Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sagebrush Buttercup Report #3

Tools of the trade.

My day job ended at 5 PM.  At home I quickly changed clothes, gathered the necessary tools, rounded up my assistant, and drove east into the Laramie Mountains, destination Vedauwoo.  We were on a mission, with little time to spare.  Already the sun was low in the western sky.

Over a month ago I had spotted my first sagebrush buttercup of the season, growing on a warm dry southeast-facing slope.  Then it snowed, and snowed, and snowed some more ... 2-3 feet of wet spring snow in all.  I predicted that the early-bird buttercup would survive, but was I right?  It was time to find out.
Vedauwoo a little over a week ago.
From the ridge crest, at the location of the photo above, it appeared spring had really arrived.  No snow was visible!  We made a beeline north, intent on finding the buttercup of concern as quickly as possible.  Tools to help relocate it included a topo map, a GPS unit with a track of the previous expedition but no waypoint for the buttercup itself, my memory, and a photo of the buttercup site.  The last would prove to be invaluable.

There was no shortage of sagebrush buttercup flowers.  Grassy openings among the sagebrush were filled with them.  True to their nature, they were blooming brightly even in the dying light of evening.
Above, a healthy patch of sagebrush buttercups, Ranunculus glaberrimus.  Below, some flowers still have petals while others have dropped them, leaving the central cluster of ripening fruits (achenes).
We crossed several gullies, beating our way through common juniper, downed wood and wetlands in the bottoms.  There was plenty of water but no snow ... it had all melted in less than nine days!  In an area that looked familiar we intersected the track on the GPS.  I chose to follow it uphill.  When we still hadn’t found the buttercup after 20 minutes, I decided to turn around and search downhill instead.  We hurried, as the light was getting low and the sun would soon set.
The magical hour was upon us.
Then I saw a critical clue -- a burnt log.  This was not just any burnt log but one that matched the log in the photo.
Yep ... looks the same.
How about the skyline?
Things match pretty well, especially the dead trees.
This is the site!  See the buttercup? (just below and left of center)
There it was -- the target of our search.  The sagebrush buttercup was still growing vigorously, sporting a single flower about to drop its petals.
Mission accomplished, we headed back to the car, enjoying the sunset en route.
Before driving home, I looked up and saw ...
... the crescent moon, while ...
... in the ditch along the road, Sparky had at last found enough snow to play in.


  1. What a great post. You write really well and built the suspense nicely. Really glad that you managed to find the site again :)

    1. Thanks, Tim, for the very kind comment! Some friends think I'm odd, but really ... being a nature-geek can be so fun :)

  2. Hollis,
    Good job my fellow plant geek and certified wing nut. There aren't many other people I know that would set off on such a mission, but where would we be without you? Glad you found the buttercup that may just have a successful reproductive mission in spite of snow, and that Sparky found some snow for the cool down. You may have to take some pity on that old boy instead of dragging him along on your follies...
    Carry on!
    Grins, Helen

    1. Thanks, Helen ... you don't know how comforting it is to know there is at least one other like-minded soul in the Universe!

  3. Pictures of pictures - I love it!

  4. Great post and use of photos all the way to sunset and a very smart Sparky!

    1. Thanks, Lola! (and thanks from Sparky too :)

  5. Blogging about plants and rocks?! Me too (but in a different language)...

    Cool that I'm not the only one that like this stuff.


    1. Hi Erika -- thanks for reading. Looks like Google has done pretty well translating your blog for me, and I look forward to reading about plants and rocks!

  6. I think the gorgeous sunset was your reward for accomplishing the mission! :-)

    1. Yes, if only I could get away more evenings ... it's such a wonderful time of day!