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Phacelia heterophylla “Varileaf Scorpionweed” Hydrophyllaceae/Boraginaceae

Mt. Sentinel, Lolo National Forest, MT
June 13, 2016
Robert Niese

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m not very familiar with members of the genus Phacelia, but this species perfectly exemplifies why they have received the common name, “scorpionweeds.” Those tightly coiled flower heads will progressively unravel until they’re long and straight (a very Boraginaceaous growth pattern). P. heterophylla is an abundant, weedy species in our area, and, unlike elsewhere in its range where their flowers are drab and white, here in Missoula ours tend to be deep lavender in color!

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Phacelia linearis “Thread-leaf Phacelia” Hydrophyllaceae/Boraginaceae

Mt. Sentinel, Lolo National Forest, MT
June 13, 2016
Robert Niese

I can’t say I’m particularly familiar with the genus Phacelia. In fact, I was quite stumped when I first photographed this flower on the trails behind the university. Turns out, Phacelia has perplexed botanists as well over the last few decades as well. Most members of this genus are called scorpionweeds (for obvious reasons which I’ll elucidate in my next post), but this particular species is definitely not recognizable as such. Its large, broadly campanulate flowers are not what I immediately associate with members of Hydrophyllaceae either. What’s more, the family Hydrophyllaceae is now accepted as a subfamily within Boraginaceae, and this plant absolutely does not remind me of forget-me-nots and bluebells. So in summary, the Thread-leaf Phacelia is an oddball in the world of Phacelias and the genus Phacelia is generally also odd as a member of Hydrophyllaceae which, oddly enough, has odd traits that do not conform to those that tend to be most common in the family Boraginaceae, to which it now belongs.

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Trimerotropis verruculata suffusa “Crackling Forest Grasshopper” Acrididae

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

BugGuide has become an indispensable resource for all my insect identification needs, but rarely do I come across pages so eloquently and comprehensively written as those by David Ferguson. His passion for band-winged grasshoppers makes these entries a joy to read:

“T. verruculata suffusa is one of the most common and conspicuous Band-wing Grasshoppers in open pine forests of the Rockies and Sierras, where it can be seen (and heard) on most any warm summer or autumn day. The “crepitation” produced in flight is a relatively loud crackling sound, and sometimes males will hover and crackle for several seconds at a time. Never is it so loud and conspicuous as Circotettix species (to which it is related and similar), but nearly so.”

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.

Holodiscus discolor “Oceanspray” Rosaceae

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

Oceanspray is one of my favorite plants here in the PNW. It’s a modest-sized shrub that grows foamy white inflorescences that brighten up nearly all open hillsides west of the Rocky Mountains in the spring. These inflorescences are long-lived and fade to a creamy beige that contrasts nicely with their rich green foliage throughout the summer. In the fall, Oceanspray leaves begin changing early in the season and progress through a rainbow of colors until becoming a uniform maroon-scarlet after the first frosts of October. These plants have a very tough wood that is resistant to fire and are regularly the first plants to recolonize areas following a burn.

Letharia vulpina “Wolf Lichen” on
Pinus ponderosa “Ponderosa Pine” Pinaceae

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

Wolf lichen is a striking, extremely abundant lichen in our dry Ponderosa Pinelands here in the PNW. It’s electric yellow-green color comes from a compound produced by the fungus known as vulpinic acid. It is relatively toxic and in ancient Europe concentrated vulpinic acid was traditionally used as a poison for killing wolves (hence it’s common name). Here in the PNW, however, native peoples use the lichen as a dye for fabrics and baskets. You can learn how to make your own dyes from lichens like Letharia here.

Physocarpus malvaceus “Mallow Ninebark” Rosaceae

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

Ninebark is one of those plants I only begin noticing in the fall when their leaves turn scarlet. In the summer they briefly bloom small white flowers, but their petals quickly drop, leaving behind a green-red calyx that is easy to overlook. Along with the fact that these rosaceous plants don’t produce edible fruits (dry follicles, as you can see here), Physocarpus is a very underappreciated member of our dry Ponderosa Pine forests. But it plays a critical role in these fire-prone ecosystems and is a hardy pioneer species following all kinds of disturbances.