Wildflowers are coming out in earnest as aspen leaves expand in the southern half of Jackson Hole. Dry slopes and sage flats are good spots to look for color:Josie’s Ridge, Cache Creek, High School Butte, the edges of the Elk Refuge Road in Jackson and areas along the Gros Ventre Road in Grand Teton National Park are easy to access. There are several very distinctive species easy to identify, and a few that can be confounding even to the professional botanists. They are all intriguing to look at close up.
Pasque Flower (Anemone patens var. multifida) is a local favorite. Several large bluish sepals, not petals, form the 2” cup-shaped flower and wrap warmth. Many yellow anthers fill the center, appealing to early pollinators. Leaves are divided and “fuzzy”. Silky hairs likely warm the plants by reducing wind and holding the sun’s heat as these plants emerge on breezy slopes.
Kittentails (Besseya wyomingensis) are a treat to find. The “flower” is actually a group of tiny flowers set on a central stalk creating a “spike”. Each flower has only two sepals, no petals, and two stamens with purple-blue filaments and anthers, which provide the overall color. Leaves are gray wooly, with rounded teeth. Plants flower at 3-4” but stretch to 12” over the season.
Spring Beauty (Claytonia lanceolata) – These delicate ephemerals grow fast from tiny corms (like crocus). One pair of elliptical leaves grow opposite each other on the 4-6” stems, just beneath the flowers. Several white to pinkish flowers open wide with rose pink lines on the 5 petals converging to gleaming nectar glands in the center. The whole plant will die back within only a few weeks, as ephemeral as these lovely spring days.
Bastard Toadflax (Comandra umbellata) is the only member of the Sandlewood Family in Wyoming and can be parasitic on surrounding plants. The bluish green, 6-8” plants support clusters of tiny, slightly waxy flowers with 5 whitish sepals (no petals). Sometimes the plants look bright yellow from a fungus. Bastard Toadflax is an alternate host of the Comandra Blister Rust that infects lodgepole pine.
Spring Parsley: At least two genera and several species of the Parsley Family confound botanists at this time of year. They are all called Spring, sometimes Desert, Parsley. ID is confirmed by looking at roots and fruits—which are not available. Here are two Spring Parslies to look out for:
Longstalk Spring Parsley – (Cymopteris longipes) Silvery gray, divided leaves form what appears to be a lacy basal rosette, with a pale yellow set of umbels arising from the center. However, later in the season, the stalk stretches to 8” below and above the set of leaves—giving it a very different look. The final division of the umbels has a delicate whorl of bractlets: tiny leaf-like structures, that form the “involucel”. This species is common on very dry slopes.
Spring Parsley (Lomatium cf. foeniculaceum) — Note the deep green, lacy leaves, and reddish stalk. The flowers are bright yellow with a definite whorl of wide bractlets forming the involucel. These are abundant now along the outwash flats along Gros Ventre Road near the junction with the highway. ID needs to be confirmed come summer when the fruits are ripe.
Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon conjugens) dangle their magenta flowers. These elegant flowers depend upon bumble bees for pollination. Hanging upside down, bees vibrate their wings at a certain frequency which releases pollen on the belly of the bee (buzz pollination). The bee flies to another flower where the stigma is exerted, and the pollen sticks.
Oblongleaf Bluebells – (Mertensia oblongifolia/viridis—these are now one species) – This spring flowering bluebell grows only to about 10” high. Flowers are arranged in curled clusters (cymes) and change from deep pink to sky blue. The narrow tube flares out into a more open portion of the flower (limb). Inside, the filament of the anther joins at this junction, and is quite broad. The 5 anthers project just beyond the flower opening. These details distinguish this species from other local species, including a summer species Mountain Bluebells (M. ciliata) which is much larger plant found in wet seeps.
Hood’s Phlox (Phlox hoodii) – Low mats of white to pale blue flowers spread across dry hills and flats. The tiny tubular flowers are sweetly fragrant. This species is distinguished by the ½”-wide flowers and the dense, needle-like leaves often with cobwebby hairs and pungent odor. Other similar species P. multiflora and P. pulvinata will soon be out with larger 1” wide flowers.
Yellow Violets typically have basal leaves ranging from heart-shaped to lance-shaped. Yellow flowers arise on stalks from the center. Several species can be confounding: Viola nuttallii , V. praemorsa, and V. vallicola. I think this is Nuttall’s Yellow Violet given the size of the plant and flower and shape and dimension of the leaves, but I am not sure. So we may leave it as Yellow Violet (Viola sp.)
While names help you share your experiences or look up more information, just examining flower details and watching pollinators can be delightful.
Have fun flower watching!
Frances Clark, Wilson, WY