The weather has gone from summer back to spring (winter) today, June 14. The flowers have popped throughout the valley with the heat of the past 10 days. With little rain this spring, there is no time to lose to enjoy the riotous color and heady fragrances at lower elevations in the valley. Fortunately, while flowers may be fading in the southern end of Jackson Hole, they are still fresh in the northern end.
Balsamroot and the look-alike-but-not-quite mules-ears are in full yellow glory.
Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) has large arrow-shaped leaves with a grayish cast, all arising from the base. Sun-yellow flowers stand well above the foliage. Balsamroot is growing all along the sage flats and up the open hillsides. Antelope Flats and the top of Signal Mountain feature impressive shows.
Mules-ear wyethia (Wyethia amplexicaulis) has deep green leaves shaped like huge mules ears, alternating up the 1-2’ stems (taller in wetter springs). The 3-4” flowers are a deeper orange-yellow than balsamroot. It is found in slightly moist spots, such as near the corner of Antelope Flats Road and the highway and along Cattleman’s Road just west of Oxbow Bend.
Amidst sage flats and into forest edges are many common favorites: Pink sticky geraniums, lavender to white long-leaved phlox, red scarlet gilia, blue lupines, and yellow modoc hawksbeard are showing their colors amidst the sunny balsamroot. Spikes of cream death camas grow intermittently along Gros Ventre Road south of Blacktail Butte, and patches of pale yellow paintbrush (Castilleja pilosa var. longespica) cluster along the northeastern side of the loop. (Scroll down for photos.)
Desert parsley provides a persistent yellow haze along park roads and deep blue Nuttall’s larkspur is beautiful at Lupine Meadows right now. Lambs-tongue groundsel and nodding microseries, with its drooping buds and dandelion-like flowers, provide frequent splashes of yellow. A large sky blue penstemon (Penstemon cyaneus) occasionally finds a spot on gravelly slopes.
Shrubs of antelopebrush (also called bitterbrush) perfume the sage flats with their small yellow flowers. Serviceberry has short clusters of five-petaled flowers while black chokecherry has long wands of flowers that wave along the edges of moister hillsides, such as along the Moose-Wilson Road and Old Pass Road in the south and Oxbow Bend in the north end of the park. These two white-flowering shrubs are members of the rose family and will have berries important for bears, birds, and other wildlife come late summer into fall.
You may notice the tent caterpillars defoliating chokecherry. They build their silken tents where they capture the sun on spring mornings, warming the bodies of these industrious, spinning creatures. Soon they will cocoon individually and after a couple of weeks become moths. The caterpillars are protein bars for birds.
Flat Creek Road through the north end of the National Elk Refuge features early Indian paintbrushes, one brilliant red (Castilleja chromosa) the other yellow (Castilleja flava var. rustica), which dot the dry ground. Low mats of pussytoes (Antennaria microphylla) and daisies (Erigeron spp.) spread through yellow patches of arnica (Arnica sororia, A. longifolia), stemless goldenweed (Stenotus acaulis) and a clump or two of blue humble penstemon (Penstemon humilis) rise along the hills to the north. Strong winds are challenging to their insect pollinators. However, grasses are waving their miniature flower heads for the breeze to facilitate pollination. Soon sulphur buckwheat will add soft yellow hues to the scene. The fuzzy fruits of Pursh’s Milkvetch can be found lying on gravelly soils.
And finally, blue camas and white mule’s ears are in full spender in a wetmeadow at the north end of the park.
These are just a few of the wildflowers to see right now–coming and going–this mid June.
Please let us know what your are finding.
Frances Clark, Wilson, WY
June 14, 2014