Acer macrophyllum “Bigleaf Maple” Aceraceae, with
Laburnum anagyroides “Golden Chain Tree” Fabaceae

Tacoma, WA
May 30, 2012
Robert Niese

The largest leaves on Bigleaf Maples easily reach 2 feet in length! These trees are keystone species in riparian zones throughout the wet lowlands of the PNW and are particularly important for sustaining healthy moss populations. In the background, you can see the bright yellow flowers of the introduced Golden Chain Tree. These papilionaceous flowers (in the pea family) are favored by bumble bees which are large enough to wriggle their way into the corolla.

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Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) Parulidae

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, WA
May 6, 2012
Robert Niese

Yellowthroats are among the most abundant and widely dispersed of the New World Warblers. There are 13 different races of these little birds, but all share their characteristic witchety witchety witchety song. Listen for these birds in any riparian or wetland habitat across the US and Canada.

Solaster stimpsoni “Stimpson’s Sun Star” Asteroidea, with
Ulva lactuca “Sea Lettuce” Chlorophyta

Point Robinson, Vashon Island, WA
July 4, 2012
Robert Niese

Solaster sea stars tend to be a more subtidal echinoderm, so we only really get to enjoy them as beachgoers at especially low summer tides. This species is a voracious hunter of sea cucumbers which are common in rocky inter- and subtidal ecosystems. However, this individual was hunting in open sand before it was stranded by the tide, which suggests it might have been feeding on the plentiful sea pens which occur in these areas instead. This species of sea star is the host of a commensal scale worm which can be found hiding in the groove between the paired tube feet on the underside of each arm.

Xysticus sp. “Ground Crab Spider” Thomisidae

National Bison Range, MT
June 8, 2014
Robert Niese

This large, highly variable genus of crab spiders can be found across the US and Canada. Although they are classified as ground spiders (as opposed to the flower crab spiders), they are often found in and around flowers where they wait to ambush arthropod prey.

Trimerotropis fontana “Fontana Band-winged Grasshopper” Acrididae

Missoula, MT
September 3, 2013
Robert Niese

The hills around Missoula are absolutely flush with grasshoppers in the late summer. On our collecting trip this particular September, we caught nine or ten different species in an hour! Trimerotropis is North America’s most speciose genus of Band-winged Grasshoppers and we regularly catch three species in our area. For ID information regarding this highly abundant genus, check out David Ferguson’s descriptions in BugGuide.

Ribes hudsonianum “Northern Black/Stinking Currant” Grossulariaceae

Lolo National Forest, Bitterroot Mountains, MT
May 10, 2015
Robert Niese

These currants are found throughout the temperate and boreal forests of North America from Alaska to Quebec south through the Rocky Mountain states. Here in the PNW, they tend to only be found east of the cascades in mid- to high-elevation dense wet forests and stream banks. Their berries, like so many of our Ribes in Montana, are relatively unpalatable.

Maianthemum racemosum “False Lily of the Valley” Liliaceae

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

These lilies are found abundantly in almost all moist-to-wet forests in North America. Here in the PNW, they are the largest of three species in this genus which all share the common name “false lily of the valley.” These plants are edible, but, when young, look nearly identical to False Hellebore which is very poisonous. Their shoots are said to taste like asparagus and their berries apparently taste like treacle. The plant has also been used at one point or another to treat every sort of ailment you can imagine. All parts of the plant, however, have strong to mild laxative effects and should be consumed cautiously. Learn more here.

Fritillaria atropurpurea “Spotted Fritillary” Liliaceae

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

There are several common species of chocolate/spotted/checkered fritillaries in the PNW (and countless endemics with tiny, restricted ranges in OR and CA). This species, F. atropurpurea, has the easternmost distribution and is found in most Rocky Mountain states as well as Oregon and California (not found in Washington, BC or Alberta, however). F. affinis is the most common species found west of the Cascades, but can also be found in parts of Idaho (not recorded in Montana or Alberta). F. camschatcensis, has a more northern distribution, but small populations can be found in Washington and Oregon (most abundant in BC and Alaska). The bulbs of all three species have been an important food source for native peoples. The flowers, which can be quite stinky, are pollinated by insects seeking dung and carrion.

Rosa gymnocarpa “Baldhip Rose” Rosaceae

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

This is one of North America’s smallest rose species and, as such, it is often nicknamed the “dwarf rose.” I prefer the name “baldhip” though. Not only does it sound wonderfully silly, but it also is a direct translation (more or less) of the species epithet, “gymnocarpa.” Well, gymnocarpa really means “naked fruit,” but their fruits are hips and these hips are indeed bald. When the flower is fertilized, its petals and sepals fall off, leaving behind the growing fruit. Most roses hang on to their sepals as their hips mature, making this a reliable feature for identifying R. gymnocarpa. Look for these small shrubs in low- to mid-elevation moist forests throughout the PNW. This little corner of western Montana is their eastern-most range edge!