Teton Shrubs – Spring

The Valley is full of flowers in June.  So many so that here we present them by type—here are the shrubs, which come into their own when in full flower.  Separately, we will post Wildflowers in Sageflats and Hills/Sun and Wildflowers in Forests/shade.


Most shrubs are most appreciated in spring when they bloom, although some will have colorful foliage and fruits for a short time in fall.  The rest of the year, shrubs are usually overlooked as just green bushes or just twigs.  So now is the time to celebrate shrubs.

Note: Shrubs are woody plants usually between 6”-20’ tall with multiple stems vs. 1 or 2 trunks of a tree.

The following are more or less in flower sequence within their group.

First to Start:

WillowsSalix sp. –  There are many, many types of willows of all sizes. They are very important for wildlife: pollinating bees, nesting birds, browsing moose, and dam-building beaver to name a few.


We usually welcome their early spring catkins—pussy willows.  They come in male and female versions, are pollinated by insects (not by wind, as previously thought) starting in April.  By late June the female capsules are bursting with thousands of seeds attached to a tufts of fluff being dispersed by wind.  Along with their relatives the cottonwoods, they are creating blizzards.


The teensie seeds are viable for only a few days, and they must land on moist open ground to germinate. Only a couple of seeds out of a million will sprout and grow up at all. Plants, though, can propagate vegetatively from broken stems stuck in the mud, as along flooded rivers or around beaver ponds.

Utah HoneysuckleLonicera utahensis – has oval leaves that are arranged opposite each other on the stems.  The trumpet-like, pale yellow flowers are found in pairs, their ovaries attached at the very base.  Later twin red berries will loll upon the green of the leaves…but not until late July.


Oregon GrapeMahonia repens – is one of our few evergreen shrubs and is particularly tough.  It grows in sun or shade, often on very rocky soils.  Several thick holly-like leaflets form along the central petiole to comprise a compound leaf. In spring the “evergreen” leaves remain, although a bit tattered, until the new leaves replace them.  The flowers are remarkably fragrant and last a long time.  The underlying bark is yellow with “berberine” which has medicinal properties.


Mountain Maple  – Acer glabrum – has inconspicuous flowers that are pollinated by wind or perhaps some insects?  Each flower is usually male or female to prevent self-pollination.  By now in late June you can see the beginning of the fruits forming – the double winged samaras – that will twirl to new realms later in the fall.


The leaves are 3-5 lobed, with some saw-like teeth along the edges.  Often I see the leaves mottled with a deep red “fungus”.  The velvet red splotches are actually formed by tiny galls created by mites:  https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/velvet_galls_caused_by_tiny_eriophyid_mites


A June Parade of White Blooms in the Rose Family:

These common shrubs grow from a few feet to up to almost 20’ tall.  They all have five green sepals, five white petals, and anthers (the pollen bearing parts) in multiples of 5. These three whorls merge into a cup-like hypanthium that will later swell and protect the seeds. Hypanthium structures are common in the Rose Family. In the very center of this cup-like feature, sit the female ovaries and eggs that will form the seeds.  The fruits will be a combination of swollen protective hypanthiums and the mature seeds in the center. (image wikipedia)

Hypanthium - Wikipedia

All these plants are related to cultivated fruits we eat: apples, plums, pears, peaches—also in the Rose Family.  Our native roses blooms in July–very soon! and produce “hips” – the tough hypanthium with dry fruits/seeds inside.RosaSp_Fr_dis_CU_NER_11.11.18_1b_Q1_crp_5x3_200

More or less in order of bloom:

Serviceberry/SaskatoonAmelanchier alnifolia – has oval 1-1.5” leaves with a few teeth arrayed around the upper ½.  Flowers are arranged along a central stalk.  Being one of the earliest to bloom, it will also be the earliest to fruit.


ChokecherryPrunus virginiana – has 4-5” oblong, pointed leaves with fine teeth all along the edges.  The dozens of flowers are stiffly arranged on the long central stalk.  All the parts of the plant have a chemicals that can produce poisonous cyanide under certain conditions.  For instance, if cattle eat too many of the spring leaves they can become very sick.  Amateur entomologists have used the leaves and bark in jars to kill insect specimens.  On the other hand, western tent caterpillars thrive in their branches, and birds and other mammals will eat the fruits come fall (the particularly toxic pits pass on through).


Black HawthornCrataegus douglasii – are easy to ID with their ½-1” thorns.  The broad oval leaves are coarsely toothed.  The flowers are in branching bunches or cymes.  In August, the Moose-Wilson Road is often closed due to bears feasting on the berries.


Mountain Ash/Greene’s AshSorbus scoparia – begins to bloom in late June in slightly cooler locations.  The leaves are “compound” with many leaflets coming off a central stalk.  The stalk then attaches to the twig.  The tiny flowers form a great puff of creamy white flowers at the end of the stems.


NinebarkPhysocarpus malvaceus – is found in the southern part of Jackson Hole flowering at the end of June. Unlike other white bloomers above, it will have dry fruits.  Leaves are slightly lobed and toothed.


Yellow Members of the Rose Family Join In the Parade of Bloom:

Not all members of the very large Rose Family make luscious fruits.  While also having hypanthiums, the cups remain thin and brown cradling dry seed-like fruits (achenes) inside. For now enjoy the flowers.

Antelopebrush/BitterbrushPurshia tridentata – is especially abundant this year.  You can smell the sweet yellow flowers before you come over the rise of an open hillside.  Plants are often intermixed with sagebrush, growing about the same size.



The nutritious plants are valued wildlife browse throughout the year, but particularly in late fall and winter by moose.  Ants and mice relish the seeds.  Also these plants can fix their own nitrogen with the help of bacteria growing in the roots.  Therefore, these shrubs can grow in many tough conditions.  Note their small leaves are three-tipped like those of sagebrush, but they are greener overall, and the edges curl under.


Shrubby Cinquefoil –  Potentilla/Diasphora fucticosa/Pentaplylloides floribunda – is a favored landscape plant for its yellow flowers in early to mid-summer and its low maintenance.  It can grow in a variety of soils from sun to shade – but prefers a bit of moisture, especially when in sun.


Nurseries sell a range “cultivars” with white to deep orange flowers.  Our wild native is yellow.


More June Shrubs of Various Sorts –

These four shrubs prefer more or less moist and/or cool areas and grow into substantial plants.

SilverberryEleagnus commutata – has been flowering under the cottonwoods along the Snake and Gros Ventre Rivers from Wilson north. They are easily seen from the dikes and from Fall Creek Road.


The 2-3” silvery oblong leaves stand out in the shade on 6’-tall, erect colonial plants.  Hidden in the foliage are yellowish, highly fragrant tubular flowers.


Red ElderberrySambucus racemosa – looks at first glance like Mountain Ash with its white bunches of small flowers and compound leaves.  However, it is overall heftier with thicker stems and heavier leaves, and notably the compound leaves are opposite each other, not alternate up the stems.   Also, plants have a foul odor if pinched or crushed.  Its European relative – Sambucus nigra – is the source of sambucol, the anti-viral flu mediation.


TwinberryLonicera involucrata – is also a substantial shrub usually found near water. The 3-6” oval leaves are opposite on the stem, and the flowers are formed in pairs. (It is a relative of the early flowering relative Utah honeysuckle – see above.) Flowers are mostly yellowish and hairy with a “bract” at their base that can be greenish yellow but later turns deep maroon.  LoniInvo_FlCU_Lvs_7.6.16_2_Q1_5x3_180_blgKeep an eye out for caterpillars of Gillette’s Checkerspot butterfly (photo credit: Wikipedia) which require this species for their host.

Euphydryas gillettii - Wikipedia

Red-stemmed DogwoodCornus stolonifera – is loved by moose, other wildlife, and landscapers.  In fact it is an appealing “ornamental” plant for its tidy oval leaves set opposite each other on the red stems, bunches of white flowers,  and later white berries.  Red winter twigs are a cheerful contrast against snow. “Cultivars” have been selected with brighter red stems, variegated leaves, bigger flowers and berries.  The moose relish it as is, and the birds will carry off the fruits when ready. A great plant for a “wildlife friendly” garden.



Junipers are evergreen conifers.  The tree-like Western Juniper –  Juniperus scopulorum – grows in all shapes and sizes on our dry buttes.


This species has scale-like leaves.

JuniScop_lvfrCU_GameCrk_9.20.19_1a_Q1_5x3_180 The sprawling Common JuniperJ. communis – has sharp needles that are in whorls of 3 and grows here and there in sunny spots.  JuniComm_stfr_MWRdN_11.29.1_Q1_crp_5x3_180_blgBoth produce “berries” which are technically fleshy cones that are relished by Townsend’s Solitaires and Cedar Waxwings.  However, few realize that the cones take 18 months to form, starting in June, and only on “female” plants.

Not to get into the complications of “naked seed” plants and their evolution, suffice it to say that pollen is released from tiny structures,

JuniScop_flM_GameCrk_6.10.20_3_Q2_crp_5x5_180_blgand with luck land on females cones of a different plant.  You need a microscope to really see what is going on, but with a handlens, you can observe the first bulge of reproduction.


Others shrubs not mentioned: The gooseberries/currants – Ribes sp., various huckleberry relatives – Vaccinium sp., and a few inconspicuous wind pollinated species.  We save those for later.

Enjoy the shrubs of spring…more to come this summer!

Frances Clark, Program Coordinator

Wilson, WY

June 26, 2020

Spring Flowers Mid-May 2020

As the valley greens up and we need a respite from the world of Covid-19, many of us are out and about looking for flowers.  DryKnoll_NendNER_5.14.20_1_Q2_fix_5x3_180As I write, some of our regular haunts in Grand Teton National Park are still closed (but about to open!).  However, there are many other places for botanical forays.

Bridger-Teton National Forest has various accessible habitats such as more south-facing grassy slopes mixed with sagebrush and dry rocky slopes where the snow melts early.   Josie’s Ridge, Cache Creek, and the lower slopes of Munger Mountain are all good jaunts.  Dry hills to the north and east of Flat Creek Road; Crystal Butte near Jackson; Game Creek south of town; and Poison Creek southeast of Hoback are other accessible points.  Please always respect boundaries and watch your step—many of the plants are small and fragile.

Many common flowers are presented here.   Go to past posts of “What’s in Bloom?” for additional and different details.

Earliest flowers found to the south of Jackson a month ago are now fading but are still visible farther north: 

Turkey PeasOrogenia linearifolia – have the tiniest of white flowers and skimpy linear leaves.  The cluster if often smaller than the size of a penny.OrogLin_FlSt_Pen_WilBrk_41012_1bsm

Two early look-alike buttercups perk up the dried grasses:  Sagebrush Buttercups – Ranunculus glaberrimus –  have simple leaves—although when they stretch out they can have two lobes. 

Utah Buttercups leaves are 3-lobed from first emergence.  RAnJov_flCU_MurCtr_41112_1b_fix_5x3_180

Steer’s-headsDicentra uniflora – are easily overlooked until you get the search image of the leaves…then look for the  flowers which have an obvious western motif. DiceUnif_fllf_CrystBut_5.5.20_1_Q2_5x3_180

Slightly later or in different locations Spring BeautiesClaytonia lanceolata – are sprinkled about in light shade or sun where snow has just melted. Leaves are opposite, and the flowers are pinkish with delicate, pinker veins that lead pollinators to the center of the flower.ClayLanc_flhab_MuriRch_4.21.18_1_crp5x3_180fix

Ever-popular YellowbellsFritillaria pudica – grace hillsides and sageflats with their charming bells.FriPudi_fl_SchwLd_bench_fl_52011_1a_5x3_180fix

As we move into mid-May, species found on grassy slopes and amidst sage brush include:

Yellow violets – Viola nuttalii varieties – have a range of leaf shapes and sizes which confuse exact identification to variety.    ViolNuttVallcf_flhab_FltCRkHills_5.8.20_2b_Q2_crp_5x3_180Goosefoot VioletViola purpurea – is easy to ID because of its distinctive webbed-foot leaves.ViolPurpVen_HabFl_DMansB_52113_1_5x3_180

Oblongleaf Bluebell – Mertensia obtusifolia – flowers dangle, changing color from pink to blue when ready to attract pollinators. MertOblo_habfl_GameCrk_5.9.20_1_Q2_5x3_180

Shooting StarDodocatheon conjugens – folds back its petals and has little knobs for bees to cling to—it is “buzz” pollinated. A bee lands, hangs, vibrates its wing muscles and  then pollen grains sift out of the purple anthers and land on the bee’s belly.  The bee flies to another flower with a stigma sticking out which then tags the pollen. DodoConj_flhab_CrystBut_5.5.20_2_Q2_crp_3x4.5_180

Nuttall LarkspurDelphinium nuttallianum – will soon become more abundant and attract hummingbirds.DelpNutt_fl_SkiLakeTr_73111_3aQ1Sm

Dry slopes are some of my favorite spring botany spots:BTNF_FltCRkHills_vw_spring_5.8.20_4a_fix_%x3_180

Wonderfully fragrant Hood’s PhloxPhlox hoodii – has tight needle-like leaves with cobwebby hairs that help distinguish it from the later blooming Multiflora Phlox.  Flowers can range from light to dark blue on different plants of the same species.PhloHood_habfl_CU_NendNER_5.14.20_1_5x3_180_Q2

Low pussytoesAntennaria dimoprha – are often overlooked even when in flower – its tiny composite flowers are all male or female on separate plants.  Flowers are wind pollinated or females can produce seeds without a male around.AnteDimo_flCU_CrystBut_5.5.20_1a_Q1_5x3_180

Pursh’s milkvetchAstragalus purshii – has typical pea-like flowers emerging beyond a clump of compound ladder-like silvery leaves.  The flowers are creamy white. The genus of the Pea Family can be IDed, in part, by the two “wing” petals being longer than the “keel”, which here is purple tipped.AstrPurs_flhab_rock_CrystBut_5.5.20_1_Q2_crp_5x3_180


Bessey’s LocoweedOxytropus besseyi – has elegant fists of flowers above similar leaves to milkvetch.  The pea-like are very similar (except for its color!); however, the “wing” petals are shorter than the pointy “keel” in this genus of the Pea Family.OxytBess_flhab_NendNER_5.14.20_1a_Q2_53_180


Whitlow GrassesDraba sp.- were abundant on a very dry slope.  ID of this confusing genus of mustards requires the fruits to ripen.  Hairs also help!DrabSp_fhab_rock_NendNER_5.14.20_1_Q2_5x3_180

Mountain RockcressBoechera sp. – is another Mustard Family member awaiting full ID.  All mustards have 4 sepals, 4 petals, 6 stamens – 2 shorter than the other 4, and a single pistil.  The pistils of the family grow into fruits of various shapes—the key ID feature needed. (photo by Susan Marsh)BoecSp_FlCU_rockcress_by SM5.14.20_crp_5x5_180

Desert PaintbrushCastilleja chromosa – is the first of several paintbrushes that will bloom over the next several months.  Its orange-red, day-glow flowers decorate dry hillsides amidst colorful rocks.CastChrom_habfl_FltCRkHills_5.8.20_1_Q2_5x3_180

Below are some of the plants, which for some reason, have been given less prominence in past posts—not sure why:

PasqueflowersAnemone patens – are an early spring favorite for obvious reasons!AnemPate_flhab_CrystBut_5.5.20_1a_Q2_5x3_180

Diamondleaf SaxifrageSaxifraga rhomboidea – is often overlooked.  The basal rosette of rhomboid leaves gives rise to a single 2-9” stalk with a cluster of several white flowers. SaxiRhom_budlvs_FltCRkHills_5.8.20_2_Q1_crp_5x3_180SaxiRhom_flCU_ant_JosieRidge_52311_2_crp_3x3_180

Oregon GrapeMahonia repens – is common in many habitats, but we often forget to get down and sniff the wonderfully fragrant flowers!  But watch your nose on the spiny, tough evergreen leaves.MahoRep_fl_DinNM_513112_2_5x3_180

Wyoming KittentailsBesseya wyomingensis – have no showy petals.  The color comes from the purple-blue stamens that unfold to yield white pollen.BessWyom_habfl_NendNER_5.14.20_3a_Q2_crp_3x4.5_180

Best to get out now to see these early spring flowers before you are distracted by so many more flowers to come, such as Balsamroot!BalsSagi_habfl_FltCRkHills_5.8.20_1_fix_5x3_180Happy Spring.

Frances Clark, Teton Plants Program Coordinator

P.S. As always, we appreciate any corrections, suggestions, or other comments!

Tra-la – It’s May! – Early Spring Flowers 2019

WyHab_WL_Mosaic_GameCrk_42915_5x3_180.jpgSpring sun is warming south-facing slopes of buttes and hillsides.  Snow along Grand Teton National Park roads is finally retreating. Wetlands are warming. Bugs and birds are flying about. The delight is in the details of small flowers; no big show yet.

Along roads and low openings in the valley:  

Patches of yellow buttercups are the first to draw the eye.


ButtercupRanunculus spp. – flowers gleam, and uniquely so. The outer layer of the petals – epidermis – is only one-cell thick and the cells are particularly thin and flat.  They hold pigments that absorb blue-green wave lengths of light. Thus yellow wavelengths can keep going through the outer cell layer, penetrate a thin air layer, and then reach a starch layer of cells that scatters the yellow light back up through the pigments again. Furthermore, the thin outer layer with air layer just beneath has the physical properties of a thin-film, creating the shiny look to the flowers. The combination os pigmentation and unique structural qualities of the flower cells provide the bright glossy yellow found only in buttercups and a few cousins.  At certain angles, flowers actually flash a signal to passing pollinators to come visit. (For much more to this complex story see references below.)


Buttercup petals beam intense yellow light and UV wave-lenghs that signal to pollinators. Also, the curving petals with the special cell layers provide addtional warming to the reproductive parts in the center, speeding up the life cycle.

Look closely at our two similar species of buttercups:

RanGlab_habfl_AntFlts_5411_5Q1smThe lowest leaf of Sagebrush ButtercupRanunculus glaberrimus – is unlobed, the upper leaves are 3-lobed. It is a denizen of sage flats.

RanuGlabcf_flhab3_nopetals_BTBut_5.6.19_1_Q2_crp_3x5_180Some individual Sagebrush Buttercups don’t have petals, only sepals. I dont’ know why the flashy petals aren’t there.

RanuJovi_flhab_Cluster2_MuriRch_4.21.18_1aQ2_4x3_180fix.jpgIn Utah ButtercupR. jovis – both the lower and upper leaves are lobed into three parts. Note buttercups have many separate anthers and stigmas—a common characteristic of this family. It is found in relatively moist locations, including woodland edges and openings.

ClayLanc_fllv_JosRdg_2614_1crp180sm.jpgSpringbeautiesClaytonia lanceolata — grow in scattered in patches. Some blooms exhibit obvious pinkish veins that direct pollinators to yellow nectaries in the center. Pollinators bump against the anthers and get dusted with pollen.

OrogLine_habfl_RkCrk_5.2.19It is easy to step on Turkey PeasOrogenia lineariifolia. The plants look like bits of lichen or stone, nothing to think about.

OrogLini_fl_Elkscat_MuriRch_4.21.18_3_crp_5x3.5_180However, Turkey Peas are more interesting if you take a close look at their tiny white flower with maroon centers that together form clusters barely an inch long. Think about what tiny insects must pollinate them–likey small flies and bees.

OrogLin_bulbCU_WilBrk_4912_1a_5x3-180.jpgSandhill cranes, bears, and rodents seek out the thumb-sized bulbs (“peas”) for food.  (Turkeys would likely eat the bulbs if they lived in Jackson.)

DiceUnif_habfl_PkRd_4.23.19_crp_5x3_180ipThe quintessential western plant Steer’s-headDicentra uniflora – requires some belly botany. Scan an area for divided leaves and then get down to stare at the steer-like flowers. This is the larval host plant for the Parnassian butterfly Parnassius clodius, which Dr. Debrinski from MSU is researching in Grant Teton National Park (more info on her research below).


Parnassian butterfly species on Blacktail Butte 5.4.19.


FriPudi_fl_SchwLd_bench_fl_52011_1a_5x3_180fixYellowbellsFritillaria pudica – are always cheerful! The 6-8”-high plants sprout from miniature scaly bulbs. The base of the 6 yellow tepals is said to change from red to green depending on pollination, but I can’t see any consistent difference happening to the outside flower color or anthers and pistil on the inside. Maybe you can.

Violets are flowering here and there:

ViolPurp_habfl_RkCrk_5.2.19_1_crp_5x5_180Goosefoot VioletViola purpurea var. venosa – has leaves shaped like goose feet with a few more toes. The back of the leaves and yellow petals are often purple, hence “purpurea” in its botanical name. Note the dark center of the flower and the convenient landing pad of petals for pollinators.

ViolNutt_fl_JosieRidge_fl52011_1crp180sm.jpgSeveral yellow violets intergrade in leaf features which confuse me and other botanists trying to sort out the names.  This cheerful specimen is one of three look-alike species – V. vallicola, V. praemorsa, or V. nuttalii.  Leaf ratios, shapes, and hairiness, as well as ultimately seed-capsule sizes, determine identification.

Dry slopes and knolls:  Rambles up the south side of Blacktail Butte and rocky knolls around Kelly Warm Springs yield treasures tucked into the rocky soils. Many of the plants are silvery and/or hairy and grow very slowly into low mounds or mats—adaptations to limited water and nutrients and intense light and wind.


Please watch you step…these small plants can be hard to see and some are very old.

PhloHood_flhab_BltB_4.13.17_1_5x3-180sm.jpgHood’s PhloxPhlox hoodii – is often the first out, with its white to bluish flowers. Bees and flies pick up on the sweet fragrance. They come in and land on the flared petal tips and dip their long tongues deep down the center tube for nectar. They then carry the orange pollen off to other flowers nearby. The leaves of Hood’s Phlox are opposite, very small and tight on very slow growing stems that collectively form a cushion shape.  Plants inches wide can be decades old.

WyPl_PhysDidy_FlhabCU_Bt_3.22.15_1Q2_5x3_180Nearby, TwinpodsPhysaria didymocarpa – feature bright-yellow, 4-petalled flowers at the end of sprawling 3-4” stems. Spade-shaped, silvery leaves help identify this member of the Mustard Family. Mustards usually have 4 petals, 6 anthers (2 short, 4 long), and one 2-parted pistil.

AnteDimo_flfm_lvs_KWmSp_5.4.19_1_Q2_crp_5x3_180The first pussytoes to bloom is Low PussytoesAntennaria dimorpha.  The tiny gray, finely hairy leaves form mats on the ground. Look closely for the flowers.


Individual female flowers have stigmas…


that fork to capture pollen.  No males in sight.

Note female and male flowers are on separate plants. This separation helps encourage cross-pollination, but if there are no pollinators present, females can set seeds on their own. Female plants often outnumber male plants in a population.

A_CymoLonp_habfl_kws_42614_3Q1_crpsm180.jpgSprawling CymopterisCymopteris longipes – is spreading its whorl of dissected silvery leaves low to the ground.  As a member of the Carrot Family, plants have umbels, in this case with yellow flowers.


Cymopteris longipes has a buried pseudoscape. This buried stem is surrounded by old leaf bases. The true roots actually branch from below the area shown here.

Later, the underground stem will stretch up lifting the leaves higher to the light above growing competition. The stalk of the umbel will extend, too, elevating the winged fruits into the wind mid-summer.

AstrPurs_flhab_BTBut_5.6.19_1_crp_5x3_180Pursh’s MilkvetchAstragalus purshii – is also just beginning to flower on dry knolls.  The pea-like flowers are slightly yellow to white with a blue bow to the keel (lower two petals). Some flowers open wide for pollinator business. Note the pinnately divided leaves are silvery hairy.

CastChro_bractsLvs_BTBut_5.6.19_1_5x3_180The brilliant red of paintbrushCastilleja chromosa – is provided by the leaf-like  bracts. Soon tubular flowers will emerge from their axils. I am not sure why there is so much color without the presence of any flowers yet. Maybe the plants are announcing to pollinators: opening for business soon!

TownLepi_fllv_KWmSp_5.4.19_1a_Q1_crp_3x3_180Our local Townsendias belong to a beautiful but often confusing genus. This plant has all the features of T. leptotes: narrow leaves, whitish petals, a whorl of 4-5 rows of pointed bracts tinged with color. Apparently this species and T. montana can hybridize or self-fertilize to the point that some experts say separating the two species appears “arbitrary.” I say, let’s just enjoy the flowers if you can find them. They are pretty rare.

Wetlands with catkins:

AlnuInca_flm_MWRd_4.22.19_1a_Q2_5x3_200.jpgShrub swamps throughout the valley are warming up. Ducks, moose, and beaver are moving through the waters under dangling catkins of alders and amidst thickets of pussywillows.

AlnuInca_flMfm_FallCrkRd_4.29.18_1_Q1_3x5_180Male catkins of mountain aldersAlnus incana var. occidentalis – elongate: their pollen is released upon the wind to meet up – purely by chance – with the stigmas of female flowers (above left in photo) in separate, stout “cones.”

BetuOcci_Flst_CUGameCrk_5.30.18_1_Q1_crp_5x3_180Later in May, its relative Bog BirchBetula glandulosa – will bloom after its leaves have filled out.


Male catkin of Booth’s Willow – Salix boothii.  Notice the waxy “bloom” on the greenish yellow stem that can rub off.  This is a helpful winter ID feature.

Willows (Salix spp.) of various kinds (and there are many) are bursting their buds and producing male or female “pussies”.  In willows, female fruits (capsules) are the definitive for identification, but are often elusive. Bees pollinate many willows—they seek out nectar at the base of tiny, petal-less flowers.


A male catkin of cottonwood – note the red anthers that will soon shed pollen.

Cottonwood and its congener aspen (both are in the genus Populus) also have catkins, again males and females on separate plants.  It is fascinating to investigate the differences.

We are seeing just the first flurry of flowers.  We will try to keep you posted on new arrivals.

Enjoy your adventures into spring!

Frances Clark, Teton Plants 5.7.19

P.S. We always appreciate comments and corrections.  Please send an email to tetonplants@gmail.com


“How Buttercups Get Their Gloss” by Stephanie Pappas, Live Science Contributor – link: https://www.livescience.com/57964-how-buttercups-get-their-yellow-gloss.html

“Scientists Discover why buttercups reflect yellow on chins”. By University of Cambridge, Phys.org.  December 2011. https://phys.org/news/2011-12-scientists-buttercups-yellow-chins.html

“Functional optics of glossy buttercup flowers” by CJ van der Kooi, et al.  Journal of Royal Society Interface 14.  Fascinating details including photos of the physics. Available on line at  https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rsif.2016.0933

Dr. Diane Debinski is studying Clodius Parnassia butterfly populations in Grand Teton National Park. Here are a few links to her research:



Time to Hike for Subalpine to Alpine Flowers before they Fade

BTNF_Rendv_CodyB_VwNUp_8.7.18_1s_Q1_5x3_180Wildflower seekers are hiking above 8,000’, even 9,000′, for colorful displays of flowers found earlier at lower elevations.   It is also time to search for unusual subalpine to alpine flowers above 9,500′ to 10,500′

Here are some recent sightings and identification tips, focusing on species specialized to grow in the very short summer season, instense sun, abrasive wind, and poor soils of high altitudes. Most of the photos were taken in the past week up on Rendezvous Mountain, but the species can be seen elsewhere.

The majority of the photos below were taken in the last 10 days around Rendezvous Mountain. The photos focus on identification tips. You are welcome to ignore the details and just enjoy their beauty. If you are a full flower nerd, know that the taxonomists do not always agree with the classification of some of the species shown…opinions among scientists often vary.

Starting from the top:


Woolly GoldenweedHapplopappus suffruticosus – is cheerfully sprawling along the road down Rendezvous. These subshrubs have woody bases, alternate twisted leaves, and bright yellow flowers (photo above and below).


Eaton’s/Tweedy’s ThistleCirsium eatonii/tweedyi. – is a 2-4’ tall, native (good!) thistle which catches your attention:


Carefully, look into the dense cluster of flowers at the top of the plants: The bracts are interlaced by a web of glistening hairs. Bracts surround 2-3” pinkish flower heads. Pollinators are plentiful!

CirsTwee_flBracts_Rendv_8.6.18_1_Q2_5x5_180Leaves are 6-8” long, toothed to lobed, wavy, and spine-tipped. Notably, petioles run down the stem (decurrent). Tweedy’s thistle is deemed “unresolved” by the authoritative Flora of North America: it is not even considered a variety. However, the authors note that there is much post-glacial hybridization among formerly isolated populations of this complex genus.

ArniLong_habfl_Rendv_8.11.18_1_Q1_5x3_180Bright yellow Long-leaved ArnicaArnica longifolia – grows in cheerful drifts.

ArniLong_flCU_Rendv_8.6.18_1_Q1_5x3_180The 1-1.5’ stems feature several pairs of elongate leaves, as well as many yellow heads surrounded by equal-length bracts. The plant is overall glandular hairy with a strong odor.

ArniLong_habfl_Rendv_road_8.11.18_1_Q1_5x3_180It is common as you continue down the mountain road and seen from the tram.

As you head down farther where snow piled high in the lee of mountain slope or in a bowl, plants are larger and more profuse. Here a few showy species seen on the way down to Cody Bowl:


HedyAmerAlp_habfl_Rendv_8.11.18_1_Q2_fix_5x3_180Alpine sweetvetchHedysarum alpinum var. americanum – has many deep violet- red, pea-like flowers (its in the pea family) dangling from one side of the inflorescence (photos above and  below).

HedyAmerAlp_fl_Rendv_8.11.18_3a_Q2_5x5_180Bluish-green leaves are pinnately divided into oval leaflets. Careful measurements of flowers (9-15mm) distinguish it from the slightly larger flowered (17-22 mm) Western Sweetvetch (H. occidentale). (Not all taxonomists agree with this separation!)


The fruits of Sweetvetches are termed loments – segmented fruits each with one seed inside. I think of them as pods flatted by a steam roller. The flat segments break off and disperse upon the wind. Many are forming now (photo above).

White-coiled LousewortPedicularis contorta – has distinctive “coiled” or beaked white flowers which have evolved to fit worker bumblebee pollinators (below). Note the stigma projecting from the coiled  beak formed by fused petals.  When a bee lands, the stigma fits between the bee’s head and body and picks up pollen which the bee could not reach from a visit to another lousewort flower.

PediCont_flhand_SkiLktr_62815_4.a_Q2_5X5_180The 1’ plants have divided, mostly basal leaves, which helps distinguish it from a similar, more lower-elevation species: Parrot’s Beak – P. racemosa – which has with toothed but not lobed leaves.  White-coiled lousewort is shown  below.


Sulphur PaintbrushCastilleja sulphurea – continues to bloom in the shade of Engelmann spruce and Subalpine Fir, where snow collected over winter and lasted longer.


GroundselsSenecio/Packera  – are common and confounding yellow composites. They have equal length bracts like Arnicas, but the leaves alternate up the stem.


The relatively large Thickleaf GroundselSenecio crassulus – is still blooming strong in mountain meadows, such as Rocky Springs Loop (above). Look for the even-sized, waxy bracts with black somewhat frayed tips.

SeneCras_flCU_PassTr_71615_1_Q15x5_180_Undulating, slightly toothed, slightly succulent or waxy leaves clasp the 1-2’ stems (below).


Related and once grouped in with Senecios, two different “Packeras” continue to challenge this and other botanists. The expert Arthur Cronquist said groundsels are a “transcontinental complex of ill-defined taxa.” It is a challenging (frustrating!) botanical puzzle to try to tell them apart!


Rocky Mountain GroundselPackera/Senecio streptanthifolia – is found frequently at lower elevations, and more occasionally at high elevations. The lower leaves are toothed or lobed more or less, as are the upper leaves. The lower leaves are larger than the upper leaves. Plants have many yellow flower heads. I am not sure which species this is! (photo above).

Different GroundselPackera/Senecio dimorphophylla – is often hard to tell apart from Rocky mountain groundsel. However the scientific name di- (two), morpho- (shape), phylla (leaf) indicates a distinct difference in the shape and size of basal vs. stem leaves. The basal leaves tend to be unlobed to toothed, the upper leaves more deeply lobed and clasping the stem with arrow-shaped leaf bases (auriculate). At least a few stem-leaves are often larger or equal in size to the basal leaves (I have noticed that the lowest stem leaf is often the largest and most indicative of the species).  The photo below seems a clear identification of this species. I also noted that it seeds in readily to the harsh conditions of talus. PackDimo_flhab_Rendv_8.6.18_1_Q1_3x5_180

Asters are beginning to appear.  A common species at high elevations is the Leafybract AsterSymphiotrichum foliaceum var. apricum – which is low growing, with slightly clasping leaves, and wide bracts (foliaceous) with purple tips surrounding the lavender heads (photo below).


Thickstem asterEurybia integrifolius – also has flaring, variable bracts. Flower heads are sticky hairy and a distinctive deep violet blue. Reddish stems are also glandular hairy. This 1-2.5’ plant grows readily at lower elevations, as well (photo below).EurInt_fl_MwRd_9611_q2crpsm

Always a special treat to see, Mountain Bog GentianGentian calycosa – appears particularly abundant in moist to wet sites down to Cody Bowl. Observe the delicate lines and spots that attract bumblebee pollinators deep into the open bell shaped flowers. In this photo (below), gentian is nestled in with the common Rocky Mountain Goldenrod.


Rocky Mountain GoldenrodSolidago multiradiata – is a common plant at both high and lower elevations in Teton County.  To tell it apart from other golendrods, look for clusters of leaves at the base and stiff hairs along the petioles of the lower leaves –a sure way to know the species.  The heads also have over 13 tiny ray flowers – the “multi-radiata” in its name.  Height varies from an inch to a foot or so, depending on the conditions it is growing in.


BTNF_Rendv_CodyB_vwtalus_up_8.6.18_1s_Q2_5x3_180The rocky talus of Cody Bowl has several speciality flowers that seem to be able to grow out of rock.SeneFrem_flhab_pol_Rendv_8.6.18_1a_Q2_5x3_180Fremont GroundselSenecio fremontii – has single flowers with the indicative row of waxy bracts. The small leaves are toothed and arranged along the stem: not clustered at the base (although some plants with short stems look like they have basal leaves).  The flowers are single and appear large compared to the leafy body of the plant.

One unusual species Alpine GroundselLigularia/Senecio amplectans – is also part of the groundsel group: Most notable are mostly solitary (1-3), nodding, ½” heads. The leaves are mostly basal and fine-toothed.


Other species are much easier to identify and appreciate:


Parry’s PrimrosePrimula parryii – grows very rarely in the talus of Cody Bowl. I have also seen it near the top of Targhee in a similar rocky habitat.

AnemParvi_flhab_Rendv_8.6.18_1_Q2_5x5_180Small-flowered AnemoneAnemone parviflora – is only inches tall with tidy whorled leaves.

AnemTeto_flhab_Rendv_8.6.18_1_Q2_crp_5x5_180And nearby, the deep-pink Teton AnemoneAnemone tetonensis.

AnemSp_frCU_Rendv_72415_1_5x5_180Some anemones are already setting seeds!


A particularly tiny plant: Alp LilyLloydia serotina – is only 2-6” high. Its 6 white “tepals” remind us it is in the Lily Family. It grows from bulbs.

CampUnif_flhab_pol_Rendv_8.6.18_1_Q2_fix_5x5_180Similar in size is the Alpine HarebellCampanula uniflora. Instead of many bell-like flowers per stem found in the more common harebell, this species has only one flower per stem, as the Latin name uni-flora aptly describes.

PoleVisc_flhab_hand_Rendv_8.6.18_1_Q1_5x3_180You may smell this plant before you see it’s blue flowers: Skypilot or SkunkflowerPolemonium viscosum. It ranges in size from 5-12” high.

As one heads down into the lower portion of Rock Springs Loop, flowers once again become plentiful:

BTNF_Rendv_RkSprLp_vwFlmix_8.11.18_Q2_fix_5x3_180Snow ButtercupsRanunculus adoneus – are blooming brightly in recently melted snowpatches. The leaves are divided 1-2x into narrow lobes (photo below).RanuAdoe_flhab_Rendv_8.6.18_1a_Q1_5x3_180

A flower mix of more subalpine or meadow species is patchy on the steep slopes.  Below is a combination of Nuttall’s LeptosiphonLeptosiphon nuttallii – and very low growing Thickleaf GrounsdselBTNF_Rendv_vwRockSpLp_SeneCras_LeptNutt_8.11.18_1_Q1_fix_5x3_180Another combination includes Sulphur paintbrush, Bog Gentian, and Coiled-beak Lousewort:BTNF_Rendv_vwRockSpLp_flmix_GEntCaly_LeptNutt_8.11.18_2a_Q1

There is much more to discover in the high elevations before snow flies. Enjoy looking for the above species and more these last few weeks of summer.

And for other flowers still blooming at this time and with more aster ID go to our 2016 archives: “Get High on Wildflowers”:  https://tetonplants.org/2016/08/

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY

Corrections and comments welcome!




What Blooms in Wildfire Burns?

RkPkwy_Burn_PeriMont_vw4_8.2.18_1_s_Q1_5x3-180Forest fires can appear devastating at first, but for the most part nature has its systems for resilience. Depending on how hot the fire was and what plants were present both above and below ground and nearby, vegetation will return in its own due course. In some cases, plants sprout that have not been noticed in years, and indeed are triggered to flower after the heat of the moment. Others take advantage of the open ground and fly in with fresh seeds. Still others have stored seed until the magic moment. Wildlife also takes advantage of the changes.

Lodgepole PinePinus contorta – is a fire-adapted species. While the thin-barked trees are killed, thick “serotinous” cones have held seeds for years.PinuCont_FrSerCU_MWRd_32212_1.jpgTheir cones have thick scales with spine tips which protect the seeds inside from mauraders and weather for years.  When a fire comes through, the resin that has sealed the scales shut melts, and cone scales open wide, releasing winged seeds upon the wind. The delicate embryos fall onto newly exposed soil, which may be enhanced by ash, and quickly germinate. Ash often contains recycled nutrients and retains warmth which helps the seeds grow.  Seeds germinate quickly, giving them a headstart among competing plants.  Pines in fact need sun to grow well. A truly fire adapated species!


Mountain MallowIlliamna rivularis – often appears in great numbers after a burn.  Affected by extreme heat, their thick seed coats crack, enabling seeds to imbibe water and sprout. These seeds may have lain buried for decades in the soil waiting for such a moment. BTNF_PalmCanTr_Burn_IlliRivu_7_7.13.18_Q2_5x3_180Due to a prescribed burn south of Hoback, the slopes along the trail up Palmer Creek are now covered with 4-5’ flowering Mountain Mallow plants (photo above taken 7.13.18). Soon fruits, which look like peeled hairy tangerines, will split to release seeds for the next generation decades in the future (photo below).IlliRivu_frsSt_LeiLk_91213_2aCrpsmNote: In mountain mallow the seedbank is in the soil, in lodgepole pine, the seedbank is in the air.

Another plant that responds uniquely to fire is SnowbrushCeonothus velutinus. Hikers can see a profusion of Snowbrush along String Lake (below) and on the way to Taggart Lake in Teton National Park.TNP17_StrLkTr_CeonVelu_CU_WyHab_6.30.17_2_5x3_180This evergreen, resinous, sprawling shrub will shoot up new branches from old roots after a light fire. After heavy burns, it can also sprout from “Rip-van-Winkle” seeds.CeonVelu_fllfCU__StrLk_71105_2_3x1_180

Flowers blooming almost a century ago produced seeds that have been lying in wait until heat and sun stimulated them to germinate. CeonVelu_frLvs_BTTr_82013_1_5x3_180

Others report a profusion of White SpiraeaSpiraea betulifolia – blooming (photo below) within the 34,000-acre area of the Cliff Creek Fire, also of 2016.  This appears to be another species is “released” after a fire.SpirBetu_fllf_20LkRd_71113_1a_5x3_180.jpg

The results of the 20,000+ acre Berry Fire are visible from the Rockefeller Memorial Parkway (photo below) and Grassy Lake Road. The 2016 fire burned fast and hot in some areas forming a mosaic of impact.RkPkwy_Burn_PeriMont_8.2.18_5a_s_Q2_5x3_180Notably, in some areas it burned through lodgepole stands that were recolonizing from a fire only a few years before. Ecologists and foresters are concerned that this unusual short “return” interval will be the pattern of future fires in this era of climate disruption.

PinegrassCalamagrostis rubescens – is a tufted, long-leaved grass that rarely blooms. While a common groundcover in the shade of a forest, it usually goes unnoticed by hikers because it is “just a grass.” However, with the stimulus of fire and sun, 2-3’ stalks of delicate flowers shoot up and flourish (photo below). TNP17_Burn_CalaRube_8.17.17_2_Q2_5x3_180 Deep fibrous roots of Pinegrass are important for holding soils, especially when soils are vulnerable to erosion after fires. Plants are blooming in profusion near the parkway.

RkPkwy_Burn_For_flwMix_Epil_Cala_8.2.18_1_s_Q2_5x3_250FireweedEpilobium/Chamerion angustifolia – is well known for showing up after fires. In the insulating soil, rhizomatous (underground creeping) stems growing 4-6” deep may have survived the above-ground heat to sprout again. Even one surviving plant can shed 1000s of seeds that can catch upon the wind, land, and germinate quickly on exposed ground. (Photo above shows both Fireweed and Pinegrass.)

Other plants flowering among blackend trunks include several members of the Aster Family which have deep roots and seeds dispersed by wind.RkPkwy_Burn_ArniXdive_8.2.18_2_s_Q2_crp_%x3_180Cheerful patches of Broadleaf ArnicaArnica latifolia – and a strange hybrid, likely Arnica X diversifolia – a cross between Heartleaf and Broadleaf arnica, are growing in charred soils (photo above).RkPkwy_Burn_GrsLkRd_SoliMiss_8.2.18_2_s_Q1_5x3_180Large clumps of yellow Missouri GoldenrodSolidago missouriensis – was dense along Grassy Lake Road, brightening the dark scene (photo above).RkPkwy_Burn_GrsLkRd_flwMix_EuryInte_Achi_8.2.18_2_s_Q2_5x3_180A mix of YarrowAchillea millefolium – and Thickstem AsterEurybia integrifolia are common in fields right now, but they are also flourishing in the sun under dead lodgepole pine trees along Grassy Lake Road (photo above).

TNP17_Burn_LupiArge_8.17.17_1_5x3_180Silvery LupineLupinus argenteus – seeds are “scarified” by the heat of fire, enabling  buried seeds to germinate relatively quickly.  As a legume, lupines have a mutually beneficial relationship with bacteria in their root nodules that can “fix” nitrogen. This provides lupines an advantage in colonizing poor soils (photo above). Their heavy seeds pop out of their pea-pod like fruits.RkPkwy_Burn_DracParvi_hab_8.2.18_1_s_Q2_crp_5x3_180A robust member of the Mint Family – DragonheadDracocephalum parviflorum – (photo above) was a new species to this botanist. Apparently it thrives in disturbed soils.RkPkwy_Burn_flwmix_ErigSpec_Peri_Lupi_8.2.18_1_s_Q2_5x3_250Patches of other common meadow flowers have retained a niche as well, including Oregon DaisyErigeron speciosus – (photo above) with its many narrow, lavender ray flowers (ray flowers look like petals). Many perennials have deep storage roots that are often insulated by soils to heat of fire (or the cold of winter.)

It is unclear to this writer how much of the open areas between forest patches of the Berry Fire actually burned, if at all.  (Do you know?) Often meadows don’t provide enough fuel to carry a fire. However, embers often fly across roads, wetlands, and meadow, igniting trees despite the intevening “fire breaks.” In any case, this is what is growing in the meadows.

RkPkwy_Burn_PeriMont_vw1_8.2.18_2_s_Q1_5x3_180Common YampaPerideridia montana – has created a tapestry of white. Upon a walk through the area, one can see that many late-summer flowers which are common elsewhere as here as well: a hidden layer of Sticky GeraniumGeranium viscossimum, blue spires of Tall DelphiniumDelphinium occidentale, yellow sprays of CinquefoilPotentilla spp., orange-yellow Rocky Mountain GolendrodSolidago multiradiata, and spikes of blue Silvery Lupine mix in.

Common grasses include: stiff spikes of TimothyPhleum pratensis (photo below), PhlePrat_fl_2OL_8714_3_5x5_180Mountain BromeBromus carinatus (photo below),BromCari_fl_BTTr_62715_1_5x5_180and elegant spikelets of OniongrassMelica spectabilis (photo below):MeliSpec_flCU_BTTrHd_62215_2Q2_5x5_160(Note all the grasses pictured above are in bloom)

These grasses have dense deep roots or bulbs, as in the aptly named Oniongrass (below).MeliSpec_bulbfl_SkiLktr_62815_1acrpsmGrasses have evolved to sprout from buds at the base of their leaves – an adaptation to both browsing and fire.

As for wildlife, signs of elk are frequent–they enjoy nutritious grasses. Bears will enjoy the storage roots of yampa come spring—or perhaps pocket gophers, which also eat yampa roots. A week ago, a pair of Sandhill Cranes was walking through the downed trunks, feeding on insects. Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers seek out burned-over forests as long as the bark remains. Using their chisel-like bills, these woodpeckers feast on insects feeding and breeding under peeling, split bark of weakened or dead trees.


Despite the stark appearance, all is not lost after a wildfire.TNP17_Burn_Logs_EpilAngu_8.17.17_1_5x3_180

Much is being researched and understood about fire ecology.  It is facinating to conduct your own observations.  We have a wonderful opportunity to see the variations in progression at the Berry and Cliff Creek Fires, both of which were started by lightning two years ago.

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY

Wally’s World and Aspen Groves – late June 2017


Wally’s World and Poison Creek Trails which loop around the shoulder of Munger Mountain encourage explorations into dry meadows and aspen groves.  Wally’s World Trail runs along an open ridge overwhelmed by mulesears – Wyethia amplexifolia – and abundant fragrant Antelopebrush.  This trail has many of the same sagebrush habitat plants noted in the recent 6.23.17 post (please see).


AntelopebrushPurshia tridentata – mingles with sagebrush, snowberry, and mulesears along the ridge of Wally’s World, Bridger-Teton National Forest, off Fall Creek Road, Wilson.

Mixed among the sagebrush with Sulphur Buckwheat, Scarlet Gilia, Ballhead Sandwort, and Hawksbeards, are two different red paintbrushes.  PaintbrushesCastilleja spp. – are tricky plants to identify because of their modified flower parts and also because they hybridize and vary in color, leaf shape, and growth habit even within a given species. Interestingly, they also are hemiparasites.


Paintbrush flowers are hard to identify in part because they have complicated flowers.  A colorful bract (shown to right) is under each flower. Each flower has a colorful calyx tube which is lobed. It surrounds the usually greenish galea = tube of fused petals. The stigma and anthers are protected inside. Here the stigma sticks out from the green and red galea.  If you are not in the national park and have plenty around, pick apart — dissect — a single flower and see what is what.


One of the red paintbrushes Northwestern PaintbrushCastilleja angustifolia (C. Chromosa) – and Big SagebrushArtemesia tridentata var. vaseyana – mix together.  There is more to this view than meets the eye….


Many paintbrushes are hemiparasites on a variety of hosts: grasses, legumes, and also sagebrush.  Northwestern PaintbrushCastilleja angustifolia  (C. chromosa) – attach “houstonia” to the roots of sagebrush and draw upon its water, nutrients, and some carbon to help the paintbrush grow more robustly.  This hemiparisite doesn’t depend entirely on the host: the chlorophyll in the leaves enables the plant to photosynthesize sugars (which include carbon).


The state flower Wyoming PaintbrushCastilleja linariifolia – is a hemiparasite on sagebrush as well. In this paintbrush, the bracts are divided into linear lobes, the calyx is orange, toothed, with a long slit down the front where the elongate green galea leans out. This reddish tubular flower is pollinated by hummingbirds.


Aspen Forests are rich places to botanize.  BTNF_Mung_Aspen_6.22.17_6_Q2_5x3_200With light shade, greater moister, and more nutrients recycled from the deciduous aspen leaves, wildflowers are able to flourish at this time of year.


The 3- to 4-foot Fernleaf LovageLigusticum filicinum – is beginning to flower. Note the large delicate leaves and umbels of tiny white flowers.


In the same family – the Parsely or Apiaceae Family, SweetrootOsmorhiza occidentale – has tiny greenish yellow flowers in umbels and also large divided leaves.


Sweetroot is just beginning to form its tangy fruit.  It is in the same family as many herbs we use: parsely, caraway, dill, fennel, etc.  While most are safe to taste, a few species in this family are highly toxic, such as poison hemlock.


Also in the light shade of aspen groves or in open moist hillsides, are the yellow spires of Bracted LousewortPedicularis bracteosa.  These plants are also hemiparasites, operating like the paintbrushes, obtaining nutrients from surrounding plants.


But perhaps equally interesting is its pollination.  Louseworts have very specific pollinators: bees that can just fit into the flower opening.  As they push inside for nectar, bees get a dusting of pollen on their bodies.  One pair of bee legs is designed for combing off pollen and stashing pollen grains in “buckets” on the hind pair of legs.  However, bee’s can’t reach the pollen lodged between their head and thorax.  When a bee visits the next flower, a perfectly shaped protruding stigma taps into that crevice and bingo the pollen gets stuck to the sticky stigma. The plant wins and seeds can now form!


A much more unusual species, Tall LousewortPedicularis procera – can be seen on Munger Mountain.  The flowers are bigger and reddish, and the fern-like leaves are more frilly than the more common Bracted Lousewart.

Different species of lupines, paintbrushes, and even geranium are found in shadier woodland vs. open sage-covered habitats.


Silvery LupineLupinus argenteus – is found most frequently in forests–aspen or pines.


Silvery Lupine differs from the Silkly lupine, which is found in sageflats, by having many fewer silky hairs.  The banner–the top petal which folds backwards–is smooth, not hairy.  The flowers are slightly smaller and the leaves greener.   


One-foot or more tall Scarlet PaintbrushCastilleja miniata – has bright red, unlobed bracts beneath the red flowers.  Also, the leaves are  usually not deeply lobed as are the two red paintbrushes observed in sunny, dry locations. 


Sticky GeraniumGeranium viscosissimum – is abundant right now both on sageflats and in woodlands.  Note the nectar guides — the deep pink lines leading into the center of the flowers.  If you look closely with a handlens you can also see (and feel) the many sticky hairs on most parts of the plants.  The hairs happen to be clear.

Geranium richardsonii

Richardson’s GeraniumGeranium richardsonii – is white and grows in moist sites.  Its hairs are different!


The sticky hairs of Richardson’s Geranium are purple-tipped. Think of a gooey forest of defense against tiny invaders.

Several members of the Buttercup Family (Ranunculaceae) do well in the shade.  Many look very different and have very singular pollination behaviors from one another. Families are like that.


Colorado ColumbineAquilegia coerulea – is very showy and a favorite to find. 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”.

Thalictrum occidentale - male flowers

In contrast to columbine, the flowers of MeadowrueThalictrum occidentale – are very inconspicuous.  It has male and female plants. Wind blows the pollen from the male anthers to the female stigmas on a nearby plant. This is a male plant. 


Female flowers of Western MeadowrueThalictrum occidentale. The pink stigmas stretch to catch pollen grains.  As the wind cannot “see” there is no need for showy petals and such to attract pollinating birds or insects. Also, petals would get in the way of the wind.


Fruits of Western Meadowrue are already forming.  There are actually two possible meadowrue species T. fenderi and T. occidentale.  The size and shape of the fruits help to distinguish the two species.  This observer does not swear to the species ID as T. occidentale.


Yet another buttercup relative literally hangs out in the bushes.  Western ClematisClematis occidentalis – is a vine which curls its tendrils around branches to support itself.  The flowers nod downwards.  Often it is hard for us to see more than the back of the blue flowers; however, low flying pollinators look up into the blue to see hundreds of gleaming white stamens – a treasure trove of pollen. Heaven. 


This cousin has many small white flowers whose numerous stamens (not petals) form a starry effect.  Placed together, the flowers create an appealing show to small pollinators.  


While delicate in appearance, the flowers will produce ruby red berries that are poisonous–they were  used to make poison arrows.  Hence the name Red BaneberryActea rubra. Bane in a plant’s name indicates poisonous.  “Bane” means misery, misfortune, pain in the English language. 

After looking at the photos, can you see any family resemeblance among the buttecup relatives?  Hint: Look at leaves, look at stamens….(answer below)

Three additional flowers to look for in the forest at this time.

One is pretty obvious–reddish stems and spotted flowers:


Spotted CoralrootCorallorhiza maculata – is growing along trail edges in aspen groves.  Coralroots do not have chlorophyll for photosynthesis and instead are connected to mychorrizal fungi which transport water, nutrients, and carbon from host trees.  There are several species of coralroot in Teton County.  This reddish species has white flowers spotted with red. Each flower has two tiny lobes on either side of the lowest petal (lip) and a bump (spur) under the throat . 

Two are tiny, easily overlooked or even stepped upon!


These merry flowers are barely 1/4″ wide and decorate slender 12″ stems.  With the light behind them, Small-flowered Mitreworts – Mitella stauropetala – look like magical fairy wands.  


Northwestern Twayblade – formerly Listera caurina, now Neottia  banksiana – is a 4-12″ orchid found in conifer forests (vs. aspen groves).  We came upon a few hidden clusters today.  It is found in Wyoming only in the Teton County.

There is no information on the pollination of Northwestern Twayblades–Listera caurina. However, one of its close relatives Listera cordata, which is also found in Teton County, has an amazing pollination mechanism that may be similar to this species. It is detailed below to encourge us to look for both species and do a close comparision,


  Pictured is Northwestern Twayblade. The story below is about its relative Heart-leaved Twayblade.  First it is important to know that in orchids, the miniscule pollen grains are held in wads called pollinia…. Also the the anthers and pistil are fused into a single column or rostellum….  Attracted by the fetid odor and a bit of nectar, a small pollinator, such as  fungus gnat, comes to the flower. Rooting around the lower lip for nectar, it triggers one of three pressure-sensitive hairs on the arching upper part of the flower–the rostellum–above it.  At this point, the rostellum “releases a droplet of glue and the pollinia are instantly released to fall on the glue.”  Off the gnat goes with the pollinia stuck to its body.  Quickly, the tip of the rostellum unfolds to shield the underlying stigma to prevent self-fertilization in case the gnat returns. The next day, the wide stigma is uncovered and it arches up, receptive to the next gnat carrying pollinia from a different plant.  As the gnat crawls under the rostellum for nectar, the pollinia sticks to the stigma and hundreds of pollen grains germinate to form hundreds of dust like seeds. Thus begins the opportunity for new generations.  (Based on research of pollination of Listera cordata in California – Ackerman and Mesler, Am. Journal of Botanty, 1979)

Observing any twayblades in Jackson Hole, very carefully try to determine 1. odor, 2. presence of trigger hairs, 3. is the stigma exposed or covered? This could help determine if the pollination mechanisms within these two species are at all similar.

In any case, there are many more flowers to see!  Keep on botanizing!

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY – June 28, 2017

P.S. Many Buttercup Family relatives typically have deeply divided to compound leaves; highly modified sepals and petals or sometimes none; and many, many anthers. Delphinium/larkspur, monkshood, and sugar bowls are all related, as well.




Mid-June Blooms in Sage 2017

TNP17_vw_Tetons_Antflt_frTSSrd_6.19.17_1c_sm5x3_180Many of us have been out frantically trying to keep up with the blooming flowers.  The warm weather–in the 70s+–has keep flowers going and coming in the sagebrush habitat in Jackson Hole.  Late spring favorites of Nuttall’s Larkspur, Arrowleaf Balsamroot, and Western Groundsel are fading in the southern end of Grand Teton National Park, but new favorites are unfurling fast.

Not only are we plant lovers looking for wildflowers, but so are pollinators–bees, flies, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  They appear more numerous this week than even a week ago.  Their increased presence is important as most (but not all–such as dandelions and some pussytoes) flowers need to be pollinated to set seeds for the next generation.

Below are some photos to inspire botanical forays.  Flowers are easily seen throughout Antelope Flats east Highwat 89, and Bradley-Taggart Lake, Lupine Meadows, and soon String Lake Trails along the inner park poad.  Similar flowers are also blooming in open areas along Cache and Fall Creeks and the beginning of the Ski Lake Trail.

Two shrubs are blooming throughout much of the valley:


AntelopebrushPurshia tridentata – has fragrant pale yellow flowers and three-pointed leaves.


SnowberrySymphiocarpus oreophilus – a 2-3 foot shrub with opposite oval leaves, is blooming in both shade and sun.  The pink flowers will produce white berries.

Wildflowers that are particularly showy include Sulphur Buckwheat, two species  — yes two — of lupine, and tall wands of Scarlet Gilia.


Sulphur BuckwheatEriogonum umbellatum – grows mats of small oval leaves which are overshadowed by clouds of creamy yellow flowers, often tinged with pink.  The flower clusters have a collar or whorl of leaves under the umbrella-like flower stalks.


Silky LupineLupinus sericeous – is the typical lupine of sage flats.  It is related to our garden peas. The familiar looking flowers have a very hairy “banner”–back of upper petal–and hairy stems and leaves.  Later they will have very hairy pods–but don’t eat the seeds: they are poisonous. 


Silky LupineLupinus sericeus – has fine silvery hairs covering most of the 2’-2.5’ plants.  All lupine leaves are “palmately divided”: several leaflets are connected in the center and then attached to the petiole –“palmate” like fingers off the palm of your hand. The hairs help keep the plants from drying out in the hot flats. They reflecting the light and maintain humidity close to the leaf surface to prevent too much transpiration of water from the leaves during the hot days.


Compared to silkly Lupine, meadow lupineLupinus polyphyllus – has larger flowers and the banner (the upper petal) is smooth on the back and reflexed at a wider angle to the lower two petals. This species tends to grow in moister open areas, such as along the cobbled creeks and river edges, but sometimes it is found in pockets of sage clad flats or hillside.


Hummingbirds are attracted to the red tubular flowers of Scarlet GiliaIpomopsis aggregata.  Seeing red (many insects can’t), the bird can hover, insert its long beak, and extend its tongue to lap (not suck) up nectar deep inside the tough tube of petals.  In the process, the bird’s head gets dusted with pollen grains which it carries onto the next flower.  There, its forehead gets bonked by the extended stigma of the ready flower.  Thus the flower is pollinated! Of course this happens at the lightning speed of the flying hummingbird.

Tucked in between the larger plants are a few others such as very fragant Long-leaved Phlox and the confusing False Dandelions and Hawksbeards are out now.  They each have their ways of accomodating pollinators.


Long-leaved phlox – Phlox longifolia – seems to peer up from the trail.  Unlike its cushiony early-spring relatives, this species has 10-12″-long stems and 2-3″ long narrow opposite leaves.  


The beguiling fragrance of Long-leaved PhloxPhlox longifolia – attracts small flies, bee flies, and butterflies to the bluish to pink 5-petaled flowers. Only the insects with just the right length mouthparts can reach down the long tube to the nectar deep within, and in the meantime the flower is pollinated.


Mountain DandelionAgoseris glauca – looks very much like a dandelion, but look closely….The green bracts that surround the flower heads are different.  In the dandelion – Taraxacum officionale – the outer bracts bend backward (left below), vs. their standing up on the Mountain Dandelion (right below)


Also the seeds are different than the weedy dandelion as they do not have rough ribs with nubs on them.  The finely ribbed fruits of False Dandelion are carried off by white parachutes of bristles pappus. (Yes, very like dandelions!)  There are 3 subspecies of mountain dandelions, for those hard-core botanists who wish to pursue the differences.


HawksbeardsCrepis sp. – are robust plants of the sageflats. The leaves bunch at the base but also grow up the branching 8-16+” stems (unlike mountain or common dandelions). The leaves are often sword-shaped and variably pinnately (branching like a feather), toothed, lobed, or dissected.  The flower heads can have a few to many many individual flowers.  It is easy to see 3-4 species blooming in the same area.


Unlike some of the complicated flowers shown above, Sticky GeraniumGeranium viscosissimum – is wide open to pollinators.  The five petals have lines directing insects into the center of the flower where the nectar lies hidden (nectar guides).  Geraniums seem to be flowering everywhere now — sage-covered hillsides to aspen woodlands.  Sticky geraniums are obviously adaptable and persistent.  


A couple of other flowers may go unseen in the sage-flat habitats either because they appear a bit wispy or are short and pudgy.  They are both remarkably hardy to dry sites.


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


The bright yellow, star-shaped flowers on 6″ stems of Lance-leaved Stonecrops are beginning to show up.  If pollinated, flowers will produce seed that can scatter widely from beneath the parent plant.  But what happens if the pollinator doesn’t visit….?


If knocked off the plant, the small 1/4-1/2″ succulent leaves, bundled at the base of flower stalks, can grow roots and start whole new plants, which is one way stonecrops can move around the neighborhood. Lance-leaved StonecropSedum lanceolatum – is related to hens and chicks, popular garden and house plants. 

Also scattered midway up the inner park road, are two species of the Parsely Family, that you may notice as they can be quite showy in spots.  They were blooming around the Sawmill pond overlook along Moose-Wilson Road about a week or more ago.


Two members of the Parsley or Apiaceae Family, (previously the Umbelliferae family because of their characteristic arrangement of tiny flower on the tips of umbrella-like petioles) are in bloom.  One is a delicate, white, 2-foot tall relative of the Common Yampah – Boland Yampah – Perideridia bolanderi.  The other is plant growing below is the a sharp-yellow Wyeth BiscuitrootLomatium ambiguum.  This latter is forming tangy seeds.

There are many more flowers out there, but two more species might fascinate botany nerds, who dive into the details.


The many pussytoes – Antennaria species — are confusing to ID.  Partly this is because they can set seeds without cross pollination, and in the process double the chromosome numbers in their off-spring.  Some species also just plain hybridize with close relatives.  These “complexes” create overlapping, confounding identification features.  Upon close examination, this species was clearly Antennaria luzuloides or Rush Pussytoes.


Besides the fairly large leaves going up the stem (vs only forming a close mat of tiny leaves at the base), the bracts around the flower heads of Rush Pussytoes — Antennaria luzuloides – are smooth, not fuzzy as is often the case in pussy-toes.  These bracts are also light green to white, with no black.  


Hiding under the colorful wildflowers of the moment, on 6″ stalks, these 1″ balls reminiscent of dandelions, might catch the eye.  Look closely….


These are heads of Nodding microserisMicroseris nutans.  Flower heads of yellow, dandelion- like flowers have formed fruits, one per former flower.  The pappus that will carry the fruit away is delicately formed.  The base of each pappus bristle broadens out, catching the sunlight like a drop of water.  Spring is fleeting.



Mulesears have large, dark yellow flowers, 12-18″ elongate, deep green leaves. It grows in heavier soils than Balsamroot. 

There are many more flowers to see.  The Mulesears on Munger Mountain–Wally’s World Trail, accessed off Fall Creek Road, south of Wilson, is at peak right along with many of the flowers described above and more.

We hope to have the next post show what to see on some of these open ridges and aspen groves around Jackson Hole.

Frances Clark, Wilson, WY – June 25

P.S. We always appreciate comments, particularly notice of any errors.  We strive to be accurate in our identification and descriptions.


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

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.