This may not be the time of year your mind turns naturally to the beautiful colors which carpet our hillsides throughout the summer, however, it has been a LONG time since I last posted on our local flora. In fact, I had a hard time finding my last post - mostly because I did not realize my last post was in 2008! August 27, 2008 to be exact. Way back then I challenged myself to see if I could find, photograph, and identify 100 unique species growing at or near Elk Lake. I made it to 50!
I did not stop because I ran out of specimens. In fact, the reasons were quite the opposite. I stopped because: One - I ran out of ‘easy-to-identify' specimens. Many plant families (Penstemons for example) feature many varieties. Furthermore, many plant identification photos are more confusing than helpful.
Two - I ran out of time. The harder the identification, the more time it takes. Add to that the time it takes to research interesting information about the plants, and the task just became too time consuming to continue during our busy season.
So I promised myself to return shortly. Just for the record, I do not typically define ‘shortly' as 2½ years! So, without further ado:
51 - QUAKING ASPEN
What I Already Knew: Hands down, the Quaking Aspen is my favorite tree. Even in the winter, their white, smooth bark is lovely. Their leaves, my favorite aspect, are nearly round flashing silver and green in the summer and lovely shades of yellow, orange and even red in the fall. They plants propagate via sprouts. They can take over if left alone, yet they can be choked out when evergreens deny them adequate sunlight.
What I Recently Learned: An important tree for wildlife, humans have also derived many benefits from this lovely tree which is a member of the willow family. Native Americans crushed the dried bark to mix with grain to eat. It has also been used for pain relief, fever reduction, and as a diuretic. Its properties work as an anti-oxidant and may help reduce inflamation. Other uses include as a digestive tonic or stimulant, treating diarrhea and bladder infection, and addressing other issues for issues related to the urinary tract.
All the trees in a ‘clonal colony' share a single root structure and identical characteristics. One colony in Utah named Pando, is considered to be the oldest and heaviest living organism on earth. It is estimated to weigh 6,600 TONS! and is said to be about 80,000 years old.
52 - LITTLE FLOWER (AKA SMALL FLOWER) PENSTEMON
What I Already Knew: This upright perennial produces large clusters of small deep blue flowers. It is usually less than 16 inches tall, growing in a mat. Each of the plant's smooth, slender stems bears several pairs of opposing leaves. The flowers are typically intensely blue to purple.
What I Recently Learned: This Penstemon is found in much of the western United States. It tolerates hot and dry conditions. It is a favorite for flower gardens seeking to attract hummingbirds.
There are over 1900 known Penstemon species. Seeds for domestic cultivation were offered for sale in Europe as early as 1813. It is a very attractive flower which has become a favorite of flower gardeners - and we get to enjoy them for free. No work. No fuss. Just gorgeous flowers in our backyard!
53 - MOUNTAIN ALDER
What I Already Knew: This deciduous tree as alternate rounded leaves with toothed edges. Female catkins open to release seeds similar to the manner of many conifer cones - and the one often see what looks like tiny cones on the cones.
What I Recently Learned: This tree is a relative of the Birch. Early pioneers used the plant as an indicator of running water as its roots require year round moisture. The wood is extremely decay resistant under water. Some Canadian Natives used the wood to make bows, snowshoes and fish nets. Since its smoke has no flavor, it has also been used for smoking meat. More recently the wood has become popular among guitar manufacturers for its ‘bright tone.'
Native Americans are said to have used a poultice made from the bark to treat burns and scrapes. They also used the inner bark in treatments for stomach irritations. Blackfeet Indians used the bark infusion to treat tuberculosis and lymphatic disorders and, in fact, science has shown red alder compounds are effective against tumors.
It is also beneficial to the soil because it provides nitrogen for other species.
54 - NODDING ONION
What I Already Knew: This is one of the loveliest onions I have ever seen. Clearly the Nodding Onion has a lot of class. It grows from a bulb(I found these specimens on an east facing slope just north of the lodge) has a smooth stem which is round and leafless reaching 6 to 20 inches in height.
Crooking the top of this stem a flowerhead consisting of individual white or pinkish flowers. Certainly the flowers' most distinctive feature are their six yellow-tipped stamens which protrude beyond the flowers' three petals and three petal-like sepals.
What I Recently Learned: Boasting more than lovely flowers, this plant is a true onion. Somewhat mild and sweet flavored when cooked, it is strong when raw. The lovely heads make a nice addition to any salad bowl. Medicinally the plant's juice was given to Native American children for hives, croup, colds, and sore throat. A poultice of chewed plants was applied to the chest for similar complaints as well as sores and swelling. And before moth balls, the entire plant was used to repel moths and moles with the juice being used to repel mosquitoes and other biting insects (although, in a pinch, I've had less than great success using chive juice to repel these pests).
55 - BOOTH'S WILLOW
What I Already Knew: We have a variety of willows around Elk Lake. I will attempt to identify three in this post - although the identification photos and descriptions available on the web left me pulling my hair in frustration!
Like several others, this will has lance shaped leaves with a shiny top surface. It grows 9 to 18 feet tall, requires high moisture and is shade tolerant while preferring full sunlight. It grows well alongside other willow species.
What I Recently Learned: Willows are unique in that they develop roots along the entire portion of a buried stem cutting within 10 - 15 days after planting. Thus they do not need to be rooted before planting although unrooted cuttings do have a higher mortality rate. Willow thickets are often used for erosion control.
56 - MOUNTAIN ASH
What I Already Knew: This plant does not live right here (although it is common in western and central Montana). This is because it prefers - 4000 - 5000 elevation. It produces bouquets of lovely white flowers in June. It grows 3 to 16 feet tall. Reddish-brown stems have alternate long narrow leaves with fine toothed edges.
What I Recently Learned: Although bitter and mealy, its berries are high in Vitamin C and have been used to prevent scurvy, as a gargle to treat colds, or used to remedy hemorrhoids. The tree's wood is dense and is used for carving and turning to make tool handles and walking sticks. Its thin bark does not survive fire well. Some ancient peoples considered the tree good protection against evil. For this reason Druid staffs were usually made from this wood. Today the fruit is occasionally used to make wine or a jelly to use with cold game or wild fowl.
57 - DOUGLAS FIR
What I Already Knew: Cones have unique 3-lobed brackets sticking out between scales. The cones hang down rather than point up as in a true fir. Douglas Fir wood is known for its strength and is a desired wood for construction. It is also the most commonly marketed Christmas tree. It is certainly one of the most lovely evergreen trees in our area.
What I Recently Learned: True firs are most closely related to cedars. However, Douglas Fir is not a true fir as it is actually of the pine family. Scientists struggling to classify the species have created its own sub-class: Pseudotsuga (False Hemlock).
Medicinal the resin obtained from the tree's trunk has been used to treat cuts, burns, wounds, and skin ailments. It has also been used to treat coughs and sore throats. An infusion of the green bark has been used to treat stomach problems. An infusion of young sprouts is used by some to treat colds. An infusion of the twigs or shoots has uses for treating kidney & bladder problems. Young shoots have placed in shoe tips to prevent athletes foot and foot perspiration. People have even soaked the young shoots in cold water to make mouthwash.
58 - GEYER'S WILLOW
What I Already Knew: (Same disclaimer applies :-) This willow shares habitat well with other trees and shrubs although it does tend to form a thicket. It is commonly seen in the Teton area. It is also called Silver Willow and will reach about 15 feet tall.
What I Recently Learned: Willow bark has been chewed since ancient times to reduce inflamation and fever. Today in China and Europe it is used for treating low back pain and osteoarthritis, joint inflamation, and headaches. While pain relief from its use comes slower than aspirin, it seems to last longer. In SW Montana this willow is said to make up 11.2% of some cattle herd's diet.
59 - BEBB'S WILLOW
What I Already Knew: A small tree, this willow only reaches 10 to 20 feet tall. It has smooth reddish bark and 1 to 3 inch long oblong shaped leaves, sparingly toothed, a dull green above with distinct veins and hairy underneath. It prefers stream borders. Warblers, flycatchers and other songbirds make their homes in these plants.
What I Recently Learned: It was named after Michael Schuck Bebb first person to formally study this species. It is also known as Grey Willow because of the bark color. It is the most common of the ‘Diamond Willows' - a species which produces reddish brown ‘diamonds' of wood from cankers. Artists particularly enjoy using diamond willow branches for carving highlighting the light and dark woods The wood is used for furniture, canes, and picture frames. Some weave the smaller shoots into chairs and baskets.
60 - LYALL'S BEARDTONGUE (AKA FUZZYTONGUE) PENSTEMON
What I Already Knew- The staminode takes a variety of forms in the different species; while typically a long straight filament extending to the mouth of the corolla, some are longer and extremely hairy, giving the general appearance of an open mouth with a fuzzy tongue protruding and inspiring the common name beardtongue. The 5 - 15 inch stem has narrow, hairy leaves which may have toothed edges. Flower colors ran from light lavender to dark violet. The three lower lobes have purplish veins which work to guide nectar seeking insects into the flowers' interior. Prefers dry rocky soils and sagebrush slopes
What I Recently Learned: This plant grows in the foothills and mid elevatons in the mountains of north Idaho and adjacent Montana, British Columbia and Alberta. In most of its range it is rare or uncommon - which I find shocking because I have found it in lush profusion in many places around Elk Lake. It is a perennial. Native American's used Penstemon roots to relieve toothache.
So, while the snow carpets the ground around Elk Lake, these pictures remind me the flowers are merely resting for awhile. Come next spring and summer (and even into fall), their lovely colors will paint a beautiful mosiac around my lakeside home.
Lady of the Lake