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.

Veratrum viride var. eschscholtzianum “Green False Hellebore” Liliaceae

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

Members of the genus Veratrum are highly toxic and famous for their nasty effects. In particular, its spring shoots are often mistaken for Hellebore (also poisonous) which is commonly used in treating morning sickness in pregnant women. If consumed early during pregnancy, False Hellebore will cause cyclopia in the developing fetus, a disorder which prevents the brain form developing into two lobes, thus producing a single olfactory and a single optic nerve (and, consequently, only one eye). It has similar effects on cattle and is widely detested by ranchers in our area. This species is most often found growing in moist, high-elevation valleys and meadows here in the PNW. It’s cousin, the White False Hellebore tends to be more common in lowlands west of the Cascades. (Side note: I always thought this common name sounded like a Harry Potter spell…)

Eriogonum umbellatum “Sulfur Buckwheat” Polygonaceae

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

While not a true buckwheat (Fagopyrum), members of the genus Eriogonum also produce (mostly) edible, triangular seeds that can be ground into a flour. This particular species is our most common wild buckwheat here in the PNW and can vary drastically in shape, size, and color. Some plants can grow into shrubs nearly 2 meters tall, while others will never ascend more than a 10 centimeters from the ground. Furthermore, the size and color of inflorescences can vary from tiny, tightly-packed yellow clumps, to reddish umbels, to large, spreading, white bunches. To confirm your species ID, look for E. umbellatum’s bare flowering stems (with a whorl of leaves only at the top) and its glabrous tepals (6 petal-like structures) with a long, narrow tube-like base.

Listera caurina “Northwestern Twayblade” Orchidaceae

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

 

These tiny orchids are extremely common in moist forests throughout the PNW, but their minute flowers (only 6mm across!) and uniform green coloration make them easy to miss. Recent genetic research has placed all members of the genus Listera into the old world genus Neottia which used to contain a single, achlorophyllous species, but I’m really more of a lumper than a splitter, so I won’t be changing my taxonomy for a while!

Speyeria hydaspe “Hydaspe Fritillary” Nymphalidae
on Agastache urticifolia “Nettle-leaf Giant Hyssop” Lamiaceae

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

Fritillaries are a common, large butterfly here in the PNW east of the Cascades. There are several species that are regularly found in our area. Learn more about them here. This particular fritillary is feeding on the nectar of a very interesting and quite common local plant. Its Latin name, Agastache, is Greek for “many spikes” and, as you might guess, its inflorescence looks like a giant spike ball. Like many other members of the mint family, giant hyssop is commonly used in herbal teas and poultices for a variety of medicinal purposes. In particular, the leaves can be used to induce sweating and as a vasodilator. This particular species is quite abundant in the PNW east of the Cascades and is a favorite food source for many ungulates like deer, elk, cows, and moose.

Aconitum columbianum “Columbian Monkshood” Ranunculaceae

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

 

Also known as Wolf’s Bane, Aconite, and Queen of all Poisons, members of the monkshood genus are world famous for the toxins they produce. The name Aconitum is believed to come from a Greek phrase that means “without struggle,” which is, of course, a reference to its swift lethality. Throughout the millennia, aconite has been utilized in countless murders, including the murder of Ptolemy XIV by his sister, Cleopatra. The poisons produced by this plant are so potent that simply brushing up against them can reportedly cause death. Here in the PNW, some native peoples once coated their spears and arrows in monkshood poisons to paralyze large game such as bears, wolves, and even whales.

Mimulus lewisii “Purple Monkeyflower” Phrymaceae (Scrophulariaceae)

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

This species of monkeyflower was named after the naturalist and explorer, Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark), who discovered it in Montana, at the headwaters of the Missouri River. Although Lewis was not formally trained as a botanist, he collected and described hundreds of plant species, many of which were completely new to science at the time. Specimens of this particular plant, however, were lost in a flood and never made it back to Washington DC where they would have been cataloged, named, and formally described by Frederick Pursh. Instead, using only Lewis’s descriptions in his journal, Pursh was able to define this plant as a new species!

Spiraea densiflora (splendens) “Subalpine Spiraea” Rosaceae

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

 

This species of Spiraea is a popular garden plant thanks to beautiful, fragrant pom-pom inflorescences. In the wild, it commonly inhabits moist, rocky slopes throughout the PNW. If you’d like to propagate your own, check out these instructions for collecting and germinating seeds.

Speyeria hydaspe “Hydaspe Fritillary” Nymphalidae

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

 

Fritillaries are common residents of moist meadows throughout North America. They lay their eggs on a variety of violet species. Upon hatching, the larvae immediately burrow into the ground (before eating) and hibernate until spring when they emerge and munch on the violet leaves.

Chamerion (Epilobium) angustifolium “Fireweed” Onagraceae

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

 

Unlike its name suggests, Fireweed is hardly a weed! One of the PNW’s most abundant wildflowers, Fireweed holds an important role in nearly every native culture. Its young shoots and leaves are a delicacy to some, and medicinally important to others. Many peoples used fibers torn from its shoots to make rope, and, still today, folks throughout the northern hemisphere use its fluffy seeds as a natural stuffing for pillows.