Xeromphalina campanella “Bell Omphalina” Basidiomycota

Hub Lake Trail, Lolo National Forest, St. Regis, MT
August 16, 2015
Robert Niese

These adorable gregarious fungi are found on rotting coniferous logs in wet forests throughout North America (presumably). These specimens were only just starting to grow, but would likely end up covering the entire wet bottom half of this downed spruce log. Their caps, when fully mature, will measure no more than 2cm across and have a white spore print.

Veratrum viride var. eschscholtzianum “Green False Hellebore” Liliaceae

Great Burn, Lolo National Forest, MT
July 10, 2015
Robert Niese

Members of the genus Veratrum are highly toxic and famous for their nasty effects. In particular, its spring shoots are often mistaken for Hellebore (also poisonous) which is commonly used in treating morning sickness in pregnant women. If consumed early during pregnancy, False Hellebore will cause cyclopia in the developing fetus, a disorder which prevents the brain form developing into two lobes, thus producing a single olfactory and a single optic nerve (and, consequently, only one eye). It has similar effects on cattle and is widely detested by ranchers in our area. This species is most often found growing in moist, high-elevation valleys and meadows here in the PNW. It’s cousin, the White False Hellebore tends to be more common in lowlands west of the Cascades. (Side note: I always thought this common name sounded like a Harry Potter spell…)

Acer glabrum “Rocky Mountain Maple” Aceraceae

Apgar Lookout Trail, Glacier National Park, MT
October 9, 2015
Robert Niese

Montana is home to two species of maple, but this is our only native. The Rocky Mountain Maple can be found in moist, open forests, avalanche slopes, and riparian areas throughout the Pacific Northwest, but is most common east of the Cascades. In the west, A. glabrum could be confused with A. circinatum, the Vine Maple, which tends to be much more common. However, simple differences in their leaf shape, fruit color, and fruit shape make the distinction quite straightforward. Like all maples, these plants have neat, aerially dispersed seeds called samaras that spin like a helicopter blade as they fall to the ground. During World War II these seeds inspired parachute-less cargo containers that could be dropped from planes to provide emergency supplies or mail to inaccessible locations.

Populus tremuloides “Quaking Aspen” Salicaceae

Apgar Lookout Trail, Glacier National Park, MT
October 9, 2015
Robert Niese

This adorable Quaking Aspen sapling had lost all but three of its leaves by the time I photographed it in early October. While Quaking Aspen is famous for its adventitious, clonal reproduction, this little guy probably grew from seed because it was all alone in the at the edge of a stand of conifer saplings. Seedlings in the genus Populus are often the first to colonize abandoned mining sites that are too toxic for other species. Recent research suggests that they are only capable of this feat because of a mutualistic relationship with various species of mycorrhizal fungi such as these earthballs.

Coccinella septempunctata “Seven-spotted Lady Beetle” Coccinellidae

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

This species has been repeatedly introduced to the US as a biological control agent to manage aphid outbreaks. It is reportedly out-competing many native species in our area, but still has managed to become the official state insect of Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Tennessee. This individual was likely released as part of an ongoing Fish and Wildlife Service biological control project in the Drinking Horse Mountain area which has also involved intense invasive plant control (with goats!) in the past.

Bryoria fremontii “Wila/Black Tree Lichen”

Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, MT
October 24, 2015
Robert Niese

This lichen was a staple food source for about 20 different native groups (mostly Salish) of people here in the eastern PNW. Wila (which is the Secwepemctsín or Shuswap word for this lichen) grows abundantly here in our Ponderosa Pinelands, coating old trees from crown to floor in dangling blackish hair. No other species in the PNW east of the Cascades achieves quite as much biomass as B. fremontii (up to 3000kg per hectare!). Interestingly, like several other species of edible lichen in our region (e.g. Letharia), some regions have populations with high levels of vulpinic acid which is toxic when ingested in large quantities. It can be nearly impossible to tell these two chemotypes apart visually, and yet the vast majority of the tribes that subsisted on these lichens had to make the distinction daily.

Penstemon eriantherus “Fuzzy-tongue Penstemon” Plantaginaceae (Scroph.)

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

As one of our largest penstemons in the PNW, this flower is hard to miss! Look for it on drier hillsides and valleys east of the Cascades where it often blooms alongside Lupine (Lupinus sp.) and Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sp.). Its common name, Fuzzy-tongue Penstemon, is somewhat misleading as all penstemons are characterized by possessing a “fuzzy tongue.” These fuzzy tongues are actually sterile stamens (one of five total, which is where the name “pente-stamen” comes from) which attract pollinators.