I remember Yosemite naturalist Will Neely showing me Hulsea algida on a hike through the high pass between Lee Vining Creek and Lake Oneida. Since then I’ve seen it several other places high along the crest of the Sierra Nevada. Hulsea is a small genus of western American composites with an affinity for challenging habitats (several others favor talus slopes and pumice flats). Algida means “icy” (Will, always the romantic, had quoted some Italian aria in which the heroine’s lifeless hand is described as “algida”.) Algida aptly describes the rocky, exposed, often snowy slopes and ridges where Hulsea algida lives.
Hulsea algida on Bodie Mountain. Potato Peak in the distance (1980).
I was, then, surprised and delighted to find this “true alpine” species high on the shaded north slope of Bodie Mountain, where after a good winter, a large snow bank melts away slowly through spring and summer. This place is unique in the Bodie Hills—it’s only marginally “alpine” environment, a tiny remnant of what was much more widespread during periods of colder climate. The Hulsea isn’t the only alpine indicator here. There’s also a buttercup (Ranunculus eschscholtzii), a mustard (Draba brewerii), and a sedge (Carex helleri).
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