Wednesday, January 9, 2013

First Expedition of 2013

Close encounters with a pygmy snow wolf ... oh my!!
As soon as project reports were done, I grabbed the camera and headed out.  Contrary to popular belief, Wyoming botanists do not need to hibernate in winter.  Sure enough, this was a fascinating and productive expedition.

The first photo stop was non-botanical.  I’m intrigued by unusual or puzzling views of common objects, interesting arrangements of shape and color, like this:
It’s one of the benches along the river.  In summer, a man sits here and reads while his old dog wanders around in the shallow water completely absorbed, searching for crawdads.

Then I found this set of shadows ...
... and another version, in a different place
They're cast by slats on the footbridge.  It used to be a railroad bridge, now it's part of the Greenbelt Trail.  In summer, a kingfisher sits on the telephone wire just upstream, watching and fishing.
Next to the bridge, I found the showy milkweed was still standing.  Six months ago, it was covered with large clusters of ornate pink flowers.
Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa); by vicki watkins.
After pollination and fertilization, the ovules became seeds, and the little ovaries grew into these big pods, four to five inches long.
Our word for the day is anemochory, meaning seed dispersal by wind.  Milkweed seeds are topped with plumes so they can travel far and wide on the Wyoming wind.
When the pods have dried out enough, they dehisce and cast their progeny to fate, leaving an empty shell behind, reminiscent of an empty bed in the room upstairs.

Now over the river and into the cattail marsh ... no muck and easily passable this time of year.  Cattails in winter look a lot like cattails in summer, except that stems and leaves are straw-colored instead of green.
Narrowleaf cattails (Typha angustifolia).
Here’s the tail of the cat, which botanists prefer to call an inflorescence (flower cluster), with many thousands of flowers -- male in the upper cluster, female below.  Obviously cattails don’t go for showy flowers.  Theirs are tiny, with just the bare essentials -- no petals, no sepals, only reproductive structures and some bristles.

Below:  male flowers with long anthers and bristles, and male inflorescence, long after pollen has been released.

(Illustrations by the author.)
Above:  female inflorescence, and a single flower composed of a stalked ovary and numerous bristles (only a few are shown), ready for anemochory.

Now down to the river’s edge.  Here are more plants, and they just recently sprouted even though it’s -10º F!  How is this possible?  These are specially-adapted ice ferns -- particularly nice ones this morning, with large fronds; some are almost an inch long.
But these white ferns can’t photosynthesize.  In fact, sunshine is their demise and they will die soon.  And of course I’m kidding ... these fernlike stellar dendrites really were created by Jack Frost early this morning while we were all still asleep.

It was at this point, engrossed in snow ferns, that we were approached by the dreaded pygmy snow wolf!  Fortunately, Sparky scared it off ... 

When I returned home, I found these guys smiling.  Why so cheery?
Frost on the back door window is finally starting to melt, and the little bears are happily dancing in the sunshine.

The Laramie River Greenbelt Trail tours the riparian / light industrial ecotone along the Laramie River in southeast Wyoming.


  1. Replies
    1. Yes! This one is relatively new, maybe a few years old. I'm told some are 20 years old and still doing well, with "zero maintenance"