A Visitor From Whoville

The little fellow above has captivated me for several days. In fact, as I continue on my quest of 100 local plant species to identify (and learn more about), I'm finding the going isn't as easy as I'd thought it would be. Think about it. I have a great wildflower book, dedicated to Montana's particularly beautiful and diverse wildflowers. And, of course, I also have the internet. My goodness what more could one ask?

Well, I'm learning therein lies my problem. One, the wildflowers in Montana are incredibly diverse. Two, there is an information overload out there! It isn't like I can stick my wildflower pictures in a slot and the handy, dandy internet identifies them. In fact, that is about as far from reality as it gets.

So, back to my friend above. As challenging (and rewarding) as identifying the various wildflowers has been, when I stumble across something as fascinating as my friend above, then recognize it is in the 'seed' stage, I'm really thrown for a loop.

At one point I contemplated admitting defeat and asking for help. But, believe it or not, the challenge is half the fun! So, I kept looking - trying to find my friend's cousin not so far into the seed stage. It took awhile, but my persistance paid off. So, if I've wet you're curiousity, stay with me. I'll identify our friend below!

For those of you just tuning in, I've decided to take on a friend's 100 species challenge. According to her research, most people don't know the name of even 100 local plant species. Well, I'm ashamed to admit it, but I'm one of those people. But, I'm working to reconcile that - and enjoying the process immensely. If you'd like to learn more about the first 10 species listed below (in un-bold text), follow this link

For the rest of you, species 11 - 20 are detailed below. I hope you enjoy learning about them as much as I enjoyed my plant education.

  • 1. Blue Violet
  • 2. Paintbrush
  • 3. Cushion Phlox
  • 4. Woods Forget-Me-Not
  • 5. Sticky Geranium
  • 6. Gaillardia
  • 7. Wood's Rose
  • 8. Cow Parsnip
  • 9. Showy Fleabane
  • 10. Prairie Smoke
  • 11. Few-flowered Shooting Star
  • 12. Sulfer Buckwheat
  • 13. Lanceleaf Stonecrop
  • 14. Spurred Lupine
  • 15. Mountain Sorrel
  • 16. Hound's Tongue
  • 17. Pennycress
  • 18. Chives
  • 19. Sugarbowl
  • 20. Tall Cinquefoil

  • Name: Few-flowered Shooting Star

    Things I Already Knew: This uniquely shaped flower shows up in early summer. It seems to prefer cool, moist locations. By mid-summer it is nowhere to be seen.

    Things I Recently Learned: This flower is actually an easily cultivated perennial. A member of the primrose family, four different species of shooting stars have been reported in Montana.

    Like so many wild plants, the shooting star had medicinal purposes for the American Indian. An infusion of the roots was used as an eye wash. A cooled infusion of the leaves was used for eye drops. And, an infusion of the leaves was gargled, especially by children, for cankers.

    Name: Sulfer Buckwheat

    Things I Already Knew: A low growing plant which produces long stems topped by puffy flower clumps. Easy to identify from other 'cluster-type white flowers' because of its distinctive leaf pattern at the flower-stem joint. Unopened flowers have a redish hew. The opened flowers can be pure white or display a touch of pink.

    Things I Recently Learned: A member of the Buckwheat family (all five Montana genera display their flowers in umbels). This plant is fairly drought resistance and can be grown as a ground cover in domestic flowerbeds.

    Although I found this plant easier to identify than many other wildflowers, it apparently has so many different variations the different species can be hard to distinguish with accuracy.

    This showy flower serves as a larvae host and / or nectar source for the Lupine Blue butterfly. This plant has a very long taproot which makes it nearly impossible to transplant. In addition, although propagation from seed is the preferred method, germination is low - so plant a LOT of seeds.

    American Indians used a flower infusion as an eyewash and for cleaning out the intestines. An infusion of the entire plant was used to shrink the uterus and to reduce dysmenorrhea (painful menstral cramps). Other uses included a wash for newborn babies, the reduction of hip and back pain, help in expediting birthing, and as a diurectic to aid with water retention. The plant is quite water soluable and has low toxicity making it quite safe to use.

    Name: Lanceleaf Stonecrop

    Things I Already Knew: A brilliant cluster of bright yellow flowers on top of a fairly short stem, this plant makes a bright statement for its size. Usually found in clumps. Seems to prefer more arid locations such as rocky south-facing hillsides.

    Things I Recently Learned: As its name implies, Lanceleaf is a member of the stonecrop family (which represents a variety of house and garden plants). The stonecrop is part of the sedem species. These unique plants conserve water by closing the pores on their leaf surfaces during the day.

    The leaves and shoots of these plants can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in soups or stews. However, the older plants become bitter. Because they are rich in Vitamins A and C, they have been used to treat skin wounds, burns and bites. In addition, an infusion of its stems, leaves and flowers has been taken to clean out the womb after childbirth.

    "Sedum" is Latin for 'to sit' which probably refers to the fact that these very short plants seem to sit on the ground.

    Do not overeat this plant. Apparently it has laxative effects.

    Name: Spurred Lupine

    Things I Already Knew: A common flower propigated in many colors for the flower garden. Propagation is by seed. The plants produce abundant pods as their flowers begin to fade. A hardy perennial Lupine flowers its second year.

    Things I Recently Learned: A member of the Pea Family (also known as the bean family or legume family), this very large family has many genre in Montana. The spurred lupine is one species often found in the open forests of western Montana.

    This plant is a good one to keep out of your pasture. Many parts are poisionous to animals, with the seed pods being the most toxic. In fact, as little as one-half pound can be lethal to sheep.

    Name: Mountain Sorrel

    Things I Already Knew: Not a very showy plant, but a hardy one. It doesn't seem to be too abundant around here (I read this species is most often found in overgrazed pastures - so this is a good thing). Often seen as a bright red 'spot' above the heavy grasses in our moist meadows. It reminds me a bit of a plant which was abundant where I grew up. We called that plant sour-dock.

    Things I Recently Learned: Another member of the buckwheat family, mountain sorrel is also called sheep sorrel or few-leaved dock (is that why it looked kinda like sour-dock to me?). The flowers of this plant are unisexual.

    Although I did not find any specific and interesting uses for Mountain Sorrel, the leaves of a cousin, Broad-leaved Dock, were used to wrap and conserve butter. In addition, the leaves of that plant have slightly astrigent and purgative qualities. In fact, in England the leaves are used as a remedy for the sting of nettles.

    Name: Hound's Tongue

    Things I Already Knew: Here's an interesting plant I've often overlooked. Partly because it is not too common in my area. Partly because it's showy flowers are only spots of color on a bushy, tall stem. I really don't know anything about this plant.

    Things I Recently Learned: A member of the Borage family which is sometimes called the Forget-Me-Not family. This plant is named after its leaves which bear a vein pattern resembling a dog's tongue. The lower leaves feel velvety to the touch and may reach a foot long. The upper leaves are smaller and often appear to clasp the stem.

    Hound's Tongue may cause skin reactions. It also contains alkaloids that affect the central nervous system and cause liver damage and cancer. However, this plant also contains allantoin, which has been used to treat skin and intestinal ulcers. Additionally it has heliosupine, an alkaloid used for relief of hemorrhoids.

    Caution should be excercised if using this plant as it is potentially carcinogenic. In spite of that, it has a long and varied history of medicinal uses.

    A non-native, this plant was introduced from Europe.

    Name: Pennycress

    Things I Already Knew: Although the flowers on this plant appear to be short-lived, the distinctive leaf shape is obvious for many summer months.

    Things I Recently Learned: A member of the Mustard Family, its common name arises from the pennylike, round, thin fruits. The milk from cows which eat this plant has a strong odor and bitter flavor which shouldn't be surprising as even the young leaves, which are edible, have a bitter taste. However, the bitterness is reduced by cooking the leaves.

    Before the twentieth century, pennycress was used as a poison antidote. It more recent times the leaves have been eaten for general health, and the seeds used for treating conditions like eye inflammation and lumbago.

    Use Caution: This plant contains sufficient quantities of glucosinolates to be toxic. The content is sufficient to cause sickness and death in cattle. However, the entire plant is anti-inflammatory and acts as a blood tonic and blood purifier. It has agents which aid in the removal of mucous secretions. It is fever reducing and promotes the well-being of the liver.

    Wow. That is some combination of good and bad!

    Name: Chives

    Things I Already Knew: Edible. Have an onion-like flavor. Flower heads are a pretty and edible edition to a green salad. Prefer moist, shady soils.

    Things I Recently Learned: A member of the Lily family, which also includes onions, lilies and asparagus. Chives are the smallest species of the onion family.

    A North American native, they are referred to only in plural (duh, I never caught that) because they grow in clumps.

    Chives are used in cooking and also as a garden insect repellent. They are rich in Vitamins A and C and contain trace amounts of sulfur and iron. Their medicinal qualities are similar to garlic, but weaker. However, they do have a beneficial effect on the curculatory system and act to lower blood pressure.

    Name: Sugarbowl

    Things I Already Knew: An unassuming plant, this pretty droop-headed flower is easily overlooked. By mid-summer, it has turned into my unique friend shown above!

    Things I Recently Learned: A member of the buttercup family, this small flower is actually part of the clematis group. Also called vase flower and leather flower, this is a sturdy prennial.

    This 'flower' really doesn't have petals. The feather plumes which so fascinated me are actually the styles on the ovary once they reach maturity.

    A leaf decoction has been used to treat headaches. American Indians used the root to treat the pain of nose congestion. Although there are no records of toxicity, some if not all members of the genus are mildly poisonous.

    One other interesting point - the dried floss which so intrigued me makes good tinder for starting fires. It can also be used as added insulation in your shoes.

    Name: Tall Cinquefoil

    Things I Already Knew: This plant's tall stem with lots of strawberry-like flowers makes a showy display by early summer. Seems to prefer moist meadows.

    Things I Recently Learned: A member of the Rose Family, the first part of this plant's Latin name means 'powerful'. This refers to the medicinal aspects of some species. The second part means 'sharp' which refers to the 'teeth' found on the leaf's margins.

    Also known as Prairie Cinquefoil, it has marginal medicinal uses. In times past the Ojibwa powdered the roots, put the moistened powder on duck down, and use it to control bleeding. The plant's ability to control bleeding is attributed to the tannis contained within.

    Each day, as I hike, I carry my camera. Not because I really 'expect' to see something new - but just in case. And, believe it or not, I'm still finding species I've never seen before. Amazing! This, while time consuming, is such a fun way to spend my time!

    Lady of the Lake


    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!

  • 1. Blue Violet

  • 2. Paintbrush

  • 3. Cushion Phlox

  • 4. Woods Forget-Me-Not

  • 5. Sticky Geranium

  • 6. Gaillardia

  • 7. Wood's Rose

  • 8. Cow Parsnip

  • 9. Showy Fleabane

  • 10. Prairie Smoke

  • 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.

    Name: Gaillardia

    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


    Take a Hike!

    I'm not sure where that phrase picked up its negative connotations. For me, those are some of the best words I can hear. After all, I absolutely love to hike. About the only thing I enjoy more is horseback riding - and that is only because I love horses (which I really can't help - I've been afflicted since before I can remember). Besides, they get me farther up and farther away.

    My 'New Year's Resolution' (I don't really make those things, but the changing of the year, like the changing of the seasons, always reminds me of changes I need to make) for 2008 was to get out! I committed to exercise 6 days a week. So far, I've been able to keep on schedule - at least for the most part.

    We hear all about the bodily benefits of physical exercise. I concur! I do feel MUCH better. However, I think (at least with back woods hiking) the mental benefits ought to get more attention. After all, as we get into the 'thick' of the season, I'm left with less energy to spare. Consequently, my hikes are becoming more 'hike' and less 'power walk'. However, I don't plan to give them up - even if I get to the point I'm really barely strolling up the trail!

    Think about it. I get time alone (great for interspection). I get quiet time (great for meditation). My eyes, ears, and even my nose are literally bombared with the amazing sights, sounds, and smells of God's creation (great for humiliation).

    All in all, I can't imagine a better way to start my day. And, that from a once non-morning person! Sometimes I really can't believe my body is waking me up so early just to go to work! In fact, most mornings, the first few minutes I'm yawning so much I can hardly see where I'm headed. But, it doesn't last long. And then - wow! The beauties my eyes behold.

    Wildflowers! You can't imagine the rainbow of color through which I traverse! Every day the trailsides burst with new hues and shades and shapes. From the delicate cool-loving flowers in the draws to the bold, brilliant heat-loving flowers on the south-facing slopes - vibrant (and sometimes heady) friends line my pathway.

    Animals! I'm getting plain ole' spoiled this summer. Not only do I get to enjoy a greater variety of wildflowers than the norm, I'm enjoying daily wildlife sightings. Today a young buck bound across my path - just a few yards ahead. Watching him bounce across the meadow and up the hillside was pure poetry in motion. When he stopped to pose for his photo, it was almost like he was agreeing with my accessment of his beauty and grace.

    Yesterday it was elk. I had the privilege of watching seven cows and four calves climb a sagebrush covered hillside before ducking into the heavy of timber near its summit.

    A few days previous I nearly trod upon an unsuspecting fawn. I never get over how still they lie - even when they are within feet of danger. Except for its wide eyes (clearly revealing its fear), one would think it was not real. Even more amazing - the dogs didn't see or smell it. Awesome design!

    Wildflowers. Mountain Vistas. Sagebrush covered hillsides. Dark, majestic pine forests. Flittering and flashing aspen groves. Elk. Deer. Sandhill Cranes. Ducks. Trumpeter Swans. Pronghorns. Grouse. Smaller birds in bright plumage. Fox. These delight my eye and restore a sense of right to my world each morning.

    Chattering mountain streams. Twittering birds. A wren's morning praise song. Wind whistling through the trees. A hawk's shrill cry. Silence. These restore my balance.

    Fresh mountain air. The heavy dew's wet dirt smell. The flower's wisps of sweet perfume. The forest floor's musky scent. These revitalize my senses.

    So, though my days take on a more hectic pace - my ears jangle from a cacophony of sound - my eyes rush from scene to scene trying to take it all in - I still wouldn't trade my spot for yours any day of the week!

    Lady of the Lake