Monday, July 17, 2023

Cowboy's Delight

Not what you expected?
On my tree-following expedition last week, I saw patch after patch of Sphaeralcea coccinea in full bloom. For many years I knew it as Scarlet Globemallow—not surprising given the orange-scarlet flowers. Then last year I learned it's also called Cowboy's Delight. Cute name, but is it appropriate?

Members of a small impromptu focus group thought not. "Ma'am, a cowboy needs more than a flower to be delighted" explained one fellow. Another—Wyoming-born-and-raised—also was skeptical. "Cowboys don't like flowers unless their cows eat 'em."

Well, pardner ... cows DO eat 'em.

Animals graze and browse on the tastiest things available, so aggies and wildlifers rate plants as to palatability. However taste varies among species. And for a given beast, palatability depends on time of year, available moisture, and other site characteristics. But in general cows and elk find Scarlet Globemallow fairly tasty, while horses don't. Sheep love it (palatability excellent). Some small birds eat the fruits; bison, prairie dogs, jack rabbits, and various rodents utilize the plants for forage. It's especially palatable and important for pronghorn antelope.

This gal seemed to be curious as to what I was doing but then went back to eating.
Pronghorn's Delight, thriving next to a dirt road in open sunny habitat.
Sphaeralcea coccinea is a long-lived deep-rooted perennial subshrub that may grow to about a foot tall. Leaves are gray-green and deeply lobed. Flowers are pink to deep orange to scarlet, and are clustered at the tips of stems and branches.
Stellate hairs make the foliage gray-green. Matt Lavin on Flickr.
Many styles emerge from tubes of joined stamens, typical of the mallow family. Matt Lavin on Flickr.
Scarlet Globemallow is native and widespread in drier parts of the American West. It's extremely drought-tolerant, growing in full sunlight and avoiding shade, making it an excellent species to mix with grasses in reclamation. Perhaps this exceptional hardiness is what delights a cowboy. The colorful almost-gaudy flowers can appear unexpectedly, even during the driest summers, bringing a moment of pleasure to the cowpoke on his long hot dusty ride.


Biodiversity Institute, Wyoming Native Gardens. Scarlet Globemallow, Cowboy's Delight

NRCS USDA 2009. Plant Guide, Scarlet Globemallow, Sphaeralcea coccinea. PDF

Southwest Colorado Wildflowers. Sphaeralcea

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Tree-following: Junipers in July

My field assistant stayed home (too warm). But I managed to find both my trees and the shutter release button, thereby verifying my visit.
Several months had passed since I last visited the Rocky Mountain Junipers I'm following this year. What a changed landscape! We had a cool wet spring, and a cool wet summer so far. Many are wondering—have we've ever seen the Laramie Basin so green so late?

I suppose it still looks arid to those elsewhere. But for us, this is LUSH!

Needle-and-Thread, Hesperostipa (Stipacomata.
It was impossible to capture the grass diversity in a photo. For example there are least four species in the one below: Needle-and-Thread, Indian Ricegrass, Blue Grama, and Western Wheatgrass.
Grass enthusiasts can click to enlarge the image and search for species.
I soon left the trail to cross slabby limestone to the junipers I'm following.
Hello little Limber Pine. I'm back.
There was a light breeze at most so for the first time I was able to photograph the foliage and "berries" (technically fleshy cones). Only the darker tree (above) has berries. They are yellow brown, perhaps immature. It is said that they take two years to mature and turn a glaucous blue.
Berries can barely be spotted in the foliage.
But I wonder—will these berries mature? They look a bit sickly to me, maybe from our multi-year drought. We shall see.
This is my contribution to the July gathering of Tree Followers, kindly hosted by The Squirrelbasket. More news here.