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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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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).

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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.

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

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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.

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

Coming into bloom are several species of HawksbeardCrepis sp.

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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.

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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.

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Nuttall’s Larkspur is still blooming strong.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

 

Teton Pass Blooms – early July 2015

This past week flowers have become spectacular in the mountains.  For instance, the trail south from Teton Pass to Mt Elly (upper part of Black Canyon Trail) in the Bridger-Teton National Forest display an array of flowers thriving between elevation 8,431’ up to 9,275’. Other high elevation routes, such as Ski Lake Trail, have similar species.  With the heavy snow pack, colder temperatures, and late snowmelt, flowers bloom much later in the mountains than in the valley floor at approx. 6400’. And they bloom all at once!

Trail south of Teton Pass is in full bloom in early July.

Trail south of Teton Pass is in full bloom in early July.  Sticky Geranium, Fern-leaf Lovage, Silver Lupine, and Bracted Lousewort are just a few flowers covering the slopes.

Last week one could see plants of early spring – spring beauties, low larkspur, multiflora phlox–with plants that have just finished blooming on the sage flats and aspen groves – balsamroot, hawksbeard, louseworts–with summer bloomers: columbine, Wyoming paintbrush, sweetvetch. Furthermore, the more alkaline, sedimentary soils of mountains south of the granite Tetons provide for some specialties. A walk 1.5 miles south of Teton Pass takes you through montane meadows, spruce-fir forest, subalpine talus and three months of bloom!

The trail south from Teton Pass travels through some limey talus--hot and dry--with interesting plants!

The trail south from Teton Pass travels through some limey talus–hot and dry–with interesting plants!

Specialties of the first part of the trail include several low growing oddities:

Hood's Phlox is still blooming up on Teton Pass!  It was blooming the the valley in early May.  Its fragrance is remarkable.

Multiflora PhloxPhlox multiflora – was still blooming on Teton Pass last week! It was blooming the the valley in early May. Its fragrance is remarkable.

Nuttall's Gilia - Leptosiphon nuttalii - is related to phlox and also to Gilia. They are all in the same family.

Nuttall’s GiliaLeptosiphon nuttalii – is related to phlox and also to Scarlet Gilia (see below). They are in the same family with tubular 5-parted flowers. It forms mounds on dry edges of forests or rocky areas, both south of the pass and on the way to Ski Lake.

Nuttall's Gilia forms soft mounds on rocky slopes.  The leaves are almost needle-like and form whorls on the stem.

The flowers of Nuttall’s Gilia remind one at first of Phlox, but the leaves appear needle-like and whorled. (Actually they are deeply dissected opposite leaves.)  Nuttall’s Gilia – Letosiphon nuttalii – is frequent on the Teton Pass Trail and on the way to Ski Lake.

One of the smallest and oddest plant is the Opine Stonecrop - Sedum debile.  Unlike the Lanceleaved Stonecrop, the succelent leaves are rounded and opposite.  The flowers however are similar.  The fleshy leaves of succulents are designed to hold water through droughts.

One of the smallest (maybe 2-3″ high) and oddest plants is Opine Stonecrop – Sedum debile. Unlike its cousin Lanceleaved Stonecrop – Sedum lanceolatum, the succulent leaves are rounded and opposite and have a rosy color. The 5-parted yellow flowers are similar. The fleshy leaves of succulents are designed to hold water through droughts. Often, they can start new plants from the leaves — some of us may remember propagating Jade Plants (a popular houseplant) the same way.

Another specialty of the limestone talus, this very delicate Nuttall Sandwort - Minuartia nuttallii - forms low mounds on dry sites.

Another specialty of the limestone talus, delicate Nuttall SandwortMinuartia nuttallii – forms very low mounds on dry sites.  It may look a bit similar to the Nuttall’s Gilia, but the single neeedle-like leaves are opposite and the 5 white petals are separate, not fused into a tube.  Nor are they as fragrant.

Rocky Mountain Groundsel - Packera (Senecio) streptanthifolia - is highly variable in its size and shape of lower and upper leaves.  It is frequent orange composite in meadows and canyons at this time.  While it may be 18" tall in some places, here the tough growing conditions support only l6-8" plants.

Rocky Mountain GroundselPackera (Senecio) streptanthifolia – is highly variable in its size and shape of lower and upper leaves. It is a frequent orange composite in meadows and canyons . While it may be 18″ tall in some places, here the tough growing conditions support only 6-8″ plants. Note the leaves are somewhat succulent, a good adaptation to dry situations.(Note: this could possibly be P. cana–correction welcome.)

Scarlet Gilia - Ipomopsis aggregata - is another adaptable plant.  Found in sage flats or mixed into mountain meadow it raise its slender 2-3' stems above many surrounding flowers.  The red, sturdy, trumpet shaped flowers are perfectly designed to attract hummingbirds for pollination.

Scarlet GiliaIpomopsis aggregata – is another adaptable plant in dry sites. It is still blooming in sage flats in the valley, as well as now in high mountain meadows.   It raises its  sturdy, elegant, 2-3′ stems above many surrounding plants. Note the finely dissected leaves.  The red, trumpet-shaped flowers are perfectly designed to attract hummingbirds for pollination.

Also tall and red--here orange red, is the state flower Wyoming Paintbrush - Castilleja liniariifolia.  The flowers are oddly structured.  The red color comes from bracts below each flower and red sepals. Sepals are usually green.  And here the petals are actually green.  Note the yellow-green tube of petals protrudes well beyond the rest of the flower parts.  Like scarlet gilia, it is pollinated by hummingbirds.

Slightly similar to Scarlet Gilia with tall slender stems and finely divided leaves, the state flower Wyoming PaintbrushCastilleja liniariifolia – holds out a cluster of red-orange flowers (color ranges widely). Look closely: the flowers of all paintbrushes are oddly structured. Typically, the color comes from leaf-like bracts below each flower.  (Here you can see the 3-4 lobed bracts holding the flower above) .  The sepals,  which are usually green, are also orange-red. They are fused at their base and then split into 4 sharp teeth.  In this species, there are 4 pointed teeth and a deep split down the front of the tube. The petals form a yellow-green tube which leans well beyond the rest of the flower parts. The pistil, with its sticky knob at the end, protrudes out the end, ready to receive pollen.  The most red Wyoming Paintbrushes are pollinated by hummingbirds, other shades typically by bees.

At the south end of the trail, Indian Paintbrush creates a remarkable display remeniscent of an Impressionist painting.

At the south end of the trail, Wyoming Paintbrush – Castilleja liniariifolia – and companions create a remarkable display reminiscent of an Impressionist painting.  Other flowers include yellow Rocky Mountain Goldenrod, Sulphur Buckwheat; blue Harebells and a  small Penstemon; and deep purple Silky Phacelia, to name a few.

In locations where snow accumulates to greater depth and melts slowly, a taller more profuse collection of species grow.

Some parts of the trail collect more snow and consequentlyl have a greater profusion of flowers.

Some parts of the trail collect more snow and consequently have a greater profusion of flowers.

At least three cinquefoils are common on our trails right now.  All have five yellow-hued petals that form wide platforms for a variety of pollinators to land upon.  Rewards of nectar are hidden in the center.  In this species: Potentilla gracilis there is an extra daub of orange at the base--part of the signal for pollinators.

Three cinquefoils – Potentilla arguta, P. glandulosa, P. gracilis – are common on our trails right now. All have five yellow-hued petals that form wide platforms for a variety of pollinators to land upon. Rewards of nectar are hidden in the center. In this species: Showy CinquefoilPotentilla gracilis – there is an extra daub of orange at the base of each petal–to help guide pollinators.

On the other hand, many louseworts have evolved to fit their pollinators perfectly.  Bumblebees often visit, get pollen on their backs, comb it off and stow it into sacs on their hind legs. However, they can't reach the crevice between head and thorax.  The stigma of the lousewort, however, curls perfectly to reach remaining pollen, and fertilization occurs.  Pretty neat!  This coiled flower is Pedicularis racemosa.  Looks a bit like an elephant trunk!

On the other hand, some flowers have evolved to fit specific pollinators perfectly. In louseworts – Pedicularis spp., bumblebees are key pollinators.  They seek both nectar and pollen. When they visit a flower, the bee squeezes in at an angle created by the petals, the bee gets pollen on its hairy back. A pair of its 6 legs has combs to groom off the pollen and stow it into baskets on its hind legs. However, the bee can’t reach the crevice between head and thorax, leaving some pollen behind. The stigma of the lousewort, however, curls perfectly to reach this remaining pollen, and fertilization occurs. Pretty neat! This coiled flower belongs to Parrot’s Beak – Pedicularis racemosa. However, it looks a more like an elephant trunk!

Splashes of lavender purple on meadow hillsides are likely Western Sweetvetch - Hedysarum occidentale.  Look for the pea-like flowers, and later flattened pea pods.

Splashes of lavender purple on meadow hillsides are likely Western SweetvetchHedysarum occidentale. Look for the pea-like flowers and, later, flattened pea pods.  The 12″ leaves are pinnately divided with raised veins.

Here are the pea-like flowers of Western Sweetvetch.

Here are the pea-like flowers of Western Sweetvetch – Hedysarum occidentale.  The Pea Family was historically called the Legume Family (Legumosae Family – now Fabaceae).  Members of the Pea Family have nodules in their roots that harbor bacteria.  These bacteria can absorb nitrogen from the air in the soil and convert it to a form easily used by the plant.  Legumes, therefore, can grow in many poor soils, and have for centuries been cultivated to “add fertilizer” to fields.

A common plant that looks like for-get-me not is Stickseed - Hackelia micrantha.  There are 2-3 species, but this one is a native blue perennial growing 2-3' tall.

A common plant that looks like For-get-me-not – Myosotis sp. –  is Stickseed –  There are 2-3 species in Teton County, but Meadow Stickseed –  Hackelia micrantha  – is a native, blue perennial growing 2-3′ tall.

Look closely at the barbs on these fruits.  You can see why they are called stickseed - Hackelia sp.

Look closely at the barbs on these fruits. You can see why they are called StickseedHackelia sp.

A few more favorites can be seen in mountain meadows right now.

Colorado Columbine - Aquilegia coerulea - is a favorite.  Elegant  flowers have 5 flaring white petal-like sepals, 5 tubular petals that form 2”-long spurs trailing out the back, and many yellow anthers.  Leaves are delicately dissected into 9 parts.  These 6-24” plants are pollinated by moths and hummingbirds which have mouth parts that can reach the nectar way back in the flower spurs.

Colorado ColumbineAquilegia coerulea – is a favorite. Elegant flowers have 5 flaring white petal-like sepals, 5 tubular petals that form 2”-long spurs trailing out the back, and many yellow anthers. Leaves are delicately dissected into 9 parts. These 6-24” plants are pollinated by moths and hummingbirds which have mouth parts that can reach the nectar way back in the flower spurs.

Scarlet Paintbrush - Castileja miniata - grows in high meadows.  The reddish bracts and sepals are highly variable in  color.  The petals are fused and hidden inside until they finally extend out to pollinator. Leaves are simple.

Scarlet PaintbrushCastilleja miniata – grows in high meadows. The reddish bracts and sepals are highly variable in color. The greenish petals are fused and hidden inside until they finally extend out to a pollinator. Leaves are simple.

Sulphur Indian Paintbrush - Castilleja sulphurea – is similar in design to C. miniata (see above); however, the bracts are yellow instead of red.  Stems 8-22” often branched. Subalpine to Alpine.

Sulphur PaintbrushCastilleja sulphurea – is similar in design to Scarlet Paintbrush – C. miniata (see above); however, the bracts and sepals are yellow instead of red. Stems 8-22” often branched. Subalpine to Alpine.

A truly elegant plant which stands up tall to 2-3 feet in crowds of flowers or alone on trail edges.  Stems are trimmed with coils of royal purple flowers, each with elongate, gold tipped anthers.  The leaves swirling around the base of the stem are neatly lobed.

Silky PhaceliaPhacelia sericea – is truly an elegant plant which stands up tall to 2-3 feet in crowds of flowers or alone on trail edges. Stems are trimmed with coils of royal purple flowers, each with elongate, gold tipped anthers. The leaves swirling around the base of the stem are neatly lobed.

Continue to hike higher to see the flowers.  Your effort will be generously rewarded with bouquets strewn at your feet.  Enjoy!

Trail south of Teton Pass is in full bloom in early July.

Looking north mid-way along the trail south of Teton Pass.

Frances Clark, botanist

Wilson, WY

July 6, 2015

Late August blooms still coming in the Tetons

A_BTNF_TabMt_3VwFlBowl_81614_1Q1fixwebOne is continually surprised by how many new plants are coming into bloom: in high meadows, along wetlands, sage flats, and roadside edges.   Many of them are “composites” or members of the aster, daisy, or sunflower family: Asteraceae.  Many are yellow, others- mostly “asters”- are blue, and some you may not know are in bloom at all: sagebrushes.  A few other unrelated odd species pop up as well, such as elegant gentians and inelegant broomrape.  Below are a few wildflowers that you might notice on your hikes and drives around the valley.  Plus a quiz plant!

Yellow Composites:

Western ConeflowerRudbeckia occidentalis – The purplish brown cone-shaped receptacle never looks quite in bloom until you notice the bees working them over.

Western Coneflower - tiny flowers attract bee pollinators.

Western Coneflower – tiny flowers attract bee pollinators.

Looking closely, you may see a row or two of tiny “disc” flowers with pollen being pushed up.  They start blooming at the base and gradually continue row by row up to the tip.  These 5’ plants with large 6-8”, rough, oval leaves are found in moist meadows.

Curly Cup GumweedGrindelia squarrosa – A relative newcomer to Jackson Hole from its surrounding native range, it has now migrated in along dry roadside edges, mostly in the south end of the valley.   GrinSqu_fllv_NER_81714_2crpWebLook carefully at the bases of each head to see the distinctive bracts curling back from the center.

The curly sticky bracts give the plant its name: Curly Cup Gumweed.

The curly resinous bracts give the plant its name: Curly Cup Gumweed.

These one-of-a kind heads are very resinous: sticky and pungent.  The 1”  leaves are toothed, and often clasp the stems.  Sage grouse chicks 5-8 weeks old relish gumweed in Montana, and maybe here as well?

Showy GoldeneyeViguiria multiflora – Also found along roadsides and trails in the sun to partial shade, these cheerful 1-3’ high plants catch your eye.  Flowers are borne loosely atop wiry stems.

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Showy Goldeneye catches attention along roadsides and trails with its cheerful flowers and tidy opposite leaves.

The 2”-3” long, neat, oval leaves with pinnate veins are held opposite each other.  The flower heads are surrounded by tidy rounded bracts, and you may notice the 8-10, broad, petal-like ray flowers are slightly darker toward the center.  In bee vision, this slight change in hue creates a bull’s-eye pattern.  Pollinators have a perfect landing pad from which to gather nectar and honey.

Parry's or Rayless Arnica is the odd-ball of the popular Arnica genus.  It has no sunny ray flowers, only disc flowers.

Parry’s or Rayless Arnica is the odd-ball of the popular Arnica genus. It has no sunny ray flowers, only disc flowers.

Parry’s/Rayless ArnicaArnica parryi – This odd-ball arnica grows 1-2’ tall on the edges of high meadows and coniferous forests.  Unlike its sunflower-like cousins, this species has rusty yellow flower heads with disc flowers only bunched together in 1” heads.  However, the bracts beneath are all the same size;  the leaves, although small, are opposite each other in 2-4 pairs on the stem; and the seeds will have fluffy parachutes (pappus)—all typical of Arnica.  This plant is sticky hairy.

Several yellow composite shrubs brighten sageflats.  This is Rabbitbrush.

Several yellow composite shrubs brighten sageflats. This is Rubber Rabbitbrush – Chrysothamnus nauseosus.

Three sunny composite shrubs: Three shrubs add yellow splashes and swaths of color along roadsides, sage flats, and disturbed, dry habitats. Their genus names have been debated for years as the scientists sort out who is related to whom.  Each species has several varieties, further indicating a range of often confusing characteristics.

Rubber RabbitbrushEricameria/Chrysothamnus nauseosa – This 3-4-foot shrub adds panache to the grey-green hues of sagebrush habitats.  The broad, rounded crown is colored by many narrow flower-heads clustered  together on the ends of upright woody branches.  The very narrow long leaves (1/8” wide to 4+” long) stick out from a grayish, furry stems (tomentose).  The twigs have a milky latex sap which gives it its name.

Rabbitbrush has felt-like gray hairs on the stem and long, flattish leaves, as well as bright yellow flowers.

Rubber Rabbitbrush has dense felt-like gray hairs on the stem and long, flattish leaves, as well as bright yellow flowers. Look for butterflies nectaring on these profuse flower heads.

Douglas RabbitbrushChrysothamnus visidiflorus – Similar at first glance to Rubber Rabbitbrush and sometimes placed in the same genus, this shrub differs in being generally shorter 1-2’ shrubs; green, not gray, hairy young stems; and 2-3” oblong, usually twisted leaves which are a bit sticky (viscid).

Douglas Rabbitbrush has bunches of yellow flowers at the ends of brittle, greenish stems.

Douglas Rabbitbrush has bunches of yellow flowers at the ends of brittle, greenish stems.

The leaves of Douglas Rabbitbrush are usually twisted, and the stems are not densely gray hairy.

The leaves of Douglas Rabbitbrush are usually twisted, and the stems are hairy, but not felt-like.

Hairy Golden AsterHeterotheca/Haplopappus/Chrysopsis villosa – The lowest growing of the three late-summer blooming shrubs, this somewhat woody species grows  6-12 ” in dry disturbed sites and road edges, often with blue Pacific aster.  The leaves are hairy and slightly wavy, only about ½-1” long.  The ½” flowers are a soft yellow.  This genus remains a muddle taxonomically.HaplVilp_habfl_TNPrd_81514_3Q2crpweb

The genus for Golden Aster has been in dispute.  Two rows of pappus hairs is one clue.  Yikes!

The genus for Hairy Golden Aster has been in dispute. Two rows of pappus hairs is one clue. Yikes!

Blue to White Aster-like flowers:  Taxonomically Aster is no longer Aster as scientists around the world have shared and refined their knowledge of this confusing group of plants.  The Europeans claim the old Aster name.  Our genus “Aster” is split now into several new groups with hard to spell and pronounce names.  Below are the common names (still aster) listed with the new botanical names.  Differences are based on growing habit, flower-head bracts, obscure pappus hairs, and invisible DNA.  Luckily, some kinds are quite easy to tell apart once you look. Pollinators of aster flowers are typically bees and butterflies.

Thickstem AsterEurybia integrifolia – Common in meadows, these 1.5-2’ plants have thick, often purplish-red stems coated with sticky hairs. Stems branch mostly near the top, holding out deep-violet flower clusters.  Each flower-head has loose, leaf-like bracts that are also very sticky.  The glandular hairs form a gluey forest that deters small insects from creeping up the stems to lay their eggs in the larder of fattening seeds.  The oval leaves clasp the upper stem, the lower leaves can be petioled.

The stems of Thickstem aster are not only thick, but also sticky.  A forest of glandular hairs deter crawling insects from laying eggs in the developing seeds.

The stems of Thickstem Aster are not only thick, but also sticky. A forest of glandular hairs deters crawling insects from laying eggs in the developing seeds heads.

Chaffy AstersEucephalus sp. The three Wyoming species of Chaffy Aster typically sport a few upright stems which are trimmed bottom to top with many alternating, oval to elongate leaves. The plants branch like candle-arbors near the top where a few sparse flowers are arrayed.  Flower-heads have relatively few (6-12) showy ray flowers.  The receptacle is elongate, covered with 3 rows of broad, dry (chaffy), triangular bracts arranged like shingles on a roof.  These three species are often found growing among one another.

Nuttall AsterEucephalus elegans (Aster pereglans) –This species is the shortest and most elegant of the three, averaging 1-1.5’ or so.  The flower-heads display 5-7 violet-purple ray flowers.  The tightly arranged bracts are hairy, especially around the edges, and are often traced with purple. The oblong 2” leaves are neatly arranged up the stem.

Flowers of Nuttall's Aster exhibit fine features of the genus: the broad bracts in several rows, and a few ray flowers.

Flowers of Nuttall’s Aster exhibit fine features of the genus: the broad bracts in several rows and only a few ray flowers.

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The leaves of Nuttall’s Aster, as with other members of the genus, alternate up the whole stem, gradually becoming smaller.

Engelmann’s AsterEucephalus engelmannii –This  aster stands up to 3-5’ tall and tends to lean out from the shade of forest edges or above other robust meadow plants.  The large bright white, slightly ragged flower-heads cluster near the tips of the sparse branches. The straight stems are covered with many 3-4” oblong leaves.

Engelmann's Aster is the largest of the three chaffy asters.

Engelmann’s Aster is the largest of the three chaffy asters.

For comparison:  Engelmann's Aster left, Nuttall's Aster right.

For comparison: Engelmann’s Aster left, Nuttall’s Aster right.

Blue-leaf AsterEucephalus glaucus – Look for colonies of 1-2’ stems covered with gray-blue leaves. The flowers are white to pale lavender and the bracts are pale, smooth, and thin-textured. The overall appearance is rather ghostly.  It lurks in relatively dry and high, often sunny, locations.

Blue-leaf Aster has a ghostly appearance on rocky high elevations.

Blue-leaf Aster has a ghostly appearance on rocky high elevations.

American Asters – Symphyotricum spp. – There are several truly aster-like asters that now have an impossible botanical name: Symphyotrichum (Sim-fee-o-trick-em).  In case you really want to know, here are three (out of about 7) common showy species:

SympAsce_habfl_home_81414_1aQ2crpWeb

Pacific Aster is the most common aster: it tolerates a wide range of conditions and ranges greatly in height, but it always has lots of flowers!

Pacific AsterSymphyotrichum ascendens –One of the most common and tolerant asters, Pacific aster  started blooming a few weeks ago and continues to do so along roadsides: from 6” where it may have been mowed or grazed, to 2+ feet where there is extra moisture.  The light blue flower-heads grow along much of the stem.  The bracts on the underside are shorter at the base and longer on the inside (ascending).  The leaves are elongate and if you look closely, the venation is elongate too—these characteristics help us know it for sure.

The leaf of Pacific Aster has elongate venation and is a key to identification.

The leaf of Pacific Aster has elongate venation: a key to identification.

Another key to ID of Pacific Aster are the bracts:  the lower ones are definitely shorter the the upper ones.

Another key to ID of Pacific Aster are the bracts: the lower ones are definitely shorter the the upper ones.

Bracted AsterSymphyotrichum eatonii – Found on stream edges with wet feet, this 2-4’ aster can at first be confused with Leafy Aster (below) as the blue flower heads have leafy bracts.  However, the leaves of Bracted Aster are narrow and long ( >7x longer than wide), and the habitat is definitely wet.  Flowers cover much of the plant and the stem is usually slightly hairy all over.

Bracted Aster is found along streamsides and wet meadows.  Note the long leaves and many flowers along the stem.

Bracted Aster is found along streamsides and wet meadows. Note the long leaves and many flowers along the stem.

Bracted Aster also has leafy bracts, which can be confused with the species below: Leafy Aster.  ID depends on several clues.

Bracted Aster also has leafy bracts, which can be confused with the species below: Leafy Aster. ID depends on several clues.

Leafy AsterSymphyotrichum foliaceum – Just coming into bloom in moist meadows, near streams, and high elevations, this aster has broad oval leaves that often clasp the stem and several blue flower-heads with many ray flowers, which together create quite a show.  Looking under the flower-head you can see the leaf-like bracts that give it its name.  There are several varieties with different details of leaves, bracts, etc., but just “Leafy Aster” is fine.

Bracted Aster usually has leaf-like bracts and long broad leaves.

Leafy Aster usually has leaf-like bracts and long broad leaves.

Sagebrush Artemisia spp.  –  Many people don’t realize that our common sagebrushes are wind pollinated members of the Aster family: they don’t have showy flowers but rather produce pollen in tiny composite heads with no ray flowers and only a few disc flowers.

This Low Sage plant is in full bloom - not showy as it is wind pollinated

This Low Sagebrush plant is in full bloom at Lupine Meadows.  It is not showy as it is wind pollinated.

Low SagebrushArtemisia arbuscula –  A 1’ shrub that dominates Lupine Meadows in the park is now in bloom: 6-8” narrow stalks with tiny flower heads, each with about a dozen disc flowers, wave like wands and shed pollen to the wind—magic that any pollen meets a stigma surface to initiate seed formation.  Its 1/4-1/2″  leaves have 3 lobes–like Big Sagebrush – held close to tough woody stems.

The composite flowers of Low Sagebrush are tiny.

The composite flowers of Low Sagebrush are tiny.

Soon our Mountain Big Sagebrush – Artimesia tridentata var. vaseyana — will wave about pollen too.

In full flower: Mountain Big Sagebrush

In full flower: Mountain Big Sagebrush.  You can see the curved stigmas of the flowers, ready to catch the falling pollen.

And other special plants:

Naked BroomrapeOrobanche uniflora – Rare to find, this peculiar plant has no chlorophyll but rather depends on its roots to connect it to other living plants for food.  Saxifrages, sunflowers, and goldenrods are often its “host” plants.

This weird rare plant, broomrape, does not have chlorophyll, it connects to other host plants for food.

This weird rare plant, Broomrape, does not have chlorophyll, it connects to other host plants for food.

Mountain Bog Gentian –Gentiana calycosa. – These deep blue, 6-8” plants with egg-shaped, opposite leaves unfurl their pleated petals to attract late flying pollinators such as bumble bees. Look for it blooming at high elevations .

Mountain Bog Gentian graces high elevations with its pleated, speckled blue flowers.

Mountain Bog Gentian graces high elevations with its unfurling, speckled, blue flowers.

What is this?What is this?*

Quiz plant*:  This is the flower of a tall plant that is considered the harbinger of autumn.  It colonizes abundantly after  ____, a behavior that gives it its name. Answer below.

Enjoy hiking higher to see more showy blooms or looking closely with a hand lens at many wind pollinated plants.  And don’t forget to look for fruits: berries, pods, capsules, etc. Fall is coming!

Lupines, groundsels, Indian paintbrush are now blooming over 9000'.

Lupines, groundsels, Indian paintbrush are now blooming over 9000′.

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY

*Quiz answer: Fireweed – Chamerion/Epilobium angustifolium – The 8 anthers open sequentially releasing pollen. Pollen grains are linked by microscopic hairs which become entangled in the hairs of its bee pollinators.  These same micro-strings attach readily to the 4-parted stigma which has little bumps. In each flower, the anthers develop first, then the 4-lobed stigma expands, to avoid self-pollination.  The plants bloom from bottom to top.

Conservation Notes: Thistles in Teton County

Those of us in the Wyoming Native Plant Society are interested not only in natives, but invasives, for they can be destructive, as we know. However, it seems that many people believe that any thistle is by definition a weed. Not so. We have both native thistles and noxious weeds here, and this post intended to help everyone know the difference.

Plant keys and guides help identify thistles with technical details, but a broad-brush way to tell the so-called good from bad thistles involves things you can see immediately. All the species of native thistles are covered in white hairs that give them a gray or silvery appearance. Elk thistle (Cirsium scariosum) is distinguished by having a single leafy stem 3 feet tall and a cluster of pale flowers near the top.

Elk thistle, showing growth habit of one main stem and flower cluster at top.

Elk thistle, Cirsium scariosum, showing growth habit of one main stem and flower cluster at top.

Flowerhead of the elk thistle, Cirsium scariosum.

Flowerhead of the elk thistle, Cirsium scariosum.

Our other mid-elevation native species, Teton thistle (Cirsium subniveum), is also grayish in appearance, but it has branches coming off the main stem, each with one to several showy flowers that range from pale to a more intense violet. They are usually around 2-3 feet tall. If you look at the base of the leaves, especially at the lower part of the stem, they are strongly decurrent, as if pasted to the stem for as much as an inch.

Teton (Jackson Hole) thistle, Cirsium subniveum.

Teton (Jackson Hole) thistle, Cirsium subniveum.

Tweedy’s thistle (Cirsium tweedyii or C. eatonii), an alpine species, is similar in appearance to Teton thistle, and also has branches and decurrent stem leaves, but is only seen above around 9,000 feet. Look for it above Tower 3 on the Rendezvous Mountain road.

Tweedy’s thistle, Cirsium tweedyii.

Tweedy’s thistle, Cirsium tweedyii or C. eatonii.

These native thistle species are found with other forbs and grasses and rarely dominate. In newly disturbed sites, where their airborne seeds can take hold, they can be pioneer species, but as other plants colonize the disturbance, they take their place as an occasional plant among the wide variety of natives. Deer and elk favor the young growth and flowers, and pollinators of all kinds visit the many disk flowers. Seeds are eaten by birds and small rodents.

The most common non-native thistles do not appear gray or silvery. The plants have hairs, but they still look mostly dark green. Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) grows in clumps, has narrow stems and leaves, and clusters of small purple flowers. Usually found in moist places, it can reach 3 feet. This patch, in a recently vacated sheep grazing allotment, is the only green thing left after the sheep have left in fall. A few years later, mountain brome and bluebell are becoming lush and keeping the thistle contained.

Canada thistle flowers, Cirsium arvense.

Canada thistle flowers, Cirsium arvense.

Canada thistle flowers, Cirsium arvense

Canada thistle flowers, Cirsium arvense

Musk thistle (Carduus nutans) is the largest of the weeds, with flowering stems reaching 6 – 8 feet. It has a thick-leaved, robust base and a stout stem that branches near the top. Its deep-magenta flowers can be more than an inch wide.

Musk thistle, Carduus nutans.

Musk thistle, Carduus nutans.

Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) is less widespread, and more silvery looking, than other weedy thistles. It is branching, kind of like Teton thistle, but the habit is more upright and it has stiff bristly stem leaves that are not decurrent. The calyx is tall and vase-shaped, whereas the calyx of the Teton thistle appears more rounded.

Bull thistle, Cirsium vulgare.

Bull thistle, Cirsium vulgare.

The photo below shows a patch of bull thistle gone to seed – an impressive number of parachute seeds that can take off in the wind and colonize disturbed areas deep into the backcountry.

Bull thistle, Cirsium vulgare, gone to seed.

Bull thistle, Cirsium vulgare, gone to seed.

A few recommended do’s and don’ts for anyone interested in helping reduce these weeds:
• Let Teton County Weed and Pest know if you find an infestation, especially of musk thistle. UTM (GPS) coordinates nice to have if in the backcountry. Weed and Pest will send crews to spray if needed.
• If you see someone pulling native thistles, let them know these aren’t weeds.
• Do pull musk thistle if so inclined (thick gloves recommended!). They have tap roots so they can be pulled. However, if they are in bloom it does no good to leave them lying there. The blooms will mature and go to seed. Before they bloom they can be pulled and left.
• Don’t pull thistles unless you’re sure of the identity.
• Don’t try to pull Canada thistle. It has underground rhizomes and cutting them will only stimulate growth.

TC Weed and Pest (www.tcweed.org) is a good resource for identifying weeds, thistles or otherwise.

Susan Marsh, Jackson, WY