Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Citizen Scientists Awake—We Have Wildflowers!

Laramie botanists are emerging from hibernation, hungry and irritable, in critical need of floral sustenance. But while other plant lovers are gaily posting colorful photos of spring flowers and lush foliage, we're desperately searching for any color at all.
NOAA’s extended forecast; the little pictures say it all.
I’m exaggerating, but barely. Wildflowers are just now appearing, and to see them we have to get out in between snow storms. Last Friday was sunny, so I grabbed my camera and drove up into the Laramie Mountains. Fortunately all the heavy wet snow from a few days before was mostly gone. I was intent on adding observations to my Plants of the Southern Laramie Mountains project in iNaturalist, which has lain dormant since last fall.

I didn't have to walk far to be rewarded. Pasque flowers (Pulsatilla or Anemone patens ssp. multifida) were common, as they usually are this time of year—in the field and on Facebook! But then who wouldn't be excited to come across large showy flowers when everything else is mostly brown and gray.

I found Oregon grape (officially creeping barberry, Mahonia repens) at the base of large granite boulders on a south-facing slope. Neat discovery—I didn’t know it bloomed so early. With flowers it's a good addition to my iNat project.

While on the ground photographing Oregon grape, I spotted spring beauty (Claytonia lanceolata). It is a beauty, but you have to look close as the flowers are only about a centimeter across.

In a sunny opening in the forest, three goslins caught my eye—luckily. I don't usually see them. Their downy brown and gold coats blend well with dead vegetation and litter.
What are goslins? The purplish patch above is a hint (click on image for a better view). Goslinweed is another name for pasque flower, because the buds look like goslings.

I wandered across a gentle south-facing slope with scattered low sagebrush. I was searching for Easter daisies, but brilliant yellow spots stopped me—sagebrush buttercups (Ranunuculus glaberrimus var. ellipticus). They're usually the first spring wildflowers I see in the Laramie Mountains, and are bright beyond bright in the dull landscapes.

Nearby were the coveted Easter daisies (Townsendia hookeri). Officially they’re called Hooker’s Townsend daisies, which raises the question: "Just exactly whose daisy is this?" In 1834, English botanist William Hooker named the genus for Pennsylvanian David Townsend, a civic-minded banker and respected amateur botanist. In 1957, American botanist John Beaman named the species for William Hooker.
And it gets more complicated. (Readers who aren't taxonomy geeks may want to skip this paragraph.) The Encyclopedia of Life calls T. hookerii “Nuttall’s Townsend daisy”—which lured me into further research. Strictly speaking, Nuttall's Townsend daisy is T. nuttallii. But T. nuttallii is usually lumped in with T. hookeri. Not here in Wyoming however. In fact one of our botanists, Robert Dorn, named it. T. nuttallii is restricted to limestone areas, and hasn't been reported from the Laramie Mountains. So I won’t worry whether the leaves are linear-oblanceolate (vs. linear), and whether the bristles of the pappus are of two lengths. This post illustrates vividly (nice photos) the challenges of our townsendias.

I collected a plant to add to my native xeric plants bed, next to what I believe are stemless Townsend daisies (T. exscapa). In 2013 I rescued them from a prairie in advance of road construction. T. hookeri and T. exscapa are hard to tell apart; the Flora of North America separates them based only on size of various floral parts—unfortunately. Distinctive characters are so much easier and reassuring!
A gasket scraper is an effective collecting tool for small compact plants in rocky soil.
Townsendia exscapa transplanted in 2013. They have thrived in the garden (next photo).
Hopefully these are two species, and hopefully I'll get a feel for their differences. Already I've seen a difference in “behavior.” When winter returned two days ago, the new arrival from the mountains duly opened its flowers in the morning, but the prairie daisies stayed shut all day.
Left, Easter daisy from Laramie Mountains (8000 feet elevation); right, Easter daisy from Laramie Valley (7000 feet). Photo was taken mid-afternoon on a cold gray day.

Yesterday was clear, and all the Easter daisies were singing in the sunshine.
But today ...
... only Frog Jolson keeps the music alive:


  1. Love your Easter daisies; but, not surprisingly, I'm still confused ;-) Is T. exscarpa a prairie species and T. hookeri a mountain species? And the pasqueflowers are wonderful; I wasn't aware there were native pulsatillas!
    Other than brittlebrush, our spring wildflowers are mostly over and gone to seed. I think most plants now will wait till the monsoon rains in July.

    1. I'm still confused too, Amy! I'm not sure habitat differences are understood. Around here, T. hookeri appears to be montane. The one we have in the valley bottom (high-elevation prairie, 7000 ft) is looks different, bigger--T. exscapa? I'm hoping my little common garden experiment will be useful. Looks like I'll need some time in the herbarium too.

  2. Gotta love those ephemerals! I know what you mean about the Spring Beauties--I nearly missed mine this year because they really do hide and they're so tiny. Enjoy the blooms between the snowstorms!

  3. Great finds, Hollis Hope your iNaturalist project goes well.

    1. Thanks, Tim. I'm so eager to get back to work on it ... just waiting for the plants to bloom!

    2. Looks like you're not doing bad though, with 69 species observed. But I know what you mean, sometimes you just need to get out there and get to work :)