Rosa gymnocarpa “Baldhip Rose” Rosaceae

Weir Hot Springs, Clearwater National Forest, ID
June 8, 2015
Robert Niese

This is one of North America’s smallest rose species and, as such, it is often nicknamed the “dwarf rose.” I prefer the name “baldhip” though. Not only does it sound wonderfully silly, but it also is a direct translation (more or less) of the species epithet, “gymnocarpa.” Well, gymnocarpa really means “naked fruit,” but their fruits are hips and these hips are indeed bald. When the flower is fertilized, its petals and sepals fall off, leaving behind the growing fruit. Most roses hang on to their sepals as their hips mature, making this a reliable feature for identifying R. gymnocarpa. Look for these small shrubs in low- to mid-elevation moist forests throughout the PNW. This little corner of western Montana is their eastern-most range edge!

Geum macrophyllum “Large-leaf Avens” Rosaceae

Weir Hot Springs, Clearwater National Forest, ID
June 8, 2015
Robert Niese

This little forest flower is common throughout moist bottomlands and subalpine meadows here in the PNW. It can be easily distinguished from other yellow-flowered Avens by its massive leaves and reflexed sepals (they’re not visible behind the petals here). Avens characteristically produce adorable heads of achenes that look like tiny sea urchins. In its cousin, Old Man’s Whiskers (Geum triflorum), these achenes have a long feathery tip and look like wisps of smoke.

Heuchera grossulariifolia “Gooseberry Alumroot” Saxifragaceae

Weir Hot Springs, Clearwater National Forest, ID
June 8, 2015
Robert Niese

These lovely Saxifrags are endemic to the PNW (southwest Montana to the southern Cascades) where they can be found on well-drained, somewhat shady slopes and cliff-faces. In many parts of its range, two distinct populations of H. grossulariifolia occur side-by-side, and may be evolving into separate species. Due to an accidental duplication of its genome, tetraploid populations of H. grossulariifolia bloom earlier and grow larger than their diploid counterparts, and hybrids between the two populations have low fertility. This suggests that the two populations may be genetically isolated enough to become separate species in the future.

Archiearis infans “The Infant” Geometridae

Salmon-Challis National Forest, ID
March 20, 2015
Robert Niese

When I first saw this flashy, day-flying moth, I immediately assumed it was a skipper butterfly! Took me a while to realize it was actually The Infant, an inchworm moth (Geometridae). This species is called “The Infant” because it is one of the very first moths to emerge from hibernation in the spring. This individual was fluttering around some moist gravel, sipping up water and minerals in the sunshine. Apparently, Song Sparrows have been observed hunting Infants in muddy areas like this, because it is one of the only times the moth is still enough to be captured. The Infant is found throughout the west in areas with birch and alder, and is the only member of this genus in North America.

Happy National Moth Week!

Cornus canadensis “Canadian Bunchberry” Cornaceae

Weir Hot Springs, Clearwater National Forest, ID
June 8, 2015
Robert Niese

Bunchberry is another member of the genus Cornus, but unlike its shrubby cousins, C. sericea and C. nuttallii, this species rarely grows more than a few inches from the ground. And unlike C. sericea, bunchberry flowers are minute, inconspicuous, and subtended by large, white bracts which are often mistaken for petals. It shares this type of inflorescence with the Pacific Dogwood, C. nuttallii. The fruits of the bunchberry, while not particularly tasty, are high in pectin and are often added to jams and puddings.

Cornus sericea “Red Osier Dogwood” Cornaceae

Weir Hot Springs, Clearwater National Forest, ID
June 8, 2015
Robert Niese

Red Osier Dogwood, so named for its beautiful red bark, is a common riparian and moist forest species throughout the PNW. Our region is home to three members of the genus Cornus and they couldn’t look any less alike! While C. sericea grows in a large shrubby form, it’s close cousin C. canadensis only grows a single stem a few centimeters off the ground. And C. nuttallii grows as a tree with large, white, showy “flowers.” In the fall and winter, Red Osier Dogwood’s white berries attract grouse and other birds, but are largely unpalatable to humans. Its bark, however, is often used in kinnikinnick and tobacco smoking mixtures.

Cornus sericea “Red Osier Dogwood” Cornaceae

Weir Hot Springs, Clearwater National Forest, ID
June 8, 2015
Robert Niese

Red Osier Dogwood, so named for its beautiful red bark, is a common riparian and moist forest species throughout the PNW. Our region is home to three members of the genus Cornus and they couldn’t look any less alike! While C. sericea grows in a large shrubby form, it’s close cousin C. canadensis only grows a single stem a few centimeters off the ground. And C. nuttallii grows as a tree with large, white, showy “flowers.” In the fall and winter, Red Osier Dogwood’s white berries attract grouse and other birds, but are largely unpalatable to humans. Its bark, however, is often used in kinnikinnick and tobacco smoking mixtures.

Asarum caudatum “Wild Ginger” Aristolochiaceae

Weir Hot Springs, Clearwater National Forest, ID
June 8, 2015
Robert Niese

The leaves of Asarum caudatum (a PNW endemic) smell like ginger when you rub them, but apparently contain carcinogens and may or may not be good in your tea. Their flowers grow on the ground beneath the leaves and are pollinated by beetles, flies, and even rodents. Pollinated flowers produce seeds with a fatty elaiosomes that are collected by ants and subsequently planted in the colony. 

Rhamnus purshiana “Cascara” Rhamnaceae

Weir Hot Springs, Clearwater National Forest ID
June 8, 2015
Robert Niese

Cascara is a Pacific Northwest endemic famous for the laxative properties of its bark. In fact, the bark of this species is in such high demand that the plant has been eradicated from some parts of its range. Regardless of its medicinal uses, Cascara is one of my favorite PNW trees because of its unmistakable, heavily veined leaves and its adorable, teensy-tiny flowers! These are only a few millimeters across!

Berberis repens “Creeping Oregon Grape” Berberidaceae

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

It’s a little early for Oregon Grape to be blooming! This species is our only Berberis native to the dry pinelands of the Northwest.