Balsamorhiza sagittata “Arrowleaf Balsamroot” Asteraceae

Tobacco Root Mountains, MT
June 3, 2016
Robert Niese

I recently acquired a new phone with a decent camera! This was especially fortuitous last week when I managed to accidentally stumble upon this huge late bloom of balsamroot without my DSLR handy. These hillsides were still completely blanketed in blooming B. sagittata, while Missoula’s hillsides have all faded in the past few weeks. And for the record, this phone camera has more megapixels than my first DSLR… Weird.


Blue and violet wildflowers in-bloom in the first week of June

(from top-to-bottom, left-to-right: Penstemon sp., Mertensia longiflora,Delphinium bicolor, Lupinus sericeus, Viola adunca, Linum lewisii, Mertensia paniculata)

Lolo National Forest, MT
June 2014, 2015, 2016
Robert Niese

I finally have an instagram with loads of not-so-sciencey nature and personal content! Feel free to drop by and peak into the life of a nerdy natural historian!


Sphecodes (arvensiformis) “Cuckoo Sweat Bee” Halictidae
on Euphorbia esula “Leafy Spurge” Euphorbiaceae

Blue Mountain National Recreation Area, MT
May 16, 2016
Robert Niese

Sphecodes bees are cleptoparasitic, cuckoo-like bees that lay their eggs in the nests of other sweat bees. Despite their outward appearance, these insects are not wasps, but they have converged on a very cuckoo-wasp-like life-history strategy. A female enters the nests of another Halictid, consumes a developing egg and replaces it with her own. Unfortunately, these bees, like the vast majority of Halictids, are very poorly studied and there are few entomologists capable of accurately identifying them beyond the genus level. Oh, and by the way, Leafy Spurge, while it is one of Missoula’s most widespread invasives, is also one of my favorite spring plants. They’re just such odd organisms! More photos and natural history info to come, I’m sure.

Looking back at my other photos of these bees from years ago makes me realize how far my skills as a photographer and natural historian have progressed.


Taraxacum officinale “Common Dandelion” Asteraceae (Compositae)

Missoula, MT
May 2, 2016
Robert Niese

Generic, but beautiful nonetheless. Each of those tiny wind dancers is actually a fruit called an achene. Each achene arose from an individual flower of which there are hundreds in a single dandelion head (actually there are only 50-200 flowers per head, but “hundreds” sounds better) . This is where the family got its old name, “Compositae.” Each of their composite “flowers” are made up of loads of tiny individual flowers. So next time your lover asks for flowers, pick them a couple dandelions and astound them with an offering of many hundreds of flowers instead of a measly dozen roses.


Lasioglossum (Hemihalictus) sp. “Weak-veined Sweat Bee” Halictidae
on Solidago missouriensis. “Prairie Goldenrod” Asteraceae

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

Lasioglossum is the world’s largest genus of bees and contains more than 1700 species worldwide. Like many other speciose invertebrate genera, we know relatively little about these organisms and only a handful of entomologists worldwide are capable of identifying them to species. In the last five years, researchers throughout North America have revised the taxonomy of this group using phylogenetic data, new morphological characters, and over 10,000 museum specimens. According to their keys, this particular individual is possibly a male L. (Hemihalictus) inconditum.


Salix “Willow” Salicaceae

March 26, 2016
Blodgett Canyon, Lolo National Forest, MT
Robert Niese

Willows bear their reproductive parts in separate male and female catkins each on separate plants. This particular plant is male and is only just beginning to bloom. Unfortunately, without female structures or leaves, this individual is impossible to identify beyond its genus. Identifying willows is generally straightforward, you just need all the correct structures in front of you and a good key to follow. Many consider willow identification to be a skill reserved for “Master Botanists” but it’s a fun exercise for anyone interested in botany and possessing a rudimentary background in dichotomous keying! Consider it a challenge!


Polypodium calirhiza “California Licorice Fern” Polypodiaceae

Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Marin County, CA
December 29, 2015
Robert Niese

P. calirhiza is a hybrid of the California Polypody (P. californicum) and Licorice Fern (P. glycyrrhiza) that was formally recognized as a separate species in 1991. These hybrids persist as a unique species because of their doubled chromosome number (2n=148 instead of 74) which produces sterile back-crosses (2n=111). Speciation by this sort of genome duplication event is surprisingly common among plants. In coastal California, all three species often occur side-by-side, but P. californicum does not grow on other plants (as seen here) and P. glycyrrhiza has rhizomes with a pleasant, sweet licorice flavor (P. calirhiza has a disappointingly sweet, even acrid taste). This hybrid polypody occurs throughout California, north to Oregon, west of the Cascades and Sierras.


Myosotis latifolia “Broadleaf Forget-me-not” Boraginaceae

Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Marin County, CA
December 29, 2015
Robert Niese

This is not a species of Myosotis that we regularly encounter here in the PNW. It’s a common garden species, however, and some manage to occasionally escape cultivation. Coastal California is particularly rife with these escapees. They can be found in most moist, disturbed coastal habitats between Monterrey and Humboldt.

Mertensia paniculata “Tall Bluebells” Boraginaceae

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

These bluebells have distinctly bell-shaped corollas unlike many other species in our area. To be precise, their corolla “bells” are gently and roundly flared and are approximately 1.5 times longer than the “tube” section of the flower. They are also somewhat taller than other species in our area and are commonly found among other waist-high, meadow wildflowers.

Arbutus menziesii “Madrone/Arbutus” Ericaceae

Point Defiance Park, Tacoma, WA
May 5, 2012
Robert Niese

This is one of my favorite PNW endemics. The bark can be collected and steeped in a tea to treat stomach aches, cramps, or sore throats. The berries can be chewed to suppress hunger or fermented into a cider. The wood of madrone is beautiful and dense making it excellent for kinds of projects. Madrone’s thick, evergreen leaves are resistant to water loss make the species well adapted for coastal and dry environments throughout the PNW.