,” as Don Mitchell calls it, is extracted from these bodies as they work in domestic service, slaughterhouses, and construction (to name just a few of the toxic and disfiguring jobs immigrants perform), those bodies are maligned as a threat to nature and nation.”

Ray elaborates on how the treatment of these communities as ecological others is rooted in Social Darwinism and imperial conquest. The dispossession of Indigenous people and Mexicans from lands across the West to create wilderness areas came from a fear of “race suicide” justified by evolutionary theory in the form of Social Darwinism. Grandfathers of the modern environmentalism movement–like Ernst Hackel and George Perkins Marsh–promoted a caricature of the “ideal American,” requiring tests of self-reliance through an encounter with raw nature; wilderness areas met the criteria for “raw nature.”

Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, and John Muir furthered wilderness preservation in the 1930s, following the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872. The system of land appropriation utilized by Roosevelt, Pinchot, and Muir continues to dissuade people of color from engaging in the environmental movement. This system “erases the ongoing relationship with nature that people of color maintained [with the so-called wilderness] for centuries before the establishment of the United States and westward expansion.” The Indigenous and immigrant communities are just two examples that Ray discusses in her book.

A trailhead sign with directions to the White Mountain Wilderness in Lincoln National Forest

Ray’s analysis differentiates itself from prior scholarly work by linking the Social Darwinist fear of race suicide to the social construction of disability and wilderness. She argues that both constructs “converged to support an emerging sense of a fit, pure national identity.” I’ve only made it halfway through the first chapter of The Ecological Other, which links contemporary “Adventure Culture” to the wilderness movement. Adventure Culture borrows the concept of the ideal, fit, American body advocated for by people like Roosevelt during the Progressive Era:

“The physically fit, self-sufficient man, capable of living a “strenuous life,” was the American ideal, the opposite of which was physical disability. . .

. . .contemporary environmentalism and its attendant recreational practices of outdoor adventure extend early-twentieth-century conceptions of social Darwinism in their focus on “fitness,” self-sufficiency, and purity. I argue that if the wilderness encounter tests and hones the fit body, and if alienation from nature is understood as alienation from our own bodies—both notions that originated in Progressive Era environmental thought—then reconnecting with nature means having a fit body.”

This implies that the disabled are incapable of reconnecting with nature and thus can be defined as an ecological other. Technological aid cannot be used (or it must be minimized) when working or recreating to truly reconnect with nature and be a proper environmentalist. Relying on technology would desecrate the experience of the physical trials endured, whether climbing a mountain or free soloing a cliff face. This also applies to conservation. For example, the White Mountain Wilderness prohibits using any contemporary vehicle or tool by recreators and land managers, such as the Forest Service.

Revisiting Carlsbad Caverns and Nogal Peak, a participant of Adventure Culture could argue that the Caverns provide an inferior experience to summiting a peak. You enter the caverns one of two ways: a minute-long elevator ride to the bottom or a mile or so walk down a steep but paved concrete walkway. Also, at the bottom, there are restrooms, a gift shop, and a small food and drink vendor! Upon descending (using the concrete walkway), it felt so absurd to me to find these amenities in this cave. On the King’s Palace guided tour, our ranger asked, “What can you do to preserve this special place for future generations?” She pointed out how humans have harmed the fragile natural wonder by touching the cave formations, littering, and (the potential for) bringing in pathogens such as white-nose syndrome. Elevator construction led to an air leak, damaging the Caverns by messing with the constant humidity and temperature. I can’t imagine the impacts wrought by building the infrastructure necessary to handle the number of visitors annually. She also mentioned all the passive ways humans damage the cave, including the fibers and dead cells we shed from our clothes and skin.

T-shirts, snacks, drinks, trinkets, and more for sale inside Carlsbad Caverns

If things are outside our control, I wondered if limiting human visitation is the best way to protect the Caverns? One could answer in many ways, but prohibiting entry is not the solution. The many amenities that felt out of place make the Caverns more accessible for disabled people to enjoy the space. At the same time, the accessibility of Carlsbad Caverns threatens its own existence. This is the challenge that we must address as conservationists and land stewards. We must reconcile with the problematic (xenophobic, imperialist, settler colonialist, and ableist) history of the environmental movement to restore humanity’s relationship with our environment–for all communities–while balancing the most significant ecological crises our Earth is and will be facing.

The Nonsoon and Nightlife

Peanut butter toads

Wonder why the monsoons lag

They dream of rainfall

I thought I would start this month’s blog with a poem about the seasons. For my haiku, I channeled the perspective of a spadefoot toad–Spea multiplicata. It might not seem that they have any thoughts behind those eyes! I tried to imagine a lot goes on behind their blank stare, particularly weather patterns. S. multiplicata is a nocturnal and opportunistic species that spends most of its time in underground burrows dug using their namesake spades. The life history of the toads is closely tied to the monsoons. Monsoon rains rapidly fill up pools in low-lying depressions, which can dry up just as fast. As a result, the average breeding period is only ~1.6 days, and the eggs hatch within 42-48 hours. The tadpoles must complete metamorphosis in as little as three weeks! While there has been enough rain to fill some of the spadefoot’s breeding pools, it’s been inconsistent and patchy.

A haiku seemed fitting for a poem, where I could reflect on the monsoons or lack thereof. In my first blog, I alluded to the monsoons that would “soon arrive”. It appears they never did. As a result, the plant abundance and diversity have been subpar this season, making seed collection a challenge. Only a handful of our target species occur in populations large enough to collect from. Of the populations that are borderline in size, grazing from elk, cattle, or feral horses has reduced them to a size below our collecting threshold. However, what we do collect is important for conservation as the populations that are able to reproduce represent local genetics that are resilient when drought-stressed!

Many people working for the Forest Service have noted the abnormal monsoon season this year. Some weather forecasters have even called it a “nonsoon”. Angie Munoz, a wildlife biologist from the Sacramento District, grew up in the Tularosa Basin. Being a local, she grew up accustomed to the typical monsoon patterns, even though they can be unpredictable. Recently, she took us around D2 to help us identify quality scouting localities. She was taken aback at the absence of wildflowers in places where they’d been abundant in the past. Larry and Taylor, our mentors, also took notice. They joined us in scouting Benado Gap to look for some lower-elevation grasses and wildflowers. Below are photos from this year and two years ago in 2021.

Rocky Mountain Zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora) and Blue gramma (Bouteloua gracilis) abound in 2021

While other crews may be at peak collecting, we’re just getting started! Many species are behind in flowering or fruiting because of the delayed rain, but others are doing their thing and making seeds. Some species we’ve seen set seed include Mertensia franciscana, Monarda fistulosa, Allium geyeri, Allium cernuum, Asclepias asperula, and Pedicularis procera.

Evie and I were able to make our first collection this month–for A. cernuum! We quickly realized what impact differing maturation rates of seeds on the same plant had on planning seed collection. The A. cernuum collection is incomplete, but we hope to revisit the population in a week or so to check on seed maturation progress. Once the fruits mature, the seed capsules quickly dehisce, giving us a narrow window of time to collect. Hopefully, we catch the next wave of mature seeds. Other populations have given us trouble, too. We were going to do a small collection of M. franciscana, but the seeds had dropped before we had a chance to collect them. We also had a couple populations of M. fistulosa we were planning to collect from, but a combination of rain, grazing, and small population size prevented that from happening. After doing seed calculations, one of our larger P. procera populations seemed ideal to collect–we estimated being able to collect 8,000 seeds! Despite having good seed fill, nearly all the seeds were shriveled and soft. Additionally, their insides were a strange black color. We collectively decided not to collect. Collecting is more of an art than a science!

Ironically, we got some decent rain last week! Evie and I tried to sneak in a visit to the nodding onion population last week. Not enough seeds had matured since our first visit. Even if they were ready to collect, the plants were too wet. It almost felt as if we were in the Pacific Northwest, with how foggy and rainy it was! We probably got a month’s worth of rain in 8 hours.

The view overlooking our nodding onion (A. cernuum) population

I went herping the night after the rains to see what creatures they unearthed. Since going on my first “road cruise” for herps in early August, I was hooked after seeing a Chihuhuan or Western “hooknose” snake. These nocturnal and diminutive snakes typically max out at 11″, are non-venomous, and prey on spiders, centipedes, and scorpions. Their upturned, hooked nose helps with burrowing in search of prey.

The Western hooknose snake (Gyalopion canum)

The following pictures include those prey species! When it comes to creepy crawlies (or cutie patooties to invertebrate nerds), nighttime is a great time to see these chitin-clad critters.

A “Jerusalem cricket” (which is neither from Jerusalem nor a true cricket)–a wild-looking
Orthopteran in the Stenopelmatidae family.
A scorpion I spotted using a black/UV light while hiking at White Sands National Park.

“So, what do you do when you’re not working?…”

…Is what all my friends, family, and coworkers have been asking me! This month’s post is dedicated to answering that question. I could make the cliché response that I love my job so much, I feel like I’m not working. Aside from general daily/weekly tasks (laundry, meal prepping, self-care, etc.), I still have a good chunk of time to myself on weekdays and weekends. When Texan tourists seek out the natural air conditioning of the high-elevation Sacramento Mountains, I descend into the desert to go rockhounding and botanizing (with some basketry and hiking mixed in).

The Malpais Lava Flow with a view of (from left to right) Lone, Baxter, and Carrizo Mountains in the background. Sotol, Opuntia sp., cholla, beargrass (Nolina microcarpa), one-seed juniper, and Yucca sp. are abundant.

One place I’ve had the chance to visit several times this summer is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Valley of Fires Recreation Area. The Valley of Fires is just a 40-minute drive from Ruidoso near Carrizozo. Here, you can explore the Malpais Lava Flow. The name “Malpais” refers to the rough terrain, or “bad country”, that was a significant barrier to hooved animals and wagons. Now, a paved educational path makes it easy to walk on the craggy rocks. Not as hot as lava (but still pretty hot) is the black basalt that absorbs the heat from the desert sun. The Malpais Lava Flow is one of the longest young lava flows in the United States and is an example of a tube-fed “pahoehoe” (ropy lava) system. Researchers constrained its formation to ~5,200 years ago using cosmogenic radionuclide dating techniques. Little Black Peak–a ~100 feet tall cinder cone–is thought to be the source where an eruption likely initiated from a fissure vent, eventually progressing into a single vent that produced the cinder cone. Despite the hostile environment, many plant species typical of the Chihuahuan Desert can be found here. Animals include a number of snake and lizard species, bats, and mule deer. Many bird species also inhabit the lava flow, including roadrunners, quail, burrowing owls, and cactus wrens.

I still don’t know as much detail as I’d like about regional geologic history–especially about the formation of the Sacramento Mountains. I keep eyeing a copy of “The Geology of Southern New Mexico’s Parks, Monuments, and Public Lands” in the Ranger District’s gift shop. Maybe I’ll bring it home soon! In the meantime, I resort to the local public library to find resources on geology and rockhounding. I was able to get a Library card using an addressed letter from a friend (thanks, Julia!). While small, the Ruidoso Public Library has a decent hobby section. I found a Falcon Guide on the “140 best” rockhounding sites in New Mexico. “Eureka!”–or so I thought. I would spend the next four weekends venturing to a new location only to be disappointed over and over again. It appears that many publicized locations are over-collected. In the case of Ancho Gulch, people placed mineral claims since the guide was published in 2021! So my best bet was either to own private property (or be friends with someone who does) or persevere. I don’t plan on buying land anytime soon, so the latter was really the only option.

A dilapidated schoolhouse from the ghost town of Jicarilla located near Ancho Gulch. Silver and fleck gold can supposedly be found in the gulch, though a mineral claim had been posted there prohibiting any disturbance or prospecting in the area.

That plan worked for two localities: an old copper mine in the Gallinas Mountains and exposures of the Seven Rivers Formation along the Pecos River. Tailings from the copper mine weather into chrysocolla, malachite, and azurite. The “mine” is adjacent to an old fluorite mine, though I came up empty there with the exception of a sulking Southwestern fence lizard (Sceloporus cowlesi, right). Finding the copper minerals was relatively easy–their vibrant green provides a stark contrast against the sandy red soil. They erode out of the roadcut along the Forest Service Road, so minimal digging was required.

A stunning piece of chrysocolla from the copper mine tailings

Pecos diamonds can be found just east of the banks of the Pecos River at the second locality. A more fitting name would be “Pecos double-terminated quartz crystals”, but that’s a mouthful and not as cool-sounding as “diamond”. They vary in color, shape, and size. Some have an elongated, prismatic form, while others are pseudotrigonal prisms or even pseudocubic. The diamonds are exclusively found in weathered outcrops of the Seven Rivers Formation (part of the Artesia Group), which is a saline or shelf facies that was deposited during the Permian. Shelf facies are rocks deposited at or near the continental shelf in warm, shallow, salty waters.

Searching for exposures of the Seven Rivers Formation on Bureau of Land Management land. This stratigraphic unit is composed of evaporitic minerals, red beds (sandy-silty rock colored red from iron oxides), and dolostone. An abundance of the evaporitic mineral gypsum results in fascinating
edaphic (soil-based) endemism across many different genera.
Tiquilia hispidissima (Boraginaceae) growing on a gypsum exposure near the banks of the Pecos River.

Here, you can see the variation in the diamonds that I found. The two most common colors were cloudy-white and semi-translucent gray, while the dominant form is prismatic. I decided to store them in a small, coiled, Ponderosa pine needle bowl I made from locally-sourced pine needles.

I wanted to make something place-based that I could take with me after this position so I could have something meaningful to remember it by. Nothing has left as much of an impression on me as the Ponderosa pine. Between its vanilla-scented reddish bark (one even smelled like orange-creamsicle!) and long needles, I have been obsessed with it since moving to New Mexico. I did some research on indigenous basket weaving and learned about the coiled longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) needle baskets of the Seminole and Choctaw nations. The Mescalero Apache also make coiled baskets, though yucca is the more commonly used material. Baskets are made using a similar technique to coiled pottery, where each coil/bundle is placed on top of the previous coil. Thinner or thicker coils can be used depending on the size of the basket, while the basket walls can be shallow or steep, resulting in a diversity of forms.

I took on this project as a way to weave a utilitarian (though still aesthetic) object that symbolizes more than just a cool basket: A basket that was woven with intention and respect for the tree that gifted the needles, gathered one fascicle at a time from the forest floor. Something that will remind me of the knowledge of indigenous communities and caretakers of this land. I could make more baskets if I wanted to gift them to friends/family. Someone even suggested I sell them! That would cross a moral boundary. I am content with just this one.

Further Reading on Gypsum Endemism:



(Hemi- and Holo-?) Parasites in the Land of Enchantment

New Mexico has significant climatic variability, both temporally and spatially. In The Lincoln National Forest, temperatures widely vary with elevation. There can be a 30-degree temperature difference between the Chihuahuan Desert and the sub-alpine zones in the Sacramento Mountains! Mornings in Ruidoso usually start around 65 degrees and climb to the mid-80s at the height of the day. A recent heatwave was an anomaly for this elevation, sending temperatures to the 90s. Thankfully, it’s a dry heat. But that lack of moisture is bad news for any reprieve from the daily “VERY HIGH” fire danger posted outside the Smokey Bear Ranger District office. During that heatwave, I experienced my first wildfire–the ~15-acre Chance Fire–which was started by welding. While storms bring rain, they also bring lightning, a significant natural cause of wildfires.

The arid climate of the Southwest also poses problems for seed collection. Plant populations are dependent on rainfall, which has been scarce since the start of June. My fellow CLM intern (Evie Sanchez!) and I have been having trouble locating suitable populations to collect from because of the relative drought. The monsoon season typically starts in mid-June or July, when moist air from the Pacific gets sucked into an area of low pressure in the Southwest. This moisture manifests as afternoon thunderstorms that roll in like clockwork. While delayed this year, the monsoon season is not far away! While waiting for the monsoons, we have been familiarizing ourselves with the Smokey Bear Ranger District. The Lincoln National Forest is divided into three ranger districts: The northernmost Smokey Bear RD, separated from the southern Sacramento and Guadalupe Ranger Districts by the Mescalero Apache Reservation. There are still plenty of cool plants to see in the meantime, including several parasitic plants, which have evolved a unique strategy in a place where the UV index is “extreme” nearly every day!

Photosynthesis Freeloaders

Rope dodder (Cuscuta glomerata) parasitizing a goldenrod species in an open meadow in Ohio.

Parasitic plants have always captured my curiosity as oddities that have evolved to rely on the photosynthesis of other plants (or parasitism of fungi!), whether completely or partially, as their source of carbon/energy. I’ve noticed multiple taxa representing several plant families in my time here. Parasitic plants can be categorized based on their level of dependence on their host species, ranging from hemiparasites, which have a partial dependence and can still produce chlorophyll, to holoparasites, which gain all of their carbon from their host. They can also be categorized based on the part of the plant they parasitize and whether they can complete their life cycle with/without the host. The photo above is species of dodder (Convolvulaceae) I saw last summer in Ohio that is an example of a stem holoparasite. Note the absence of chlorophyll and vining habit around its host species–a goldenrod (Solidago sp.)


When people think of orchids, they usually think of the Phalaenopsis or Cattleya orchids sold in big-box stores. Vanilla orchids and lady-slippers (e.g., Cypripedium) are other well-known taxa. Nearly all orchids are at least partially mycoheterotrophic, meaning they rely on host fungi for part of their life cycle–usually for germination and development. Rather than parasitizing plants for their carbon and nutrients, they parasitize fungi! Mycoheterotrophs are typically found in forest understories where light is a limiting factor. Species that are partially mycoheterotrophic but can still photosynthesize are considered “mixotrophs.”

Most orchid species in the genus Corallorhiza, however, are fully mycoheterotrophic. As a result, they have lost the ability to photosynthesize. I had the opportunity to see two Corallorhiza species growing in the duff and litter of mixed conifer habitat: Corallorhiza maculata and Corallorhiza striata. C. maculata gets its name from the spots dotting its labellum. C. striata has a similar naming scheme, where it is named for the stripes on the inflorescences. In a habitat type where the understory is bare due to the dense canopy blocking the majority of light, these two species have found a way to make it work!


Orobanchaceae, or the “Broomrape” family, is a group of annual to perennial herbs that are holoparasitic to hemiparasitic on the roots of other plant species using single or multiple haustoria. Haustoria are root-like structures used by parasitic plants to embed into the phloem and/or xylem of host plants, acting as both an anchor and a means to “tap” into the vascular system of the hosts. Water, sugars, and minerals can be stolen through this conduit. The Orobanchaceae family is of great research interest to evolutionary biologists studying the emergence of parasitism in plants because members of this family range from partial to complete parasites, capturing the transition from photosynthetic independence to holoparasitism.

Pedicularis procera, or the giant lousewort, is a member of Orobanchaceae that grows to about four feet tall. Evie and I found a small population while scouting along a canyon in a mixed conifer forest at ~8000 ft. Many bee species were visiting the flowers, and I captured one in the act, legs laden with pollen! Its flowers are heavily modified for pollination by bees. Pedicularis is an example of a hemiparasitic genus that has multiple root haustoria.

Conopholis alpina

Conopholis is a genus I’m familiar with from the deciduous forests of the Midwest through Conopholis americana. Its common name is American cancer-root, or bearcorn. This species is host specific to oaks (Quercus sp.) and beeches (Fagus sp.). The western species, Conopholis alpina, likewise utilizes oaks as a host species (in addition to Acer and Juniperus) but grows at elevations from 4,200 to 12,000 feet–hence the species epithet “alpina.” Conopholis is a holoparasitic genus possessing a single, large haustoria.

Last but not least are the scarlet paintbrushes! These beauties are hemiparasites on the roots of nearby plants. Castilleja diversity is concentrated in the American West, with only a handful of species from the eastern United States, Eurasia, and Central and South America. The most conspicuous part of the inflorescence is the bracts–not the flower proper. Flowers range in color from shades of red, orange, and purple but can also be white or yellow. Castilleja indivisa is not native to New Mexico, but I did see it on my road trip through Texas! This species is endemic to Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.

Further Reading/Sources:

Flora Neomexicana Series: https://floraneomexicana.org/flora-neomexicana-series/

The Fungi (Watkinson, Boddy, & Money, 2016), Chapter 7: Mutualistic Symbiosis Between Fungi and Autotrophs