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Malheur Valley fiddleneck (Amsinckia carinata)

Amsinckia carinata flowers
Amsinckia carinata plants
Amsinckia carinata habitat
Flowers (left), habit (center), and habitat (right) of Malheur Valley fiddleneck. Photos by Rebecca Currin (left) and Robert Meinke (center and right). If downloading images from this website, please credit the photographer.


Taxonomic notes
Amsinckia carinata was treated as a synonym of A. vernicosa in the 1993 publication of The Jepson Manual. However, Amsinckia vernicosa is an uncommon species found primarily in the foothills of central California, over 800 km (500 miles) from A. carinata populations, and although the two species do share similar morphological and habitat characteristics, later research by Meinke (1995) produced significant morphological, cytological, and geographic data indicating that A. carinata and A. vernicosa are distinct species.

Plant description
Malheur Valley fiddleneck is an erect annual, 10-50 cm tall, glabrous to mostly glaucous below and sparsely bristly above. Leaves are ovate to broadly lanceolate and acute at the tip, with pustuliferous-based hairs on both lower and upper leaf surfaces. Plants produce from one to several flowering stalks which may be branched above. The inflorescence is a coiled cyme, up to 25 cm long in fruit, bearing 5-25 flowers. Sepals are sometimes unequal in width, some of them connate in pairs or triplets. The corolla is typically a broadly flaring funnel shape with blunt, ovate-rounded lobes and is burnt orange to deep yellow, with prominent deeper orange sinuses. The corolla limb is broad, its width approximately 0.5-0.9 times the length of the corolla tube. The tube is 10-nerved below the attachment of the stamens. Nutlets are shiny and smooth, 0.4-0.7 cm long, overall much longer than broad, lanceolate and trigonous with an elongate, acuminate tip, keel-like ventrally, less so dorsally.

Distinguishing characteristics
A few other Amsinckia species occur within the range of A. carinata, including A. lycopsoides, A. menziesii, and A. tessellata. Malheur Valley fiddleneck is distinguished from these more common and widespread congeners by its glassy-smooth nutlets and nearly glabrous, almost succulent stems and sparsely hairy foliage. Malheur Valley fiddleneck frequently co-occurs with A. tessellata, although it is primarily found higher upslope in areas with larger talus fragments and greater talus depth than A. tessellata. Morphologically intermediate hybrids between A. carinata and A. tessellata have been documented in zones where the two species directly overlap, typically along the lower periphery of hillsides.

When to survey
Surveys for Malheur Valley fiddleneck should be completed when the species is in flower, from late April to early June, depending on conditions.

Malheur Valley fiddleneck occurs on yellowish cobbly, tufaceous hillsides, often near the exposed rock summits where talus fragments are large and talus depth is greatest. Plants are usually found on southern exposures at elevations ranging from 835-945 m (2740-3100 ft).
Although the immediate habitat in which this species occurs is severe and sparsely vegetated, several species are directly associated with Malheur Valley fiddleneck, including Asclepias cryptoceras, Atriplex spinosa, Blepharipappus scaber, Cymopterus corrugatus, Hordeum jubatum, Malocothrix torreyi, Mentzelia albicaulis, Oenothera brevipes, Penstemon miser, Tetradymia glabrata, and (mostly on lower slopes) Amsinckia tessellata. Plant communities immediately surrounding the hillsides on which Malheur Valley fiddleneck occurs were probably dominated by native species of Poa, Agropyron, Elymus, and Artemisia prior to intensive grazing in the region. These sites are currently plagued by numerous invasive weeds, including Bromus tectorum, Cirsium spp., Ranunculus testiculatus, and several other exotic Brassicaceae.

This species is a narrow edaphic endemic restricted to only seven known occurrences in eastern Oregon near the town of Harper in northern Malheur County. The total range of Malheur Valley fiddleneck is less than 30 square km (12 square miles), with the populations covering a combined area of approximately 30 acres. It occurs within the Northern Basin and Range ecoregion.

Oregon counties

Federal status
Species of Concern

Livestock movement within Malheur Valley fiddleneck sites degrades the habitat and threatens the plants by direct trampling and the displacement or crushing of larger talus fragments (the preferred substrate of the rare fiddleneck). Invasive weeds, often introduced by grazing activity, may compete with and negatively impact Malheur Valley fiddleneck, particularly where the rare species occurs on lower slopes. Hybridization between Malheur Valley fiddleneck and the common Amsinckia tessellata has been observed in the field where the species co-occur, and may result in genetic swamping (if backcrossing occurs) or in the pre-emption of habitat and resources by hybrid plants that would otherwise be available to the rare parent. Potential mining activities threaten the species and its unique habitat, as well. Researchers observed complete germination failure at three populations of Malheur Valley fiddleneck in 1990, a severe drought year, in areas where thousands of plants were observed the previous year. A series of years with unfavorable climatic conditions would likely pose a serious threat to the survival of this species.

Did you know?
Malheur Valley fiddleneck was first collected in June 1896 by John Leiberg and was not seen again in the field until June 1984, 88 years after its original discovery. Botanist Elaine Joyal rediscovered the species using information from an isotype specimen of Malheur Valley fiddleneck collected by Leiberg, as well as copies of Leiberg’s original field notes obtained from the archives of the Smithsonian Institution.

Cronquist, A. 1984. Amsinckia in: Intermountain Flora. Vol. 4. A. Cronquist, A. Holmgren, N. Holmgren, J. Reveal, and P. Holmgren, eds. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.
Ganders, F. 1993. Amsinckia in: The Jepson manual, higher plants of California. J. Hickman, ed. The University of California Press, Berkeley.
Joyal, E. 1985. Noteworthy collection of Amsinckia carinata Nelson & Macbride (Boraginaceae). Madroño 32:124-125.
Joyal, E. 1984. The rediscovery of Amsinckia carinata. Bulletin of the Native Plant Society of Oregon 17:6-7.
Meinke, R. J. 1995. Is Amsinckia carinata (Boraginaceae) a good species? A taxonomic re-evaluation of A. carinata and A. vernicosa. Unpublished report for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Oregon Department of Agriculture, Salem, Oregon.
Meinke, R.J. 1993. Environmental factors affecting the local distribution of an endemic and a widespread species of Amsinckia: reproduction and substrate requirements of Amsinckia carinata in relation to range management and potential surface mining. Unpublished report for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management, Vale District. Oregon Department of Agriculture, Salem, Oregon.
Meinke, R. J. 1990. Amsinckia carinata status survey: Inventory and biology. Unpublished report for the Bureau of Land Management, Vale District. Oregon Department of Agriculture, Salem, Oregon.
OFP (Oregon Flora Project). 2010. Oregon Plant Atlas. http://www.oregonflora.org/atlas.php. Accessed December 10, 2010.
ORBIC (Oregon Biodiversity Information Center). 2010a. Rare, threatened and endangered species of Oregon. Institute for Natural Resources, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon.
105 pp. Available at http://orbic.pdx.edu/documents/2010-rte-book.pdf (pdf document, 971 kB). Accessed December 10, 2010.
ORBIC (Oregon Biodiversity Information Center). 2010b. ORBIC element occurrence database. Portland, Oregon.