More Sage Habitat Wildflowers:
Since the last posting on Sage Habitat Wildflowers, Sulphur Buckwheat is now profuse throughout the park. Its creamy white billows of flowers are interspersed with red spikes of Scarlet Gilia and tiered towers of Blue Lupine. Nuttall’s Larkspur is still intermittent in the north end of the park along with various low-growing daisies (Erigeron spp.) and pussytoes (Antennaria spp). Wild geraniums are rampant on surrounding hillsides, too.
The following are fresh additions to the wildflower bouquet.
One Flowered Sunflower or Helianthella is beginning to bloom in place of the fading Arrowleaf Balsamroot. Single, large sunflowers are borne atop 3-4’ stems. The 6” leaves have 3 strong nerves embedded in the elliptical leaves held opposite each other on the sturdy stalks. The plants grow in clumps on dry slopes.
False or Mountain Dandelion – Agoseris glauca varieties – Each plant has a single 1-2” yellow dandelion-like flower on a 6-10”-long stalk. The linear leaves are basal. In some varieties they are mostly smooth-edged, in others they may be roughly lobed. The bracts beneath the flower heads are neatly pointed and may or may not be hairy.
Woollyleaf – Eriophyllum lanatum – Just bursting out, these bright orange members of the aster or composite family attract a closer look. You will notice that the few bracts around each flower head are neatly arranged and woolly. The rounded “petals”, or actually ray flowers, have a slight variation in color from outer to inner surface, probably creating an ultra violet “bulls eye” for landing pollinators. The oblong to linear leaves alternate up these 8” stems.
Manyface Groundsel – Packera (Senecio) streptanthifolia – A deeper orange yellow, and more compact in its growth form than the other common sagebrush denizen, Columbia Goundsel (Senecio integerrimus), Manyface Groundsel has non-hairy, lobed leaves on the stem and at the base. The leaves can be highly variable. Both groundsels are blooming in sage flats in the north end of the park.
Cinquefoil – Potentilla spp. – Several cinquefoils are blooming now. Overall, they are a confusing group to distinguish. Botanists look at the leaves: are they palmately or pinnately divided. Are they hairy or smooth, and are the hairs glandular or not. Are they silvery? Taxonomists also examine the flowers: while all species have 5 sepals and 5 petals—usually some shade of yellow, they also count the anthers: 20 or 25 or 30. And most particularly, they look at how the stigmas are arranged on the many ovaries. A microscope helps! Cinquefoils hybridize and have many varieties. So let’s settle for Cinquefoil for now, unless you like botanical Sudoku.
Grasses—Many grasses bloom in late June—those of us with allergies may have noticed. The pollen is carried on the wind to feathery stigmas of nearby relatives. One of the most elegant grasses on dry hillsides is Needle-and-thread – Heterostipa comata with its 8-10 inch needle-like “awns”. (Must be the needles of a giant!) Other grasses in bloom include bluegrasses, bromes, and fescues. Take a close look and see what is happening.
Sheep Sorrel — Rumex spp.– Two species of Sheep Sorrel are obvious right now. The more common Sheep Sorrel — Rumex acetosella — creates a 6-8” high rusty red haze along roadsides and in open areas.
Alpine Sheep Sorrel – Rumex paucifolius – is more stand-alone and can grow to 2-3’. It often sticks up above low growing sagebrush. Its 4-6” leaves are entire (no teeth or lobes) and elliptical, alternating up the stem. Both sorrels have separate male and female plants. The roundish fruits are three-winged. The seeds are valuable food for birds and rodents.
Prickly Pear Cactus – Opuntia fragilis – This spiny succulent is blooming on the rocks next to the parking lot at Kelly Warm Springs. Cacti store water in their stems, which also contain chlorophyll for photosynthesis. The spines are essentially reduced leaves and provide some shade as well as protection from predators. Hooked spines serve as a transport mechanism—as you will find out if you get too close! Cacti have a different photosynthesis cycle than most of our wildflowers, an adaptation to the intense sun, heat, and dryness of their location.
Lanceleaved Stonecrop – Sedum lanceolatum – Another plant especially adapted to dry conditions, the leaves are succulent: swollen and fleshy, holding onto extra water just in case a drought occurs. Also, unlike most plants, stonecrops open their stomates (pores) only at night to acquire essential carbon dioxide without losing too much water. They retain Co2 until the sun comes up, and then it completes the photosynthetic cycle in the light with the pores closed. This complex chemical pathway is abbreviated as CAM, for your reference. The five ovaries are distinctive from one another creating a “crown” when they mature into fruits. Each section will split open releasing many tiny seeds.
Nuttall’s Sego Lily – Calochortus nuttallii – This elegant chalice is blooming on dry rocky sites out Flat Creek Road up into Curtis Canyon, and likely along the Gros Ventre Road. They are very fragile.
And a shrub:
Mountain Snowberry – Symhiocarpus oreophilus – is flaring its pinkish petals to attract pollinators. The bluish green leaves are oval and opposite on the twiggy branches. The twiggy shrubs spread several feet while growing to 2-4’ high. The thickets often grow on moraines and provide excellent habitat for birds nesting and seeking cover.
Soon these flowers will fade and the show will shift to the hills and into the forest and eventually up into the alpine. We have many pleasures ahead!
As always we appreciate any corrections, questions, or comments. On this website, visit our calendar of events for our programs, and be sure to sign up for our tetonplants emails which will give you a exclusive heads-up for our “impromptu” hikes this summer.
And special thanks to the Jackson Hole News & Guide, June 25, Valley section, for providing a map and photos to encourage us all to find the flowers.
Frances Clark, Wilson, WY