Saturday, June 13, 2015

Yosemite wildflowers, weeds, and naturalized invaders

After the stellar floral performance at Death Valley I had high hopes for Yosemite as well. There were already blooms in motion when we got here in early April, some I'd seen elsewhere and some new. Early on, I went out to the Hite Cove Trail, known as being one of the best for wildflowers, and stayed on it that day until the crowds got too thick and the display thinned. Later I was told it was a poor year for Yosemite flowers, that in good years entire hillsides are covered in California poppies, which surprised me because it seemed like there was a lot to see.

So, in no particular order of bloom, here are some of my favorites. It's been pointed out to me that if I can't identify what I call wildflowers, which to me means anything in bloom in fields and along the road, it could be that they're considered weeds or have naturalized from people's gardens. 

This must be a weed, just like the one following it, because it's not in my book.

This pretty thing blooms near the one above. 

Most likely a Bruneau Marispoa lily, Calochortus bruneaunis.

Harvest brodiaea, Brodiaea elegans. Sierra Indians relied on all the brodiaea for food. The bulbs were dug early in the spring and steamed, roasted, or eaten raw. The flavor is sweet and nutty, not unlike water chestnuts. Or so it's been written.

There were a lot of these golden dragonflies on the Hite Cove Trail when I went in early April. 

Also several moths foraging -

One of my favorites, the delightful fairy lantern or white globe lily, Calochortus albus. Inside the flower, at the base of the three petals, are tiny nectar glands that attract pollinators. Above the nectar glands are silky hairs that gently brush pollen off a visiting insect, pollinating the plant. There are fourteen species of this plant in the Sierra.

This, surprisingly, is the beginning of the seed pod for the fairy lantern. How it goes from the tender, fragile globe above to this succulent-like lobed structure would be an interesting progression to watch.

A mystery from last year's bloom.

This is Mustang clover, Linanthus montanus. It's not in the clover family, but you can see the similarity to clover in the dense head from which the flowers form.

Dried remnants of some flower from last year, like a candelabra.

I don't know this one. It's not a good photo but all there is of this little butterfly-looking flower.

Blazing star, Mentzelia lindleyi crocea. I've seen large patches of it on hillsides along my commute - what a traffic stopper!

Simple dried grasses have elegant forms, like a classic ballerina pose.

This is an annual poppy, Eschscholzia caespitosa. It's similar to the California poppy, E. Californica, the state flower, which is larger, more robust, and has a prominent red ridge at the base of the petals. All California poppies close at night and on cloudy days, presumably to prevent the pollen from getting wet.

This Western Blue Flag, Iris missouriensis, was along the highway I sometimes walk to work, just one lone flower, always in shade, and I took a million photos in hope of getting one usable one. Later, more bloomed in the same area but they were still always in deep shade, so this took some processing time to lighten it and give it contrast.

When an insect lands on a sepal, it crawls into the center of the plant toward the nectar, brushing against the style and thus rubbing another plant's pollen onto it as it picks up a new load. Some Native Americans used the leaves, woven into mats and lined with cattail "down" for baby diapers.

Pine violet, Viola lobata. These are sparse, at least where I've seen them. The description in my book says the lowest petal extends into a spur that holds the nectary gland, with the veins acting as nectar guides in the same way as the veins do on iris blossoms.

One of my favorite photos is this one of a backlit succulent about the size of a silver dollar.

There are many flowers I have difficulty identifying. They look similar to what's in my book but sometimes not a perfect match. This is one of them. It may be a Smooth Woodland Star, Lithophragma glabrum. I just give up after a while.

Baby Blue Eyes, Nemophilia menziesii. The explorer John C. Fremont wrote that "the blue fields of nemophilia and the golden poppy represent fairly the skies and gold of California."

At first glance this looks much like Baby Blue Eyes but, nope.

Possibly Mountain Jewelflower, Streptanthus tortuosus. 

Here is Twining brodiaea, Brodiaea volubilis, an amazing plant that twines around other plants to four or five feet. It will continue to twine, grow, and bloom even if severed at the base.

This unusual plant is Miner's Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata, and is named for John Clayton, and early American botanist who collected plant specimens in Virginia. Which doesn't explain why this California plant is named for him. Its leaves are edible and are eaten as a salad. Good to know!

Not sure about this one, either, but the color! Just eat it with a spoon.

Maybe a monkeyflower. Sure is pretty, whatever it is.

Chinese houses, Collinsia heterophylla, are some of the most unusual flowers I've encountered. Can you see how the tiers might resemble a pagoda? 

This is heartleaf or purple milkweed, asclepias cordfolia. What's interesting about this plant is that it doesn't turn its face to the sun; it droops at about 45 degrees. It could have been given a name that includes penta, because of its five sepals, five petals, and five concave hoods. Native Americans extracted material from this milkweed to make rope; the plant was also used as a contraceptive and a snakebite remedy. Larvae of the monarch butterfly feed on its leaves. I've seen fewer than a dozen monarchs here. I hope there are lots of larvae munching away.

Farewell-to-spring, Clarkia williamsonii, is so named due to its late spring flowering. We have seen acres of hillsides in a wash of pink from these flowers.

One day, it seemed, these flowers popped up out of nowhere. They occur in large stands, not as individual flowers, and remind me of something out of Dr. Seuss. They're a variety of Argemone, a prickly poppy, but I can't tell which one. Most of the prickly poppies I've seen described say they're 2-3 feet tall. All of these are 5-6 feet.

Live-forever, Dudleya cymosa, is a succulent perennial that I saw coming out of almost bare rock along a road I walk between home and work. They were in poor show this year and this is the best I could do. I'd heard of this plant and so was glad to see one. 

Fiddleneck, Amsinckia intermedia. I think. Or caterpillar plant.

There are more in my arsenal. Be warned.


Thought of the day: 

A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows. - Doug Larson