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Sisyrinchium montanum “Montana Strict Blue-eyed-grass” Iridaceae

Missoula, MT
May 27, 2017
Robert Niese

It’s easy to miss these little, unassuming members of the iris family. As their name suggests, at first glance they look very much like grass, but their showy purple blooms give them away quickly. Various species of Blue-eyed-grass grow throughout North America, where they tend to be found in wet or vernally wet meadows, grasslands, and irrigation ditches. I’ve been walking by these plants every day for months, but I didn’t even notice until they started to bloom!

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Polemonium micranthum “Annual Jacob’s-ladder” Polemoniaceae

Missoula, MT
April 16, 2017
Robert Niese

These abundant, weedy Jacob’s Ladders are often found growing among other equally small, white-flowered annuals like StellariaArabidopsisCapsella, and Cardamine. Unlike many members of those other weedy genera, Polemonium micranthum is a native and not quite as abundant. I certainly would have passed right over it, had I not been on my hands and knees searching for a timid jumping spider. It’s a new species to me!

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Mentzelia laevicaulis “Giant Blazingstar” Loasaceae

Missoula, MT
July 19, 2016
Robert Niese

This family of plants is completely new to me and it had me stumped for months after I first photographed it blooming under a full moon! Blazingstars, also known as Evening-stars and Moon Flowers, are so named because their flowers tend to open in late afternoon and evening, attracting a variety of pollinators including nocturnal insects like hawkmoths. They have a widespread distribution east of the Cascades, but are fairly uncommon. Here in Montana, two species of Mentzelia are considered species of concern due to their rarity.

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Sisyrinchium montanum “Montana Strict Blue-eyed-grass” Iridaceae

Missoula, MT
May 27, 2017
Robert Niese

It’s easy to miss these little, unassuming members of the iris family. As their name suggests, at first glance they look very much like grass, but their showy purple blooms give them away quickly. Various species of Blue-eyed-grass grow throughout North America, where they tend to be found in wet or vernally wet meadows, grasslands, and irrigation ditches. I’ve been walking by these plants every day for months, but I didn’t even notice until they started to bloom!

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Hydrophyllum tenuipes “Pacific Waterleaf” Hydrophyllaceae/Boraginaceae

Olympic National Park, WA
June 5, 2013
Robert Niese

While we’re on the topic of Hydrophyllaceaous plants, here’s another from the low, wet forests of the coastal PNW. Like most members of this pseudo-family, these flowers exhibit unmistakable exerted stamens. These plants are endemic to the PNW and can be found anywhere west of the Cascades, usually near rivers or streams. It’s also interesting to note, like the other Hydrophylls I’ve been posting lately, these plants produce flowers whose color varies from cream to deep violet. A quick google image search suggests that most individuals are white, but all the images I have collected personally are purple. Perhaps I tend to only encounter the purple varieties, but it seems far more likely that I simply prefer to photograph purple plants over white ones. It’s interesting that this unconscious bias may have influenced my perhaps unfounded perception of these populations being predominantly purple.

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Phacelia heterophylla “Varileaf Scorpionweed” Hydrophyllaceae/Boraginaceae

Mt. Sentinel, Lolo National Forest, MT
June 13, 2016
Robert Niese

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m not very familiar with members of the genus Phacelia, but this species perfectly exemplifies why they have received the common name, “scorpionweeds.” Those tightly coiled flower heads will progressively unravel until they’re long and straight (a very Boraginaceaous growth pattern). P. heterophylla is an abundant, weedy species in our area, and, unlike elsewhere in its range where their flowers are drab and white, here in Missoula ours tend to be deep lavender in color!

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Phacelia linearis “Thread-leaf Phacelia” Hydrophyllaceae/Boraginaceae

Mt. Sentinel, Lolo National Forest, MT
June 13, 2016
Robert Niese

I can’t say I’m particularly familiar with the genus Phacelia. In fact, I was quite stumped when I first photographed this flower on the trails behind the university. Turns out, Phacelia has perplexed botanists as well over the last few decades as well. Most members of this genus are called scorpionweeds (for obvious reasons which I’ll elucidate in my next post), but this particular species is definitely not recognizable as such. Its large, broadly campanulate flowers are not what I immediately associate with members of Hydrophyllaceae either. What’s more, the family Hydrophyllaceae is now accepted as a subfamily within Boraginaceae, and this plant absolutely does not remind me of forget-me-nots and bluebells. So in summary, the Thread-leaf Phacelia is an oddball in the world of Phacelias and the genus Phacelia is generally also odd as a member of Hydrophyllaceae which, oddly enough, has odd traits that do not conform to those that tend to be most common in the family Boraginaceae, to which it now belongs.

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Philadelphus lewisii “Lewis’ Mock Orange” Hydrangeaceae

Missoula, MT
June 11, 2015
Robert Niese

This species of Philadelphus was discovered by Meriwether Lewis in 1806. It’s flowers and scent are reminiscent of orange blossoms, thus it’s common name, the mock-orange. Unlike oranges, these attractive shrubs produce dry, 4-parted capsule fruits that are wholly inedible. Their leaves, however, contain saponins and can be crushed to make a mild soap. They are a popular ornamental plant here in the eastern PNW and are the state flower of Idaho. Look for them scattered throughout drier slopes in the west, where they tend to grow singly or in small populations. Here in Missoula, they cover the hillsides with gorgeous white blooms at the beginning of summer, much like Amelanchier in the spring.

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Campanula rotundifolia “Mountain Harebell” Campanulaceae

Two Medicine, Glacier National Park, MT
October 8, 2015
Robert Niese

The Mountain Harebell has a circumpolar distribution where it tends to be a late-blooming perennial. As a native of the British Isles, the harebell has attracted the attention of many a great English poet, including William Shakespeare, John Clare, and Christina Rossetti. Here in the PNW, the Haida people called them “blue rain flowers” and believed that picking them would cause it to rain.

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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.