Grasses, Shrubs, Flowers, and Trees of the Basin
Count the insects feasting within a prickly poppy.
Listen to the Jeffrey pines swaying in the butterscotch wind.
SO MUCH SAGE
No matter where you wander in the Mono Basin you will probably run into sagebrush, for it will grow in a variety of habitats and elevations shunning only the most extreme of both. This pungent shrub is well adapted to extreme cold, heat, sunlight, and drought. Sagebrush defines the sagebrush scrub, the most dominant plant community in the Mono Basin, and the most widespread desert plant community in North America. Within the sagebrush community you will find a surprising variety of plants and animals: bitterbrush, desert peach, blazing star, sage grouse, sage sparrows, kangaroo rats, chipmunks, mule deer, black-tailed jackrabbits, coyotes, and the occasional wandering mountain lion. Sagebrush grows slowly, reaching about 2-4 feet in height, though some old stands of sagebrush have topped 7 feet. The native Paiutes used sagebrush leaves to make a tea to treat a variety ofailments, and it was hung outside of dwelling places to discourage unkind spirits.
South of Mono Lake lies the largest single stand of Jeffrey pines in the world. If you stick your nose within the furrowed bark you may smell butterscotch, pineapple, or even vanilla depending on your preference. During calm mornings and evenings the sweet fragrance of Jeffrey pines hangs in the air. Related to ponderosa pines, these trees grow large and straight with a thick crown. Valued more for their lumber than their aesthetic presence, Jeffrey pines were heavily logged both during the gold mining heyday of Bodie and more recently under the management of the Inyo National Forest. Though nearly all the big trees have been cut and the forest is crisscrossed by old logging roads, you can still enjoy this stately forest along with its associated community of sagebrush, bitterbrush, monkeyflower, prickly phlox, lupine, mule deer, coyote and great-horned owls.
RIBBONS OF LIFE
Cold, clear water spills down glacier-carved canyons and winds its way through the arid Mono Basin on its way to Mono Lake. Along these streams fed by melting Sierra Nevada snow, a variety of trees, shrubs, and herbs stake their claim. Jeffrey and lodgepole pine, aspen, black cottonwood, willow, wild rose, sweet sage, lupine, and desert paintbrush help define the riparian (stream-side) habitat of the Mono Basin. The vegetation used to grow thickly all the way down to Mono Lake along both Rush and Lee Vining Creeks until water diversions to Los Angeles emptied the streambeds and eventually destroyed riparian habitat below diversion dams. For decades the creeks were dry as diverted water flowed south to Los Angeles. Today, most of the water has returned to these creeks and you can now watch the recovery of willows, cottonwoods, pines and water-loving plants along the Lee Vining Creek Trail.
PINYON PINE JUNGLE
At scattered locations around the Mono Basin dense stands of pinyon pine thrive. These single-needle pines provide a steady supply of pinon nuts in the autumn feeding birds, rodents, chipmunks, and even people. A well-balanced combination of protein, fat, and carbohydrates make pinon nuts an excellent food source! Growing among the pines you may find Utah juniper, sagebrush, littleleaf horsebrush, phlox, arrowleaf balsamroot, lupine, and more. The pinyon pines are a favorite hangout for a host of birds like Pinyon Jays, Mountain Chickadees, Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, Scrub Jays, and more.