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.

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!

Apgar, Glacier National Park - by Robert NieseGoat Lick, Glacier National Park - by Robert NiesePopulus Leaf, Glacier National Park - by Robert NieseApgar, Glacier National Park - by Robert Niese   Two Medicine, Glacier National Park - by Robert NieseApgar, Glacier National Park - by Robert Niese

Fall is in full swing here in Montana!

I made it up to Glacier National Park this weekend to experience some fall foliage firsthand. It was absolutely stunning!

Here’s a brief guide to foliage colors in Western Montana!


  • Members of Salicaceae (Cottonwoods, Aspens, Poplars, Willows) and Betulaceae (Alders, Birch) dominate the yellow palate of our PNW hillsides. These species begin turning in September and their colors will persist, depending on rain and wind, until late October.
  • Larch (Larix) is our only deciduous conifer in the PNW. Depending on elevation, Larch will begin turning between the first and third weeks of October.
  • Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) and Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) also maintain a substantial degree of yellowness early in the fall before turning pale brown in October.


  • Red fall foliage in western Montana is largely restricted to the understory.
  • Ericaceous shrubs such as Huckleberries (Vaccinium) change color depending on sun exposure. On exposed hillsides, they’ll be red before August, while in dense forests, they may only begin changing in October.
  • Rosaceous shrubs such as Oceanspray (Holoduscus), Ninebark (Physocarpus), Spiraea, Hawthorn (Crataegus), and Rose (Rosa) also tend to go through a red phase in their color change. While some of these species appear to start early (September), most of their change will persist well into October and even November.
  • Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) has an interesting color change. Here in the riparian areas of Western Montana, they appear to go through a green and maroon phase, which is quite lovely, before losing their leaves entirely. Fortunately, even after losing their leaves, these shrubs have phenomenal red stems that definitely supplement the colors of fall.
  • Maple (Acer) also go through a red phase here in western Montana. These native species appear to have dropped most of their leaves by mid-October.

Species with little color change:

  • I’ve noticed several dominant deciduous trees and shrubs that don’t appear to change color considerably with the seasons. Of these, Ceanothus and Symphoricarpos are the most abundant.
  • Ceanothus tends to keep its green foliage throughout the year or turn straight to brown in the fall.
  • Snowberries (Symphoricarpos) appear to do a variety of things, but here in western Montana, they generally drop their leaves quickly without much ado.

Larix occidentalis “Western Larch” Pinaceae

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese


Larch cones are simply beautiful. Two small, winged seeds hide beneath each scale, waiting to be dispersed on the wind as they fall to the ground when the cone matures. Each scale also bears a single long, pointed bract, giving the cone a delicate, yet spiky appearance. This particular cone also bears many resin crystals which may have been produced by damage from seed predators such as Red Crossbills. If you ever have the opportunity to visit the Seeley Lake region in the late summer or early fall, you would not be disappointed. These deciduous conifers transform into golden spires that light-up our mountainsides in a spectacular patchwork of fiery pillars scattered among rich, evergreen firs and pines. It is unlike any fall scenery anywhere else in the world.

Mushroom, Letharia, and Linnaea

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese


Mushrooms are those sorts of organisms that are hopeless to identify without taking samples back home to reference later. This little guy was just too perfectly placed for me to have the heart to pick it. Again, late summer in the Larch forests around Seeley Lake has proven to be excellent for mushroom hunting!

Suillus cavipes “Hollow-stemmed Suillus Bolete” Basidiomycota

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese

Here’s another bolete from my late summer mushroom-hunting extravaganza in the Larch forests around Seeley Lake. This species, another easily-recognizable bolete in the genus Suillus, is also an ectomycorrhizal symbiont with larch trees (Larix). This species has a dry, very scaly cap that tends to be dark brown in color. Like other members of this genus, it also has angular pores that appear to radiate from the stipe. The best way to confirm the identification of this species, however, is to cut open its stipe and verify that it’s hollow. Unlike other members of this genus, S. cavipes is far more palatable and has a pleasant earthy taste when dried, but, like other Suillus boletes, tends to be slimy when cooked. Here, S. cavipes is growing among Twin-flower (Linnaea borealis), Canadian Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), Prince’s Pine (Chimaphila umbellata), and, of course, Western Larch (Larix occidentalis).

In honor of National Dog Day, get outside and explore with your canine friends!

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

We recently adopted Zorro form RezQ Dogs and the Montana Companion Animal Network. Like all puppies, he loves getting outdoors and exploring all the sights and smells of our PNW forests. The gorgeous old growth cedar forests and spruce stands of the Hub Lake region are an especially unique trip for us, since most of the Missoula and Bitterroot Valley are drier, Ponderosa Pinelands. I highly recommend it to any of my followers from the eastern PNW!

Oxalis oregana “Oregon Wood-sorrel” Oxalidaceae
with Polystichum munitum “Western Sword Fern” Dryopteridaceae

Olympic National Park, WA
June 5, 2013
Robert Niese

This is a common scene throughout the Olympic Peninsula where rainforest floors are literally carpeted with these two species. Both species are edible, but Oxalis is by far my favorite of the two. There’s nothing quite like munching on Oxalis straight from the trail while hiking through a PNW rainforest.