Spring Flowers are Popping

May 25, 2023

Many new flowers have emerged this past week with our warm (70s), sunny weather and now rain. Those mentioned in the last posting, such as Spring BeautyClaytonia lanceolata, Utah ButtercupsRanunculus jovis, and Yellowbells – Fritillaria pudica – are blooming strong in the north end of Teton National Park.

New flowers are emerging in sage flats and up slopes:

 Shooting StarsDodocatheon conjugens  – grow only a few inches high. 

Five pink petals fold back and five dark anthers ring the protruding single stigma. These plants are buzz pollinated. 

A bee comes in, clings to the tiny clefts at the base of the petals, vibrates its wings at a certain frequency, and thereby releases pollen onto its belly.  It flies to another flower where the stigma is sticking out, and the stigma dabs up the pollen—pollination!

Woodland StarsLithophragma spp.- are patchy along the northeast corner of the Antelope Flats loop, but likely elsewhere as well. Members of the Saxifrage Family, they have sticky hairs and 5-petaled, white flowers. We have three species to look for. 

The most frequent now is Fringe-cup Woodland StarLithophrama glabrum.  Note the white petals each have 3-5 lobes. Also, 8-12” plants have hairy, red bulbils in many of the axils of the divided leaves. The bulbils help the plant spread vegetatively, a bonus in hard spring times when pollinators are scarce.  

Two other species to look for:

Slender Woodland Star – Lithophragma tenellum also has 3-5 lobes to each petal, but no bulbils.  Also, the stem leaves tend to be pinnately (feather-like) divided.

Little-flowered Woodland StarLithophragma parviflorum – typically has only 3 divisions to its petals. The cup-like calyx tends to narrow gradually to its base. Stem leaves are palmately divided.

Ballhead WaterleafsHydrophyllum capitatum – are flowering beneath their overarching divided leaves.  You have to lift the leaf to see the hairy snowball-like cluster of many white flowers with elongated anthers.  A fun discovery!

Yellow VioletsViola spp. – First, let’s just enjoy the yellow violets that are emerging! Amidst a bunch of leaves, yellow “irregular” flowers come forth.  “Irregular” means there are two similar sides like your face. 

Note the lines that draw the pollinator into the center of the flower. The insect perches and then pushes its head inside to seek nectar, which is held in the back of the flower; thus, the insect picks up or drops off pollen during its maneuver to reach a sugary reward or pollen itself.

Several yellow violets look similar and can be tricky to ID. Many identification keys use proportions and dimensions of the leaves but leaves are highly variable. Taxonomists separate different kinds/species based on highly technical features: fruit shape, seed details, and genetics. Experts acknowledge the complexity of the matter. 

Without getting into the botanical weeds, we place this species as a variety of Nuttall’s Violet, likely Viola nuttallii var. praemosa or just V. praemosa.

Goosefoot VioletViola purpurea var. venosa – has distinctively lobed leaves, like a webbed goosefoot. The flowers tend to come out a bit later than the Nuttall violet complex.

Wyeth BiscuitrootLomatium ambiguum – is emerging along the Park Road and and will become more prominent in the next week or two. Its umbels of sharp-yellow, tiny flowers have rays that are uneven in length.  Look for the swollen bases (petioles) of the leaves: they are the beginning of a single divided leaf. 

The linear leaflets are irregular in shape, length and arrangement—truly ambiguous in its growth pattern.

Also in the Parsley family (note the umbels!), Nine-leaf BiscuitrootLomatium simplex, formerly L. triternatum var. platycarpum – is growing taller. Compared to L. ambiguum, its umbels are more regular, the flowers a paler more lemon yellow, and the leaves are clearly pinnately divided into similarly sized segments.  This species has at least three common names.  Common names are like nick names – often very localized among friends vs. the botanical names which are like formal legal names. 

Up Josie’s Ridge – (many of these plants are found elsewhere)

Josie’s Ridge, which runs west of Snow King, rises 1000’ above Jackson. 

The dry, open lower elevation hosts a wonderful array of varied-blue shades of Hood’s PhloxPhlox hoodii. Elsewhere flowers tend to be white. The difference may be some genetic variation or due to soils. Anyone know the answer?

Take a moment to catch a whiff of the sweet fragrance or get down and put your nose into the bouquet. It is often the fragrance of a flower that draws in the insects from a far, before they notice the color – just as you may first smell a bakery down a side street before you see the sign.  In other places they are beginning to fade in our weekend heat, but again are fresh at higher elevations.

Tucked in more shady areas grow Western ValeriansValeriana occidentalis. Note the candle-arbor arrangement of the flower clusters.  White petals are in 5’s. 

Stem leaves are opposite and mostly pinnately divided, while the basal leaves are in more of a bunch and can be whole. Plants grow to up to 2.5′ tall. 

Valerian root of herbalists is from the European species Valeriana officinalis. It is known as a mild sedative to reduce anxiety and help sleep.  As a general rule, different species in the same genus can have significantly different chemical properties and can have different effects on individuals. Be very cautious when wild collecting for herbal treatments.

Mountain BluebellsMertensia oblongifolia – grow in occasional patches. 

The dangling tubes of flowers start off pink and then become blue and open up when ready to be pollinated. Pollinated flowers drop off.

As one climbs up the step switchback trail, one is rewarded by plentiful American Pasque FlowersAnemone/Pulsatilla patens var. multifida.

Seasonal favorites, these members of the Buttercup Family, have 5-7 blue sepals (no petals) that surround many anthers and many separate pistils.  The hairy divided leaves are opposite on the 12” stems. These are all-time spring favorites!

And later they are known as Phyllis Diller or Dr. Seuss plants when the pistils develop into fruits.

Diamond-leaf SaxifrageSaxifraga rhomboidea – are scattered in the grasses. 

Each white tight flower head stands 6-8” above a cluster of slightly toothed, triangular basal leaves. The stems have glandular hairs.

Typical of the Saxifrage Family, each flower has two divergent stigmas that look a bit like a dunce cap when the pistils ripen into two follicles.

Don’t overlook the few KittentailsBesseya wyomingensis – that stand about 8-10” high. 

The blue color of the 2-3” inflorescence is created by many stiff violet blue filaments of the stamens tipped with darker stigmas. Each flower has two stamens and one pistil with two minor bracts at the base. The leaves are soft hairy—actually most of the plant is “furry”—perhaps the source of the common name. In some places Kittentails have already gone to fruit.

The Latin Besseya is likely honoring the Mid-western botanist of the mid- to late 1800s, Charles Edwin Bessey, as was Bessey’s Locoweed (see below). Plant names, both common and scientific, have lots of stories behind them.

At the top Josie’s Ridge and also other dry sites, Scarlet PaintbrushesCastilleja chromosa – are beginning to emerge.  Hard to miss.  The bright red flower clusters almost glow as the hairs catch the sunlight. All paintbrush flowers are complicated: the bracts and sepals, not the petals, usually provide the color to lure in pollinators – red often attracts hummingbirds.

They are now plentiful at the north end of Flat Creek Road.

On other dry knolls, ridge lines, and slopes, often mixed in with creamy Pursh’s MilkvetchAstragalus purshii,

is another member of the Pea Family, Bessey’s LocoweedOxytropis besseyi. The leaves of the two species are very similar—pubescent and pinnately divided, mostly basal.  This Locoweed species has tightly clustered pink flowers with the familiar shape of many members of the Pea Family: upward facing banner, 2 side wings, and keel that protects the stamens and pistil.

Look closely to see the outward protruding point of the keel (vs. the curved-up tip of the Milkvetch). To remember this pointy feature and the Latin name of this genus, I think of being gored by an ox.  Oxys-tropis is Greek for ‘sharp point‘).

Both Milkvetches and Locoweeds are highly toxic to humans and other mammals.  All parts contain an alkaloid swainsonine that affects the central nervous system, reproductive system, heart, and intestinal systems, and lycocytes. It also affects behavior e.g. makes one “loco”.  Here is a link to more info.

In the time of compiling this What’s in Bloom, more flowers are happening.

Arrowleaf BalsamrootBalsamorhiza sagittata – are running up the south side of East Gros Ventre Butte.

Nuttall’s LarkspurDelphinium nuttallii – are flourishing out Flat Creek Road. 

So many more flowers are opening each day!

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY

As always we appreciate your comments and corrections at Tetonplants@gmail.com

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