What’s in Bloom on Sageflats and Sunny Foothills – Late June 2022

Sageflats, hillsides, and ridges throughout Jackson Hole are a bloom! Now is the time to catch the balsamroot extravaganza and to look for other treats throughout. There is so much to see. To encouarge you, below are photos with ID tips of the most common species. We have also provided some information on how flowers “work”—which pollinators come by, how do they fit, where do the fruits and seeds form. By looking closely (including dissecting plants) and knowing more, flowers are more fun.  So please enjoy botanizing as you hike; or just take a walk, sit and watch what is unfurling and flying about you.

Yellow Composites:

Balsamroot exhibits a classic form of the former Composite Family now called the Aster Family.  Sunflowers, asters, pussytoes, dandelions are all related. Let’s take a closer look using balsamroot as our first example.

The basic flower plan in the Composite Family is a set of many small flowers arrayed on a platform surrounded by green bracts to form a “head”. Balsamroot has a ring of showy ray flowers which consist of 5 fused petals that are tongue-like (ligulate). The inner flowers are “disc” flowers also with five petals which fuse to form a tube with flared tips.

Five dark male anthers develop facing inward. The female pistil pushes through the press of male anthers to push out pollen grains that tend to stick to the outside of the stigma ready for pick up by pollinators. Soon the pollen is gone or dried up, and the stigma opens wide into a two-parted arch ready to receive pollen from another flower delivered by a pollinator helping in cross-pollination. Many different insects can easily land and forage for pollen and nectar over the course of several days. Composite heads for insects are sort of like you parking and shopping at Walmart.

Disc flowers start blooming on the outside and form a Fibonnaci spiral inwards.

Each fertilized flower produces a fruit below the petals (inferior ovary). Inside the dry fruit will be a single seed (achene). This is the same design as sunflower seeds: the hard outer shell with one seed inside. Often when you open the flower head you will see grubs settled in for a good meal.

The Composite Family has hundreds of variations (species) on this theme growing around the world. More examples are below.

Arrowleaf balsamrootBalsamorhiza sagittata – still dominates many slopes and sage flats in Jackson Hole right now. It has arrow-shaped, slightly hairy, large 1-2′ grayish leaves all growing on long petioles from the base. Stalks have 1-2 large flowers with yellow ray flowers and disc flowers. Fresh flowers smell like chocolate, and the roots have a balsam scent.

Mule’s EarsWyethia amplexicaulis – look similar to Arrowleaf Balsamroot at first. But note the leaves are shaped like a mule’s ears and are smooth and green.

Several orange-yellow flowers alternate up the stem along with smaller leaves. Mule’s Ears tend to be found in relatively moist, often heavy clay soils.

Twin ArnicaArnica sororia – is having a good year around Antelope Flats and foothills. The bright yellow flowers stand upon 1’ stems with 2-3 pairs of narrow opposite leaves with a few more at the base. 

Common DandelionTaraxacum officinale – This introduced European plant is still popping up in our lawns, fields, and trails. It has all ligulate or ray flowers that look like petals – actually each “petal” is 5 petals combined. The bracts are in two rows, the outer row is reflexed, the inner stands upright. 

From each ray flower, tiny rough fruits (achenes) are formed and are attached to a pappus that serves as a parachute for distribution of the seeds by wind.

While annoying to us, dandelions are favored by many bees and seed-eating birds. They are also full of healthy vitamins and nutrients.  https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/herb/dandelion Note we have native dandelions seen mostly at higher elevations.

Mountain or False DandelionAgoseris glauca – All the flower heads have yellow, ligulate or ray flowers, as in the common dandelion. Each plant produces only one flower head.

Several rows of upright bracts encircle the heads. All the leaves are basal. 

Fruits are elongated and smooth. You can see why this is called False Dandelion–it takes a close look to tell the differences.

There are three varieties of this species and two other genera (Nothocalais nigrescens and Microseries nutans) that are very similar. The achenes or fruits are the best way to be sure of your ID and are not addressed here. 

Pussytoe Antennaria sp. – flower heads have only disc flowers and scaly inconspicuous bracts and, therefore, look very small and plain compared to many of our composites. Pussytoes in general are easy to ID by their “pussytoe”-like flower heads. Heads have either male or female disc flowers on separate plants (dioecious).

In the photo, the heads with male flowers are on the left with anthers bearing pollen, and the heads of female flowers are on the right with delicate white stigmas with many extra bristles. Pussytoes often make seeds without fertilization (apotomictic) and/or are polyploids (having extra sets of chromosomes) which can make ID more complicated.

Below is a Small-leaved PussytoeAntennaria microphylla with a mat of small, hairy leaves

and its rosy form with pinkish bracts (female heads):

Low growing Shaggy FleabaneErigeron pumilus – is common on many dry knolls. Fleabanes have heads surrounded by a ring of equal-sized bracts and many narrow ray flowers. In this species the maturing flower heads nod, the 1-2″ leaves are very narrow, and hairs stick straight out like the hairs on a frightened cat! Hairs reduce water loss by shading the surface of the leaf and reducing velocity of wind currents. Hairs are common on plants growing in dry locations.

One of Many Mustards

Rough WallflowerErysimum asperum – grows to 18″ with several yellow flowers at the top. Flowers in the Mustard Flower typically have 4 sepals, 4 petals, 6 anthers – 4 long, 2 short, and a single pistil with one stigma.

In this specis the ovary extends into a 4-6″ fruit called a silique–think sleek siliques.

Other mustards such as Penny CressThlapsi arvense – may have roundish silicles where the fruit is about as long as wide. In the picture below you can seed the seeds forming inside.

This is a very weedy 12″ annual of disturbed sites; however, it can be helpful in stabilizing open slopes, providing a protective layer from eroding rain drops until other plants can take root. The Mustard Family is very large with many rare as well as many weedy plants. Fruits and even hairs may be essential for ID, a bit frustrating for this botanist.

More Yellows:

StoneseedLithosperma ruderale – has delicately scented yellow flowers tucked amidst the leaves near the top of robust 1-2’ plants.

Plants have been used historically as a contraceptive by various native peoples here in North America, and its cousin was similarly useful in European. The fruits will look like white tear drops and are very tough.

CinquefoilsPotentilla spp. – are just coming out with their cream to yellow flowers on top of 2’ stems. About four common species with a variety of subspecies complicate precise identification, with several other low growing species also found in the county. Generally, Cinquefoil leaves are divided into 5 (cinque) or more leaflets arranged either in a palmate or pinnate arrangement. Flowers are held near the top and have 5 green sepals and 5 yellow petals with many stamens and pistils. Examining the small flower features with a 10x handlens is critical to accurate ID. Regardless of identity, cinquefoils are very important for many pollinator species, and are host plants for several different butterflies. 


There are several species of red, orange and yellow paintbrushes in Teton County. While most people recognize a paintbrush, technical features separate the different kinds, and hybridization and allopolyploidy (multiple sets of chromosomes from different parents) add to the confusion. For instance, colors may range widely within a species.

Most paintbrushes are hemi-parasitic: they attach to grasses, lupines, and other host species to grow vigorously. Indeed, some siphon off toxins from lupines to produce particularly effective defense systems. If purchasing a paintbrush, be sure to also obtain its host plant for success.

Botany is a hands-on occupation: take a 10x handlens, find some examples (not in a national park) and do some dissection to see if you can distinguish the species. Below is  picture of a typical unit to start with: full unit left, taken apart to show: bract which provides added color and protection; sepals forming a tubular calyx; and the petals (corolla) creating an elongate tubular flower with a greenish “lip”. Anthers and pistil are secured within.

The following three yellow species are found in and around lower, sunny, relatively dry elevations of Jackson Hole now. They are not easy to ID, and just knowing the plant is a paintbrush is great!

Yellow PaintbrushCastilleja flava – is a bright yellow color. Flowers are rather remote and not so hidden by bracts as the other 2 species. Calyx 12-23 mm long, deeply and subequally cleft above and below, its primary lobes are divided into 2 triangular, acute segments 2-6 mm long. (The photo of parts above is also Yellow Paintbrush.)

Pallid Indian PaintbrushCastilleja pallescens – is pale yellow, the calyx (fused sepals) is cleft more deeply in front and back than to the sides. Ultimate calyx lobes are acute to acuminate. Note the large expanded pouch: lip, and the stipma jutting out the top of the flower tube.

Parrot-head Indian PaintbrushCastilleja pilosa var. longispica – Also pale yellow, the calyx is cleft to about the same length into 4 equal, pointed lobes. The inflorescence overall has puberulent to sparsely villous hairs. Plants are many-stemmed and generally decumbent at their bases. No photo, but in your dissection look for the calyx with equally sized, sharp pointed lobes.

Parsley/Carrot FamilyApiaceae 

Look for the umbel of the inflorescence. The tiny flowers are held out at the end of stalks arranged around a central point like ribs of an umbrella.

Nineleaf BiscuitrootLomatium triternatum var. platycarpum (now L. simplex) – As the name implies, the leaves are thrice divided in threes to from nine linear lobes and look grass like.

The flower umbels each have a whorl of tiny bracts around their bases.

Each flower will have dried fruits that split into two single seeded parts=schizocarps. Here they are flat with a few ridges and wing-like edge. Fruits are important in ID of the Carrot Family.

The starchy, edible taproots were a source of food and medicine to Native American tribes. The roots were cooked or dried and ground into flour, which could be shaped into cakes and stored for later use. They were also used for flavoring. 

Wyeth Biscuitroot – Lomatium ambiguum – blooms along dry, often disturbed slopes and flats, and are particularly abundant around the Saw Mill Pond overlook and the road cut on the north end of the Moose-Wilson Road and the inner park road. The compound leaves are divided in uneven segments. There is no set of bracts below the flower umbel. The yellow is a shaper tone than found on the Nineleaf Biscuitroot.

Whites, creams to pinks:

Bolander’s Yampah – Perideridia bolanderi – is clearly in the Parsley family described above with its lace-like umbels and thread-like divided leaves. It looks very similar to its cousin Common Yampah – P. montana/gairderni, but this species comes out earlier, the leaves often have swollen bases, and the fruits are more elongate.

It is locally abundant now at Saw Mill Ponds Overlook on the north end of Moose-Wilson Road, but generally is rare in Teton County. Yampah roots were important food for Native Americans, as well as bears.

Grassy Death Camas Zigadenus venenosum var. gramineus – is indeed poisonous. It is considered by the USFS to be one of the most deadly meadow plants to livestock, particularly sheep, and is known to affect elk, mule deer, and small mammals as well. All parts are toxic due to the presence of zygacine, a neurotoxic steroidal alkaloid.

In the Lily Family, Death Camas is a bulb plant, and spreads vegetatively by bulblets. The leaves are grass-like, and the flowers are held in a panicle. Greenish yellow nectar glands form at the base of the 6 white tepals. When sepals and petals are similar they are called tepals, which is a frequent trait of members of the Lily Family, such as Easter Lily.

Field ChickweedCerastium arvense – is aptly named as it is often found spreading in fields as well as sunny trail sides.

Many people pull “dastardly chickweeds” from their gardens. Indeed, the much smaller Mouse-ear Chickweed (C. fontanum) introduced from Europe is considered a weedy species.

I have planted the native chickweed to brighten some corners of my garden. I have discovered it has a wonderful fragrance! There is also a higher elevation Mountain Chickweed – C. beeringianum for when you are above 9000’.  Chickweed is in the Pink Family. It has five notched separate white petals and the the leaves are narrow and opposite. 

Long-leaved PhloxPhlox longifolia – have mostly pinkish, tubular flowers whose petals flare out at the tops. Plants grow to 6” or more, often sprawling.  Relative to our earlier blooming phlox, the leaves are long at 2-3”, narrow, opposite, and slightly hairy. Flower fragrance is alluring to long-tongued butterflies, moths, and some bees which land on the flared petals and dip their probosci deep inside. 

Sulphur BuckwheatsEriogonum umbellatum – are just expanding from tight red fists, into pink to cream umbels of flowers that tower over a mat of oval leaves. (Yes, it has umbels, but no schizocarps as in the Parsely Family). Flowers lure in all sorts of insects which are in turn important protein sources for sage-grouse chicks. Plentiful dried capsules appeal to birds and rodents in the fall. Buckwheats are useful and beautiful plants for relatively dry, sunny spots in your garden.

Bastard ToadflaxComandra umbellata – is genetically speaking odd. It is the only species in its genus (monotypic), and one of only two genera in the Comandraceae, formerly Santalaceae – Sandlewood Family. This species is found throughout much North America and restricted to the Balkan peninsula in Europe. Strange taxonomy and distribution indeed.

This 6″ plant is a hemiparasite, with stubby root structures (haustoria) which attach to hosts such as pussytoes, grasses, and aspens to name a few. It is also the alternate host for the comandra blister rust (Cronartium comandrae), a rust fungus that affects lodgepole and other pine species in North America.

Pinks to Rose to Reds

Prairie SmokeGeum triflorum – has clusters of three dangling flowers with pinkish sepals that almost hide the yellow petals.

With maturity, fruits stand upright holding aloft their hairy styles which produce a smoke-like effect and help the seeds fly off to new lands.

With the flowers and mat-forming, pinnately compound leaves that have a lovely fall color, Prairie Smoke is an enjoyable and commercially available native garden plant.

Sticky GeraniumGeranium viscosissimum – is one of the most recognized plants in our area.  The 5 radial, pink-to-blue petals are perfect landing pads for a variety of insects. They can easily follow the fine “nectar guides” to the center to where pollen and stigmas await. The 10 anthers mature first. Later 5 sticky stigmas arch outward to catch the pollen. This arrangment is another strategy to assure cross-pollination.

Sticky stem hairs serve to capture small, possibly marauding, insects, which in turn attract bigger insects that then glean the insects, providing the plant double protection. Also, these glandular hairs can dissolve the dead insects, enabling the plant to absorb nutrients from their bodies.

Scarlet GiliaIpomopsis aggregata – “Ipomopsis” means startling appearance. Indeed, these brilliant red flowers have great appeal to hummingbirds that can see red (insects cannot).  These biennial to short-lived perennial plants are currently shooting up their stems and expanding their hairy dissected leaves from last year’s rosettes.

Flowers unfold and hummingbirds hover and reach their beaks and lapping tongues into the long tube for nectar. In so doing, the birds bump their heads against the protruding anthers and get a dollop of pollen which sticks. They then fly to another flower where the white stigma is ready to pick up the pollen off the bird’s forehead. 

Later in the year, or in other parts of the west, Scarlet Gilia flowers may bloom more pink to white, attracting moth pollinators. The flowers have an unappealing skunky fragrance to us people.

True Blues

Lewis’ Flax – Linum Lewisii– is covering roadsides with their delicate wands of sky-blue flowers.

The European/Asian species Linum usitatissimum (roughly translated: very useful) has long been known for two main values. The stems have particularly long, strong fibers which have been used for centuries to make linen. Current research is being conducted on the mechanical properties of flax for making composite materials. Flaxseed or linseed oil has been used for constipation and control of cholesterol. Always check with a doctor for proper use as it can affect how one absorbs other medicines.  In any case, flax is a beautiful plant.

Beards TonguesPenstemon spp. – are hanging out in patches on dry hillsides.

Our penstemons are blue (rarely white) and are pollinated by bees. All penstemons have opposite leaves and 5 petals forming a tube. Inside are four arching stamens, each with paired anthers. A fifth stamen that looks like a hairy tongue lies at the entry. This “staminode” doesn’t have pollen but does direct pollinators (so the researchers say). 

Bees land on the lower lip and follow the lines and variations of light back into the tube. Nectar is produced in hairs at the base of the stamens.  Researchers say the hairy staminode helps push the bee into the anthers, where they get doused with pollen. Visting the next flower, the bee may then trip upon the long style with stigma to facilitate fertilization. Take a look inside the flowers and think like a bee or find a mini go-pro to attach to its head. (Really, how do the researchers know how a staminode works?)

Silky LupinesLupinus sericea – are just coming out on the sunny open sageflats and hills. The hairy palmate leaves and pea-like flowers are definitive for ID.

Look for white or pink dots on the upright banner: a contrasting white dot indicates the flower is fresh, ready to be pollinated; a duller pink or purple blotch indicates a pollinator has come for the nectar already or the nectar has dried up.

This color change serves as a signal for the bee not to waste its energy looking for nectar or pollen.

Low LarkspursDelphinium nutttallianum – have been blooming for a few weeks. They have welcomed migrating broad-tailed hummingbirds with their nectar. 

Hummingbirds can hover just outside the flowers, thrusting their beaks into the long spurs to lap up nectar, thereby brushing against the cluster of dangling anthers. On a more mature flower, where the anthers have withered, the pollen-covered bee wiill bump upon the 3 protruding stigmas.

Larkspurs are poisonous to livestock and many mammals. 

Different species of BluebellsMertensia spp. – are human favorites across the country and consequently have several common names. They are spring ephemerals—plants come up in early spring, are hopefully fertilized, store up food underground quickly, and then wither, leaving little trace of the plants by the end of the summer.

The dangle of flowers is advertisement. Several flowers together put on more of an show than if scattered on the stem. Flowers turn from pink to blue signaling treats are ready for bumblebee pollinators.  And then the petal tubes drop off indicating no more customers needed.  Virginia Bluebells – M. virginiana – are garden favorites in the east.  Our local species may be good natives for our gardens here, as well.

Sagebrush Bluebells – Mertensia oblongifolia – grow to 12-16” on dry, often grassy hillsides (shown above). Tall Fringed or Mountain Bluebells – Mertensia ciliata – look very similar but are found arching 3’ high over streams at low elevations now, but then at high elevations in mid-August.

StickseedsHackelia spp. – are members of the Borage Family along with For-get-me-nots – Myosotis spp. – and bluebells (above).

They have white to blue demure flowers open to the sky; however, they produce pesky fruits that attach to socks and dogs in order to make their way to new ground away from domineering parent plants. Although they appear delicate, stickseeds have an evolutionary determination to succeed.

Spotted stickseed – Hackelia patens – has white flowers with delicate blue nectar guides.

Two other stickseeds have truly blue flowers and tend to inhabit more moist, streamside habitats: Jessica’s StickseedHackelia micrantha – has multiple stems which help indicate it is a perennial. Large-flowered StickseedH. floribunda has slightly larger flowers and fewer stems. It is an annual/biennial that grows in disturbed sites as along the Old Pass Road.

A Monumental Plant:

Monument Plant or Green GentianFrasera speciosa – is having a good year!

Its hard to miss the 4-5′ towers of flowers sprouting up on hillsides. Not so long ago, it was thought this species was a biennial or short-lived perennial: the tall tower rose from where there was a whorl of leaves the year before.

A researcher marked the plants, and through intensive research over years in the Colorado Rockies, Dr. Inouye https://www.jstor.org/stable/1940400 determined plants take several decades to bloom. They have to amass 20+ leaves, maybe adding one leaf a year if conditions are good enough. The leaves add energy into the deep tap roots for the winter which then sprout into new rossettes the next spring. Slowly, slowly they gather enough energy for the final climax.

Furthermore, it was discovered that the flower buds were triggered by relatively high rain in June and July three years before they actually bloomed! This trigger of mature plants produces cohorts of many plants blooming at once in a given area.

The open flowers attract myriad insect pollinators which then leads to hundreds of seeds, if not thousands, per plant This abundance is greater than the many consumers can stomach, and so there is a chance for some seeds to grow to maturity under the helpful decomposing shade of the toppled parent plant.

Please get out and enjoy!

There are so many places to go and see wildflowers right now. Most of these pictures were taken driving around Antelope Flats, out by Kelly Warm Springs, and along the inner park road in Grand Teton National Park. Flowers can be found hiking up around Cache Creek just to the east of Jackson, or Trail Creek just west of Wilson. Munger Mountain and Ann’s Ridge (photo above) to the south have similar open habitats. Note: While flowers may be fading at lower elevations or in more southern parts of the valley, they may well be blooming fresh to the north or higher elevations.

If you have questions or see mistakes, please contact us at: tetonplants@gmail.com. As we are out much of the time, our response may not be quick. Also check earlier postings of “What’s in Bloom” on this same website.

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY

June 28, 2022

What’s in Bloom in Forests – Late June 2022

Aspen groves, spruce-fir forests, and lodge pole pine stands harbor a range of herbaceous wildflowers throughout Jackson Hole. Some kinds grow in dense shade, others find intermittent patches of sun to thrive. Bloom time is short as plants need to flower and then begin to form fruits quickly before fall comes all too soon. So best for curious flower folk to get out soon and if the flowers are fading at lower elevations, hike higher. Indeed, It is hard to keep up with what is in bloom at this time of year. 

The photos below help you to identify the plants at a glance and then in detail. The text will help you take a much closer look at the intriguing details of the flowers and life cycle. Also, there are a few extra “cool facts” to share with friends on your hikes. By having a “conversation” with the plant you can get to recognize it all the better on the next encounter. A 10x handlens, easy to buy by mail order, adds to the pleasure. 

First the Whites Flowers:

Red baneberryActea rubra – has a raceme of small flowers at the end of a long stem. Look closely at the delicate white flower parts into the center where you can see the thick ovary with a stigma on top. 

Attracted to the white array of flowers in the shade of the forest, several pollinators alight and clamber around thereby spreading pollen onto a stigma. Then the ovary will begin to expand into a bright red (or white) fruit. In the fall, the raceme bares shiny red, poisonous (to us) fruits. In olden times, “bane” indicated poison or misfortune. Fortunately, the fruits don’t taste good, so a child (or other curious person) is likely to spit the fruit out if tempted. Baneberries can be attractive landscape plants. 

Woodland StrawberryFragaria vesca –– grows here as well as Europe and Asia where the fruits have been eaten since the Stone Age. We have two strawberry species in Teton County.  To distinguish them, look closely: the three-parted leaves: the terminal toothof the leaflet is greater or equal to the side two teeth and the leaves are deeply veined. Later the seed-like fruits will sit atop the red flesh of the swollen stem.

Look out also for our Blue-leaf or Wild StrawberryFragaria virginiana – which is native only to North America.  It is one of two parents to our commercial strawberry. The terminal tooth is shorter than the two adjacent teeth and the leaves are usually blue-green. The fruits will be different as well…more later.  

Mitreworts – We have two species of Mitella which have particularly delicate looking flowers.  I often see them along a trail edge or slope where these small plants don’t have too much competition. They have a cluster of scalloped leaves at the base, and then wands of greenish to white flowers on 8-12” stalks. You have to get down low to see the details of the flower. They are in the Saxifrage Family.

Five-stamen MiterwortMitella pentandra – has a saucer-like cup of fused green sepals; the petals (not stamens as in the common name implies) are greenish and divided into 5-or-more linear parts like snowflakes. At their base are tiny white anthers with a stigma poking up in the center. Nectar glands fill the saucer and help cover the ovary.

Side-flowered MiterwortMitella stauropetala – flowers are held more or less on one side of the stalk, as the name indicates. The sepals are more pronounced: white and triangular. The petals are thread-like, barely branched and the center more of a cup.   

Our two False Solomon’s-seals can be a bit confusing. Both make attractive garden plants for the shade as their leaves are tidy and the rhizomes will slowly extend for the plants to fill in shady spots. White flowers are clustered at the end of the arching stems and later will bare colorful fruits.  Here are the technical differences to help close observation and memory:

Starry False Solomon’s SealMaianthemum stellatum – has narrower, often bluer-green leaves. The white flowers are in a raceme—single flowers are at the end of short stalks that come off a central stalk as if they are each racing way from the center line.

False Solomon’s SealMaianthemum racemosum – has broader, larger, more arching, greener leaves. 

The white flowers are more bunched and plentiful. Technically the inflorescence is a panicle. The flowers are at the end of a stalk that comes off a stalk from the center stalk, as if racing away in all directions as in panic.

Western ValerianValeriana occidentalis – has been flowering along shady trail edges and in open meadows since early spring. It has a bunch of flowers (thryse) at the end, with at least one pair of opposite, compound leaves on the stem,

and more mostly simple (undivided) leaves at the base.  

Many people know of valerian as a sleeping aide. Indeed, it is related to the European species V. officinalis which is a powerful nervine and sedative. Another local species Tobacco Root – V. edulis – will be blooming soon (more info in a later posting). Plant identification and research are very important in using any plant medicinally.

Cheerful Yellows:

Heart-leaved ArnicaArnica cordifolia – is one of several arnicas here in Teton County.  Arnicas have opposite leaves and usually bright-yellow flower heads with rows of even-sized bracts protecting the many flowers inside. 

True to its name, this arnica has 1-2 pairs of heart-shaped leaves on short stalks, and a few others at the base.  Arnica has been used successfully as a topical to help with bruising; however, ingestion can be toxic. 

Bracted LousewortsPedicularis bracteosa – are just sending up their 1’ flower stalks from a whorl of fern-like compound leaves. The whole plant will reach 2-3’.  Amazing how much biomass is produced in only a few weeks!

The flowers are bee pollinated: a bee lands on the lower lip of three fused petals. If it is the right bee species, it will vibrate its wings at a particular velocity, which causes the pollen hidden in the arching upper lip to fall upon the bee. The bee flies away, tries to glean the pollen off its back, but can’t reach the crevice between head and thorax. When the bee visits another flower in a later stage of growth, the flower stigma sticks out to reach between the crevice, thereby being smeared with pollen. Voilà, pollination!   

Some Blues:

Silvery LupinesLupinus argenteus – are beginning to bloom in pine forests, often amongst the yellow arnicas. 

This shade-loving species has less hairy leaves and smaller, more closed flowers than the Silky Lupine – L. sericeus – of open sunny areas. 

Vines of Western ClematisClematis occidentalis – have been wrapping themselves upon any woody stem in the forest and blooming profusely. The blue “petals” are actually sepals.

The sweet blue Dog VioletsViola adunca – are occasionally seen along forest trails in sunny spots.  We have other blue violets, but this species has a long spur in the back that holds nectar for pollinators which are strong enough to push in and reach this reward. 

Wikepedia warns, “The leaves and flowers are edible and can be eaten in salads, as potherbs, or brewed as tea. These plant parts are high in vitamins A and C. However, the rhizomes, fruit, and seeds are poisonous to humans and can cause upset stomach, intestinal problems, respiratory and circulatory depression.” Maybe violets aren’t so “sweet”.


Sweet CicelyOsmorhiza occidentalis – grows in moist shady places. It is easy to place it in the Carrot/Parsley or Apiaceae family, formerly the Umbelliferae. Very early on, the Greeks saw the similarities that now have become formal taxonomic identifiers for the family: the umbel arrangement of small flowers, e.g. the flower stalks coming from a central point like the ribs of an umbrella (umbel and umbrella have the same entymology) and typically compound leaves often with broad petioles. 

Plants in this family–dill, anise, coriander, celery seed, and notably poison hemlock – Circuta maculata–also contain many fragrant to deadly chemicals. Pinch the leaves of Sweet Cicely: they smell like licorice or anise. Likely the Greeks, appreciated the foods and medicines the family provides.

The sturdy structure of umbels enable pollinators to land and crawl around the tiny flowers which have glistening nectar glands.

No Color Needed for Wind:

Wind pollinated flowers are in abundance now: grasses and sedges, as well as conifers. Below is a picture of a poof of pollen in the valley, likely spruce pollen. Wind-distributed pollen has to be very light to fly upon the air. No wonder allergies are rampant right now. Pollen distributed by insects is relatively heavy–one reason why strong insects are needed.

Western Meadow-rueThalictrum occidentalis – Is a delicate looking plant with divided leaves. 

As it is wind pollinated, it does not have showy petals to attract pollinators. Instead, it depends on luck. Male plants produce small flowers with lots of dangling anthers that shed pollen upon the wind. 

Hopefully, nearby is a female plant with flowers that hold up sticky stigmas to catch the pollen. Lots of bets are placed…lots of pollen is released to increase the chances of reaching a female. 

If the pollen does happen to reach the stigma, the pollen grains grow down to form seeds within the ovaries below. So far, I have seen many more male plants than female plants. Having separate male and female plants helps increase genetic exchange for long-term survival of the species.

Elk SedgeCarex geyeri – Also pollinated by wind, this species has a slightly different strategy. On the same spike, several male flowers produce anthers above and 1-3 female flowers produce long stigmas below. Often the flowers come out at different times to avoid self-fertilization.

With sedges, the fruits form within a vase-like structure called a perigynea and each flower has a scale at its base. Elk Sedges have very deep roots that help to hold the soil in place on slopes, and the evergreen leaves are indeed eaten by elk.  


Orchids have very tricky and involved life strategies—the family is one of the most diverse and evolutionarily advanced in the world. The flowers are intricately designed to attract and fit only specialized pollinators, which are often still unknown to researchers. Once they are pollinated, orchid plants produced very fine, dust-like seeds without extra food. (Think about the contrast with bean or pea seeds which have a little nub of an embryo and lots of starchy food around it). The tiny orchid seeds depend on mycorrhizal fungi being present in the soil to nourish the tiny embryo. In many cases, a “protocorm” slowly grows underground expanding with the aid of the fungus. Once a shoot reaches the sun to produce its own food, many orchids retain a relationship with the helpful fungi.  And some orchids have no chlorophyll and completely depend on fungi for their survival. For these reasons, never pick an orchid; just admire.   

Fairy SlipperCalypso bulbosa – is truly a delight to find. It has a fancy array of sepals and petals and alternating fragrances to provide allure to young queen bumblebees. 

The bee lands on the flower, and unknowingly to her, a wad of pollen called a pollinia may become attached to her before she flies to the next flower…searching again for a reward. The next flower may have a protruding female stigma poised to receive the male pollinia. If so, hundreds of seeds can begin to form. Meanwhile the queen bee receives no reward of nectar or pollen and eventually learns not to bother to look for them.   

We have several species of coralroot in Teton County. The one I have seen currently in bloom is Spring CoralrootCorallorhiza wisteriana

This species is particularly notable because the clusters of stems can be reddish or yellow, and they may grow right next to each other.  

Coralroot orchids have no chlorophyll and therefore depend on mycorrhizal fungi to provide carbon and other nutrients to keep them growing (myco-heterotrophic). The underground mycelial threads of the fungi attach to stubby root-like structures called haustoria, which look like coral, hence the common name.

An Ancient One:

Field HorsetailEquisetum arvense – Horsetails are in an ancient “order” of plants that has persisted over 350 million years. Their ancestors grew 45’ tall and1.5’ in diameter and formed forests when the dinosaurs roamed. Those plants are now being mined for coal. This is a photo of the strobilus on top of a brown stem separate from the branching green horsetails we see.

The cone it is releasing spores with elaters, appendages that will help the spores move on the wind. The spores will form an alternate generation of barely visible green sexual plants: gametophytes which produce either eggs or sperm. With rain, the sperm swims to eggs, and the plants we know as horsetails then sprout up. It takes these “alternating generations” to complete the very primitive, but clearly time-tested, life cycle of a horsetail. Ferns reproduce in essentially the same way.

Time to Get Out Botanizing

There are more flowers to bloom in forest openings and trailsides in the months to come. Trails up Cache and Trail Creeks, around String and Jenny Lakes, around Munger Mountain, and a bit later up to Ski Lake are readily accessible forest habitats. Myriad native insects depend on our native flora and they cannot survive on non-native species. Native insects provide critical proteins for baby birds. And the fruits will also nourish adult birds and mammals. If you have a garden, growing native plants is one way to steward our remarkable ecosystem. In any case, wildflowers are fun to observe and understand. Enjoy.

Frances Clark, Teton Plants, Wilson, WY

June 22, 2022

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