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

Spring has finally come again as have the flowers!

On recent forays around Moose, Kelly Warm Springs, and out Flat Creek Road, eager botanists have found an array of early spring favorites. Often you have to get down on your belly to see the cool identification features (belly botany).  With so few flowers to date, this “What’s in Bloom” focuses on how much you can see if you really look.

Among sage flats or under open cottonwood stands:

Very early, and requiring a keen eye to find, are Turkey Peas – Orogenia linarifolia. The “peas” are underground bulbs. These starchy features are relished by squirrels and likely burrowing small mammals, such as voles and pocket gophers. 

The leaves are indeed linear as the botanical name implies – actually long lobes of divided leaves. The white flower clusters are barely an inch across and likely pollinated by tiny flies or gnats.  Turkey Peas are very small members of the Carrot/Parsley Family – Apiaceae.  Several more members of this family will be emerging this spring.  They can be tricky to ID, especially as the fruits are often the definitive key feature. Patience required.

Sagebrush and Utah ButtercupsRanunuculus glaberrimus and R. jovis – are adding sunny sparkles to flats and slopes. 

Sagebrush Buttercups have simple leaves

while Utah Buttercups have 3-lobed leaves. The flowers are typically 5 petaled, but some have none.

The glossy look of buttercup flowers is a result of morphology and physics of the petals. See: Glossiness of Buttercups

 Spring BeautiesClaytonia lanceolata – are just unfurling their opposite leaves and expanding their white flowers—5 petals with 5 delicate pink anthers. 

Also, a challenge to discover, but definitely worth the effort, are Steer’s HeadsDicentra uniflora. Look for the bluish, roundish leaflets and then for the expanding flowers only an inch or so off the often-pebbly ground. Their flowers epitomize the West!

The plants go from flower to seed within 3 weeks and the leaves soon disappear – they are termed “spring ephemerals” for their brief spring appearance. Research indicates that it may take 10 years from seed to the first flower.  The plants are also host plants for the larvae caterpillars of the Clodius Parnassian Butterfly – Parnassius clodius

A lot of cool info for such tiny plants. Tread carefully!

YellowbellsFritillaria pudica – are still scant.  In the Lily Family, the yellow flowers bear 6 yellow “tepals” held about 6” above ground.

Flying low where the spring sun is warming the soil and the wind is reduced, pollinators such as flies and bees search for early nectar and pollen as seen inside this flower.

Once a flower is fertilized, researchers say it’s petal color will change from yellow to an orange, signaling pollinators not to waste time visiting it: go to nearby flowers instead. This adaptation helps other members of the local yellowbell population to be fruitful. See if you can observe this change: carefully look inside for withered anthers and growing ovaries. I haven’t quite seen it myself.

Here and there, such as in South Park Feed Ground and near the park rotary, Cous BiscuitrootsLomatium cous – are sprouting. Look for the dissected, deep green, mostly smooth leaves with reddish petioles and fists (umbels) of tiny sharp-yellow flowers.

At the base of each flower cluster or “umbel” are broad, rounded involucral bracts – a key ID species for this member of Carrot/Parsley Family.

Biscuitroots have swollen tubers which have been eaten raw or dried and pounded into flour that was used to make biscuits.  Fruits will be flat and split.

Also, in the Carrot/Parsley Family – Turpentine Spring ParsleyCymopteris terebinthus – has finely dissected leaves with a tangy fragrance when crushed. The flowers are also yellow and arranged in umbels (think of the spokes of umbrellas), but here the involucel bracts are elongated and pointed. 

These plants will form quite large mounds of fine leaves and many winged fruits. Fruits are usually needed for definitive ID of members of the Parsley Family (Apiaceae). They are termed “schizocarps”–split fruits. Turpentine Spring Parsley tends to grow in shaley soils.

Dry rocky slopes and knolls, such as found in the hills on the east side of the Jackson Hole, feature special species:

One of the earliest and most common flowering plants are Hood’s PhloxPhlox hoodii.  Related to garden phlox, Hood’s Phlox have small white-to-bluish flowers on very compact plants. Leaves are tiny, sharp, opposite, with “cobwebby” hairs. 

The tubular, fragrant flowers are furled in bud.  When the flowers unfold, a bee or fly which  is attracted by scent then color lands on the flared petals and then inserts its proboscis down into the tube for nectar, picking up or dropping off pollen grains during its visit.

Overall, the plants are smaller than the later-blooming Multiflora Phlox.

One of the smallest blooming wildflowers are Low PussytoesAntennaria dimorpha. Indeed, the mat-forming plants are less than an inch or two tall. 

Get down to look for the flower heads: Individual flowers are termed “disc” flowers and are arranged in composite heads. Male flowers produce pollen. Most of the plants I have been seeing so far are male. (photo below)

Female flowers produce delicate white stigmas surrounded by pappus hairs to catch pollen picked up by wind from any male plants nearby.

Like other pussytoes, plants are dioecious: male and female flowers are on separate plants. More species of pussytoes will be blooming soon.

Members of the Mustard Family (Brassicaceae) are often the earliest to bloom.  Twinpods and Bladderpods (formerly Lesquerella) are now all in the genus Physaria. Generally, the genus sports silvery, stiff, often spade-shaped leaves. Precise ID features include hairs(!) and fruits; and with fruits in hand, you may still need to count the number of seeds to know the species for sure.

But for now, just enjoy the cheerful color of the 4 yellow petals and the plant’s ability to grow on rocky, dry, infertile ground. If you have a 10x handlens, you may enjoy the fancy star-shaped hairs.

Also emerging are members of the Pea Family, Woollypod MilkvetchAstragalus purshii.  The fuzzy, pinnately compound leaves are unfurling on rocky south-facing slopes near Kelly Warm Springs.

The pea-like flowers have white to cream banners and wings and purple-tipped keels. Fruits will be very hairy, short tough pods with sharp tips—hence “woollypod” milkvetch. Many fruits from last year are still lying about. 

A special find is Common TownsendiaTownsendia leptotes – These perennials in the Aster Family are slow growing with 1” flower heads surrounded by many tiered, pointed bracts.  The pubescent leaves are elongate and a bit fleshy. Growing close to the ground, plants tend to tuck in among small rocks.

The photo of the tap root was taken of a plant that was uprooted for some reason—did an elk take a nibble and spit it out?  Note the root extends deeply to reach scarce water.

Don’t be fooled:

A common rockcress – Boechera or Arabis sp. – can fool you and insects by looking like they have bright yellow flowers. The leaves of rockcress can host a yellow fungus Puccinia monoica.

Fungal spores land on a young mustard and invade the host’s tissue. Spores begin to grow using the nutrients from the plant thereby, sterilizing it so the mustard does not bloom. Instead, the fungus stimulates the formation of “pseudo-flowers”: mutated leaves that look like and even smell like flowers. This  alliance of plant and fungus produces a sticky nectar-like substance and yellowish pigments that reflect UV light to further attract pollinators. These pseudo-flowers have hundreds of small cup-like “spermatagonia” which contain the sex cells of the fungus.

Insects alight on these appealing pseudo-flowers and collect fungal sperm instead of pollen, and they carry it on to the next plant with the fungus, thus facilitating sexual reproduction of the fungus, not the plant! There is another stage of the rust’s life cycle: hyphae develop producing “aecia”, which produce spores. The spores then fly on the wind to infect nearby grasses – the “alternate host”.  After two more lifecycle stages–“uredia” and “telia” — on grasses, the fungus produces spores that infect the mustards again. Truly a complicated process all starting with the bright yellow pseudo-flowers.   See: https://www.indefenseofplants.com/blog/tag/Boechera

Uninfected  rockcressBoechera sp. – may be blooming nearby, sporting bluish – not yellow – 4-petaled flowers. The 3-4” plants shown here were frequent up around Kelly Warm Springs. 

The one in the photo has been keyed out in Dorn to B. exilis; however, there is much dispute, and scant herbaria specimens to confirm this species’ identity…botanist’s dancing on the head of a pin and mustards are tough to ID.

Don’t overlook the flowering trees:

AspensPopulus tremuloides – are blooming!

This wind pollinated species has male flowers on one plant, and females on another. Flowers are arranged in “catkins”: many Individual flowers with either anthers or stigmas are subtended by protective forked bracts edged with many hairs. The overall effect is trees festooned with fuzzy gray dangles. Male catkins tend to be longer and hang down, releasing their masses of pollen upon the wind from purple anthers.

Female catkins tend to be stiffer and slightly splayed outward, their bright red stigmas are ready to receive by pure chance any pollen grains. (two photos below)

The exhausted male catkins fall to the ground (and on your lawn) after they run out of pollen. Pick one up and take a closer look and see if you can find the old anthers held in little cups.

Amazing details!

Female catkins hold on. A month from now we will see who won the wind lottery. Leaves will emerge after the flowers have done their thing so as not to block the free flow of pollen. More on how aspens grow here

The new growth of Aspen’s larger relatives – Cottonwoods –  Populus spp. – is just popping. Cottonwoods also have male and female trees with a similar arrangement of flowers in catkins. Extraordinary what comes out of a simple brown bud.

Much more to come!  This is just a tease and a taste of wonderful botanical adventures before us.

Frances Clark

Teton Plants, Wilson, WY

P.S.  We always appreciate your corrections or queries.  Let us know at tetonplants@gmail.com – but note our response may be slow as we may be out in the field looking for flowers!

End of August Flowers in the Tetons 2022

The nights are becoming cooler and definitely shorter. Insects of all sorts – bees, wasps, beetles, ladybugs, aphids, butterflies, moths, and caterpillars — are flitting, creeping, chomping, and pollinating our native plants as foliage browns and flowers fade. Chipping and white-crown sparrows along with juncos flush up from meadows as we hike through. They have been feasting on seeds. 

Some of us have made pilgrimages to expansive stands of fireweed; others puzzle over goldenrods and aster look-alikes; and many applaud yet another yellow composite just beginning to bloom along roadsides. Summer isn’t quite over.

Below are some of the final flowers to look for on your hikes and drives throughout the valley.  They provide interesting botanical puzzles.  Below, we have tried to help you sort them out if you are so inclined.  A 10x magnifier helps not only to identify the characteristics of the species, but also to reveal how many bugs and grubs are dependent on our native plants for survival. It is fun to botanize on these last lazy summer days.

Asters and their look-alikes

Taxonomically, “asters” have been split into several different genera over the years. Most of this differentiation is due to molecular studies, and not necessarily easy-to-see field characteristics. 

In general, “aster” flower heads display mostly blue, violet, lavender, to white ray flowers surrounding a center of many tiny yellow disc flowers. Leaves slowly become smaller as they alternate up the stem. Overall size of plants and leaves can vary considerably depending on growing conditions.

The bracts that surround the composite “heads” are key to separating the genera. Then focus on hairs, leaves, etc., to get to the species. 

Leafy-bracted AsterSymphyrotrichum foliaceum var. canbyi appeals to bumble bees.

Leafy-bracted AsterSymphyotrichum foliaceum var. canbyi – is a common aster with large leafy bracts. 

Leafy bracts protect the flower head of Leafy-bracted AsterSymphyotrichum foliaceum var. canbyi

The plants vary in size from 1.5-2.5+ feet all. Lower leaves on the upright stems are notably larger than the stem leaves. In this variety, stem leaves often “clasp” the stem. 

Note to botany nerds: Dorn lists 3 varieties of S. foliaceum for NW Wyoming. Flora of North America (FNA) says S. f. var. parryi is not here in Wyoming, nor is the very similar S. cusickii

Alpine Leafy-bracted Aster – S. foliaceum var. apricum – is found at higher elevations, such as the bowls above Ski Lake. These plants grow only about 1’ high and stems are “decumbent”, more sprawling at their base. Bracts are less leafy and are edged in purple.

Eaton’s AsterSymphyotrichum eatonii – is usually found in moist places such as stream edges and springs. 

The many white-to-blue small flower heads cover the upper third of more-or-less 3-4’ plants.  Their bracts are not foliaceous.

The leaves are long and narrow and are “sessile”, sitting upon but not clasping the stem. 

Long-leaved, American, or Mountain AsterSymphyotrichum ascendens – The many common names of this species are a good indication that this species is noticed by many in different places: the way a popular person may have several nick names among family and friends. Indeed, this plant is native across the western U.S. in a variety of habitats. 

Mountain Aster (it has other names) – Symphyotrichum ascendens – is common along roadsides

It has been blooming along road and trail sides since early August. The easiest way to know this “typical looking aster” is to examine the leaves: the veins form elongate shapes. 

Engelmann Chaffy AsterEucephalus engelmannii – is common in the light shade of aspens, forest openings, and moist upper meadows.

Plants typically grow to 3-4’+ high, and the 3-5” leaves remain similar in size and shape as they spiral up the stem.

Bracts are tidy: neatly arrayed like shingles on a roof, and are smooth except for the fringed edges. The long white rays are relatively few: 8 -10. 

Elegant Chaffy AsterEucephalus elegans – is often overlooked as it is only about 1-2′ tall and grows amidst usually thicker foliage of other forbs. 

However, the violet-blue ray flowers and purple-tipped bracts substantiate the “elegant” in its name. A species worth looking for.

Blueleaf or Gray AsterEucephalus glaucus – was common along the trail to Mt. Elly at the time of writing. The leaves are notably “glaucous” – bluish gray. The ray flowers are lavender to white. The generic name of this species has changed at least four times since 1840 and is now deemed by Flora of North America to be in the Herrickia genus. 

Thick-stemmed AsterEurybia integrifolia – The bracts not only curve out pointedly, but they and the stems are covered with very sticky glandular hairs.

Furthermore, the hefty stems tend to zig-zag. 

The leaves are oblong, sessile to clasping, and get smaller as you go up. 

Sticky glands help to protect plants from small marauding insects who get stuck in the miniature forest of hairs. In some cases, such as sticky geraniums, the plant is able to absorb nutrients from the decomposing insects. I am not sure if that is the case here….a research opportunity for a master’s degree student.

Hoary Tansy or Spiny AsterMachaeranthera canescens – is truly a late-summer into fall bloomer, with spine-tipped, bent-out bracts protecting the violet-blue heads.

Small, stiff, grayish hairs provide the “hoary” or “canescent” look. Plants grow in dry exposed locations, with relatively thin and sparse branches with mostly small, 1-2”, sometimes toothed, leaves. The leaves are spine-tipped, too.  A tough plant for sure. 

!Not an aster – an exotic invasive!

At first glance Spotted KnapweedCentaurea maculata – might seem an innocent and lovely native aster. It is not. This species came over in the late 1800s in forage and ballast from Eurasia and has spread profusely throughout the U.S.  

These are outstanding competitors to our native plants. Considered a biennial or short-lived perennial, each plant can produce a 1000 seeds that readily sprout in spring and fall and remain viable in the soil for five years.  Seeds are easily carried by air currents along roads and water down streams. The plants have an advantage because their different life forms keep out the competition in disturbed locations. It was once thought they also had the advantage of cnicin, an allelopathic compound in the plants. However, this was analyzed and found not to be of sufficient toxic levels to affect their rivals in the field. Even without this edge, it outcompetes our natives. More info  

Teton Weed and Pest lists Spotted Knapweed as Priority three: regional infestation. It also lists several other knapweeds. Wear gloves when pulling it out as it is known as a carcinogen. Not a good plant.


First of all, goldenrods do not cause allergies. The pollen is too heavy to fly in the air and up your nostrils. They have a bad rap as their masses of colorful blooms and thick growth often hide inconspicuous wind-pollinated plants that come out about the same time, such Lamb’s-quartersChenopodium spp. (Dorn indicates we don’t have ragweed (Ambrosia spp.) in Teton County).

The inconspicuous flowers of lamb’s quarters are hard to see.

Female flowers with stigmas grouped the left, and two clusters of male flowers with pollen are in the center.

Some Sagebrushes – Artemisia spp. – also release pollen upon the wind in the autumn.)

Goldenrods are one of the most important herbaceous plants for small wildlife. Up to 100 insect species thrive on this genus. Butterflies, such as coppers, sulphurs, and hairstreaks, suck up nectar. Bees of all sorts gather protein fats and minerals. Myriad midges lay eggs that form galls. Chickadees and woodpeckers subsequently eat the protein-rich larvae inside. Goldfinches, grosbeaks, and nuthatches eat the seeds. (Reference)

We have eight species of goldenrods (Solidago spp.) in Teton County. The three low-growing species with a bunch of leaves at the base, are relatively easy to identify. The five taller species with leaves that are typically “three-veined” present frustrating puzzles. Their tiny bracts and variable leaf and stem hairs tend to be diagnostic. The widespread Canada Goldenrod is notoriously variable. We will treat the different species more fully in a separate technical ID posting. 

For here and now, we emphasize two large species still in bloom that can be separated by the smoothness of their stems and bract details. Note: in any identification endeavor, look at several plants and parts to get the average or typical characteristics. 

Rough stems:

Canada Goldenrod Solidago canadensis – has a disputed natural range. Some people have heard that it is native mostly to the Midwest and Northeast and that Canada Goldenrod has “invaded” the rest of the country. Taxonomic experts report that while indeed it is a robust rhizomatous species, Canada Goldenrod is indigenous throughout much of Canada and the United States. Notably, it was introduced to Europe as an ornamental as early as 1645, where it has become an invasive exotic there. It can be aggressive in one’s garden. 

Canada Goldenrod plants grow 3-5’ high, with finely hairy stems. Plentiful leaves are elongate and sharply pointed with saw-toothed edges. Leaves are usually smooth to very finely hairy on top and slightly rough along the three main veins below. As with all goldenrods, there are many small heads of ray and disc flowers. Its miniature bracts are elongate and narrow. Ray flowers number 10-17, averaging 13. Moist places, fields.

Smooth stems:

Giant GoldenrodSolidago gigantea – looks very similar in its size, leaves, and inflorescence to Canada Goldenrod. The main difference is that below the flower cluster, the stem is smooth and slightly powdery bluish gray (glaucous).

Leaves are smooth up top with only a few hairs on the main veins below.

For botany nerds: there are two other somewhat common look-alikes: Velvet GoldenrodS. velutina – Stems tend to be hairy, the leaves less toothed, but the ray flowers fewer about 8. Dry locations – I have seen it up Death Canyon. Missouri GoldenrodS. missouriensis – Stems smooth below flower cluster, leaves usually without teeth, but the leaves can feel rough along edges; the 3 nerves are not that clear. Bracts clearly widest at the base (oblong).  Rays 6-10, often 7 or 8. Good luck!

Other composite yellows

Showy Golden-eyesViqueria (Heliomeris) multiflora – are lining trails, bike paths and roads with their prolific, cheery yellow flowers. Growing around 2′, stems have opposite, smooth, narrowly oblong leaves 2-4” long.

Note the collective show of ray flowers often darkens toward the center of the flower head. Likely, this slight difference to our eyes is much more dramatic to insects with infrared vision.

The bracts form a simple whorl below the head.  

Golden AstersHeterotheca villosa – are comparatively more humble, untidy looking plants with stubby, finely hairy leaves that alternate up the stems.  (The butterfly is Weidmeyer’s Admiral.)

The flowers are bright yellow on slightly long peduncles. This highly variable species ranges from the West Coast to the Midwest mostly in dry sunny locations. 

For botany nerds: In Teton County we have two ecotypes or varieties: One: H. v. var. depressa is found around the thermal areas of Yellowstone which I think I have seen around Storm Point.  The leaves are clearly hairy. The second: H. v. var. villosa is common, almost weedy, along GTNP roadsides and dry, sandy soils. The oblong stubby leaves and stems have fine hairs lying against the surface (appressed). They mix in with Gumweed along park roads.

Curly-cup GumweedGrindelia squarrosa – is one of my favorites for its unique bracts.

Each bract curls back to a point, and they fuse together to form a perfect cup, truly gummy in texture. This species likely originated beyond Teton County but has made its way in along dry road sides and other disturbed places where it seeds readily. 

This sticky resinous plant is full of chemicals unpalatable to wildlife but appealing to humans for a variety of medicinal purposes. Caterpillars seem to appreciate the flowers. Plants are about 2′ tall, with alternate, small, oblong, blunt leaves with a few teeth.

Odd-ball yellows

Owl’s-cloversOrthocaprus spp. – used to be in the Snapdragon or Scrophulariaceae Family, but along with its relatives, paintbrushes (Castilleja) and louseworts (Pedicularis), the genus is now placed in the Broomrape or Orobanche Family. These three genera are hemi-parasites on other plants. Their specialized roots (haustonia) connect with their host’s roots and siphon off nutrients.

Owl’s-clovers are annuals that grow 6-18″ high, have small pouched flowers and small leaves . Hosts are unknown. We have two species in Teton County:

Yellow Owl’s-cloverOrthocaprus luteus – is usually single stemmed and the hairs stick out.

Tolmie’s Owl’s-cloverOrthocarpus tolmiei – grows along the trail to Ski Lake and above. It usually has several branches and the hairs are mostly pressed against the stems.


Mountain Bog GentiansGentiana calycosa – form patches of blue often on rocky slopes or talus at higher elevations, such as along the trail south of Teton Pass. The stiff, deep-green, shiny leaves are opposite, rounded, and very tidy looking. 

For half an hour I watched various bumblebees dive into the tubular flowers, wriggling down while the anthers shed pollen onto their hairy bee bodies. The bees follow nectar guides to the base of the flower. Just below are five holes that lead to wells of nectar reachable only with a long proboscis (tongue).

I noticed the bees back out, appearing to clean their long proboscis. In researching further, I read that a bumblebee has a long hairy tongue that laps up nectar. The tongue or proboscis is enclosed by two mandibles that fold under the bee’s body when it flies.

Watching longer, I noticed that some bees tumbled off the flower. Then they righted themselves and flew to another open flower, where a stigma maybe positioned to rub off the pollen to start the seed-making process. Very cool action between plants and insects.

While flowers fade, fruits form (a subject for another posting), and leaves will turn wonderful colors before winter arrives. Keep on botanizing!

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY

August 28, 2022

What’s in Bloom: Meadow Plants around Jackson Hole in July

Meadow Mix

Many people strive to plant a meadow from a can. Unfortunately, this is not at all easy or quick.  Natural meadows can take centuries to become established.

We have a wonderful array of meadows around Jackson Hole not only because we have the right ecological conditions, but also because many places escaped grazing by sheep and cows.  Fortunately, you can go enjoy a meadow without having to plant, water, and weed.  

Meadows don’t come easily from a can but they can be easy to go see. In early July, we can see meadows beginning to bloom around Jackson Hole. The road to Two Ocean Lake, up Shadow Mountain, the hike to Ski Lake, and the trails south of Teton Pass to Mt. Elly all are relatively accessible, and as they vary in elevation, they keep blooming over the month.

Mountain meadows are also called “tall forb communities”. They are found where there is sun, moisture, and not too hot. Snow is deep and melts off late. Soils are relatively rich, deep, and often churned by pocket gophers. 

Plants are similar to the perennials in a well-nourished and watered garden border: tall and lush. It is impressive to see how much biomass is produced each year from bare ground—plants are often 3-4’ tall by mid-July.

Meadows are rich habitats. Plants sustain myriad insects: caterpillars who eat the leaves before transforming into moths or butterflies. Lepidoptera along with bees, beetles, and flies of all sorts serve as pollinators. Pocket gophers, Uinta ground squirrels, as well as bears eat the roots; and pika, moose, elk, and deer browse on the stalks and flowers. Birds rely on the nutritious insects and seeds. Looking close with a 10x hand lens shows all sorts of tiny insects crawling around.

The following plants are the mainstays of our mountain meadows.  Each meadow has its own combination, but the following species are typically part of the mix soon or later.

The truly tall meadow forbs:

Fernleaf LovageLigusticum filicinum – is outstanding with its lacy skirt of very finely divided compound leaves and umbellate (remember umbrella) inflorescences of many tiny white flowers.

Fernleaf LousewortPedicularis bracteosa – has erect 2-3′ stems full of yellow “irregular” flowers. Below the flower stalks are fern-like leaves, but not nearly as fine as the lovage above.

These flowers have co-evolved with different species of bumblebees who trigger the complicated apparatus of fused petals, hidden anthers, and single pistil to effect precise pollination. Bumblebees receive both pollen and nectar from this species.  Fernleaf Lousewort is fading in lower regions but flourishing in higher meadows.

The species is hemiparasites on the Arrow-leaf Lousewort which also intermingles in moist meadows (see below) and Engelmann spruce where it receives sugars but also the alkaloid pinnidol. Nature has all sorts of relationships seen and unseen.

Giant LousewortPedicularis procera – are not nearly as common as Fernleaf Louseworts and come out a bit later.  As they name indicates, plants are much more robust growing to 4+’ and have reddish flowers with a definite long bract beneath.

I have seen them along trails at Munger Mountain, Brian Flat, and Game Creek

Mountain BluebellsMertensia ciliata – are dangling 2-4’ along mountain seeps and brooks. Their bluish green leaves have little stiff hairs along the edges: ciliate.  Flower buds are pink, and open and turn blue when ready for various pollinators. The tubular petals fall off soon afterwards.

Jessica’s StickseedHackelia micrantha – competes with Mountain Bluebells in capturing the the blue of the summer sky, and indeed they can be growing in the same vicinity, as in the bowls above Ski Lake.

The barbed fruits quickly form, ready to be carried along the trail by your dog or your socks.

Five-nerved Little SunflowersHelianthella quinquenervis – grow to about 4 up to 5’ in height. They appear to stare straight at you with their 3-4”-wide composite flowers.

Their lower leaves have five strong veins: the central vein, and two on each side.  

One-flowered Little SunflowersHelianthella uniflora – can form colonies up slopes and across meadows. They are smaller in stature than their five-nerved cousin and have smaller flowers. The lower leaves have about 3 faint veins. 

Silvery LupinesLupinus argenteus – are common in high elevations and as well as in shade at lower elevations. Compared to Silky Lupines – L. sericeous – which often grow with sagebrush on drier sunny slopes, Silvery Lupines overall are less hairy, flowers are a bit smaller and tighter, and the back of the banner (the upper petal) is typically smooth. (For the avid botanist there are 4 local varieties of Silvery Lupines). And for all lupines, the leaves are palmately divided: leaflets coming out from the center like the fingers from your palm.

In the Pea or formerly Legume Family, lupines all produce pods with seeds inside, like your common pea; but lupine pods and seeds are much tougher and the plant is poisonous with alkaloids. Plants “fix” their own nitrogen with the help of bacteria that reside in root nodules. The bacteria take the plentiful nitrogen (N2) out of the air (soil has air spaces) and convert it to a form usable by the plant: ammonium (NH4) which can be directly used to form proteins. (Clovers, vetches, etc. can do the same thing.)

Furthermore, lupines can be a host plant for paintbrushes (see below) which siphon off the alkaloids which then help protect paintbrush flowers from hungry insects.

Mountain MintAgastache urticifolia – is clearly in the Mint Family. The stems are square, the leaves opposite, and the pinkish flowers are bilateral – the flowers have two sides to them like your face, with several anthers sticking out. The final ID feature is that plant leaves, stems, and flowers are very fragrant. Hummingbirds, attracted by the pink bracts, hover to lap nectar, thereby pollinating Mountain Mints.

Sulphur PaintbrushCastilleja sulphurea – can range in color from an orange to salmon to yellow to cream. They hybridize with red paintbrushes or muddle their chromosome numbers through polyploidy to make ID difficult. They are hemi-parasitic on a variety of meadow species.

Red PaintbrushesCastilleja miniata – are frequent at lower elevations under aspens, forest edges, and grassy slopes. They can be up to a foot or more and often branch.  They often hybridize with Pale Paintbrush (C. pallescens), if nearby.  Their bracts and calyx lobes are sharply pointed.

Rosy PaintbrushCastilleja rhexifolia – is found at higher elevations than Red Paintbrush They too can hybridize and have a range of colors. Compared to Red Paintbrush, Rosy paintbrushes are more upright and rarely branched. Bracts are 1-3-lobed with the center lobe widest and often rounded, as are the other lobes. The calyx lobes are also rounded. As I say they can be tough to tell apart for paintbrushes.

Tall Western LarkspursDelphinium occidentale – look like they belong in an English garden, they are so tall (to 6’) and dignified.

Studies have found that yeast passed along by bees can ferment the sugar in nectar and make flowers more attractive for pollination.  Most parts of larkspurs are poisonous.

MonkshoodAconitum columbianum – are also beginning to bloom mid-July in moist meadows and along streams. Their flowers are complicated with sepals forming the blue hooded framework over two stiff, arched nectaries which draw the insects inside.

Just below a mop of anthers forms first, and later they fizzle and the 3 female stigmas protrude.  You can see this if you look at the flowers closely. Note all parts of Aconitum are poisonous. 

In a study of a different species in Europe Aconitum napellus, scientists discovered that during those few days when the male anthers are fresh, plants exude more fragrance and more nectar to appeal to roaming bees. As it is not beneficial to the plant if the bee eats the pollen, the pollen is slightly poisonous.  The bee is rewarded by nectar but deterred from feeding on the plentiful pollen. In any case, the bee flies to another flower where the three female stigmas are now standing out waiting. When the bee covered with pollen goes for another sip of nectar up under the hood, the pollen sticks to the protruding stigmas and pollination is affected.  

Cow ParsnipHeracleum spondylium var. lanatum – is the largest member of the Parsley Family – truly Herculean in stature – here in Teton County, growing up to 5 feet with broad compound leaves that can be 3’ across. The flowers welcome all sorts of insects, some who pollinate, some who just chow down on pollen and nectar. The hairs on the 1”-thick stems can cause a rash for those who brush against them, but not nearly as bad a reaction of blisters if you brushed against Giant Hog Peanut, an invasive taking over parts of the East. 

Lyall’s AngelicaAngelica arguta – are equal in stature but not in heft to its cousin Cow Parsnip. Its white umbels are beginning to bloom now and attract all sorts of pollinators.

Angelica is more typical of shady forests, but also is found in seeps in more open sites. The compound leaves are also large, but relatively finely divided.  

Three tall groundsels or ragwortsSenecio spp. – are blooming the 3rd week of July 2022.  They can grow to 3-5’ high and have compound flower heads. The heads are surrounded by a protective row of smooth, equally sized bracts often tipped with black, (and some very short bracts),

and a pinwheel of a few to several yellow ray flowers. The leaves are similar in size, ranging 3-5”, as they alternate up the stems. The leaf shapes are different and, therefore, are helpful in ID. 

Saw-tooth GroundselSenecio serra – has oblong leaves with serrated (roughly toothed) leaves. 

Arrowleaf GroundselSenecio triangularis – has stalked triangular and serrated leaves

and grows near streams and seeps. They can be a host plant for Fern-leaf Lousewort (see above).

Thick-leaved GroundselSenecio crassulus – is at high elevations. The slightly succulent, thickish oblong leaves are larger at the base and become smaller and often more clasping as they go up the stem.  All is smooth.  Flower heads typically have 8 ray flowers. Plants are often only about 2’ tall.

A bit lower in stature:

Cinquefoils are common in a range of habitats. They were addressed in an earlier “What’s in bloom”.  However, we include them again here generally because they are so common.

Tall CinquefoilPotentilla arguta – is often seen arguing. The flower stalks stand stiffly up and the flowers are clustered, almost in each other’s faces.

The pale yellow to creamy yellow flowers are slightly larger than the very similar Sticky CinquefoilP. glandulosa whose flower clusters are more relaxed.  Both species have sticky glands and pinnately divided large leaves.  Without measurements, I find they can be very difficult to tell apart.

Other taxa include variants of P. gracilis, P. diversifolia, and P. ovina which are good botany puzzles.

Sticky GeraniumGeranium viscosissimum – is pervasive in many habitats from sage flats to meadows to forest openings.

In moister or higher, cooler sites it may be accompanied by the white Richardson’s GeraniumGeranium richardsonium.

Found mostly at higher elevations, Nuttall’s LinanthusLeptosiphon nuttallii – looks a lot like its cousin Multiflora Phlox – Phlox multiflora – which may be blooming nearby. The tubular flowers with a flare at the top are similarly designed and fragrant. In both species, the leaves are opposite but Linanthus leaves are each divided into very narrow lobes that look frilly.

When in flower, both species look like remnant snow patches.

A side note: L. nuttallii used to be in the genus Linanthus, but the taxonomists determined that their pollen grains were distinct and so it belongs in the genus Leptosiphon).

Aster-like Plants

In the next month or so, we will be seeing many aster-like flowers, which are cousins or first-cousins-once-removed in the Aster or Composite Family.  All are similar in having “heads” of many small flowers: ray flowers that range from white to blue to pink ring around the disc flowers in the center. With close examination of bracts, leaves, and later fruits, one can begin to tell them apart.

Fleabanes typically have a row (or two) of equally long narrow bracts that protect a head of many narrow ray flowers surrounding the disc flowers.

There are many species, but here are two larger, more obvious ones blooming in meadows right now

Aspen or Showy FleabaneErigeron speciosus – is truly showy with its many narrow (.5-1.5 mm) blue-to-violet ray flowers setting off the yellow centers of the composite head. Egg-shaped, blunt leaves with stiff-hairy margins alternate up the sturdy 1.5’ stems.

Wandering FleabaneErigeron peregrinus – has oblong leaves; wider (1.5-3 mm) and fewer ray flowers, and is found in moist places at high elevations

Several species of Beards-tonguesPenstemon spp. – are blooming all around, some only a few inches tall and others up to 2’+ high, and therefore must be mentioned here. The genus is pretty easy to determine with its opposite leaves and (usually blue) tubular flowers which have two lobes above, and 3 lobes below. There are technically 5 stamens (penta- five, stemon – stamen) but one stamen is sterile (staminoid) and usually hairy and lies at the base of the tube. The other 4 stamens typically coil up within the tube. One straight stigma (seen below between two anthers) is at the center of all.

There are several different species to decipher using clues of hairiness of leaves, stickiness of inflorescence, stickiness and shape of sepals, hairs on the back of anthers, and arrangement and size of anthers….. Truly puzzles for the hardy botanist. The flowers are hard to photograph for ID purposes so above is only one example — not sure of ID.

Penstemons are now in the Plantain or Plantanginaceae Family.

Two low white louseworts are intriguing to look at.  I often get them confused at first.

Leafy Lousewort – Pedicularlis racemosa- has elongate, finely toothed leaves. The white flowers are held between two sepals. These flowers are blooming in forests right now.

Coiled or Beaked LousewortPedicularlis contorta – has a coil-like flower similar to Leafy Lousewort but grows at higher more open elevations. Coiled Louseworts have more pinnately divided leaves and their bracts are also divided. They are starting to bloom in open high elevations such as just south of Teton Pass.

These coiled, “beaked” flowers have co-evolved for “buzz” pollination by bumblebees. The vibration of the bee’s wing muscles starts the pollen grains—tucked way back in the flower — bouncing their way up and out of the long coil to shake out upon the bee. The bee tries to glean the pollen off its hairy back to feed to its young, but can’t reach between its head and thorax. When the bee lands on a flower while the female stigma is protruding, the stigma twists and fits between the bee’s head and thorax reaching the remaining pollen and is pollinated.

Louseworts are now known to be hemi-parasites and have been moved from the Snapdragon to the Orobanche Family.

Silky PhaceliaPhacelia sericea – sends up spires of deep-violet flowers above several divided leaves. It is truly a higher elevation plant of the West, often growing above timberline in rocky soils. It is showing up on slopes south of Teton Pass.

A USDA Forest Service report says that a study found that in alluvial soils around gold mines, Silky Phacelias retained more gold in their tissues than other surrounding plants—miniscule pots of gold. A very odd fact. Actually the pots of gold (for insects) are the pollen grains on the tips of the many purple anthers shown below.

These are the typical flowers of our high meadows found in July in Teton County. Summer goes fast so please take the time to enjoy them.

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY

July 22, 2022

And please let us know of any corrections. We strive to be accurate.

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

P.S. To hear about our programs and most recent postings directly, please contact tetonplants@gmail.com to be placed on our mailing list. Also, let us know of any errors. We want to be accurate.

End of Summer Flowers – August 2021

This summer has been notable for a late spring, then heat, drought, dashes of rain, and smoke. Flowers burst forth starting in June, sped along with the warmth, but then began to crisp early in many locations. Reports include tall forb and alpine flowers averaging three weeks early. 

Flowers still bloom along streams and shady canyons, and road sides are sporting late summer yellows in abundance. Fruits are ripening fast. Here are some of the most obvious flowers at lower elevations, which means they should still be going strong farther up the trail. Butterflies are active on these remaining nectar sources: fritillarys, coppers, blues, tortoiseshells, and parnassia, to name the more recognizable groups.

Showy Goldeneye (Vigueria/Heliomeris multiflora) is abundant along roads, in meadows, and up hillsides ranging from Jackson Hole to Yellowstone National Park. The cheerful yellow heads wave atop slender 2-3’ stems with mostly opposite leaves. Sometimes the rounded ray flowers are visibly lighter toward their ends—under UV light they look like bulls-eyes to pollinators. These “composite” flowers with both ray and disc flowers provide a showy and easy place for pollinators to land and gather pollen and nectar from many tiny flowers. Like going to a big box store.

Pacific Aster (Symphiotrichum ascendens) forms colonies of blue along roadsides and smaller patches in more wooded areas.

They bloom at various heights: mowed, grazed, or just left alone. One way to tell these blue asters from others is to look at the venation of their elongate leaves.  The veins outline elongate areas. 

Curly Gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa ) has colonized along main highways and park roads. Early herbarium records indicate that they have naturalized relatively recently in the county. 

They tolerate drought and winds of roadsides with their tough slightly succulent foliage. Their sap is also thick. Flower heads are sticky and the bracts curl under, hence its common name. It has an interesting fragrance.

Golden Aster (Heterotheca/Chrysopsis villosa) also colonizes park roadsides and collects in dry depressions.  The leaves are clearly hairy, shorter, and the yellow composite flowers abundant. Flowers are now forming heads of individual fruits: each fruit with one seed inside is attached to a fluffy pappus of hairs that helps them disperse into new dry sites. 

Canada Goldenrods (Solidago canadensis var. salebrosa) have been blooming strong over the last few weeks. Goldenrods have a reputation for causing allergies. This is a bum rap. Wind pollinated grasses and ragweeds (Ambrosia spp.), which are found farther east, often bloom at the same time unnoticed. Wind pollen is light and abundant and designed to disperse on the wind, and therefore gets up our nostrils. Flowers with showy petals like goldenrods have evolved to attract insects to carry the pollen from plant to plant—pollen is relatively heavy and not flying about on its own. 

Canada Goldenrod has many slightly toothed, pointed, 2-3” leaves alternating up 2-4’ stems.  Tiny heads contain about 13 ray flowers. Here the many small composite flowers bunched together create a show signaling in pollinators who can perch and wander about for the goods of pollen and nectar. Also, there are many other tiny and large insect crawling in and about the flower heads, some munching, others laying eggs, some just hiding from predators.

For plant nerds: Two other common goldenrods are smaller, smooth all over, with most of their larger leaves bunched near the base. Rocky Mountain Goldenrod (Solidago multiradiata) is distinguished by ciliate hairs long the petiole of the basal leaves and 13 ray flowers per head.

Sticky Goldenrod (Solidago simplex) has smooth petioles and heads with only about 8 ray flowers. Flower heads can be a bit resinous or sticky.

Thickstem AstersEurybia integrifolia – are tough, 2-2.5’ plants seen in a variety of habitats and elevations.

Their flower heads have sticky bracts and stems, and its thick stems tend to zig-zag. Flower heads have deep blue to purple ray flowers surrounding the yellow to rusty disc flowers. Lower leaves are much larger than those along the upper stems.

Fireweeds (Epilobium/Chamerion angustifolium) were also notably early this year and some didn’t bloom at all. Those still blooming tend to be at high elevations or in moist or shady locations lower down.

If you observe closely, you can see the flowers change flowering stages. First the anthers (above) produce male pollen while female part located in the center is still undeveloped. Then the anthers wither and the female stigma matures (below) ready to receive pollen from another flower. This progression from male to female avoids flowers self-pollinating. Flowers at the bottom of the inflorescence bloom first.

Many plants are already going to fruit and seed. Their seeds, dispersed on the wind, remain viable for only a few weeks.

In high meadows where fireweed can be abundant, hummingbirds are important pollinators. They load up on nectar before migrating south. Hummingbirds lap, don’t suck, nectar. They have little bristles at the tips of their tongues and rapidly dart their tongues back and forth into their long beaks while hovering. Truly a feat.

Rufous Hummingbirds Turning Up in Unusual Places | Audubon
Rufous Hummingbird – National Audubon Society

Rabbitbrushes are flourishing right now, with more to come. They are particularly important for supplying nectar at the end of the flowering season: look for myriad butterflies, bees, and other winged invertebrates working them over.

We have a 4 common varieties of rabbitbrushes in Teton County. These shrubs typically range from 1-3 (4)’, grow in relatively dry, sunny conditions along roadsides and hillsides, often on disturbed soils. They stand out at this time of year. Once in one genus, they are now split into two. All have linear leaves and bunches of flower heads with only yellow disc flowers, giving them a similar appearance. The varieties can be difficult to tell apart!

Rubber Rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosus) has straight narrow leaves and tomentose (felt-like hairy) stems. They smell when broken and when fresh twigs can exude a white sap – hence “rubber” rabbitbrush and nauseosus in the name. 

For the botany nerd:

var. oreophilus (above) has very narrow 1-nerved leaves, greenish tomentose stems, and smooth involucral bracts.  2.5-5’ tall.

var. nauseosus has white tomentose stems, narrow grayish green leaves, and tomentose (hairy) involucral bracts. 1-2’ tall.

Compared to Rubber Rabbitbrush, Yellow Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus) typically has twisted, often wider, leaves, often with stiff hairs on leaf edges (ciliate). Also they are somewhat sticky e.g. viscid, as in the name.

var. lanceolatus has hairy upper stems and often hairy leaves which are mostly 2-6 mm wide. Involucral bracts are hairy. More common and low growing at 6-18” high than var. viscidiflorus (not shown.)

See the next posting for fruits found at this time of year. https://wordpress.com/post/tetonplants.org/4696

Frances Clark, Program Coordinator, Teton Plants, Wilson, WY


Falling into Fruits – August 2021

While flowers are disappearing, many are in fact forming fruits. Some fruits are dry and brownish, others soft and berry-like, often turning red.

Three red berries and one speckled:

Walking in the moist, shady forest and openings such as along the Trail Creek and Cache Creek trail systems, you may come across the following berries on herbaceous plants. After the fruit photos we show the flowers.

Red BaneberriesActea rubra—are poisonous to us but not so to birds or small mammals. Its shiny fruits are arranged in racemes: stalks arise off a central axis as if all are racing away. Sometimes baneberries appear in white. It is in the Buttercup Family.

Three species in the Lily Family have elliptical to egg-shaped leaves with parallel veins.

Twisted StalkStreptopus amplexicaulis — has long arching forked stems 3’ high which zig zag slightly. Leaves clasp the stem and at each joint (axis) a single ovoid red berry dangles below. Take a close look for the kink in the pedicel where there is also a small gland (perhaps to attract insects?). Twisted Stalks often grow along stream edges. 

Fairy BellsProsartes trachycarpa –usually have two berries to match where there were once two yellow flowers at the end of each stem. Berries change from green to orange to a velvet red. They are not quite round nor are they smooth. The covering is textured and contains several seeds.

False Lily-of-the-ValleyMaianthemum racemosum – has a panicle of spotted fruits held at the end of 1-3’ arching single stems. In a panicle, stalks come from a central stem and then branch again, as if going off in a panic. The leafy stems arise from a thick rhizome underground.

While the speckled berries ripen to red, they are often scarfed up by birds or rodents before you see them.

Umbellifers:  This large family of plants was recognized by the Greeks for its distinctive flower arrangement. The Umbelliferae Family is now called the Apiaceae or Parsley/Carrot Family. The flowers are arranged in an umbel: spokes from a central point like ribs of an umbrella.

The dried fruits are termed schizocarps: they split into two parts each with one seed, dangling from a cool hanger-like structure-carpophore. When we eat “seeds” of dill, celery, caraway, cumin, anise, and coriander, we are actually consuming schizocarps.

The largest umbellifer we see is Cow ParsnipHeracleum spondylium — with its 3’ divided leaves with very broad leaflets. The stems are over one-inch thick, hollow, and have hairs that can cause a rash with some people.

Plants with big leaves need a lot of water to keep them turgid so you often see them near streams or in wet meadows.

Cow Parsnipis is related to Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), a highly invasive introduced species found in the East and northwestern states. Hogweed is highly phototoxic, meaning the sap combined with sunlight can cause a very nasty burn-like rash.

Sharptooth AngelicaAngelica arguta — is only slightly shorter but the leaves are twice divided with smaller leaflets. The schizocarps are more bunched and also have more ribs to them.–reminiscent of celery leaves, to which it is related.

The 2’ long and wide lacy leaves of Fernleaf Licorice-root or LovageLigusticum filicinum—turn a beautiful gold as they begin to dry out. (Below is one whole leaf)

Schizocarps are held up to 3’ high, are abundant, but are very small and fragile:

The flowers were also very delicate and lacy in their umbels. These plants can be plentiful in open meadows low and high. Their fragrant roots were used for medicine.

Western SweetrootOsmorhiza occidentalis – has almost disappeared for the season; however, you may still find the elongate schizocarps dangling along a trail edge or meadow. Earlier they had a licorice-anise flavor to them. 

If you look closely at the thine dark-brown shiny schizocarps above you can see how the one to the right is split and the two sides are dangling from a very delicate carpophore. This is the same scheme of all the other schizocarps but they are so delicate we often miss it.

It is fascinating to watch the development of flowers to fruits. While we may bemoan the passage of summer, there are always botanical treasures to behold!

Frances Clark, Program Coordinator, Teton Plants, Wilson, WY


August 18, 2021

Shrubs in Fall: Fruits and Color – Lots!

Aspens are turning yellow and orange, canyons are flaming with colors, and fruits provide feasts for wildlife. It’s a great time to get out and observe the final flings of fall.

The Rose Family is one of the most beautiful and productive families in our temperate climes. 

In the grocery store we see a cornucopia cultivated apples, peaches, pears, plums, strawberries, and raspberries. On sunny slopes and forest openings birds and mammals find a similar feast of fruits provided by the Rose Family at this time of year. The background leaf color helps accentuate the display of luscious berries. This is a great year for fruits which is good because our migrating birds, small mammals including coyote and fox, and big mammals including bears, moose, and deer all relish them.

Fruits of Black HawthornCrataegus douglasii – are dripping along Moose-Wilson Road, around Trail Creek, and elsewhere. Despite their inch-long thorns, these 20-25’ large shrubs or small trees appeal to bears which will climb into the crowns and scarf up the fruits. Larger bears will use their weight to bend over the branches.  “Crataegus” means strong and sharp—descriptive for sure. Leaves are oval with shallow lobes and many teeth and they turn maroon or scarlet in October.  Fruits are deep-red to mostly black.  Another species Red Hawthorn – C. rivularis – is scarcer to find and harder to identify – slightly redder fruits and leaves are less lobed. It grows in moister sites. They are unusual to find in Wyoming.

ServiceberriesAmelanchier alnifolia – are being picked off by flocks of robins, cedar waxwings, Swainson’s thrushes, and more as they migrate south.  Purple poop is apparent in coyote or fox scat – could be chokecherry as well.  

Oval leaves with teeth at the end often turn a mottled maroon. After a frost the slightly wizened pomes are particularly delicious—like raisins with a touch of almond. Note the round fruits are in cymes (the stalks are variable in length) and have 5 dried sepal tips sticking out the top.

ChokecherryPrunus virginiana – has more elongate, toothed leaves which turn a shiny orange to red. Fruits are held in racemes—on equal-length stalks off a central axis. The round berries (drupes) do not have sepals at their ends.  It is important to know the difference from Serviceberries, especially as the leaves fall off, as cherry pits can be poisonous. Also the twigs have a distinctive strong odor of prussic acid (hydrocyanic acid), a precursor to cyanide which can be poisonous under certain circumstances. However, the wildlife enjoy them equally to serviceberries.

Rose hips of Nootka vs. Woods Rose stay on the thorny shrubs all winter.  As with other roses, the leaves are pinnately compound—several leaflets coming off a central rachis. Hips are swollen hypanthiums—the merged bases of the sepals, petals, and stamens that swell over the pistils that turn into seed-like fruits (achenes) inside. The hypanthium is a tough, nutritious casing with lots of vitamin C.  The five dry extensions from the top of the hip are actually the dried sepals that surrounded the flower petals. 

Nootka RosesR. nutkatensis – usually have only 1 (2) hip on a stalk which is 2-3x larger than the hips of Woods Rose and they have longer sepals. Rose hips are most favored by deer in the winter. 

Woods RoseR. woodsii – has several hips together. I remember the name by thinking that many trees are in the woods. 

Mountain AshSorbus scoparia – fruits are abundant this year. Here again the leaves are pinnately “compound” and arranged alternately up the stem. The fruits and foliage colors are some of the most dramatic out there. 

The berries may not be eaten right away, leaving good sustenance for wildlife into winter. 

Shrubs with Opposite leaves:

Red Elderberry Sambucus racemosa – at first may look similar to Mountain Ash with big bunches of red fruits and compound leaves. However, elderberry is overall coarser in appearance.  Stems are finger-thick, the leaves heftier and arranged opposite on the stem, and the plant stinks.  Different plants have different concentrations of hydrocyanic acid that makes individuals more or less appealing to wildlife and can cause diarrhea in humans if fruits are not prepared properly for wine and jellies, etc.

European Black Elderberry – S. nigra – has been used to make whistles—the core of the stems (pith) is very soft.  People used to hollow out the cavity, add a few holes along the stem—and voilá a whistle!  Sambucol, an over-the-counter medicine, has been proven efficacy as an anti-viral flu medication. We have two varieties of Elderberry: S. r. var. racemosa has red berries and smooth leaves, S. r. var. melanocarpa has black fruit and slightly downy vestiture on the leaves.

Red-stemmed DogwoodCornus stolonifera – is a favorite and readily available landscape shrub. It has tidy, opposite oval leaves with parallel veins that turn a beautiful maroon on red stems.

The white flowers form bunches of white berries which are high in lipids—concentrated energy for migrating birds: They soon disappear.  Moose also love to munch – prune – the red stems. In Montana they say dogwood is “moose ice cream!” Dogwoods grow mostly along streams.

SnowberriesSymphoricarpus spp. – are sporting soft white berries. The Greek root of the botanical name means “to bear together…fruit”. Which indeed it does – like piglets to my eye. Some flowers were clearly pollinated, other flowers were not.

Sometimes the foliage—opposite oval leaves–turns a bright yellow under aspens, but this seems a bit spotty this year.  

The slightly mushy berries – soft like marshmallows – are not for us humans to eat. The berries contain an alkaloid chelidonine which can cause “mild symptoms of vomiting, dizziness, and slight sedation in children.”  Sources vary on the level of toxicity—my thought is to not yield to temptation. That being said, Snowberries are hardy landscape shrubs and are good wildlife food with early leaves in spring and berries that grouse and others will eat. Our two Teton County species – S. oreophilus and S. albus – are hard to tell apart except in flower.

Related to snowberries – both are in the Honeysuckle family Utah HoneysuckleLonicera utahensis – also has bright yellow oval opposite leaves.The twin red fruits are long gone. 

When leaves fall off, the oval buds with 4-6 scales on relatively thick stems (compared to the thin twiggy stems of snowberries) help differentiate the two cousins during dormancy.

Mountain MapleAcer glabrum – is a very shrubby plant that can grow to 15 feet tall. Winged samaras await the wind to break them loose so that the winged seeds can helicopter to new lands. The rather skimpy, lobed leaves turn variable colors along our mountain trails and slopes here in Teton County.

Much more brilliant and barely in the county is Big-tooth MapleAcer grandidentatum. Joyce Batson took this picture last week along Rte 26 near the Palisades Reservoir in Idaho. 

The leaves are arger with bigger teeth than Mountain Maple and the samaras are broader. 

An Odd Ball:

SilverberriesEleagnus commutata – are dangling among silvery leaves in the Snake River floodplain and elsewhere. Right now the fruits and leaves are similar in color—the fruits are hard to see. 

Birds eat the berries and moose particularly like the plants. Otherwise, it has moderate wildlife value. The 10-15′ tall rhizomatous shrubs can fix their own nitrogen, enhancing their own growth and that of other plants nearby.  Where our floodplains are used for pasture, cattle tend to graze other species leaving alone the less palatable (to cattle) silverberries, which remain standing tall.   

For Pure Color:

Mountain Huckleberries – Vaccinium membraceum – color up along forest paths and openings. Foliage is more intense with more sun. The delicious fruits are gone, but the leaves bring delight to the late season hiker. 

Often overlooked (at least by this botanist), False HuckleberryMenzeisii ferruginea – turns a clear yellow in large patches along canyon trails such as Cascade Canyon. Below it is mixed in with the much larger leaves of Thimbleberry.

False Huckleberry leaves are oval, hairy, slightly sticky, and usually larger than its relative Mountain Huckleberry. And it can have a slightly skunky odor. The fruits are dry capsules, similar to its other relative azalea. For this reason it is also called False Azalea.

Birch-leaf SpiraeaSpiraea betulifolia – lines many woodland trails with a sweep of yellow. The oval, toothed leaves alternating up thin, rhizomatous stems contain salycidic acid – the same ingredient found in willows. Salicylic acid is the original source of aspirin, now synthesized as acetylsalicylic acid.

Of note, Spiraea is in the Rose Family, but does not have the luscious fruit of its many relatives. Instead, 5 dry fruits sit in each tiny cup of a hypanthium.

Found along streamsides or up canyon trails, Thimbleberry Rubus parviflora – has the largest “simple” (vs. compound) leaves in the valley for shrubs.  Lobed like a maple, these solar collectors are expansive, and turn bright yellow as they slowly go limp.

As shorter days and cooler temperatures trigger dormancy, the vessel system to the leaves is slowly sealed off, reducing available water and nutrients. Green chlorophyll dies revealing yellow pigments that have been there all summer long capturing different light spectrums. And then these too fade as their purpose is extinguished and leaves crinkle brown and drop. Buds remain the hope for the next year.

Different plant species have different arrays of yellow to orange pigments (carotenoids), and some manufacture additional red to purple anthocyanins in the fall if warm days are followed by cool, but not freezing nights. This temperature combination enables plants to produce more sugars to fuel formation of these extra pigments. Moisture can also affect the amount of color. So each species, each plant, and each year the foliage display is unique.

The season is very short. Enjoy getting out for the fall extravaganza!

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY

As always we appreciate corrections and suggestions. To get on our email list for program announcements, please contact us at tetonplants@org.

Wildflower Fruits: Diversity of Dispersal

Many of our showy summer flowers are forming fruits.  Now and into fall is a fascinating time to watch how plants disperse their seeds. Many birds, small rodents, even ants depend on them for food: eating them on the spot or stashing them for later, often leaving some behind to sprout. Look at the designs of the flying fruits or how others stick to animals or float away.  There are so many ways plants have evolved to give their off-spring a chance to grow in the future.

For beginning plant enthusiasts, here is a bit botany to help explain what exactly are fruits and seeds. To start, fruits mature from pollinated flowers.


Image from: (http://stickrathbiology.yolasite.com/resources/28%20Plant%20Anatomy%20Lab.pdf)

The ovary is nestled inside the petals, protects the eggs/ovules, and transforms in shape, size, color, and texture to form a fruit. The fertilized eggs/ovules become seeds which include a seed coat surrounding a tiny embryo and extra stored food—think about a bean seed as an example.

Bean seed embryo — Science Learning Hub

(Bean seed diagram from: https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/)

Fruits enable the seeds to move beyond the shadow of their parents—literally.  Fruits are dispersed by wind, water, animal, expulsion, and gravity using all sorts of mechanisms.

Sticky GeraniumGeranium viscossissimum – catapult their seeds. A geranium fruit has five compartments (carpels) – each with a seed. As each carpel dries, it will spring upright ejecting the seed.


Parsley FamilyApiaceae – One key characteristic of this family is that the flowers, then fruits, are arranged in umbels with all branches coming from a central point like ribs of an umbrella. Members of this family are often called umbellifers.  Relatives include parsley, celery, dill, anise, coriander and more.


The seeds are “schizocarps”—meaning split fruits.

Glossary | FNWD

(Schizocarp Diagram from: https://idtools.org/id/fnw/glossary.php)

Watch over the next few weeks to see how the fruits dry and divide.  Birds, mammals, gravity, and wind can all play a part in dispersal.

Cow ParsnipHeracleum sphondylium/maximum – is the largest member of this family in the U.S. and is found along streams and moist meadows.


Its schizocarps enlarge and flatten and develops a beautiful pattern before they break apart.


A tourist asked if Cow Parsnip gave a rash like Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), which is invading the East Coast. I did some research. The genus Heracleum contains compounds (flurocoumarins) in the hairs and sap that make our skin very sensitive to ultraviolet light. If we brush against the plants, get the oils on us, and then we are exposed to sun, we can get a nasty sunburn or blisters (phytophotodermatitis).  While each person reacts differently, it seems our native Cow Parsnip is not as toxic as Giant hogweed, which is native to the Caucasus Mountains bordering Southern Russia and Georgia and can grow well over 8’ tall. I have not gotten a rash from this plant.


The 3-4’ Sharptooth AngelicaAngelica arguta – was still blooming the third-week in August in moist higher elevations. The variety and number of pollinators on different umbels was impressive: flies, hornets, bees.


Various insect species can easily land and crawl about spreading pollen and sucking up nectar. Angelica fruits are ribbed, vs. flattened, and will also split in two.


YampahPerideridia montana – is still producing its lacey umbels of flowers in some locations, such as sage flats and burned-over areas at low elevations around the valley. Stems are about 1-2 1/2′ high with mostly linear withered leaves.


Some plants are forming tiny schizocarps.

PeriMont_frcu_DtcCrkRd_91713_1_5x5_200Yampah will also begin to store starches into their taproots, which will provide food for grizzly bears. People like to forage on the tasty roots, as well. (Carrots are in the Parsley Family, too).

Western SweetrootOsmorhiza occidentalis – grows 2-3′ high. The elongate fruits are held up to waist high.


It is easy to sample the 3/4-1″ fruits, which while still green taste like licorice or anise.


The fruit of its less robust relative – Sweet CicelyOsmorhiza berteroi – has a sharp point and hairs to attach to passing socks or fur.


Colorful Berries:

Clasping TwistedstalkStreptopus amplexicaulis – has branched stems that typically arch 2-3′ high over streams or in wet sites. Leaves have parallel veins and clasp the stalks which zig-zag slightly. At each leaf node, formerly a yellow flower hung from a curled pedicel.  Now a single red, ovoid fruit hangs from the same kinked stem. Who knows why the pedicels do this?


False Solomon’s sealMaianthemum racemosum – had a spray (technically a panicle) of small white flowers at the end of the arching branches in June. Now each flower has produced speckled fruits that can be scarfed up by robins, thrushes, chipmunks, and such.


FairybellsProsartes trachycarpa – also bloomed in June with usually two pale yellow, lily-like flowers at the tips of the branches. The three-parted ovary has swelled into a somewhat lumpy, brilliant-red, velvet-like fruit which stands out above the bright green leaves. This arrangement is a clear advertisement to birds and mammals to come and get it.


Our local members of the Pea Family – Fabaceae – have typical pea-like flowers and pod-like fruits. The pod was the ovary deep inside the bright petals, and the seeds were the eggs inside the ovary (see diagrams above). While we think of string beans and snap peas as vegetables, they are fruits botanically speaking.

The blue pea-like flowers of Lupines Lupinus sp. – are still blooming in some sites, but most have already formed thick, hairy pods–technically a “legume”. (For botany nerds: legumes are single carpels that split down two sides–compare to “follicle” below.) Many pods have dried, twisted, and propelled their seeds – some up to 10’! Plants and seeds contain poisonous alkaloids in varying amounts, and while most wildlife can eat the plants and seeds, they are toxic to domestic livestock, especially sheep, and to people.


For those who wish to propagate lupine from seed, it is easiest to plant ripe seed in place and let nature breakdown the tough seed coat over the winter.  It is best not to transplant the young or older plants as they have long taproots that get broken, setting the plant back.  One helpful link: https://www.blogs.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_PLANTMATERIALS/publications/wapmcmt7129.pdf

If pollinated, each magenta pea-like flower of Western SweetvetchHedysarum occidentale – will produce a string of loments: essentially flattened pods. The winged segments–each with one seed–split off and are likely caught upon the wind to be transported to new ground.



The Buttercup Family has several variations:

Colorado ColumbineAquiligia coerulea – has 5 separate dry “follicles” each containing numerous seeds. Follicles split down one side. These follicles derive from separate carpels, typical of some members of the Buttercup Family.


The blue flowers on the 5-6′ stalks of  Tall DelphiniumDelphinium occidentale – bloom from bottom to top and out the side branches.  So the fruits ripen from bottom to top as well. It is interesting to observe that not all the flowers are pollinated–some just fade away.


After the blue tubular flowers are pollinated, the 3 distinct carpels enlarge to form 3 distinct follicles with many seeds inside. It is easy to see the similarity of these fruits to Columbine.


A third member of the family, Fendler Meadow Rue – Thalictrum fendleri – is usually found in the forest. Meadow Rue plants are male and female and are wind pollinated.  The “achenes” form only on female plants and likely just fall to the ground or perhaps a Junco or other bird comes and gets the fruits.


Its relative Sugar Bowls  – Clematis hirsutissima – has individual achenes that are attached to long hairy stigmas that help them fly off on the wind.  This plant is often called the Dr. Seuss or Phyllis Diller plant in the summer when it is in its “bad hair day” fruiting phase.


Other dry fruits:

Fern-leaf LousewortsPedicularis bracteosa – sported spires of beaked yellow flowers in early summer. Now the spikes are drying and dry capsules (formed from more than one carpel) are splitting open. Dark seeds are sifting out as the wind waves the stems about.


Bladder Campion –  Silene latifolia – has cups filled with seeds that shake out over time.SileLati_frCalyx_TrCkTr_8.26.18_3_Q2_crp_3x4_200

Leopard LilyFritillaria atropurpurea – has squarrish capsules that shake out seeds:


And perhaps the most pesky dry fruits that catch a ride on our pant legs and socks, as well as our dog’s fur, is Western StickseedHackelia micrantha.  The sharply pronged green to brown small nutlets are often passed unseen but are soon felt as they hitchhike down the trail and even home.


Composites get around:

While many composites or members of the Aster Family produce one-seeded fruits with fluffy parachutes like a dandelion, others have fruits nestled tight in heads.  For instance, Western ConeflowerRudbeckia occidentalis – has its fruits (achenes) standing firm on cone-shaped receptacles waiting for birds, such as Pine Siskins and American Goldfinches, to find them.


As birds avidly eat the fruits, they often dislodge some that fall to the ground. (photo by Susan Marsh):

PISI on RUOC 3 copy_crp_5x5_235

The same dispersal mechanism likely happens in Arrowleaf BalsamrootBalsamorhiza saggitata – with birds prying out the elongate achenes held within sharp protective scales.


Many plants can have more than one dispersal mechanism.  For instance, thistles–both native and introduced–can attract seed eaters which pluck out and therefore loosen fruits which then fly off upon the wind.


Keep on watching.  There are many more fruits and seeds to come, each with fascinating dispersal strategies!

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY

P.S. As alwasy we appreciate corrections and comments sent to us at tetonplants@gmail.com.  Also, look at the recent posting “Culmination of Composites–August 2020” for flowers that will soon be shedding wind-blown seeds.