Earliest of Spring Flowers

TNP17_BlkTBt_Sslope_4.13.17Spring is arriving at its own pace here in Jackson Hole. We are all eager to see flowers!

Early spring flowers hug the warm ground:

Best to hunt along south-facing slopes or sagebrush spots where snow has recently melted and sun has had a chance to warm the ground long enough to encourage both flowers and insects to emerge.

Glistening yellow saucers of Sage Buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus) are held just above the ground where sun adds extra warmth beneath the wind.   Often one can see large colonies. The north end of Moose-Wilson Road just west of the Murie Center road will soon be aglow.


There are two look-alike species of spring buttercups.  This one is Utah Buttercup.  Can you tell why?


Utah Buttercup (Ranunculus jovis) has 3-5 parted, lobed to divided leaves.  These plants were found in a remnant patch of sagebrush in Wilson.


Sage Buttercup (Ranunuclus glaberrimus) has whole leaves.  Note the many yellow anthers surrounding a slightly conical set of pistils in the center.  These plants were nestled into the dry slopes of Blacktail Butte.

Tiny Orogenia (O. linearifolia) or Turkey Peas is barely visible amidst withered vegetation from the year before. This member of the parsley family has miniature umbels of dingy white flowers and narrow leaves. Hard to spot.


The flowers of Turkey Peas or Orogenia are truely tiny. Note the leaves are slender like grass.


The underground corms store food over winter – appealing to “turkeys” or– here in Jakcson Hole — sandhill cranes and other critters.  These are indeed pea size. (Corms are swollen stems – note the roots come out of the base of the bulge, a clue that all above is stem.  Crocus is a corm as well.)

Steer’s-heads (Dicentra uniflora) are also a spring favorite which requires sharp eyes to see.  If you are lucky, you may find a stampede of Steer’s-head.


This truly western flower — aptly named Steer’s head – nods just above its bluish-green, divided leaves (two leaves in this picture).  Pollinators push in from the sides. The plant is about 1-2″ tall.

Twin Bladderpod (Physaria didymocarpa) — featuring 4 yellow petals typical of the mustard family — is scattered in bunches on south-facing dry slopes, such as Blacktail Butte and above Kelly Warm Springs.


The silvery tough leaves, which are shaped like a spade, are wholed into a rosette. The flowers are in clusters on longer stems.  Later they will form pairs of balloon-like fruits.  Hence the name Twin Bladderpod.

Several other members of the mustard family bloom early.


A somewhat weedy native mustard, Pale Alyssum (Alysum alyssoides) has tiny 4-petaled yellow flowers clustered at the top of 1-2″ stems.  As spring goes on, these annuals, perhaps biennials, grow a bit taller and can form colonies in disturbed places.  In fact, there are two close look- alikes determined only by their fruits (fruits are important in mustard ID!).  A. desertorum has smooth fruits, A. alyssoides hairy fruits.

Earnest botanists and pollinators alike can be “fooled” into thinking a fungus-infected mustard (typically rockcress) is in flower.


Pseudo-flower — looks like this rockcress is in bloom….but not. Look closely.


A rust fungus (Puccinia sp.) causes the mustard to look like it is in flower, deceiving pollinators into spreading spores to other plants.  The fungus gets its nutrients from the young plant.

The rust fungus causes the young plant to form pseudo-flowers. Growing into the leaves, using the plant’s nutrients, the fungus causes the leaves to yellow and produce a sugary substance and even fragrance similar to flowers. The yellow pigment, which reflects strongly within the UV spectrum, is particularly bright to the eyes of insects. Attracted, pollinators land and crawl around looking for rewards of pollen or nectar and “disappointed,” depart carrying spores on feet and bodies to more mustard plants. The fungus is spread to benefit the fungus, not the plant or insect. In another twist of the story, at a later stage the fungus on the same plant may produce another type of spore that can infect nearby grasses….and the story is even more complicated than this! We can learn much from our mistakes!


Rockcress  (Boechera sp) is often a host plant of the rust fungus.  Here the plant is blooming without infection.

Hood’s Phlox (Phlox hoodii) is just beginning to bloom in sagebrush and grassy habitats on slopes. Its fragrant flowers are worth getting down on hands and knees to sniff.


Hood’s Phlox (Phlox hoodii) just beginning to bloom on Blacktail Butte 4.13.17.

Others plants to look for:  Spring Beauties, spring parslies (Lomatium and Cymopteris), Yellowbells (Fritillaria pudica), pussytoes (Antennaria sp.), and more.


Spring BeautyClaytonia lanceolata – has 5-petaled, pinkish to white flowers in clusters atop stems with two, opposite, oval leaves.


A Spring Parsely 


Yellowbells is a member of the Lily Family: count the 6 tepals and 6 anthers.

Let us know what you find!

Wind-pollinated flowers are stretching out on shrubs and trees.


Wetlands such as those found along Moose-Wilson Road are habitat for two wind-pollinated species in flower now.

Wind pollinated flowers are not fancy.  There is no reason to show-off to the wind which cannot see.  Instead, flowers are often very inconspicuous with male and female flowers often on different plants or different parts of the same plant to avoid inbreeding. Often wind-pollinated plants grow in colonies, to better the odds for catching pollen. Pollen is abundant, again placing more bets in the gamble for successful wind pollination. It is fascinating to look very closely at the many tiny flowers arranged in “catkins.”  See if you can tell which catkins are males, which females.


At first rusty brown, then stretching to yellow, male catkins of alder (Alnus incana var. tenuifolia) dangle in breezes near wetlands. Each dangle or “catkin” includes dozens of flowers.


A bit back on the same branch, separate, stouter female catkins cluster in 3-4s.  The female stigmas stick out beyond scales which protect them.


Later these structures will harden into brown “cones” which will open to relsease seeds in the fall. They persist into the next year, helping to identify this wetland shrub as an alder.

Willows (Salix spp.) produce upright “pussies” or male and female catkins, which are on separate plants to assure cross-pollination.


Some willows rely on wind to carry pollen to a nearby female plant–a chancy bet.  Others feature nectar glands and colorful stigmas and anthers to attract pollinators to do the job.

In the same family as willows (Salicaceae), Aspen trees (Populus tremuloides) appear “fuzzy” with long silvery catkins. Resembling furry gray caterpillars, 3-4” catkins have anthers tucked within small scales with tufts of hairs. See if the anthers have released yellow pollen yet. Can you find the smaller female catkins with red stigmas on separate trees nearby?

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Female aspen catkins.  Note the silvery white hairs which are attached to the greenish scales.  The marroon protrusions within are female stigmas.  Each scale protects the delicate fertile parts. There are dozens of flowers in each elongated catkin.

Enjoy investigating the flowers of spring. It is only the beginning of botanical adventures to come.

Frances Clark

April 14, 2017


Get High for Wildflowers

Hike high for the reward of fields of flowers.  BTNF_Rendv_Subalp_Mead_flwmix_8116_N_3_Q2_5x3Wildflowers are blooming strong at elevations between 8,500-10,000,’ such as Mt. Ely, above Ski Lake, Rendezvous Mountain, and other subalpine habitats of the Grand Tetons.  You can find lupines, little sunflowers, geraniums, stonecrops, milfoil, mountain dandelions, and mountain bluebells that we observed at lower elevations a few weeks ago, along with new flowers found only at these higher elevations.

Where to Look

Topography makes a difference as to the lushness of flowers. How the mountains collected snow over the winter and how fast it has melted is determined in large part by the shape of the land, as well as its aspect: which way the slope is facing.

Steep south-facing slopes and high ridge lines have less snow to begin with and face the hot sun.  Their flowers may be past bloom or be different species, as is seen south of Mt. Ely: Wyoming Paintbrush, Sedum, Milfoils, and Harebells are still blooming.BTNF_TetPsS_DrySlp_7.28.16_5_5x3North facing, bowl-shaped terrain—Cody Bowl and the bowl above Ski Lake–captures more snow and holds it longer. Lupines and Sulphur Paintbrush grow luxuriantly.BTNF_SkiLktrUp_CastSulp_LupiArge_7.27.16_2a_fixsm Areas of recently melted snow and streams coming down the north side of Rendezvous Mountain still have Mountain Bluebells and Fernleaf Lovage.BTNF_Rendv_vwCrk_FlwMix_8116_2_Q2_5x3Jackson Hole receives little predictable rain in summer—typically from spotty, if often intense, thunderstorms–so snow in winter is the main source of moisture for the growing season.

Below are some freshly flowering species frequently seen at high elevations later in the growing season.

Blue Composites Keep on Coming

The Daisy, Aster, or Sunflower Family—technically Asteraceae—flourishes. Traditionally, this large group has been called “composites” because each “flower” is in fact a “head” of many flowers on a platform. Individual flowers may be “ray”flowers—which look like petals or the rays of sun, and/or “disk” flowers, which are small flowers usually in the center. Each flower head is surrounded by protective, usually green “bracts.” These bracts help in separating out the different genera. Below are pictures of bracts!


Western ConeflowerRudbeckia occidentale – is one of many composites which attract a range of pollinators.  Here the tiny disk flowers attract bee pollinators. It flowers from bottom to top. The bracts form a green whorl around the base.

Showy composite flowers attract different pollinators. At this time of year butterflies – particularly Fritillary –  find room to land and sip nectar from the cups of disk flowers. Flies and bees also poke and prod about the flower heads. Observing pollinators adds a new dimension to understanding the ecology of flowers and insects.

Fleabanes or DaisiesErigeron spp – (people use the names interchangeably) look like asters; however, their “involucral bracts” that encompass the heads of the composite flowers are more or less even in length and are arranged in only one, maybe two, rows like a palisade fence. Often, their ray flowers are thinner and more plentiful than in asters.

Two large fleabanes/daisies are in bloom right now:

Oregon DaisyErigeron speciosus -is frequent at lower elevations and very showy now at higher elevations. They grow to 1-2.5’ high, with elliptical leaves alternating up the stem to a cluster of purple flower heads.

Erigeron speciosum

Like other fleabanes, the large blue Oregon Fleabane has many petals (actually ray flowers) and many thin bracts arranged like a palisade fence protecting the many flowers of the head.


Oregon Daisy or Fleabane has many blue or lavender ray flowers and a large center of yellow disk flowers.

Subalpine DaisyErigeron peregrinus – is a bit smaller than Oregon Daisy and is limited to higher elevations. It also has many oval to elliptical leaves up the stem, but the lavender ray flowers are broader and fewer than in Oregon Daisy.


Single heads with broad blue ray flowers are typical of Subalpine Daisy – Erigeron peregrinus.

Another look-alike, Alpine Leafy-bract AsterSymphiotrichum foliaceum – has a similar color and many relatively broad ray flowers. However, looking at the bracts beneath, you will see they are green and leafy looking. As the name indicates, these are also typically at high elevations.


In Alpine Leafy-bract Aster the bracts are loose, leaf-like shingles encircling the head.

Thickstem AsterEurybia integrifolius – is about the same size as those species above. The thick, slightly zigzag stems are sticky hairy all the way up to the flower heads. Flowers have a few deep-violet ray flowers. The sticky bracts splay outwards. They grow at higher and lower elevations in meadows.


The stems of Thickstem Aster are not only thick, but also sticky.

Englemann (Chaffy) AsterEucephalus engelmannii – stands tall to 3-4’. Unbranching stems are clad in large elliptical leaves alternating up the stem, with showy sprays of white flower heads near the top. White ray flowers are relatively long and few compared to daisy fleabanes. Look under the flower heads at the arrangement of bracts: they look like pointed shingles on a roof—one easy way to distinguish asters from fleabane daisies.


Engelmann Aster stands tall on single stems with a few white flowers at the top. They can form large colonies in some areas.


The shingled or “imbricate” bracts of Englemann Chaffy Aster – Eucephalus spp. – help separate it from Erigerons or fleabane daisies.  The rounded bracts are in several rows that overlap.

Nuttall AsterEucephalus elegans – is shorter than its cousin, but it too has the shingled effect of the bracts. The flowers are a lovely violet blue. This species is just coming into bloom and more sporadic in its appearance.


Nuttall AsterEucephalus elegans –  has truly elegant bracts.

A third species Blue-leaf AsterEucephalus glaucus – has distinctly bluish leaves and grows in 1-2’ tall sprawling, rhizomatous patches. Flowers are light lavender.


Blue-leaf Aster has a ghostly appearance.

Spiny-bracted Aster/Hoary Tansy AsterMachaeranthera canescens – grows on much drier slopes, such as along Teton Pass. Rarely a foot tall, the plants have relatively few stems,  with few leaves. The violet flowers catch the eye. Look for the spine-tipped, outward-arching bracts surrounding the flower head.


Spiny AsterMachaeranthera canescens – grows sparsely along the trail south of Teton Pass.


The bracts around this violet head point outward and are sharp, giving Spiny Aster its name.

A Few Yellow Composites

Thickstem GroundselSenecio crassulus – is adapted to a variety of moist to dry meadows, varying its height according to level of moisture – taller to 3’ with more water, or stunted at 8” or less. The slightly succulent, elliptical leaves may be toothed. The lower ones are stalked, the upper sessile. The shiny green bracts are neatly aligned in one row and are black tipped. A few ray flowers surround the yellow disk flowers.


Thickstem Groundsel varies in height depending on underlying moisture.  Leaves are sessile to clasping the stem and toothed.


Groundsels have a single row of even-sized bracts surrounding the flower heads, often with black tips. This is Thick-leaved Groundsel.  Note the disk flowers are in full bloom.  You can see the  female stigmas arching outward.

Low GoldenrodSolidago multiradiata – is common in rock edges and along trails at many elevations. The tiny flower heads have about 13 ray flowers each and the heads are held in clusters mostly near the top of 6-12″ stems. To distinguish this species from look-alikes, find the ciliate – stiff hairy – margins to the elongate leaves at the base of the plants.


Low Goldenrod has about 13 tiny yellow ray flowers per head. Flowers heads are clustered together.


The lower leaves of Low Goldenrod have stiff hairs on their petioles, which is very helpful in identification.

Paintbrush Complex

BTNF_SkiLktr_Cast_flwrmix_7.27.16_1_5x3Q2Paintbrushes are intriguing and confusing members of the Orobanche or Broomrape Family (formerly placed the Figwort or Schropulariaceae Family).  Species in the genus Castilleja have unique attachments to other plant species, depending more or less on their hosts for extra carbon, water, nutrients and even chemical defenses. As such, they are termed hemiparasites.  They can survive on their own but grow larger, produce more flowers and seeds, and have less predation if they attach to their host’s roots using special haustorium.  Plant hosts include grasses, sagebrush, lupines, and larkspurs.

Paintbrushes have wide variation in color and shape due to polyploidy and hybridization. For identification pay attention to the shape of the leaves and shape and color of bracts–colored leaf-like appendages below each flower. In paintbrushes, sepals are fused to form a lobed tube and are colorful like the bracts.  The petals are relatively inconspicuous. They are fused to form a tube called a galea which hides and protects the stamens and stigma within.


Paintbrush flowers have a colorful bract (shown to right) under each flower. Each flower (center) has a colorful calyx tube which is lobed. It surrounds the galea = tube of fused petals. The stigma and anthers are protected inside. Here the stigma sticks out from the top of the green and red galea.

Here are four species you can see up high right now. Hopefully the description and the photos will help you distinguish to species—never easy.  Once identified you can find more information on their hosts and their predators.

Wyoming Indian PaintbrushCastilleja liniarifolia – is the most angular of the species we see right now. Its bright red to orange calyx splits to the side and back but most deeply in front where the green galea extends way out. The bracts and leaves are also often deeply lobed and linear and widely spaced on the stem.


The state flower Wyoming PaintbrushCastilleja liniariifolia – is found on dry slopes at all altitudes. It has a lean appearance to the plant, leaves, and flowers.  They obtain up to 40% of their carbon from their host plant Big Sagebrush – Artemesia tridentata.

Scarlet PaintbrushCastilleja miniata – is blooming at mid to subalpine elevations. It is common along the trail south of Teton Pass right now. It is often two feet tall and branching with wands of bright red flowers. The bracts and calyx are often lobed and sharply pointed. They cover the green corolla or petal tube (galea) which extends out when mature. Overall flower color ranges from red to scarlet to orange. This is our most wide ranging and variable species. Polyploidy and occasional hybridization with C. rhexifolia and C. sulphurea confound strict identification.


Scarlet Paintbrushes come in a range of colors. Most are tall and often branching.


Tricky to ID due to hybridization and genetic polyploidy, this photo of Scarlet PaintbrushCastilleja miniata – shows the bracts with sharp pointed lobes as well as a relatively sharply lobed, fused calyx. The green galea protrudes revealing the stigma.  Research has shown that all  parts of the plant and flower except the galea and nectar have poisonous alkaloids when connected to its host Lupine –  Lupinus argenteus.  The alkaloids deter herbivory.

Alpine or Rosy PaintbrushCastilleja rhexifolia – puzzles me often, especially in comparison to Scarlet Paintbrush. References say they are crimson, rose-red to pink. Bracts are relatively broad and rarely lobed.  Calyx lobes are relatively blunt. Often the parts are quite hairy. Plants are typically about one foot or less and rarely branch. They grow only at high elevations.


Rosy Paintbrush – Castilleja rhexifolia – has relatively broad bracts, often hairy, and the lobes of the calyx are blunt. They are host plants for an elegant looking plume moth – Amblytidia pica  – look it up!

Sulphur PaintbrushCastilleja sulphurea – Although yellow, this species is very similar and closely related to Rosy Paintbrush – C. rhexifolia. Look for broad, only slightly lobed, colorful bracts. The bracts and calyx lobes are rounded, not sharp. It is also sticky hairy. Look for larkspurs and lupines nearby. Sulphur paintbrushes are often connected, obtaining carbohydrates and alkaloids from their hosts.


Sulphur Paintbrush is similar in flower form to C. rhexifolia with wider bracts and rounded lobes.  It grows at high elevations as well. They can hybridize.


Sulphur Paintbrush can have many stems. It is a hemiparasite on Tall Larkspur – Delphinium occidentale – and Lupine.

Hosts Plants of Paintbrushes


Silvery Lupine – Lupine argenteus var. depressus – above Ski Lake serves as a host plant to a hybrid paintbrush.

LupineLupinus argenteus – is a proven host plant of several species of paintbrush. Lupine is a source of carbon, water, and nutrients.  It also provides a toxic alkaloid which helps protect the paintbrush from herbivory, such as from larvae of the plume moth – Amblyptilia pica. This chemical defense in not found in the petals or nectar of paintbrushes, therefore,  allowing their pollinators, such as broad tailed and rufous hummingbirds to proceed unharmed.


Tall Larkspur – Delphinium occidentale – is a host plant for Sulphur Paintbrush.

Two Creamy, Coiled Louseworts

Louseworts are also in the Orobanche or Broomrape Family.  They have highly evolved flowers. Bumblebees pollinators  just fit amidst the lower lip and upper coil. The stigma, protected by the upper petal, sticks out when ready and tags the pollen from where the bees can’t glean it. Flowers contain no nectar reward.

Louseworts, like their relatives paintbrushes, also have hemiparasitic relationships with nearby host plants.

Parrot’s BeakPedicularis racemosa – grows 8-20” high. The leaves are lance-shaped with small teeth and are arrayed up the stem. The lower lip of the flowers is three lobed, and the upper lip is arched into a beak.


Parrot’s Beak has evolved to fit their pollinators perfectly:  Bumblebees  This coiled flower is designed to wrap around the bee and tag the pollen on its back.  Looks a bit like an elephant trunk!


Parrot’s Beak has linear, finely toothed leaves. At high elevations leaves can be reddish.  Pedicularis racemosa  has been discovered to be an alternate host to white pine blister rust, a non-native fungus devastating 5-needled pines such as White-bark and Limber pines.  Parrot’s Beak is a hemiparasite on lupines.

White-coiled Lousewort – Pedicularis contorta – looks very similar to Parrot’s Beak but the leaves grow mostly from the base and are deeply, pinnately lobed.


White-coiled Lousewort is a higher elevation species with leaves mostly near the base.


Leaves of White-coiled Lousewort are pinnately divided or lobed.

A Few More Subalpine Specialties


Splashes of lavender purple on subalpine meadow hillsides are likely Western SweetvetchHedysarum occidentale. Look for the pea-like flowers, and later dangling flattened pea pods or loments.


Related to phlox, Nuttall’s Gilia – Leptosiphon nutallii – forms soft mounds on rocky slopes. The leaves are almost needle-like and form whorls on the stem. Flowers are fading on Teton Pass but still flowering on Rendezvous Mountain.

Found often in shade or meadows where snow melts late at high elevations, Mountain Bog GentianGentiana calycosa – is a treat to find. Leaves are egg-shaped and paired up the 5-12” stems. Flowers are deep blue and are decorated to direct pollinators deep.


Mountain Bog Gentians appear out of rocks and shady moist crevices in subalpine zones.


Mountain Bog Gentian has spots and lines to lure insects deep inside.

Many other flowers are blooming high.  Go in search! Let us know what you find at tetonplants@gmail.com.

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY

July 31, 2016, update Aug. 2 after hiking down from Rendezvous Mountain via Granite Canyon.

Note: What we once called “asters” and were in the Aster genus have been sorted by scientists into many new genera: Eucephalus, Eurybia, Symphiotrichum, Oreostemma, etc. However, the common name of “aster” remains attached to many.  Indeed “Aster” is much easier to remember than the new scientific names.  If you are frustrated by all this, just enjoy looking at the remarkable, if confounding, variation of this group of composites.



More flowers blooming in Jackson Hole early July 2016

Flowers keep unfurling this Fourth of July week. Here is a quick post ofTNP_GrCanTr_Asp_BJM_7.3.16_1a_Q1_5x3 wildflowers you may see hiking or driving throughout Jackson Hole. Enjoy skimming through the photos for their names. And if you have a moment, read the captions to find out a quick fact you can share with a friend.

Sunny dry habitats, such as sage flats and south facing slopes:


Silky LupineLupinus sericeus – has fine silvery hairs covering most of the 2’-2.5’ plants.


Both sides of the “palmate” leaves and the back of the “banners” of the blue pea-like flowers are silky —good identification features. Hairs on plants help keep plants from drying out in hot, open spaces: they reflect back the sun and shade the leaf surface, cut the velocity of drying winds, and reduce abrasion by wind-swept soil particles. These hairy adaptations are found in many desert and alpine plants, too.


Scarlet Gilia – Ipomopsis aggregata –is blooming strong. The 1-3’ stems wave in the wind like red wands. The red, 1”, trumpet-shaped flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are attracted by the red color (most insects can’t see red) and hover as they insert their long beaks and even longer tongues down into the tough flower tube. While the hummingbird is lapping (not sipping) high-test nectar, it gets doused by pollen, which it distributes to the next flower if the sticky female stigma is stretched out to collect it from the hummingbird’s forehead.


Growing only a few inches high, Lance-leaved StonecropSedum lanceolatum – is related to hens and chicks, popular garden and house plants. The pudgy leaves are succulent, designed to hold water in reserve in dry conditions. If knocked off the plant, the leaves can grow roots and start whole new plants, which is one way stonecrops can move around the neighborhood.


If pollinated, the bright yellow, star-shaped flowers of Lance-leaved Stonecrops form seeds, which is the other way plants can get out of the shadow of their parents.



Sulphur BuckwheatEriogonum umbellatum var. majus – has umbels of creamy yellow flowers often with a blush of pink held above a whorl of leaves.  Below the 12″ stems, small oval leaves and creeping stems form large mats upon the ground, out of the wind.


In mostly dry locations, delicate clumps of Ballhead SandwortEremogone congesta – are scattered among more robust plants.  ‘Congesta’ in the botanical name refers to several small white flowers grouped tightly together in a head at the top of each wiry stem.


Sandwort is in the same family as florist carnations and garden pinks, sporting opposite needle-like leaves joined together in a bit of a bump on the stem.

 Three blues: Stickseed, Bluebells, Flax


Jessica Stickseeds grow to 3’, have several 3-6” leaves around the base and up the stem, and are found in a variety of habitats with a bit of moisture.


Jessica Stickseed flowers look similar to “For-get-me-nots” – Myosotis –  with 5 sky-blue peals in a pinwheel around a “yellow eye”.


However, the four nutlets (fruits) have 2-barbed prickles which will stick to you—you become the vector for its seed dispersal–hence the name Stickseed.


Mountain BluebellsMertensia ciliata – are in the same family as the Stickseeds (Borage Family) and have a similar sky-blue color. The 5 petals form a  tube and flowers dangle together at the tips of 2-3’ stems. Plants grow along stream edges and in wet meadows.


Pollinators zero in on individual blue flowers, where they hang or hover while reaching into the tube for nectar. Watch the color changes of the flowers as they ripen and then fade in the course of pollination and for what insects show up!


Lewis’ FlaxLinum lewisii – named after Merriweather Lewis the explorer, is common along roadsides and in meadows. Each saucer-shaped flower appears to reflect the sky. Many kinds of insects can land and pollinate the flowers. Each flower lasts only a day.

Particularly showy and popular: Paintbrushes, Cinquefoils, Penstemons

BTNF_TetonPs_Send9_Cast_63015_1Found in a variety of habitats, Paintbrushes – Castilleja spp. – come in different colors and shapes. They hybridize, thereby forming intermediates, making ID difficult. Paintbrush flowers are complicated: most color comes from bracts and sepals, not from petals which are often green. Bracts are modified leaves found just below each flower. Each flower has 2-4 sepals fused together. The petals form a long tube with a lip, and are often hidden inside the bracts and sepals until the flower is in full bloom. This “galea” protects the anthers and stigma until pollination.

Here are a two common paintbrushes which are relatively easy to ID.


The state flower – Wyoming Indian PaintbrushCastilleja liniarifolia – stands out.  The green petals form a narrow tube beyond which extends the stigma (seen here on the right). This tube or  “galea” arches beyond the bright red sepals and flaring red bracts.  Red elongate flowers appeal to hummingbird pollinators. Stem leaves are dissected into 2-3 narrow segments. Plants can be 2-3’ tall.


Mostly mingling in meadows, Scarlet Indian PaintbrushesCastilleja miniata – are usually red but range into orange. Green and red bracts are broad and pointed.  Sepals are red, pointed, and fused, concealing the green tubes (“galea”) of petals until fully mature. This species is found at lower elevations, such as along Moose-Wilson Road, than the look-alike C. rhexifolia which is subalpine.


Potentilla or Cinquefoil flowers are 5-petalled with many anthers circling a cone of many pistils. White Cinquefoil – Potentilla arguta – is the most commonly seen species at this time and has mostly yellow, not white, flowers. For precise ID (using a hand lens helps!), one counts up to 25 anthers, notes the roughly marked stigmas on smooth ovaries forming a slight cone in the center, and sees several flowers held tightly together on sticky stems.  They look very similar to Sticky Cinquefoil  – P. glandulosa – which holds its flowers a bit more broadly.  Some plant experts say both should be the same species.


The leaves of this cinquefoil are “pinnately” divided into 7-9 coarsely toothed leaflets.


Graceful CinquefoilPotentilla gracilis – is common along trails, leaning out and shining up at you.


BeardtonguesPenstemon spp. – are fascinating puzzles. Most have opposite oval to elongate leaves going up the stem. The lower 3 petals form a landing pad and all 5 petals fuse together to form a tunnel sized for specific pollinators. The name “Penstemon” refers to the false fifth stamen- staminode – which lies like a tongue (say ahh!)  at the base of the flower and is often hairy or “bearded”. There are 4 true stamens, each with two divergent anther sacs, which curve over the bodies of pollinators—bumble bees in this instance.


Right now at least four beardstongues stand out in patches along roadsides or on dry slopes. One representative is Wasatch PenstemonP. cyananthus – seen hiking south from Teton Pass.


Another common species is Smooth PenstemonP. subglaber – 3’ wands of blue, often found along roadsides in gravelly soils.

Two sizable plants of meadows and aspen groves: Giant Hyssop and Little SunflowersBTNF_PalmC_AgasUrti_fl_7415_2_5x3


Looking closely at Nettle-leaf Giant HyssopAgastache urticifolia – you can see the “irregular” whitish flowers (with five fused petals ) with long anthers sticking out. The surrounding pointed sepals are pinkish. The egg-shaped, toothed leaves are aromatic and sit opposite one another, each pair set at 90-degree angles from the one below. The 2-4’ stems are square. These are characteristics of the Mint Family.


One-flower Little SunflowersHelianthella uniflora – are big bright spots on dry slopes and ridge lines. This species usually has 1-3 flowers per stem and only 3 veins on its leaves.


The more robust Five-nerved HelianthellaHelianthella quinquenervis – appears to stare right at you! The large lower leaves have 5 distinct nerves and the 4-5′ plants usually have only one big 3-4” flower per stem.

 Particularly impressive: Monument Plant, Cow Parsnip, Elk Thistle 


This is a great year for Monument Plants or Green GentiansFrasera speciosa. Once upon a time, botanists thought these plants grew like biennials or short-lived perennials in the garden…a rosette of leaves one year, a tall stalk of flowers a year or two later. However, a long-time researcher in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado determined that these plants don’t in fact flower until they are 40 to even 60 years old!


This stage of growth–a rosette of leaves–can last dozens of years before Green Gentian or Monument Plant shoots up its flower stalk.


With a fresh rosette of leaves each year, Green Gentian continually stores energy into its deep tap root until it has sufficient fuel for its final, tremendous act. Flowers buds are triggered four years before the spring when each stalk stretches up to 4-5’, arrayed with dozens, even hundreds, of flowers.


Once pollinated by myriad insects, the plants form fruits which split open to scatter thousands of seeds.  The plant then dies. Snow depth appears to be the stimulus for flower bud set for the individuals old enough to bloom. Consequently, plants bloom in cohorts, overwhelming the ability of predators to eat all the seeds.


Flowers of Cow ParsnipHeracleum spondylium – unfurl from huge buds into dinner-plate sized umbels of tiny flowers.   How did all that stuff fit into one bud?


Cow Parsnip grows under aspens and in moist meadows where there is enough water to supply the very large leaves on 4-6’ plants. It is the largest member of the Parsley Family here in Jackson Hole.


Elk ThistleCirsium scariosum – is almost as impressive as the two large plants above. The first year, it forms a flat rosette of leaves which store energy into the tap root before the winter. The second year a 1-3’-tall, thick stalk arises with elegant elongate, spine-tipped leaves. The plants are covered in fine cobwebby hairs. The large flower heads are nested in the top.  Elk Thistle is a native thistle which supports a diversity of insects and is indeed eaten by elk and should be treated with respect.


Teton County Weed and Pest is targeting this monstrous alien Musk ThistleCarduus nutans – before it overwhelms pastures, hayfields, and meadows.  Let them know if you have these scarey plants on your land.

Surprises: Cactus and Sego Lily


Flowering in a small rocky cleft across from Kelly Warm Springs is Brittle Prickly Pear CactusOpuntia fragilis. The waxy, thickened stems contain chlorophyll to manufacture food and to hold extra water. Spines are actually modified leaves, which help shade the plant and provide defense. The spines coupled with fragile stem joints help spread the plants vegetatively—they attach to your shoes or worse your flesh. Do not touch!


Along Old Pass Road, we spied a Sego LilyCalochortus nuttallii – an elegant flower which grows from a bulb in dry locations. Sego Lily was voted by school children as the state flower of Utah in 1911. Between 1840-1851 Mormon settlers dug and ate the soft bulbs when the plague of crickets ravaged crops.


At another location near Bryan Flats, we spied White Mariposa LilyCalochortus eurycarpus – with elegant goblet-like flowers which attract a variety of insects including bees, wasps, bee-flies and several kinds of beetles. One can imagine quite a pollinator party!


Please, enjoy these beautiful days looking at wildflowers up close.

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY

Julyl 4, 2016

Forests and Meadows Flower Late June

BTNF_Mung_AspenMead_6.14.16_1_5x3.jpgThe number of fresh flowers is overwhelming hiking up Old Pass Road, Ski Lake, Munger Mountain and other trails with aspen groves and coniferous forests intermingle with meadows. The range of sun and shade, moisture and soils provides opportunities for a diversity of wildflowers to find their niche. Some plants are generalists, others are specific in their growing needs. All have evolved pollination techniques which are fascinating to observe and underground connections which we can only imagine.

Connections above and below ground:


Sticky Geranium – Geranium viscosissimum – is wide open to pollinators.  The nectar guides lead to a central column of anthers and pistil.

Sticky GeraniumGeranium viscosissimum – is common everywhere right now. The saucer-shaped flowers formed by 5 petals are wide open to a variety of pollinators. Look closely at the nectar guides that lead to a central column comprised 0f anthers and stigmas. These male and female parts mature at different times to avoid self-pollination. Petal color varies from almost blue to deep pink, to almost white. All parts of the plant have sticky “glandular hairs” which present a gooey forest defense for tiny crawling predators.


Richardson’s GeraniumGeranium richardsonii – looks very similar to Sticky Geranium but is white and grows in moist sites.


Both species have sticky hairs that serve as a gooey forest of defense against tiny invaders.  The hairs of Richardson’s Geranium are purple-tipped.

Lupines are lurking…quite obviously…under conifer trees—lodgepole pines at Signal Mountain, Douglas firs along Ski Lake Trail. The “palmately” divided leaves and the pea-like flowers (later pods) are two definitive ID features for lupines, overall.


Silvery LupineLupinus argenteus – is found most frequently in forests vs. Silky Lupines are found commonly in sageflats. Lupines can grow in, and even improve, low nutrient soils.


Silvery Lupine flowers look like miniature garden pea flowers. The banner which folds back at the top is smooth. The two side petals–the wings–hide the two “keel” petals inside. Within are 10 anthers and one pistil.  The pistil will become a pod.

Silvery Lupine flowers have smooth backs to their banners. The banners are held at a <45 degree angle to the wings and keel. Insects land on the “wings”, and while pushing into the center of the flower for pollen, the “keel” drops, revealing anthers which press pollen onto the insect’s belly. On the next flower visit, the stigma may tap pollen off the bee’s belly. Seeds will form inside a growing pod…like peas in a pod.

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Root nodules form in legumes, including lupines. They harbor bacteria which fix nitrogen from the air, passing it on to plants for growth. Photo: wiki commons

All plants need nitrogen. Gardeners add nitrogen to flower beds and lawns. For centuries, farmers have grown alfalfa, clover, beans, and other legumes to improve conditions for crops. Lupines, like many legumes, form nodules in their roots to protect nitrogen-fixing bacteria. The bacteria have a safe haven to “fix” nitrogen from the air (N2), which is plentiful in soil pores, and convert it into a form usable and essential for plant growth (NH3). Dying lupines, in turn, add nitrogen to the soil in a form that all other plants can use. Thus, lupines are beneficial to our forests and sagebrush lands.

Pedulcaris bracteosa

The 3-4′ tall stalks of Fernleaf Lousewort or Wood BetonyPedicularis bracteosa – is growing in shady aspen groves.

Fernleaf LousewortPedicularis bracteosa – stands up tall in aspen groves and shady meadows. The leaves are large and finely dissected. Pale yellow flowers spiral up 3’ stalks.


Flowers of louseworts are designed to fit specialized pollinators. Here you can see the stigma poised to tap pollen off the back of a visiting bee as the bee searches for nectar deep within the flower.

Louseworts have a variety of pollination strategies: the flowers of each species have evolved to fit specific pollinators. The lower petals are fused to serve as landing pads, and the upper petals shield the male anthers and female stigma. When the right-sized bumblebee comes in for a landing, the anthers will deposit pollen. On another visit, the stigma will stick out and relieve the bee of its burden.

Another point of interest: Fernleaf Lousewort parasitizes Engelmann Spruce for certain compounds: pinidinol, specifically. Why? Who knows?


Fern-leaf LovageLigusticum filicinum – is beginning to flower. Note the large delicate leaves and umbels of white flowers.

Another tall wildflower bearing lacy large leaves is Fern-leaf LovageLigusticum filicinum, of the Parsley Family.   It is beginning to bloom in aspens groves near Munger Mountain and in meadows by Two-Ocean Lake. Umbels (remember umbrella ribs) of tiny white flowers are spreading high and wide.


Many insects step from flower to flower in Fern-leaf Lovage, which collectively give perches and treats to all sizes of flies, beetles, and bees. Look for shiny rings of nectaries below the two stigmas–the reward the insects are looking for.

The highly pungent and flavored root of this plant is called Osha in herbal medicine and was used by many groups of Native Americans for infections.


Osha root is very pungent and powerful. It has been used for generations of native peoples for medicine.


Westerm SweetrootOsmorhiza occidentalis – has tiny yellow-green flowers in umbels, and a divided leaf.

Also in the Parsley Family, Western SweetrootOsmorhiza occidentalis – has similar features to Ligusticum. The flowers are in umbels and the leaves are divided—looking a bit like parsley leaves.


Sticky Geranium – Geranium viscosissimum – is wide open to pollinators.  The nectar guides lead to a central column of anthers and pistil.

Already, plants are forming elongated ½” fruits which have a licorice flavor.  Plants create  chemicals for defense (toxins) or attractants (perfumes). While many Parsley Family species are tasty and beneficial to us, others are deadly, such as Water HemlockCircuta maculata.

Two Opposite Pollination Strategies:

Two members of the Buttercup Family are flowering now in forests. One is spectacular, the other easily overlooked. These two family members have evolved very different strategies for survival.


Western MeadowrueThalictrum occidentale – is a delicate looking plant in shady forests. This plant is in full (male) flower.

Western MeadowrueThalictrum occidentale – is wind pollinated. As with many wind-pollinated plants, the flowers are almost invisible to us. Wind doesn’t see, so the plant does not provide a showy display, as it would if it were insect pollinated. Male pollen grains need to land on female pistils to make fruits and seeds. Preferably the pollen comes from a genetically different plant for long-term diversity and adaptation of the species.


Dangling male flowers of Western Meadowrue scatter pollen grains upon the wind.


Pink stigmas of female flowers of Western Meadowrue – stretch wide to catch pollen grains.


Fruits of Western Meadowrue.

To assure cross-pollination, in this species male flowers are on separate plants from the females. Look for many anthers dangling out in the wind. Nearby, hopefully, are female plants with flowers with stigmas reaching wide to catch the wind-scattered “balls” of pollen. With luck, and it is luck!—the male pollen is caught by feathery female stigmas and fruits and seeds can form.

Surprisingly found in the same family, the very showy  Colorado ColumbineAquilegia coerulea – is found in moist shade where its white petals and sepals stand out.

Aquilegia flavescens

Columbines have five flaring white sepals, 5 petals that form “spurs” with nectar at the bulbous ends, many anthers, and 5 pistils. This is Colorado ColumbineAquilegia coerulea.

Vashti Sphinx Moths (left image – from Wikipedia Commons) are  specialist, nectar-seeking pollinators of Colorado Columbines. Nectar is held deep in the petal spurs, which only this species can reach: the moth hovers and uncurls and extends its proboscis inside to the sweet energy reward at the end.  Research has shown that Sphinx vashti visits columbine populations with longer spurs than populations visited  by White-lined Sphinx moths or Hummingbird Moths – Hyles lineata (right image – from Wikipedia). Furthermore, blue variations of Colorado columbine with shorter spurs are associated with bumble bees seeking pollen as well as nectar. Both flowers and pollinators are specialized with in the same plant species.

Symphoriocarpus oreophilus

Mountain SnowberrySymphiocarpus oreophilus – is the host plant for caterpillars of Vashti Sphinx Moths which pollinate Colorado Columbines. The shrub is in flower now.

A Big Year for Tiny Orchids


Many people have reported seeing Coralroot and Calypso Orchids this spring. A few have come upon Twayblades. Orchids comprise the largest family of plants in the world. Researchers are exploring how specialized pollinators and mychorrizal relationships may be driving species diversification, but overall little is known about these plants, including the species here in Jackson.

All CoralrootsCorallorhiza spp. – are dependent on association with fungi for survival, as they do not have any chlorophyll. Their knobly, twisted rhizomes (underground stems) are connected to mycelia threads of gilled Russula mushrooms, which are in turn connected to nearby trees that provide carbohydrates. Coralroot stems are reddish to yellow (never green) and do not have leaves.  Flowers are small with variable markings, depending on species and varieties.


Spotted CoralrootCorallorhiza maculata – is variable in its decoration. However 2 lobes on either side of the base of the lowest petal (lip) and a bump (spur) under the throat of flower help in ID. All-yellow forms with white lips are also present–some say these are albino forms.  None have chlorophyll.

Very little is known about coralroot pollinators—maybe bees?—which visit the flowers, expecting a “reward” of nectar or pollen.  In any case, the pollinators leave duped and carry only a load of a pollinia (sac with thousands of pollen grains) which it cannot reach.

If the pollinator is fooled again, the next flower will receive the pollinia and can produce thousands of very fine, dust like seeds. Spread by wind, the tiny seeds depend on the right species of fungus to be in the soil where they land. It’s amazing to see any orchids at all!


Striped CoralrootCorallorhiza striata. The striped petals direct hapless pollinators down a dead end. In exploring for a reward of nectar, the pollinator presses upon the yellow wad of pollinia on the end of the “column”, which sticks to its back.  However, there is no nectar!  If  it is fooled again, it visits another flower where the pollinia sticks to a perfectly sized stigma.

Two other Coralroots: C. mertensiana and C. wisteriana can be discovered in conifer forests as well. Details of differences include design of stripes and spots, length and shape of petals, and bumps on the inferior ovaries.  Insects can tell the difference in species, even if it hard for us to do so.

Calypso Orchid or Fairy SlipperCalypso bulbosa – is one of a kind. There are no other species in the genus. Young queen bumblebees are attracted to the fragrant, elegant flowers. However, they do not receive any reward for their time and soon learn (yes, insects learn) not to visit this species again. However, if a queen does visit another flower, she delivers a wad of pollen which can stimulate thousands of seeds in the single fruit capsule. The plant has been pollinated without its expending any extra resources on nectar.


Calypso OrchidCalypso bulbosa – is alluring to inexperienced bumblebee queens. However, after a visit or two, they learn there is no reward for them and cease to visit.

The paired green leaves of twayblades (Neottia/Listera spp.) indicate that this genus can manufacture its own food. Four species of twayblades are listed in Teton County. These photos are of Western Twayblade – now called Neotiia banksiana, formerly Listera caurina, It is found in the northwest but is listed only in Teton County for Wyoming.

While all our wildflowers deserve protection, please never pick an orchid…their existence is precarious enough.

While hiking, ponder the remarkable life passing by your boots. Take a moment to look closely at the unfurling flowers and developing fruits and seeds. What pollinators are flying and crawling about? What micro-organisms are living in the soil that provide us with such colorful displays above? Enjoy the questions, even if we don’t know the answers, yet.


Aspen grove along Cole Creek Trail, Bridger Teton National Forest.

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY

June 28, 2016

P.S. Watch out for Stinging Nettles – Urtica dioica – along the trail. Plants can be 4′ tall and have opposite, egg-shaped, 3-4″ toothed leaves.  Flowers are tiny and male and females are on different plants.  Transparent needle-like hairs on stem and leaves are filled with liquid. When brushed, the tip of the hair breaks open and ejects a liquid that stings like a red ant bite. Ouch!


Jackson Hole Flowers in Early June

With unseasonably high temperatures this past week, spring flowers are developing fruits and summer flowers are blooming strong throughout the southern end of Jackson Hole. These same species will have encores over the next week or so in the northern valley and into Yellowstone National Park.

Here are some of the most common and obvious wildflowers blooming in sagebrush dominated flats and hillsides.  We hope you will enjoy learning some plant names and how flowers are designed to attract pollinators. Enjoy the amazing diversity and beauty of plants.


Yellow composites:

Arrow-leaf BalsamrootBalsamorhiza sagittata – is the big showy “composite” seen on hillsides and sageflats right now.  The large flower heads illustrate the typical features of the Aster or Sunflower Family.  This is one of the largest flower families in the word with 1000s of intriguing variations which have evolved for success.


A cross-section of a Arrow-leaf Balsamroot flower head.

Around the outside of the so-called flower head, bright yellow “petals” are actually individual “ray” flowers with five fused petals flattened to one side. The “disc” flowers in the center are tiny flowers with 5 connected yellowish petals forming a flared tube.  Above each, a dark column of anthers wraps around an emerging stigma which arches into two parts, ready to capture pollen from visiting pollinators. (Note the outer disc flowers are in full bloom, the inner are still in bud.)  Hairy, silvery bracts surround the flat platform or “receptacle” holding the many individual flowers. (If this is too much information, just have fun looking closely!)

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Arrow-leaf Balsamroot has one flower head on each 1.5’ stem. The large leaves are arrow-shaped with silvery hairs and arise from the base of the plant.

Don’t confuse Balsamroot with the soon-to-flower Mule’s EarsWyethia amplexicaulis.


Mule’s Ears have large, deep yellow flowers with smooth bracts, and 12-18″ oval, deep green leaves which can grow along the stems. They grow in heavier soils than Balsamroot.

Western GroundselSenecio integerrimus – has several yellow flower heads with both ray and disc flowers on single stems. The plants usually grow to 8-12”.   SeneInte_habfl_RKO_5.28.16_2_3x5


In Groundsels, bracts are all the same length – like a palisade fence – and are black tipped.


Along with these other features, cobwebby hairs on leaves and stem provide definitive ID of Western Groundsel.

At first glance, three other composites look like Common DandelionsTaraxacum officinale. They grow about 6-8” (or more) tall and have showy yellow heads with only ray or “ligulate” flowers. Look closely at bracts, number of flower heads, and the location and shape of leaves.

The fruits are very helpful in understanding why the taxonomists separate these genera. However, we have to wait until they ripen.  Practice by looking at dandelion fluff and fruits.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Common Dandelion has all “ligulate” or “ray” flowers. Notice the leaves are all at the base (basal).


Note the two rows of bracts in Dandelions: bracts of the outer row fold down, those of the inner row are upright. Bracts are very helpful clues in ID of look-alike composite flowers.

False DandelionAgoseris glauca – also has only one head per plant. The bracts are variable. Leaves are all at the base or “basal.” Three varieties with different leaves and hairiness to the bracts are a challenge to botanists.


Mountain DandelionAgoseris glauca – looks very much like a dandelion, but look closely….


Mountain Dandelions have tidy, upward pointing bracts around each flower head. Some bracts can be hairy or smooth, depending on variety. Leaves vary, too.

Nodding Microseris Microseris nutans – is very similar to the above, but again look closely: there is often more than one flower per stem or plant and buds typically nod. Leaves are mostly basal, but one or two may attach to the stem, as well.


 Observe how  Nodding Microseris differs from the other species. Note the nodding buds.

Coming into bloom are several species of HawksbeardCrepis sp.


HawksbeardsCrepis sp. – are robust plants found in sageflats. The leaves bunch at the base but also grow up the branching 8-16” stems. The leaves are often sword shaped and variably pinnately toothed, lobed, or dissected.


In Hawksbeards, the number of flower heads varies, as does the number of individual ray flowers per head. Some species have stiff hairs,which can be black. All these features are used for ID the 3-4 species common in Jackson Hole.

Don’t miss the blues:

Low or Nuttall’s LarkspurDelphinium nuttallianum – has been blooming for a while. It attracts queen bumble bees, solitary bees, and in some places hummingbirds as pollinators.


Nuttall’s Larkspur is still blooming strong.


Larkspur flowers are intriguing: 5 deep blue-purple sepals flare out at the sides. The upper sepal forms a long tube behind called a “spur.” Four petals are designed to guide the pollinator into the center of the plant. The two white upper petals are stiff and sport blue “nectar guides.” Each of these petals extends back into the sepal spur and holds nectar as a reward for savvy pollinators. The lower two hairy blue petals flop down, shielding the anthers while also providing landing pads for insect pollinators.

At the right time, anthers shed pollen upon pushy pollinators. The pollinators, after a drink of nectar, fly off to a similar flower and with luck (for the plant) knocks the transported pollen onto the three receptive stigmas. Pollination and, hopefully, the formation of seeds has begun!

Mountain BluebellsMertensia viridis/oblongifolia – often grow on grassy slopes and amidst sage plants. Pollinators – bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds – are attracted at first to the curved bunch of pink and blue flowers.


Pollinators zero in on individual blue flowers, where they hang or hover while reaching down the tube for nectar. Watch the color changes of the flowers as they ripen and then fade in the course of pollination and for what insects show up!

Long-leaved PhloxPhlox longifolia – grows taller and looser than earlier blooming white phloxes which are mat forming, such as Hood’s and Many-flowered Phloxes.


Flowers of Long-leaved Phlox range in color from white to pink to bluish. The are often 4-6″ tall with 1″ leaves.


A beguiling fragrance attracts small flies, bee flies, and butterflies to the bluish to pinkish 5-petaled flowers. Only the insects with just the right length mouthparts can reach down the long tube to nectar deep within. Coincidentally, the flower is pollinated.

Other dashes of color:

Prairie SmokeGeum triflorum – is a member of the Rose Family. The leaves are about 4-6” long, and are “pinnately” (like a feather) dissected–looking “fern-like (although ferns are a whole different order of plants). Leaves cluster plentifully at the base of the spreading plants.


Prairie Smoke has many divided leaves and stalks dangling three flowers (hence the botanical name “triflorum“).


Five fused maroon sepals (with extra bracteoles) surround the pale yellow petals of Prairie Smoke. Together they protect many anthers and pistils inside.


After pollination, each of many pistils mature into feathery fruits, to fly off in the breezes. The heads look like a “bad hair day.” Many fruits together provide the “prairie smoke” effect.

Puccoon, Stoneseed, GromwellLithospermum ruderale – is a robust plant in the Borage Family.


Flowers of StoneseedLithospermum ruderale – are held in the axils of the 1-3″ linear leaves on 1-2′ stems.


The pale yellow flowers have a delicate lemon-like fragrance, worth bending down for a  sniff. They attract bumblebees, hawkmoths, solitary bees, and flies.


Later, flowers will form white fruits with very tough seeds inside…hence the botanical name, which translates into “stone seed.”  The seeds are readily predated by deer mice.

Many peoples have used this plant for a variety of medicinal purposes, a reason why it has so many common names.

Three particularly abundant species:

Wyeth Biscuit RootLomatium ambiguum – with its wide spreading “umbels” of tiny bright yellow flowers is still growing in abundance at the Sawmill Pond Overlook and along the inner park road.


Wyeth Biscuit RootLomatium ambiguum – grows along dry, disturbed road sides in the park.

LomaAmbi_habfl_MWRd_5.16.16_2a_Q2_5x3 copy

The tiny bright yellow flowers are in umbels (think umbrellas) typical of the Parsley Family. The leaves are dissected into at least 9 segments of various lengths and width. Note the swollen leaf bases.


The tuber-like roots were eaten by Native Americans and are sought after by rodents and bears.

It is easy at first to confuse Wyeth Biscuit Root with its more obscure relative. Nine-leaf Spring Parsley – Lomatium simplex var. simplex – has pale yellow flowers and leaves dissected into 9 long, thin segments of equal width and length.


Note the grayish 9-parted leaves and the pale yellow flowers (which will spread into wider umbels) on Nine-leaf Spring Parsley.

Western ValerianValeriana occidentalis – appears in almost every habitat – grassy hillsides, near wetlands, and sage flats.  While some promote Valerian as a sleep aide, it contains very toxic chemicals.  Plants develop such chemicals for defense.  Always research carefully any “medicinal” herbs.


Note the tiny flowers of  Western Valerian.  In the field, observe how the clusters are held in an “candle-arbor like” arrangement.


Leaves on the stem are opposite and pinnately compound.  Those at the base are usually undivided ovals.

Bright white Field ChickweedCerastium arvense – is found often in disturbed habitats.


Each petal of Field Chickweed is notched at the tip. Can you count the number of anthers and styles in the center?


The sharp-pointed, needle-like leaves are opposite on the 6-8” stems and often have extra leaves in the axils, which help distinguish it from Bering Chickweed – C. beeringianum – of subalpine and alpine habitats.

Many more flowers are in bloom on dry knolls and hillsides and in relatively moist forest edges. And new flowers will continue to bloom in the flats.  We will post additional information soon.

Frances Clark

Wilson, WY – June 10, 2016

P.S.  Of particular note at this moment of writing, is the phenomenal amount of pollen being shed by Lodgepole Pines (and perhaps other conifers.)  The photo taken in the Lamar Valley three days ago is representative of what is happening all around us now.


Pine pollen looks like a fire starting in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley on June 6, 2016. Expect a big cone year in fall 2017.


In this photo, the stack of male pine “cones”  will soon shed thousands of pollen grains upon the wind and, with lot of luck, pollen will land on separate female cones.  However, pine seeds be ripe until 18 months from now. The green female cone shown here is from last spring’s pollen event.


Summer Falling in the Tetons

These last few days of summer hold memories of weeks past and expectations of weeks to come. Flowers are transforming into fruits and leaves are turning from shades of greens into hues of yellows, reds, and oranges.

Ski Lake Trail

Shadows lengthen as days shorten upon the montane meadows of Ski Lake Trail, Bridger Teton National Park.

Aster Flowers and More:

Several wildflowers are still blooming, although they look rather ragged. Most are members of the Aster Family and sport many guises. The typical “aster” flowers attract the final, almost “desperate” pollinators, which are clinging to flower heads seeking remnant nectar and pollen. A few sunflower-like species still shine along roadways. Other flowers are individually very discreet, at least until they bloom together in such forces that you can’t fail to notice the yellow cast of pollen. And yet another species just stinks.

Note: Identification of Asters emphasizes “bracts”. These leaf-like structures surround the heads.  Heads consist of the bracts, a receptacle (platform), and many individual flowers whorled inside. Bracts are highly variable, beautiful, and helpful in ID. (also note in identification of any plant: look at several individuals to get full variation in size, color, features.)

The non-native, invasive, but forever fascinating and in fact beautiful, Musk ThistleCarduus nutans – represents the change of the season:

A bumblebee digs deep into the elongate violet blue flowers surrounded by the armour of stiff thick bracts.

A bee digs deep into the elongate violet-blue flowers surrounded by the armor of thick bracts.

Nearby, wind teases out the tuffs of fluff, which carry seeds into unknown adventures…likely to become pests on nearby lands.

Nearby, wind teases out tuffs of fluff, which carry seeds of Musk Thistle into unknown adventures…likely to become pests on nearby lands.

Two similar asters attract butterflies and bees:

Leafybract AsterSymphyotrichum foliaceum var. canbyi – is still blooming strong by seeps and streams or on higher elevation slopes. This species is relatively easy to separate from other aster species. (Another variety S. f. var. apricus is found in subalpine to alpine elevations.)

The bracts are loose, leaf-like shingles encircling the head.

The bracts are loose, leaf-like shingles encircling the head, hence the name Leafybract Aster. (Note these larger outer bracts may or may not be there.  Look at several flowers to see).

The elongate leaves cling while alternating up the 16”-30” stems.

The elongate leaves of Leafybract Aster cling more  and more closely while alternating up the 16”-30” stems. Note the many pale ray flowers and the relatively wide leaves which are typically <7 times as long as wide.

Pacific AsterSymphyotrichum ascendens – is a very common aster along roadsides and trails.

- is overall a smaller and bushier plant with the upper part of the 1-2’ stems covered with pale blue flowers.

Pacific Aster is overall a smaller and bushier plant than Leafybract Aster (above) with the upper part of the 1-2’ stems covered with pale lavender flowers.  The leaves are long and narrow >7x as long as wide.

The bracts are narrow, sharp pointed, and tightly held against the heads.

The bracts of Pacific Aster are narrow, sharp pointed, and tightly held against the heads.  The lower, outer bracts are much shorter than the inner upper bracts.

Two other aster species can be confusing:

The flowers of Thickstem AsterEurybia integrifolia – attract attention due to their larger size.

The relatively few ray flowers are an unusual intensity of violet-blue and the disc flowers are yellow turning purple. Looking closely, you can see that the flower heads and stems have many sticky glandular hairs.

In Thickstem Aster the relatively few ray flowers are an unusual intense violet-blue. The inner disc flowers begin yellowish turning purple. Looking closely, you can see that the flower heads and stems have many sticky glandular hairs, a very helpful ID feature. Often these parts turn deep purple. The upper leaves clasp the thick, slightly zigzag stems. Overall the plants are heftier (and certainly stickier) than the two aster species described above.

Hoary Spiny AstersMachaeranthera canescens – are still blooming on sage flats and other dry sites.  The delicate looking plants are deceptively durable.

Silvery hairs on stem and leaves reflect back intense light, reduce wind velocity, and shade the surface of the plants, thereby keeping the plants from transpiring too much water on hot windy days. The spines on the tips of the slightly toothed,1-2” leaves and at the tips of the outward curved flower bracts give the plant its name.

The violet blue flowers of Hoary Spiny Aster catch the eye along Granite Canyon Trail.  Tiny silvery hairs on stem and leaves reflect back intense light, reduce wind velocity, and shade the surface of the plants, thereby keeping the plants from transpiring too much water on hot windy days.     

The spines on the tips of the slightly toothed,1-2” leaves and at the tips of the outward curved flower bracts give the plant its name: Spiny Aster

The spines on the tips of the slightly toothed 1-2” leaves and at the tips of the outward curved flower bracts give the plant its name: Hoary Spiny Aster

Two sunflower-like flowers persist along roadsides and trails.

Showy Goldeneye - Viqueria multiflora – continues to stare at you along portions of Ski Lake and History Trails near Teton Pass, as well as, roadsides of Grand Teton National Park. The 2-3” leaves are opposite and slightly arrow-shaped. The broad, golden ray flowers pale towards their tips. The plants average about 2’ tall.

Showy GoldeneyeViqueria multiflora – continues to stare at you along portions of Ski Lake and History Trails near Teton Pass, as well as, roadsides of Grand Teton National Park. The 2-3” leaves are opposite and have pinnately veined leaves. The golden ray flowers pale towards their tips. The wiry plants average about 2’ tall.

Curly Cup Gumweed—Grindellia squarrosa – is easy to recognize. Resinous bracts curl back and fuse together forming spiny cups beaming brilliant rays of sunshine. They thrive along dry, disturbed edges of the inner park road.

Curly Cup GumweedGrindellia squarrosa – is easy to recognize. Resinous bracts curl back and stick together to form spiny cups which beam brilliant rays of sunshine.  They thrive along dry, disturbed edges of the inner park road.

Two more very different members of the Aster Family with tiny flowers:

It is easy to overlook the fact that the Big Sagebrush – Artemesia tridentata var. vaseyana - is in full flower right now in parts of Jackson Hole.

It is easy to overlook the fact that the Big SagebrushArtemesia tridentata var. vaseyana – is in full flower right now in parts of Jackson Hole.

With Big Sagebrush, only a few individual flowers form the tiny flower heads, which are easily overlooked.

With Big Sagebrush, only a few individual flowers form the tiny flower heads, which are easily overlooked. Look carefully for the arching stigmas that will capture windblown pollen.

However, the tiny flowers arranged all along the slender stalks, add up to quite a show. They disperse millions of tiny pollen grains upon the wind. Such light and plentiful pollen is a source of allergies in humans.

While individually inconspicuous, the tiny flowers arranged all along the slender stalks add up to quite a show. They disperse millions of tiny pollen grains upon the wind. Such light and plentiful pollen is a source of allergies in humans.

Also, observe Big Sagebrush leaves. The larger ones produced when water was plentiful in spring are dying off, but the smaller leaves of early summer will remain through the winter.

Also, observe Big Sagebrush leaves. The larger ones produced when water was plentiful in spring are dying off, but the smaller leaves of early summer will remain throughout the winter.  The shrub is evergreen.  These leaves are essential to the survival of Sage Grouse.

A particularly odd ball member of the Aster Family:

The oddball Tarweed – Madia glomerata – is often crushed underfoot, releasing an intense smell reminding some people of tar. The glandular hairs containing the scent are a defense mechanism to deter grazing animals. It is interesting that some people like the fragrance while others find it pretty stinky, and in fact plants vary in their chemical arsenal. While many grazers avoid the plants, honeybees use the pollen and ground squirrels eat the protein-rich seeds. Tarweed is a native annual that is used in habitat restoration efforts.

Often only six inches high, TarweedMadia glomerata – is easily crushed underfoot, releasing an intense smell reminding some people of tar. The glandular hairs containing the scent are a defense mechanism to deter grazing animals large and small. It is interesting that some people like the fragrance while others find it pretty stinky. In fact plants vary in their chemical arsenal. While many grazers avoid the plants, honeybees use the pollen and ground squirrels eat the protein-rich seeds. Tarweed is a native annual that is used in habitat restoration efforts.

Schizocarps in the Carrot Family: A Quiz

Many of the members of the Carrot or Parsley Family (Apiaceae) are now in fruit. Below are photos of “schizocarps” – the uniquely designed fruits of this family: they split in half and are arranged in umbrella-like structures. Can you determine which species they belong to (hints provided): Wild LicoriceOsmorhiza occidentalis; Cow-parsnipHeracleum spondylium; Fernleaf LovageLigusticum filicinumSharp-tooth AngelicaAngelica arguta, Common YampaPerideridia montana? (Answers at end.)

Look closely: the fruits are flatted top to bottom and have 3 ridges as well as wings.

A. Look closely: the two sides of the horizontally splitting fruits are each flat with 3 ridges on the back and wings to the sides.

A. The umbels of fruits stand 5-6' feet high on smooth stems in moist locations.

A. The umbels of fruits stand 5-6′ feet high on smooth stems in moist locations.

These plants bloomed late this summer predominantly in the sage flats. Fruits are short and relatively smooth. (see closeup below),

B. These plants bloomed late this summer predominantly in the sage flats. Fruits are almost round and relatively smooth. (see closeup below),

Another hint: the roots of this plant are favored by bears.

B. Another hint: the roots of this plant are favored by bears. Note the splitting of the individual fruits. Also the stylopodiums: the swollen, persistent bases of the stigmas.

Elongate fruits with a bit of a point are flavorful.

C. Two to three-foot plants of forest edges and meadows hold up elongate smooth, purple black fruits.  Note the beige central stalks (lower left) that held the two sided fruits which were flavorful when younger.

This slightly curved, ridged schizocarps are rounded.

D. These slightly curved, ridged schizocarps are more or less oblong.  The large compound leaves are finely dissected.

These fruits are very flat with two to three decorative lines.

E. These fruits are very flat with two to three decorative lines.  The plants are very large, coarsely hairy, and grow in moist areas.

Answers: A: Smooth-toothed Angelica B: Common Yampah C:Wild Licorice or Sweet-Cicely D: Fernleaf Lovage E: Cow-parsnip

Fleshy Fruits:

Last and not least, especially for the birds, bears, and small mammals of Jackson Hole, are the fruits of the Rose Family. When investigating the wild fruits, first consider your cultivated apples, cherries, peaches, plums, etc, which are relatives.  The flesh you are eating is actually the swollen base of fused sepals and petals and even anthers surrounding an inferior ovary in which seeds (pits or individual seeds) form, e.g. you are eating the ripened “hypanthium”. This fleshy juicy part is what most birds and mammals consume as well, although some rodents chew upon the hard coated seeds. The tasty fruit is the “reward” for dispersing the seeds.

Mountain Ash – Sorbus scopulina - decorates the beginning of Ski Lake Trail and various canyons. Note the shiny compound leaves, as well as the clusters of orange fruits.

Mountain AshSorbus scopulina – decorates the beginning of Ski Lake Trail and various canyons. Note the shiny compound leaves, as well as the heavy clusters of orange fruits.

Hawthorns – Crataegus douglasii – are filled with bunches of dark fruits protected (supposedly) by 1-2” long thorns. No wonder people are seeing black bears along the Moose-Wilson Road where this plant is particularly abundant. Do be careful hiking around berries of any kind right now.

Hawthorn trees – Crataegus douglasii – are filled with bunches of dark fruits protected (supposedly) by 1-2” long thorns. No wonder people are seeing black bears along the Moose-Wilson Road where this plant is particularly abundant. Do be careful hiking around berries of any kind right now.

Chokecherry – Prunus virginiana – Arranged in a raceme, several fruits dangle on short stems from a central stalk. Chemicals in the pits and leaves convert to hydrocyanic acid in the stomach of humans and livestock, which inhibits cellular respiration and the ability to use oxygen: in short they are poisonous. On the other hand, the fruits, are relished by many animals and numerous insect species overcome the defense systems. This plant is important for sustaining biodiversity.

Fruits of ChokecherryPrunus virginiana – are arranged in a raceme, e.g. fruits dangle on short stems from a long central stalk. If ingested by humans or livestock, chemicals in the pits and leaves convert to hydrocyanic acid which inhibits cellular respiration and the ability to use oxygen: in short they are poisonous. On the other hand, the fruits, are relished by many animals (which excrete the pits) and numerous insect species overcome the defense systems. Plants may or may not be poisonous to different species, and in different life stages.  This plant is very important for sustaining biodiversity.

Serviceberries – Amelanchier alnifolia – still retain some blue-purple fruits, although many birds such as robins, cedar waxwings, western tanagers, have already consumed them to fuel their migration south.

ServiceberriesAmelanchier alnifolia – still retain some red-blue-purple fruits, although many birds such as American robins, cedar waxwings, and western tanagers, have already consumed them to fuel their migration south.

Wood’s Rose - Rosa woodsii – holds several fruit at the tips of twigs. Rose hips are particularly high in vitamin C, perhaps as much as 60x as much as lemons….but who eats a whole lemon? These fruits will last on the plants through much of the winter, providing food when other resources are short.

Wood’s RoseRosa woodsii – holds several fruits at the tips of twigs. Rose hips are particularly high in vitamin C, perhaps as much as 60x as much as lemons….but who really eats lemons?
These fruits will last on the plants through much of the winter, providing food when other resources are scarce.

Fireweed Finale:

FireweedChamerion/Epilobium angustifolium – is the traditional harbinger of autumn.

 Fireweed is almost finished blooming, with bumblebees garnering the last bits of pollen and nectar.

Fireweed is almost finished blooming, with bumblebees garnering the last bits of pollen and nectar.

The elongated seeds have burst in a whirlwind dance of dispersal.

The elongated fruits of Fireweed have burst into a whirlwind dance of seeds dispersing.

The crimson leaves provide an encore before the hard frost.

The crimson leaves provide an encore before hard frost.

Enjoy the fall:

Plants can be enjoyed in all seasons for their flowers, fruits, leaves, bark, structure. Observe closely and celebrate the cycle of the year.

Aspen groves on Munger Mountain are full of fall treats.

Aspen groves on Munger Mountain are full of fall treats.

Some cultures revere the beauty of aging. Here is a dignified, grizzled head of the statuesque Five-nerved Helianthella – Helianthella quinquenervis.

Some cultures revere the beauty of aging. Here is a dignified, grizzled head of the statuesque Five-nerved HelianthellaHelianthella quinquenervis.  

Happy botanizing!

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY

August 31, 2015

P.S. This blog is designed to encourage further exploration into the wonders of our native plant world.  As always, we appreciate you comments, additions, and corrections.

Big Favorites Found Mid Summer in the Tetons – July 2015

Moose-Wilson Road has an array of tall forbs (wildflowers) - Tall Larkspur, Butterweed Groundsel, and Canada Goldenrod.

Moose-Wilson Road has an array of tall forbs (wildflowers) – Tall Larkspur, Butterweed Groundsel, and Canada Goldenrod.

As one drives along the Moose-Wilson Road or up to Two Ocean Lake, or hikes through montane meadows, several tall 3-6’ wildflower species may divert your attention. Most of these thrive in relatively moist and/or cool situations where they can take up sufficient moisture to support their large bodies of stems and leaves, along with plentiful, showy flowers.

Moose Pond Trail has a small meadow with Cow Parsnip, Giant Hyssop, Sticky Geranium and more!

Moose Pond Trail has a small meadow with Cow Parsnip, Giant Hyssop, Sticky Geranium and more!

Giant Hyssop - Agastache urtifolia - is a member of the Mint Family.  And is occasionally pollinated by hummingbirds,

Giant HyssopAgastache urticifolia – is a member of the Mint Family.   Feel the square stem, smell the fragrant leaves, and observe what comes to the “irregular” flowers. Occasionally it is pollinated by hummingbirds, probably attracted by the reddish pink bracts.  The stamens protrude beyond the fused petals, bonking pollen on the heads of pollinators.

Pause and take a close look and think about what is happening: What do the flowers look like: are they simple or complicated; all they all the same color or highly variable; what are their pollinators? Unseen variations may be that some species are extremely poisonous. Other species display an extraordinary abundance of flowers this year due to unusual environmental triggers last year. Many factors: environmental and biological–affect what grows where in Teton County and well beyond. Below are a few species to ponder.

Tall Larkspur - Delphinium occidentale - comes in a range of colors from white to deep blue.

Tall LarkspurDelphinium occidentale– comes in a range of colors from white to deep blue.

Tall LarkspurDelphinium occidentale – Many have noticed the 4-6’ tall, deep blue, pale blue, to white spires along the Moose-Wilson Road and meadows of Two-Ocean Lake and near Goodwin Lake Trail. The reason for the three color variations of our Grand Teton populations was studied by Ron Scogin in 1993. While he didn’t come to any direct conclusions, the researcher found that all plants had similar number of flower stalks (inflorescences) although the albino stalks had many fewer flowers/stem. All had similar seed results per flower indicating that the pollinators–bees and hummingbirds–visited them without discrimination. Furthermore, over time, the proportion of each color morph has remained pretty much the same. The proportion was likely dependent on the original number of seeds per morph and are result of the “founder effect”. So far the colors remain separate and in the same approximate proportions. A follow up study, with new genetic understanding, would be interesting.  For more details on the work 20 years ago: http://repository.uwyo.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1792&context=uwnpsrc_reports

Tall Larkspur has trumpet shaped flowers that require pollinators to push deeply into them to receiive their rewards.

Tall Larkspur – Delphinium occidentale – has trumpet shaped flowers that require pollinators to push deeply into them to receive their rewards. (And an esoteric taxonomic note:  According to the expert Holmgrens, we have only D. occidentale, not D. glaucum here in Wyoming.  It comes down to hairy, not smooth, follicles or fruits.)

MonkshoodAconitum columbianum –The genus name Aconitum comes from the Greek akoniton: Theophrastis used this name to indicate “poisonous plant”, which indeed it is!

Monkshood - Aconitum columbianum - is related to the similar looking Tall Larkspur.  both are in the Buttercup Family and have complicated flowers.  It is also deadly poisonous.

MonkshoodAconitum columbianum – is related to the similar looking Tall Larkspur (see above). both are in the highly variable Buttercup Family and have complicated flowers. It is also deadly poisonous.

Monkshood is pollinated by both queen and worker bumblebees, as well as moths and hummingbirds. Observe the structure of the flower. The five sepals (not petals) form a complex purple flower.

Aconitum columbianum

Monkshood sports a “hood” that covers two petals and nectaries. Four additional sepals: two side, two bottom, surround the many anthers and three stigmas. All parts of the plant are poisonous. Found in wet meadows.

The two lower and two side sepals encase and then expose the numerous anthers, while the hood covers two greatly altered petals which contain a stiff coiled spur terminating with nectar glands. Observe when the anthers open and release their pollen (then fade), and when the 3 hidden stigmas become available amidst the anthers: the timing of the male and female reproductive parts is separate to facilitate out-crossing.

Sharp-tooth AngelicaAngelica arguta – A member of the Parsley Family – as one can tell by the umbrella arrangement of their tiny flowers, this plant typically grows to 4-5’ in moist montane situations.

Angelica is in the Parsley Family, same as the similar Cow Parsnip.  But Angelica has more divided leaves and is smooth, not hairy.

Sharp-tooth AngelicaAngelica arguta – is in the Parsley Family, same as Cow Parsnip (see below). But Angelica has more divided leaves and has a smooth, not hairy, stem.

Sharp-tooth Angelica can be mistaken for the more robust Cow Parsnip, but notice the large, toothed leaves are divided into numerous, smaller leaflets. The stem is smooth and slightly bluish. Angelicas have been used for medicines by many indigenous people, but note the species also resembles Water Hemlock – Cicuta maculata – called “suicide plant” by the Iroquois – which also grows in moist to wet sites! Always make sure you know the ID of any plant you use!

Water Hemlock - Cicuta maculata - grows in similar places and can be mistaken for Angelica.  The Iroquois called this plant

Water HemlockCicuta maculata – grows in similar wet places and can be mistaken for Angelica. The Iroquois called this plant “suicide plant” for a reason. Here it is in a ditch in Wilson.

Water Hemlock - Cicuta maculata - looks very similar to Angelica, but it is not an angel.  It is deadly poison.  Note the veins go to the junctions of leaf.  Know your plants before you touch or eat them!

Water HemlockCicuta maculata – looks very similar to Angelica, but it is not an angel! It is deadly poison. Note the side veins end at the indentations of the teeth of the leaf. Know your plants well  before you touch or eat them!

Cow Parsnip Heracleum spondylium – One of the largest and most obvious members of the Parsley Family, this giant is found in wet meadows. The inflorescence is the size of a dinner plate. The stems are very hairy (hairs may cause a rash) and the giant leaves are divided into three large, jagged lobed leaflets.   Many pollinators take advantage of the numerous tiny flowers.

Cow Parsnip - Heracleum spondylium - has large jagged leaves, plate-sized flower clusters, and is hairy.

Cow ParsnipHeracleum spondylium – has large jagged leaves, plate-sized flower clusters, and very hairy stems.  The hairs can cause a rash in some people.

Butterweed Groundsel – Senecio serra – This tall, 4-5’ yellow composite plant is frequent in moist to wet meadows. The leaves are 4-5”, oblong to lance-shaped, with many teeth (unlike the similar S. triangularis whose leaves are elongate triangles.) Senecios typically have a “palisade fence” of waxy, even-sized bracts surrounding the flower head. In this case, each bract is black tipped. The showy ray flowers are few—here about 6-8, and the disc flowers several. Combined, the head provides a platform for many pollinators—including butterflies–which can crawl over and sip nectar from each of the tiny goblet- shaped disc flowers. The fruits (achenes) will have a tuft of white fluff to help send them on their way. “Senes” = old man. Ragwort is another common name.

Butterweed Groundsel - Senecio serra - is common along road sides and in meadows right now.

Butterweed GroundselSenecio serra – is common along road sides and in meadows right now.  The 5-6″ elongated, serrated (like a saw) leaves help separate it from other large Groundsel species.

Butterweed Groundsel has shiny bracts, often black-tipped, surrounding each head of flowers.

Butterweed Groundsel has shiny, even sized bracts, often black-tipped, surrounding each head of flowers.

Five-veined Little Sunflower/Helianthella –Helianthella quinquenervis –  Not so little, this 3-4’ robust plant is closely related to One-flowered Sunflower (H. uniflora) seen throughout the valley these past few weeks. This species is larger, the flower heads are bent at right angles to the stalk—they appear to glare straight at you, and the lower leaves have 5 strong veins. It prefers more moist conditions than H. uniflora.

Five-nerved Helianthella - Helianthella quinquenervis - appears to stare right at you!

Five-nerved HelianthellaHelianthella quinquenervis – appears to stare right at you!

Five-nerved Helianthella is named for its 5 strong veins on the lower leaves.

Five-nerved Helianthella is named for its 5 strong veins on the lower leaves.

Western ConeflowerRudbeckia occidentalis – This member of the Sunflower Family never looks quite in bloom (compare to Helilanthella above). We expect yellow “ray flowers” to whorl around the outside of each “head”.  However, in this species, there are no flashy ray flowers, only a whorl of green bracts.  There is a “cone” of tiny “disc” flowers which begin to bloom from the base and gradually, with time, spiral up to the tip.  The bees know it is ready for pollination somehow and are often seen crawling around, dipping their mouth parts into the tiny maroon cups for nectar and collecting pollen.

Western Coneflower - Rudbeckia occidentale - Tiny disc flowers attract bee pollinators.  It flowers from bottom to top.

Western ConeflowerRudbeckia occidentalis – Tiny disc flowers with yellow pollen attract bee pollinators. It flowers from bottom to top.

Mountain or Wild HollyhockIliamna rivularis – Many people notice this pink plant popping up here or there along the park road or main highway, as well as in meadows or woodland edges.

Mountain Hollyhock - Illiamna - pops up along highways, in the woods, and especially in areas after forest fires.

Mountain or Wild HollyhockIliamna rivularis – pops up along highways, in the woods, and especially in areas after forest fires.

The stems are lined with many large 2-3” flowers. The stamens form a tube in the center with 5 roundish stigmas sticking out. The leaves are like maple leaves.

The fruit of Mountain Hollyhock - Iliamna rivularis -  looks like a hairy tangerine.

The fruit of Mountain Hollyhock – Iliamna rivularis – looks like a hairy tangerine.

The hairy fruit will look like a somewhat compressed 1” tangerine which divides into several sections. This plant in the Mallow Family (Malvaceae) is related to garden hollyhock, marshmallow, okra, and cotton.

Mountain BluebellsMertensia ciliata – Colonies of 2-3’ bluebells inhabit wet seeps and meadows at high elevations.

Mountain Bluebells - Mertensia ciliata - colonizes wet meadows at high elevations.

Mountain Bluebell – Mertensia ciliata – colonizes wet meadows at high elevations, for instance above Ski Lake.

The 2-4” oval, bluish green leaves alternate up the stems which often arch over stream sides. The dangling tubular flowers start out pinkish and then turn blue when ready to attract bumblebee pollinators. The anthers have small pores at their tips. The frequency of buzzing bee-wing muscles shakes out the pollen onto the bee!

Mountain  Bluebells are buzz-pollinated.  Bees vibrate their wings at a certain frequency, and pollen falls onto their bellies!

Mountain BluebellsMertensia ciliata – are buzz-pollinated. Bees vibrate their wings at a certain frequency, and pollen falls onto their bellies! Note the flowers go from pinkish purple to light blue, signaling to the bees when to visit.

Mountain Bluebells are self-compatible—they can receive their own pollen and make seeds, although the resultant off-spring often are not as strong – inbreeding depression.

Monkey FlowerMimulus lewisii – These cheerful brilliant pink flowers with splashes of yellow on their lower petals ornament rivulets and seeps in the cool mountains. The leaves of Monkey Flower, which have three strong veins, are arranged opposite to each other along 2-3’ stems. They are pollinated by bumble- and mason bees.

Lewis' Monkey Flower - Mimulus lewisii - graces seeps with its cheerful blooms.

Lewis’ Monkey FlowerMimulus lewisii – graces seeps with its cheerful blooms.  You can see the nectar guides attracting bumble- and mason bees into the center of the flower.

Some of you may have seen a very similar species in the Sierras – M. cardinalis – whose red flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds. In the laboratory, the species will interbreed; however, in nature where the ranges of the two species overlap they do not exchange genes: the pollinators are different. Therefore, the two species maintain their integrity and continue to evolve in their own way.

False Hellebore - Veratrum californicum/tenui - is having a

False HelleboreVeratrum californicum/tenuipetalum – is having a “mast” year. This profuse stand is growing the west end of Phelps Lake.

False Hellebore – Veratrum californicum/tenuipetalum – This is a very poisonous plant in the Lily family (now split off into the Bunch-berry Family-Melanthiaceae) which grows in very damp soils. It has formed a very large, 6’-7′-tall colony along the west end of Phelps Lake this year. This is a display of “masting”—when a plant species produces many, many flowers and fruits synchronously in one year. The overabundance attracts many pollinators: flies during the day, moths at night, and the plentitude makes it difficult for all the seeds to be consumed.

The abundance of flowers and then hopefully seeds first attracts many pollinators, and once pollinated produces an abundance of seeds--too many to be eaten by hungry predators.

The abundance of flowers of False Hellebore first satiates pollinators, and then once they are pollinated, hopefully flowers produce an abundance of seeds–too many to be eaten by hungry predators.

Research indicates that “masting” of False Hellebore is cued by cool July temperatures the previous year, a trigger which could be affected by warming of climate change. Observe the flowers near the top of the bountiful flower stalks: they are typically male and female, while the lower flowers are only male.  See if you can find the difference.

Look at the flowers closely.  Apparently the upper flowers are

Look at the flowers of False Hellebore closely. Apparently the upper flowers are “perfect” with both male and female parts. The lower flowers have only male parts. Hard to tell which this example is.

Information on dispersers and fate of the seeds of False Hellebores was not readily available in a web search. However, there is great information on the masting biology of these plants: http://www.amjbot.org/content/100/3/519.full

These are just a few of the fascinating flowers in bloom right now.  A future posting will discuss some of the smaller species that are beginning to flourish.  In any case, keep on hiking, observing, and enjoying the bounty of flowers we have this summer!

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY

July 23, 2015

P.S. As always, this blogger appreciates comments, corrections, additions to the information provided here.

9:50 p.m.