Larix occidentalis “Western Larch” Pinaceae

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

The Tamarack colors were in full swing around Missoula last week. They appear to be fading a bit now, but we’ll soon forget to mourn their bare branches when they become adorned with snow!

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Malacosoma sp. “Tent Moth” Lasiocampidae, pupa on
Larix occidentalis “Western Larch” Pinaceae

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

The trails around Apgar are rife with Lasiocampidae pupae. They’ve spun their webby cocoons in every manner of tree, shrub, and man-made structure. Around Missoula, it wasn’t a very big year for tent moth caterpillars, but only a hundred miles away in Glacier National Park, Malacosoma numbers were significantly higher. These species go through regular boom and bust cycles and some years they become so abundant that entire forests can get defoliated. In my search of the literature, it appears that these moths overwinter as eggs, not as pupae. These pupating individuals certainly won’t survive the oncoming cold if that is indeed the case.

Juniperus scopulorum “Rocky Mountain Juniper” Cupressaceae

Salmon-Challis National Forest, ID
March 19, 2015
Robert Niese

Recent genetic evidence suggests that the Puget Sound populations of Juniperus scopulorum are actually a separate species (J. maritimus), although the two are nearly impossible to distinguish morphologically. The berries of both species are not particularly palatable, but make a good laxative.

Pseudotsuga menziesii “Douglas Fir” Pinaceae

Tacoma, WA
May 18, 2013
Robert Niese

A Pacific Northwest Indian legend explains where the Doug-fir got its unmistakable leafy bracts (in between the scales of the cone), suggesting that, long ago during an intense fire, tiny mice seeking shelter from the flames hid themselves between the scales of the Doug-fir cones. Today we see their tiny tails and back feet poking out of the cones!

Larix occidentalis “Western Larch” Pinaceae (cone with evidence of seed predation by Tamiasciurus hudsonicus Red Squirrel)

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese

Red Squirrels are cone specialists and create massive debris piles, called middens, in areas where they regularly eat (typically atop a stump, fallen log, or low, broad tree branch). These middens are easy to spot and are often more than a meter in width. In Western Washington, these cone middens are usually created by the Red Squirrel’s cousin, the Douglas Squirrel (T. douglasii).

Larix occidentalis “Western Larch” Pinaceae
with Bryoria sp. “Tree-hair Lichen" 

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese

Larch is one of North America’s only deciduous conifers. Here in western Montana, needles are just beginning to turn yellow in mid-September.
Bryoria is a common lichen throughout the PNW and was once a common food source for more than 40 local tribes, in spite of nearly indistinguishable toxic species co-occurring throughout most of their range.