Spring is arriving at its own pace here in Jackson Hole. We are all eager to see flowers!
Early spring flowers hug the warm ground:
Best to hunt along south-facing slopes or sagebrush spots where snow has recently melted and sun has had a chance to warm the ground long enough to encourage both flowers and insects to emerge.
Glistening yellow saucers of Sage Buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus) are held just above the ground where sun adds extra warmth beneath the wind. Often one can see large colonies. The north end of Moose-Wilson Road just west of the Murie Center road will soon be aglow.
Tiny Orogenia (O. linearifolia) or Turkey Peas is barely visible amidst withered vegetation from the year before. This member of the parsley family has miniature umbels of dingy white flowers and narrow leaves. Hard to spot.
Steer’s-heads (Dicentra uniflora) are also a spring favorite which requires sharp eyes to see. If you are lucky, you may find a stampede of Steer’s-head.
Twin Bladderpod (Physaria didymocarpa) — featuring 4 yellow petals typical of the mustard family — is scattered in bunches on south-facing dry slopes, such as Blacktail Butte and above Kelly Warm Springs.
Several other members of the mustard family bloom early.
Earnest botanists and pollinators alike can be “fooled” into thinking a fungus-infected mustard (typically rockcress) is in flower.
The rust fungus causes the young plant to form pseudo-flowers. Growing into the leaves, using the plant’s nutrients, the fungus causes the leaves to yellow and produce a sugary substance and even fragrance similar to flowers. The yellow pigment, which reflects strongly within the UV spectrum, is particularly bright to the eyes of insects. Attracted, pollinators land and crawl around looking for rewards of pollen or nectar and “disappointed,” depart carrying spores on feet and bodies to more mustard plants. The fungus is spread to benefit the fungus, not the plant or insect. In another twist of the story, at a later stage the fungus on the same plant may produce another type of spore that can infect nearby grasses….and the story is even more complicated than this! We can learn much from our mistakes!
Hood’s Phlox (Phlox hoodii) is just beginning to bloom in sagebrush and grassy habitats on slopes. Its fragrant flowers are worth getting down on hands and knees to sniff.
Others plants to look for: Spring Beauties, spring parslies (Lomatium and Cymopteris), Yellowbells (Fritillaria pudica), pussytoes (Antennaria sp.), and more.
Let us know what you find!
Wind-pollinated flowers are stretching out on shrubs and trees.
Wind pollinated flowers are not fancy. There is no reason to show-off to the wind which cannot see. Instead, flowers are often very inconspicuous with male and female flowers often on different plants or different parts of the same plant to avoid inbreeding. Often wind-pollinated plants grow in colonies, to better the odds for catching pollen. Pollen is abundant, again placing more bets in the gamble for successful wind pollination. It is fascinating to look very closely at the many tiny flowers arranged in “catkins.” See if you can tell which catkins are males, which females.
Willows (Salix spp.) produce upright “pussies” or male and female catkins, which are on separate plants to assure cross-pollination.
In the same family as willows (Salicaceae), Aspen trees (Populus tremuloides) appear “fuzzy” with long silvery catkins. Resembling furry gray caterpillars, 3-4” catkins have anthers tucked within small scales with tufts of hairs. See if the anthers have released yellow pollen yet. Can you find the smaller female catkins with red stigmas on separate trees nearby?
Enjoy investigating the flowers of spring. It is only the beginning of botanical adventures to come.
April 14, 2017