Taraxacum officinale “Common Dandelion” Asteraceae (Compositae)

Missoula, MT
May 2, 2016
Robert Niese

Generic, but beautiful nonetheless. Each of those tiny wind dancers is actually a fruit called an achene. Each achene arose from an individual flower of which there are hundreds in a single dandelion head (actually there are only 50-200 flowers per head, but “hundreds” sounds better) . This is where the family got its old name, “Compositae.” Each of their composite “flowers” are made up of loads of tiny individual flowers. So next time your lover asks for flowers, pick them a couple dandelions and astound them with an offering of many hundreds of flowers instead of a measly dozen roses.

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.