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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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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.

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.

Snowberry on gray, Apgar, Glacier National Park

Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) clinging to the last days of summer

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

While brilliant fall colors are normally the highlight of dreary October days here in the Pacific Northwest, there’s also something to be said about the subtle beauty of bare branches. These ghostly grays criss-crossing in a spider web of angles and arcs provide an enchanting, textured backdrop in a world that is slowly dying and preparing for winter.

Moose cow and calf, Two Medicine, Glacier National Park, MT

Alces alces “Moose” Cervidae, cow and calf

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

The Moose (also called an Elk if you’re British) is the largest extant species of deer in the world. They have a circumboreal distribution and tend to be found most often around lakes and rivers in coniferous and mixed deciduous forests. The southernmost extent of the Moose’s global range occurs here in the northwestern United States. Southern Idaho is home to the largest herds of these southern residents, but small populations can also be found as far south as Utah and Colorado. In the fall, when bulls enter the rut and cows are protecting their calves, Moose are considered the most dangerous species to encounter here in Glacier National Park. In fact, in North America Moose kill more people annually than deer, bears, and mountain lions combined (including vehicle collisions).

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.

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!

Yellow:

  • 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:

  • 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.

Anthaxia (Melanthaxia) Buprestidae

Glacier National Park, MT
June 23, 2014
Robert Niese

These tiny wood borers (9mm long) are found abundantly in flower heads throughout the summer here in Montana.