The 100 Species Challenge
As in some past posts, I could talk about things which frustrate those of us living up-close and personal with nature. A law suit over wolf management. Another over listing wolverines (both which cost you and I money, by the way). The federal government's refusal to help fund the growing costs of recompensing the cattle men for wolf kills (which I think they should continue to get but which cost Wyoming, alone, 1.2 million in the last year). Wildlife - human conflict which resulted in a bear loosing its life. And, of course, there is always more.
However, I'd always rather dwell on the 'good' things of living surrounded by the wild and scenic beauty of God's creation. So, when a friend put me on to a '100 species' challenge, I knew I'd found the subject for many future posts.
The motivation: most people (including me) cannot name even 100 plant species which grow near their home (besides, a good friend gave me a book I'm finally going to put to use. Thank you, Carla!) The idea: to photograph and record information about 100 species which share my backyard (and possibly nearby hillsides if I can't find 100 - but I suspect that won't be the problem).
Sound interesting? You can participate too. Now, before you go figuring out what you'll do with the 'prize', there isn't any. Let me re-phrase that. There is no 'monetary' reward for completing this challenge. However, I suspect the rewards will run to much greater value than mere money. In fact, having spent the last week or so capturing the beauty of our local wildflowers on disk, I am already reaping rewards. I'm learning to 'look' a little closer (and I thought I was pretty observant already)! In addition, putting this blog together I learned some fascinating facts about the plants in my back yard. I'm gaining a new appreciation for creation's variety. To me, those are rewards extraordinare.
If you'd like to learn more about the 'official' requirements, check out this July 1st blog entry. Although I'm probably not 'officially' entered, because I'm not including a copy of the rules, I suspect I'll enjoy the process just as much anyway. Besides, anything you'd like to know about the challenge is listed quite clearly at the link I've included.
So, if you'd like to learn more about Montana's flora and fauna, keep checking back. My goal is to post several species (with photos) each week. Whether I reach 100, well, that remains to be seen. However, I have no doubt we'll both enjoy the process, however long it lasts. And, if you don't find this the least bit interesting - well, shame on you!
Wildflowers! A kaleidoscope of color surrounds the lodge this time of year. Although I'm also interested in (and photographing for future posts) the grasses, weeds, and trees, I can't help but start with my colorful friends!
Name: Blue Violet
Things I Already Knew: As a cultivated plant, this low-growing shade-loving favorite sports a vast color variety. As a wild plant, I've only seen it around here in lovely shades of blue - from sky blue to deep purple.
Things I Recently Learned: There are 14 species in Montana. Fresh violet leaves (even the wild variety) are edible in salads or can be cooked and used in flavoring jelly, jam, or preserve. Violets are rich in Vitamins A and C and in salicylic acid. The plants have a laxative effect and may stimulate urination. (Well, now we know what to eat if we get 'plugged up' in the woods :-)!
This plant is known by several names including: hookedspur violet, sand violet, and western dog violet. It is a North American native which prefers dry to moist meadows and blooms from April to August.
Although it re-seads, it does not do so aggresively - and since it is the sole food source for the endangered Oregon silverspot butterfly larvae, it plays an important role in our eco-system.
Name: Common Paintbrush
Things I Already Knew: I've always called this unique flower 'Indian Paintbrush'. However, its official name is Common Paintbrush. This colorful flower grows in a variety of settings on stems 1 - 3 feet tall. I have always enjoyed seeing its colorful red display. However, in the last two years I have come to realize it comes in more colors than just vivid red.
Things I Recently Learned: A member of the Figwort Family (sometimes called the snapdragon family) there are several species of Paintbrush in Montana. The family boasts twenty-two genera in Montana, often boasting showy flowers - usually with two, four, or five stamen. One unique family characteristic - if there are five stamens, one is sterile and different in appearnce.
Not only are there paintbrush several species, there are numerous colors - some of which I'll show you in a later post. Paintbrush is a semi-parasitic plant drawing water and some nutrients from nearby plants, usually sagebrush or grasses by using short side branches from their roots. For this reason, paintbrushes cannot be transplanted or easily grown from seed. In addition, Common Paintbrush is taller than most paintbrush (which accounts for my having noticed them first?)
Name: Cushion Phlox
Things I Already Knew: A favorite ground color cultivated in a variety of colors for home flowerbeds. Wild species seem to prefer southern exposure and seem to thrive in shallow rocky soil. One of the first wildflowers to make its appearance in the spring.
Things I Recently Learned: The identification of specific species requires microspoic features - in other words, it can be hard to distinguish between species (so if you'd like to argue this flower's identity - I'm ready to hear your reasoning!). All Montana species are white. Most sport a yellow center. Most prefer rocky / dry soils in which they can thrive because of their deep tap root.
Name: Woods Forget-Me-Not
Things I Already Knew: Commonly seen tiny summer flower which grows quite tall for its small flower size. Always appears in blue. Usually seen in dense growth and shady spots.
Things I Recently Learned: A member of the Borage Family which includes 17 genera in Montana alone. The flowers in this family are distinguished by the coiled inflorescence (characteristic arrangment of the flowers on the stem) that uncurls as the flowers mature. This wild relative is usually deeper blue than its cultivated counterpart. The blue petals surround a center which can have red, white, or yellow rings. A native of Europe, the Wood Forget-Me-Not was introduced in the United States, Australia, and many other temperate countries. It is the Alaska state flower.
The Forget-Me-Not is a flower surrounded by legend - from medieval knights to modern romance. It is regarded as a flower of romance and lover's fate, often worn by ladies as a sign of faithfulness and enduring love. German Freemasons wore it as an identifier during their time of persecution in the Second World War.
Name: Sticky Geranium
Things I Already Knew: Grows profusely nearby. Seems to be content in many soil and sun situations. A showy flower for much of the summer.
Things I Recently Learned: A member of the Geranium family which is represented by only a few species in Montana. Geranium comes for the Greek word geranos which means 'crane' referring to the beak-like structure of the flower's pistils.
Wild geraniums were used by Indians for internal hermorrhaging by making a green solution from the powdered roots and water. It was also used for drying up sores. Crushed geranium roots were also used as poultices for arthritis, sore feet, and ruptures.
Things I Already Knew: A showy flower often seen in meadows. They usually grow fairly tall allowing them to tower above the surrounding grasses. Seem to have a limited life span.
Things I Recently Learned: A member of the Sunflower family which is represented by over 2600 species in the United States and Canada. This showy flower is also called 'blanketflower'. Meriwether Lewis collected a specimen in 1806 along the upper Blackfoot River in Montana. This plant is quite drought-resistant.
American Indians used the flower for a variety of medicinal purposes. It has many varieties and is the Oklahoma state flower.
Name: Wood's Rose
Things I Already Knew: A nice smelling flower with nasty thorns, the Wood's Rose provides a showy display followed by Vitamin C rich rose hips.
Things I Recently Learned: This flower belongs to the shrubs family, not the rose family as I'd thought. The plant has a variety of medicinal uses and the American Indians ate the rose hips.
Many animals also eat this plant's 'fruit' which is a good source of energy and protein, particularly when the ground is covered by snow. In additon, large game animlas browse on the leaves and tender branches while porcupines and beavers browse on just the leaves. Thickets of this stickery plant provide nesting habitat and safe habor for many birds and small mammals.
NOTE: Although my Montana wildflower book lists this plant as part of the 'shrub' family (not the 'rose' family), a wildflower book for the Grand Tetons (in nearby Wyoming) lists it as a member of the rose family. So. . the consences is out but I'm up for suggestions (with sufficient proof :-)
Name: Cow Parsnip
Things I Already Knew: A large (3 foot and more tall) plant with large maple-shaped leaves and showy flowers, this plant prefers shady, moist areas.
Things I Recently Learned: A member of the parsley family, which is also called the carrot family, there are 18 genera of this family in Montana. A family of extremes, it includes carrots, dill, and cerlery which are edible and water hemlock which is extremely poisonous. All members of this family have an unbrella-shaped flower cluster.
Also known as Indian celery, animals routinely graze on this nutricious plant, however, it can ruin the milk of a milkcow who grazes on it. The plant's juice contains phototoxin which can react on skin contact to ultra-violet light causing anything from a mild rash to severe dermitis. American Indians peeled and roasted its large stalks before the plant reached maturity, used it to make poutices for bruises and sores, and used the dried stems to make drinking straws and flutes. In addition, the roots can be boiled to make a yellow dye, and an infusion of the flowers can be rubbed on the body to repel flies and mosquitoes.
NOTE: If you're going to try eating this plant, cook it well (users suggest using small quanities at it has a very strong flavor) because it contains furanocoumarins (organic chemical compounds) which could be a danger to your face and mouth.
Name: Showy Fleabane
Things I Already Knew: This pretty little purple flower (usually 6 - 12 inches tall around here) blooms later than other 'daisy-like' flowers. It seems to prefer a little less sun as well.
Things I Recently Learned: A member of the sunflower family, Showy Fleabane prefers dry to moist soils in open meadows and woods - especially burned sites in coniferous forests. This plant is a North American native and produces the largest flowers of the Fleabane family.
Due to its connection to the mythological fire-god Hephaistos, Fleabane is often considered a fire herb. Apparently the Cherokees called it 'firemaker' because they used the friction created by rubbing its dried stalks together to start fires. The Navajo used to for conception and with other herbs for menstral pain. Because it ages and dies quickly, its botanical name means 'soon an old man'.
In more modern times it has been used as an insect repellent. In fact, Starlings apparently line their nests with the plant to keep mites away. People once mixed it with bedstraw to keep bugs out of their mattresses. It helps prevent fungus infections in strawberry plants. And, butterflies love it, but it is toxic to cows and goats.
Name: Prairie Smoke
Things I Already Knew: This small (6 - 12 inch tall) plant sports pretty pinkish 'bell-like' flowers which quickly change to upright hairy 'plumes'. Often seen in groups.
Things I Recently Learned: Also known as "old man's whiskers" (the reason is probably obvious) this plant is part of the 'rose' family. It prefers moist open meadows.
Considered a protected species in some areas, Prairie Smoke is more easily cultivated than some wildflower species. In fact, you can purchase plants online. It can also be started by dividing the root mass or by collecting, drying, and planting its seeds.
American Indians used prairie smoke roots to make an eyewash. They also made a tea from the roots which was used to treat colic and digestive ailments.
With literally hundreds of specimens and dozens of pictures already tucked away on my computer, you can be sure the next 'segment' is soon to come.
Lady of the Lake