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Salix “Willow” Salicaceae

March 26, 2016
Blodgett Canyon, Lolo National Forest, MT
Robert Niese

Willows bear their reproductive parts in separate male and female catkins each on separate plants. This particular plant is male and is only just beginning to bloom. Unfortunately, without female structures or leaves, this individual is impossible to identify beyond its genus. Identifying willows is generally straightforward, you just need all the correct structures in front of you and a good key to follow. Many consider willow identification to be a skill reserved for “Master Botanists” but it’s a fun exercise for anyone interested in botany and possessing a rudimentary background in dichotomous keying! Consider it a challenge!

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.

Ribes hudsonianum “Northern Black/Stinking Currant” Grossulariaceae

Lolo National Forest, Bitterroot Mountains, MT
May 10, 2015
Robert Niese

These currants are found throughout the temperate and boreal forests of North America from Alaska to Quebec south through the Rocky Mountain states. Here in the PNW, they tend to only be found east of the cascades in mid- to high-elevation dense wet forests and stream banks. Their berries, like so many of our Ribes in Montana, are relatively unpalatable.

Xeromphalina campanella “Bell Omphalina” Basidiomycota

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

These adorable gregarious fungi are found on rotting coniferous logs in wet forests throughout North America (presumably). These specimens were only just starting to grow, but would likely end up covering the entire wet bottom half of this downed spruce log. Their caps, when fully mature, will measure no more than 2cm across and have a white spore print.

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…)

Symphoricarpos albus

Symphoricarpos albus “Snowberry” Caprifoliaceae

Mt. Sentinel, Lolo National Forest, MT
September 12, 2015
Robert Niese

Snowberry is one of our most abundant understory plants here in the eastern PNW. It’s so abundant that I often completely forget about it, and, in spite of cataloging PNW plants and animals for over six years, I have yet to get a photograph of this plant at all its phenological stages. Well, here’s Snowberry in fruit – its most recognizable life stage. These berries are not edible to humans, but are important food sources for winter birds such as grouse and ptarmigans.

Nodobryoria abbreviata

Mt. Sentinel, Lolo National Forest, MT
September 12, 2015
Robert Niese

This species of Bryoria-like lichen is particularly common east of the Cascades in dry Ponderosa Pine and Larch forests. It can be easily distinguished from other Bryoria-like species by its large, prominent apothecia (reproductive discs) which are almost always present in mature specimens. This species is often found alongside Cetraria, Usnea, Vulpicida, Letharia, and Hypogymnia here in western Montana.

Cetraria (Kaernefeltia) merrillii “Flattened Thornbush Lichen”
with Nodobryoria abbreviata

Mt. Sentinel, Lolo National Forest, MT
September 12, 2015
Robert Niese

These metallic, often iridescent black lichen are extremely common on small twigs alongside Vulpicida canadensis here in our PNW Ponderosa Pine forests. They can be found throughout the Rocky Mountains, Sierras, Cascades, and some mountainous regions of central Spain. Their black color comes from a yet identified pigment. The stringy lichen in this image is Nodobryoria abbreviata, a Bryoria-like lichen with prominent apothecia (reproductive discs). I’ve found this species to be particularly common alongside Cetraria, Vulpicida, Letharia, and Hypogymnia on Pinus twigs here in western Montana.

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.