The Fritillaria Project

Fritillaria is a plant genus in the Liliaceae (lily) family distributed broadly in the Northern Hemisphere, and there are 21 species native to California that probably form a monophyletic group. Fritillaria pinetorum is an endemic species, listed as rare due to limited distribution (4.3, CNDDB) that is found in a variety of habitats between 1800-3200 meters elevation in southern California. Fritillaria atropurpurea is much more widespread (ranging into much of western North America), but is very similar morphologically, with only a few differences, such as the way the flowers are held on the stem (erect vs. nodding) and the length of the leaves on the upper stem. These two species overlap in geographic range in the Tehachapi range and the southern Sierra Nevada range, where they are particularly difficult to distinguish. The Fritillaria genus has one of the largest nuclear genomes recorded for angiosperms (haploid size between 30 and 83 Gigabase pairs). Because of the large size of the nuclear genome in this group, conducting genetic studies on this group has been challenging in the past. Several undergraduate researchers in the lab are conducting DNA extractions, PCR, and gel electrophoresis to test primers for chloroplast regions, including chloroplast microsatellites, that have shown variation in Asian Fritillaria species. We plan to use the chloroplast regions that amplify well for population genetics and phylogenetics to see if there are genetic differences between F. pinetorum and F. atropurpurea, to collect information that may be helpful in making species delimitation decisions in this complex group. Our collaborator on this project, and the originator of the taxonomic questions concerning these species, is the Fresno-area freelance consulting botanist Chris Winchell.

Fritillaria atropurpurea individuals from Plumas National Forest (left) and Modoc National Forest (right), showing variation in floral morphology.