P1240396

Nematocampa resistaria “Horned Spanworm Moth” Geometridae, male

Clinton, MT
July 25, 2015
Robert Niese

This species of inch-worm moth is found throughout the US, except the southwest, and exhibits striking variation in morphology across its range. Males and females are also quite dimorphic. Males tend to be yellower and have dark patches at the base of their forewings while females almost always have a white ground color. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the morphology of this species are the horns of their caterpillars. Look for these crazy caterpillars in mixed hardwood/conifer forests in the early summer here in the PNW.

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Holodiscus discolor “Oceanspray” Rosaceae

Mt. Sentinel, Lolo National Forest, MT
September 12, 2015
Robert Niese

Oceanspray is one of my favorite plants here in the PNW. It’s a modest-sized shrub that grows foamy white inflorescences that brighten up nearly all open hillsides west of the Rocky Mountains in the spring. These inflorescences are long-lived and fade to a creamy beige that contrasts nicely with their rich green foliage throughout the summer. In the fall, Oceanspray leaves begin changing early in the season and progress through a rainbow of colors until becoming a uniform maroon-scarlet after the first frosts of October. These plants have a very tough wood that is resistant to fire and are regularly the first plants to recolonize areas following a burn.

Enicospilus “americanus” species complex, Ichneumonidae

Clinton, MT
July 25, 2015
Robert Niese

This elegant wasp is a parasitoid of Saturnid and Sphingid moth caterpillars. Females lay their eggs on the bodies of caterpillars and the larvae then grow inside the caterpillar, consuming it and taking its place inside its cocoon. Adults visit flowers at night and are commonly seen at lights. We spotted this individual at our mothlighting event for National Moth Week!

Linum lewisii “Lewis’s Prairie Flax” Linaceae

Drinking Horse Mountain, Bozeman, MT
June 3, 2015
Robert Niese

Prairie Flax is native to western North America where it grows in dry open areas east of the Cascades and west of the Mississippi. This species was first collected on the Lewis and Clark expedition on July 9, 1806, although there is some debate as to whether it was collected by Meriwether himself or by Captain Clark. After the species was formally described by Frederick Pursh in 1814, the original specimen was lost for nearly a century along with many other historic records. Flax (L. usitatissimum) is among the oldest of all cultivated plants and has been utilized by humans for at least 30,000 years. Here in the Northwest, native peoples used fibers from the stems of L. lewisii to create cordage, string, and textiles and used its seeds to treat all manner of dietary problems, to reduce swelling in wounds and boils, and to remove small, irritating particles from the eye. Learn more about the edible and medicinal uses for L. lewisii here, and learn more about its discovery and discussion in the Lewis and Clark expedition here!

Heuchera grossulariifolia “Gooseberry Alumroot” Saxifragaceae

Weir Hot Springs, Clearwater National Forest, ID
June 8, 2015
Robert Niese

These lovely Saxifrags are endemic to the PNW (southwest Montana to the southern Cascades) where they can be found on well-drained, somewhat shady slopes and cliff-faces. In many parts of its range, two distinct populations of H. grossulariifolia occur side-by-side, and may be evolving into separate species. Due to an accidental duplication of its genome, tetraploid populations of H. grossulariifolia bloom earlier and grow larger than their diploid counterparts, and hybrids between the two populations have low fertility. This suggests that the two populations may be genetically isolated enough to become separate species in the future.

Myosotis stricta (micrantha) “Strict Forget-me-not” Boraginaceae

Missoula, MT
April 23, 2015
Robert Niese

There are several species of Myosotis in our region – four of which have flowers that are less than 5mm in diameter! Of these small-flowered species, M. verna tends to have white flowers, M. laxa has sepal hairs that are not hooked at the tip, and M. discolor produces flowers that are yellow at first, but turn purple with age. M. discolor and M. stricta tend to be our most common tiny, weedy, roadside inhabitants here in the PNW. The flowers on this particular specimen were only 2mm across!

Rhizomnium glabrescens “Fan Moss” Bryales

Deception Pass State Park, Whidbey Island, WA
August 18, 2014
Robert Niese

These mosses are very common in wet forests throughout the western PNW and appear to be particularly fond of rotting logs and rocks. They are a very leafy species of moss and are often mistaken for vascular plants. The star-shaped structures shown here are the sperm-bearing male gametophytes (full of antheridia). This particular arrangement of leaves allows the sperm to splash out of the antheridia whenever it rains. So next time you’re wandering around a wet PNW forest in the rain, I hope you think about moss sex. Learn more about the biology of these mosses here!

Phleum pratense “Timothy” Poaceae

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese

Timothy grass has been introduced throughout most of North America and is commonly found along roads and trails here in western Montana. It flowers late in the summer and by fall its inflorescence dries out and it begins looking quite sedge-like. It is easily distinguished from other similar grasses by its double-pointed, horn-like spikelets.




Gyponana sp. “Common Green Leafhopper” Cicadellidae

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese

These leafhoppers are extremely abundant in North America but are next to impossible to identify beyond genus using external characteristics alone. These species tend to feed on the sap of conifers, and considering that this little guy was found in one of Montana’s most famous larch forests, I’m gonna guess he’s a larch specialist.

Humulus lupulus “Common Hop” Cannabaceae

Missoula, MT
September 12, 2015
Robert Niese

The Common Hop grows particularly well in the PNW and Washington state alone produces nearly a quarter of the world’s hops. Humulus is a member of a rather odd family of flowering plants, the Cannabaceae, which tend to have drab flowers (often unisexual) that lack petals and rely on wind for pollination. In the Common Hop specifically, the structure that is utilized for beer production (the hop) is actually a modified inflorescence of female flowers hiding beneath leaf-like scales called bracts. Beneath each of those bracts, the female flowers produce a the diversity of compounds which, through selective breeding efforts across the centuries, impart bitterness and complex aromas to the beer.