The montane slopes of the Tetons are filling with flowers of all colors, shapes and sizes. Its time to take a hike and revel in their intrique. While this post features flowers along portions of Granite Canyon and Ski Lake Trails, they are common throughout the Tetons.
Mixed in with aspens and sagebrush along the first stretch of Granite Canyon Trail, one can find Western Snowberry (Symphoriocarpus oreophilus) just coming into bloom as the Antelopebush and Serviceberry fade.
Fuzzy looking Giant Hyssop or Mountain Mint stick out their anthers beyond the gaping flowers, easy for pollinators to brush against and glean pollen as they stick their mouth parts deep into the flower to suck nectar. As we push by, we may get a whiff of minty like aroma.
Further up the first rise of the moraine, a piece of sky has fallen by the trail: a sky-blue beards-tongue or Penstemon stands straight and tall. Look inside the flowers to find that the anthers are hairy on the back, one of the key identification features.
Other suprises include an occasional wild hyacinth (Tritelia grandiflora), and early One-flowered Sunflower (Helianthella uniflora), and a few remaining long-leaved phlox (Phlox longifolia). One variety of Silver Lupine (Lupinus argenteus ssp,) is also coming into bloom. Listen for the House Wren that nests in an aspen trunk and the Green-tailed Towhee singing on top of Big Sage. You don’t have to travel far to see much.
A more energetic but perhaps more rewarding foray is up the first half of the Ski Lake Trail.
As one first starts up the trail, a substantial shrub attracts attention with its large flat clusters of small white flowers. Western Mountain Ash (Sorbus scoparia) has pinnately compound, sharply toothed leaves arranged alternately up the stems. The look-alike Black Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) holds its leaves opposite each other. The fruits will benefit wildlife in the fall.
Yellow Columbine (Aquilegia flavescens), often white in color, seems to fly through the shade. The botanical name means eagle talons. The long spurs hold nectar for those pollinators which have a long enough tongue or beak to reach to the end. While the visitors are seeking the sweet nectar, their bodies are showered in pollen from the protruding anthers.
Along the first moist slopes, Western Valerain (Valeriana occidentalis) holds out bunches of tiny white flowers on opposite pedicels. The leaves are also opposite along the stem. I confess I am constantly confounded by the two large (2-4′) members of the Parsley Family: Fern-leaved Desert Parsely (Lomatium dissectum) and Fern-leaved Lovage (Lomatium filicinum). One is growing in abundance, but is not quite in bloom. Anyone know which it is? What are easy to identify are the Silver Lupines (Lupinus argenteus var. argenteus) with their blue pea-like flowers and palmately dissected leaves, yellow spires of Fern-leaf Lousewort, also called Wood Betony (Pedicularis bracteosa), and pink Sticky Geranium (Geranium viscossissimum)
which mix together at random, creating quite a show. These show-offs are interspersed with the dandelion-look-alike: Nodding Mircroseris (Microseris nutans), various sedges and grasses. The Western Sweet-vetch (Hedysarum occidentale) with its dangling violet-pink pea flowers and compound leaves attracts particular attention.
Balsamroot covers slopes here, as it does throughout the valley this year. You can’t miss it! But elsewhere you can confuse it with similar Mules Ears (Wyethia amplexicaulis). Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza saggitata) has true- yellow flowers and large, greyish-green leaves that are shaped like an arrowhead. It is usually found on relatively dry slopes or sage flats. Mules Ears has dark green, 18″ oval leaves and its flowers are a more orange-yellow. It is found in moist pockets such as off Cattleman’s Road near Oxbow Bend. The big wow is when the bright yellow balsamroot grows alongside patches of deep blue Nuttall’s Larkspur (Delphinium nuttuallianum)
A monumental plant which only blooms in abundance every few years is the Green Gentian (Frasera speciosa). Formerly thought to be a biennial, researchers have discovered an individual plant must live 30-40 years as a rossette of leaves before it has stored up enough energy to finally shoot up its expansive flowering stalk. After it blooms, the whole plant dies, but only after shedding thousands of seeds. For more of the story go to http://www.mtnativeplants.org/filelib/72.pdf. Once every 2-4 years we have an abundance of these plants blooming. And this is such an extraordinary year.
Many more colorful plants are found along this trail and elsewhere in Jackson Hole. Indeed this trail which rises over 900 feet in elevation covers a two-month span of bloom from start to end. As you approach Ski Lake there is still the very early Spring Beauty (Claytonia lanceolata) flowering where the snow has just melted off, as well as the large blue bell-shaped flowers of Sugarbowls (Clematis hirsutissima).
Below are some additional plants to look for.
Western Wall Flower (Erysimum asperum) – This is one of the more attractive members of the Mustard Family. Note 4 petals, 6 stamens, and one pistil are typical features of this large family.