With unseasonably high temperatures this past week, spring flowers are developing fruits and summer flowers are blooming strong throughout the southern end of Jackson Hole. These same species will have encores over the next week or so in the northern valley and into Yellowstone National Park.
Here are some of the most common and obvious wildflowers blooming in sagebrush dominated flats and hillsides. We hope you will enjoy learning some plant names and how flowers are designed to attract pollinators. Enjoy the amazing diversity and beauty of plants.
Arrow-leaf Balsamroot – Balsamorhiza sagittata – is the big showy “composite” seen on hillsides and sageflats right now. The large flower heads illustrate the typical features of the Aster or Sunflower Family. This is one of the largest flower families in the word with 1000s of intriguing variations which have evolved for success.
Around the outside of the so-called flower head, bright yellow “petals” are actually individual “ray” flowers with five fused petals flattened to one side. The “disc” flowers in the center are tiny flowers with 5 connected yellowish petals forming a flared tube. Above each, a dark column of anthers wraps around an emerging stigma which arches into two parts, ready to capture pollen from visiting pollinators. (Note the outer disc flowers are in full bloom, the inner are still in bud.) Hairy, silvery bracts surround the flat platform or “receptacle” holding the many individual flowers. (If this is too much information, just have fun looking closely!)
Don’t confuse Balsamroot with the soon-to-flower Mule’s Ears – Wyethia amplexicaulis.
Western Groundsel – Senecio integerrimus – has several yellow flower heads with both ray and disc flowers on single stems. The plants usually grow to 8-12”.
At first glance, three other composites look like Common Dandelions – Taraxacum officinale. They grow about 6-8” (or more) tall and have showy yellow heads with only ray or “ligulate” flowers. Look closely at bracts, number of flower heads, and the location and shape of leaves.
The fruits are very helpful in understanding why the taxonomists separate these genera. However, we have to wait until they ripen. Practice by looking at dandelion fluff and fruits.
False Dandelion – Agoseris glauca – also has only one head per plant. The bracts are variable. Leaves are all at the base or “basal.” Three varieties with different leaves and hairiness to the bracts are a challenge to botanists.
Nodding Microseris – Microseris nutans – is very similar to the above, but again look closely: there is often more than one flower per stem or plant and buds typically nod. Leaves are mostly basal, but one or two may attach to the stem, as well.
Coming into bloom are several species of Hawksbeard – Crepis sp.
Don’t miss the blues:
Low or Nuttall’s Larkspur– Delphinium nuttallianum – has been blooming for a while. It attracts queen bumble bees, solitary bees, and in some places hummingbirds as pollinators.
At the right time, anthers shed pollen upon pushy pollinators. The pollinators, after a drink of nectar, fly off to a similar flower and with luck (for the plant) knocks the transported pollen onto the three receptive stigmas. Pollination and, hopefully, the formation of seeds has begun!
Mountain Bluebells – Mertensia viridis/oblongifolia – often grow on grassy slopes and amidst sage plants. Pollinators – bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds – are attracted at first to the curved bunch of pink and blue flowers.
Long-leaved Phlox – Phlox longifolia – grows taller and looser than earlier blooming white phloxes which are mat forming, such as Hood’s and Many-flowered Phloxes.
Other dashes of color:
Prairie Smoke—Geum triflorum – is a member of the Rose Family. The leaves are about 4-6” long, and are “pinnately” (like a feather) dissected–looking “fern-like (although ferns are a whole different order of plants). Leaves cluster plentifully at the base of the spreading plants.
Puccoon, Stoneseed, Gromwell – Lithospermum ruderale – is a robust plant in the Borage Family.
Many peoples have used this plant for a variety of medicinal purposes, a reason why it has so many common names.
Three particularly abundant species:
Wyeth Biscuit Root – Lomatium ambiguum – with its wide spreading “umbels” of tiny bright yellow flowers is still growing in abundance at the Sawmill Pond Overlook and along the inner park road.
It is easy at first to confuse Wyeth Biscuit Root with its more obscure relative. Nine-leaf Spring Parsley – Lomatium simplex var. simplex – has pale yellow flowers and leaves dissected into 9 long, thin segments of equal width and length.
Western Valerian – Valeriana occidentalis – appears in almost every habitat – grassy hillsides, near wetlands, and sage flats. While some promote Valerian as a sleep aide, it contains very toxic chemicals. Plants develop such chemicals for defense. Always research carefully any “medicinal” herbs.
Bright white Field Chickweed – Cerastium arvense – is found often in disturbed habitats.
Many more flowers are in bloom on dry knolls and hillsides and in relatively moist forest edges. And new flowers will continue to bloom in the flats. We will post additional information soon.
Wilson, WY – June 10, 2016
P.S. Of particular note at this moment of writing, is the phenomenal amount of pollen being shed by Lodgepole Pines (and perhaps other conifers.) The photo taken in the Lamar Valley three days ago is representative of what is happening all around us now.