Thursday, March 19, 2015

Wildflowers VI

Camas and some sort of daisy in Island Park, Idaho

There are hundreds of species of wildflowers here in the Northern Rockies.  They are diverse.  So many different colors, shapes, sizes.  They grow in all kinds of terrain.  Some thrive in dry desert heat while others live best in marshes.  Each has evolved to it's own system of survival.

Why do I like wildflowers so much?  A colleague asked me that today and I instantly answered, "Color."  I am a designer.  I like color.  All colors.  I'm drawn to colors in nature like a moth to flame.

Let's get to it.

Xerophyllum tenax


Beargrass is an interesting flower.  It grows on long woody stalks up to about chest height.  The head is a cluster of white flowers that are about three or four inches in diameter and up to twelve inches tall, at least in my experience.

Beargrass grows from a rhizome under the ground.  It is often the first plant to grow back after a forest fire and is an important plant in fire ecology.  It grows in colonies and a colony may only blossom every five to seven years.  I was fortunate enough to run into beargrass in two different places last summer.  The one pictured above was seen June 2nd at Upper Mesa Falls in Island Park, Idaho.


This specimen was photographed at our campsite in Glacier National Park, June of 2014.

Camassia quamash

Camas and daisies

Closeup of camas blossom in Harriman State Park, Idaho

Camas is actually a gateway flower for me.  I grew up in Idaho and spent summers in West Yellowstone, Montana where my Dad operated a summer theatre.  Spring and fall meant a 90 minute commute at the beginning and end of each day for one or two weeks each.  When my wife and I were married, we spent our first five summers working at the theatre.  For all those years, I had seen signs to different places along the highway but because of time constraints we never stopped.

When we first moved back to Idaho, we drove up to Island Park one day as a family and started taking side roads.  Places we'd always talked about going but never had.  One of those side roads took us to a place called Antelope Flats.  We drove around through the forest on dirt roads and every now and then we'd break out into a meadow.  At one such meadow, we saw this immense pond in the distance with a corral and a cattle chute in the middle of it.  That was weird.  As we drove closer to the pond, it became clear that it was not a pond but rather it was a meadow full of densely packed camas flowers.  They were so many that it literally looked like water until we were right up on it.  That is when my wife and I began to get interested in wildflowers as more than just something pretty we happened upon.

Camas bulbs were an important food source for the native peoples in this area.  The bulbs could be harvested, dried and ground into flour.  It was a survival food for the Lewis and Clark Expedition as well as the Mormon Pioneers who settled much of the Snake River Valley.  Camas was such an important plant that most of the western states have counties and other areas named for it.  Apparently it tastes much like a sweet potato but sweeter.

Camas is part of the Lily family.


More camas

Camas with the pollinator 
All of these photos were taken on the same trip to Island Park, Idaho in June of 2014.

Western Blue Virginsbower
Clematis occidentalis

Clematis occidentalis

Before it's open


along the woody stalk

I love the light on this one

Clematis occidentalis is sometimes mistaken for Clematis columbiana.  I am pretty sure the variety I found was Clematis occidentalis because of the serrated leaves.  Apparently the smooth leaves are the other variety.  That being said, the expert whose opinion I used to identify this plant said he might be wrong about it.  Nevertheless, I found a colony of really cool clematis on the trail from the parking lot of Upper Mesa Falls to Lower Mesa Falls.

They grow on woody vines, in shady areas and belong to the buttercup family.  They were awesome!

Nuttall's Violet
Viola nuttali

Nuttal's Violet

We were hiking around Lower Mesa Falls with our grandkids last May and I saw this yellow flower that looked like a violet but wasn't purple.  After doing a little research, I discovered that violets come in blue/purple, yellow and white.

Nuttal's Violet, the yellow variety is named for James Nuttal who was a natural scientist from Harvard who studied the American West in the early 1800's

Canadian White Violet
Viola canadensis

Canadian White Violet

We viewed these Canadian White Violets in Glacier National Park in June of 2014.  Once again, not purple or violet and yet they are violets.

I'm gearing up for another great season of hiking in Yellowstone and the surrounding areas this year.  The snow is melting and the trails are calling my name.  Can't wait!

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