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Common Broadleaf Cattail

Cattails, more specifically the broadleaf cattail, Typha latifolia, is the kind of plant that I recognize without any hesitation.  I don’t live around marshy areas and I don’t see these plants with any regularity, but when I do encounter them, I immediately think ‘cattails’.  I must have absorbed this knowledge as a child, perhaps because the seedhead looks like a big corny dog, which I loved as a kid until I puked one at an overheated Garth Brooks concert (sorry, other people in the crowd…).  But, though I may have more or less outgrown my appreciation for fried hot dogs and Okie singers, that didn’t keep me from looking at the grassy-leaved plants turning brown by Spring Creek and mentally saying, ‘look, cattails.’

I don’t really think this plant even resembles the tail of a cat at all, but that’s because I’ve never noticed the flower in June (see this illuminating post on Naturespeak).   This species can also be called common bulrush or great reedmace.  Utah State University has a website that explains the flowers and seeds:  “Yellowish male (staminate) flowers are located at the top of the inflorescence and greenish female (pistillate) flowers are located underneath….Flowers bloom in summer and after bloom the male flowers rapidly disperse, leaving a naked stalk tip. The pollinated female flowers turn brown as the seeds mature, forming the familiar cylindrical, sausage-like, cattail fruiting spike (to 9” long in this species).”

This plant is native to all states except Hawaii and can also be found throughout the world.  It typically grows in or near shallow water and can hybridize with other species.

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2012 in Nature

 

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Subalpine Gumweed

Despite the late summer warmth, not much is left blooming around Laramie this time of year.  One exception is the subalpine gumweed, Grindelia subalpina, which is still looking quite robust in the wilder parts of town.

The name subapline gumweed is yet another example of stupid common names, because it grows all the way down to the plains, so the subalpine part isn’t very accurate!  Laramie, even at 7200 feet, doesn’t quite reach subalpine heights.  

Curlycup gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa, is another similar-looking species of gumweed that grows in the area (and throughout the U.S.).  Both species are native, favor dry areas, and bloom well into September.  The main way to tell G. subalpina from G. squarrosa is by the leaves.  The website Eastern Colorado Wildflowers states “Teeth on leaves of G. subalpina are spaced further apart, are pointed and point outwards from the margin. Teeth on G. squarrosa are close together, somewhat rounded and point toward the leaf tip.”

Coloradowildflowers.org adds, “Subalpine Gumweed’s base of the leaf tapers toward the point of attachment on the stalk, forming a petiole-like structure. Curlycup Gumweed leaves are stemless, oblong in shape & clasping the stem.”

Subalpine gumweed can also be called mountain gumweed, stickyhead or just plain gumweed.  By those names, you can probably tell that some part of this plant is viscous (the bracts are sticky with resinous glands).  G. subalpina can be found only in Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2012 in Nature

 

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Plains Pricklypear

The local plains pricklypear, Opuntia polyacantha, looks like it might already be heading for winter dormancy.  The weather has still been quite warm and sunny around here, but perhaps the lack of moisture is even affecting the cacti (which one would think should be able to handle it).  This species, which grows in drier areas throughout the west, seems to be blending into the dry ground instead of being vibrant and cactus-y.  Look at the picture below to see how much different and prettier it looked in June!

 

Well, those gorgeous flowers may have had a little to do with the earlier beauty, but I am a great admirer of cacti.  When I first moved to Wyoming, I was quite surprised to find prickly pear growing on the prairie, having associated such plants only with the hot southwest.  This hardy species can live anywhere between 1000 and 8000 feet elevation, though, and all the way north into Canada.

Numerous animal species rely on this cactus for food and cover, and I am always impressed with any plant that can handle Wyoming’s winters.  But I just can’t help but prefer them in bloom!

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2012 in Nature

 

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Dwarf Mountain Groundsel

High up in the Snowy Range of Wyoming–and we’re talking around 11,000 feet here–the flora is still clinging to the idea of summer.  Take this dwarf mountain groundsel (or dwarf mountain ragwort), Senecio fremontii var. blitoides, that I found on a hike yesterday near the Gap Lakes.  This plant managed to avoid the apparent early arrival of autumn by sheltering under some warm, sunny rocks.  Most other examples of this species in more exposed areas were already dried and heading towards seedheads, as shown in the photo below. 

 

Also called dwarf mountain butterweed, Fremont’s groundsel or rock ragwort, this plant has thick, toothed leaves and grows in clusters on rocky spots above treeline.  It is named after the explorer John Fremont, (the first man of European descent to see Lake Tahoe in California) who collected several new species and thus has several plants named in his honor.  The photo at the bottom shows this wildflower in the full bloom of summer.

You can find this species on high slopes throughout the central Rockies (another subspecies, var. fremontii, grows farther to the west), but look fast–summer is running out!

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2012 in Nature

 

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Golden Crownbeard

It sometimes feels like every time I take a walk, there’s yet another yellow wildflower that I don’t recognize.  While I am confident in identifying heart-leafed arnica and various sunflowers, there are so many other yellow ray-and-disc blossoms that leave me perplexed.  Today, on the Laramie prairie, I found several patches of what I am calling golden crownbeard, Verbesina encelioides.

This wildflower–if I am correct in my identification–may not be native to this area.  Some websites referred to it as introduced to the west, while others suggested that it is native to some parts of the west and southwest U.S. but spread to others.  It has a tendency to thrive in disturbed areas, leading it to be considered a weed at times.  One of the common names is cowpen daisy, indicating a habitat preference for churned up dirt!  When I saw it today on disturbed ground where prairie met path, my initial guess was that it was invasive.  But pretty!

This wildflower is definitely invasive in the Pacific Islands, where it harms native plant and bird populations.  But here it brightens up the dry, late summer landscape and gives bugs, bees and butterflies just one more dining opportunity.

 

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2012 in Nature

 

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Yellow Columbine

Yellow or golden columbine, Aquilegia flavescens, is yet another columbine species that grows in the Rocky Mountains.  Unlike the Colorado blue columbine, this species prefers areas farther north.  I come across it most often in my visits to Glacier National Park, Montana, but I have also seen it in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.  Like its cousin the western red columbine, it does not grow here in southeast Wyoming.

These nodding yellow flowers can be beautiful individually or covering an entire meadow.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, there is a whitish Laramie columbine, Aquilegia laramiensis, that only grows in the Laramie mountains to the east of town.  I have never seen one, but now that I know of its existence, maybe I will now!

As for A. flavescens, the yellow color is quite eye catching, but the sepals can also occassionally be tinged with a very fetching pink.

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2012 in Nature

 

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Common Yellow Monkeyflower

As mentioned in my previous post, I loved the cheerful yellow, common monkeyflower, Mimulus guttatus, that I found all over the wetter parts of Silver Falls State Park in Oregon. Also called seep or seep-spring monkeyflower, this plant is variable in size but not in its preference for moist locations.  Guttatus means spotted or speckled, referring to the red markings on the inside of the blooms.

I also encountered this species along the Metolius River on the eastern side of the Oregon Cascades, and I have seen it in the Gros Ventre Wilderness of western Wyoming.

During this road trip I also saw different species of yellow monkeyflower in California (Primrose Monkeyflower, Mimulus primuloides var. primuloides in Lassen Volcanic National Park) and Montana (Tiling’s mountain or subalpine monkeyflower, Mimulus tilingii var. tilingii in Glacier National Park)–see the bottom two photos.  It is impossible for me to be certain of my identifications since M. guttatus has numerous varieties and subspecies as well, but I am taking my best guess.  In any case, it was a happily monkey-filled journey!

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2012 in Nature

 

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