Sunday, May 3, 2015

Botanical Terms...A Visual for Suborbicular

Three species of Prairie Star or Fringecup are present in Montana and other parts of the American West. Line drawings and written botanical descriptions (keys) are confusing, unclear and somewhat contradictory on how to separate and identify Lithophragma glabrum and Lithophragma parviflorum. This situation will continue to crop up for all kinds of fauna as our knowledge expands (variation and hybrids). No doubt, photos and line drawings cannot be done for every plant part. So, language must be used to precisely describe plant parts. And plant descriptions are really ripe for some good nature smirking/what-the-heck head scratching.

Here's the leaf blade description from Lesica (2012) for A) Lithophragma glabrum and B) Lithophragma parviflorum:
A) "glabrous below, sparsely hairy above, 5-20 mm wide, reniform, deeply 3-lobed and lobed again."
B) "white-hairy and glandular, 1-3 cm wide, suborbicular, twice deeply 3-lobed ."

Reniform means "kidney shaped" and suborbicular describes imperfectly circular. The leaf shapes don't sort the plants out by my eye using the photos below. On the other hand, leaf hairiness is distinct and quickly separates out the two species. The first key (Lesica 2012) in sorting these species is the number of lobes per flower petal; glabrum has five and parviflorum has three.

Reference: Manual of Montana Vascular Plants, Peter Lesica, 2012, Brit Press, Fort Worth, TX

Here's what they look like:
Lithophragma glabrum flower
Lithophragma glabrum stem leaf

Lithophragma glabrum basal leaf
Lithophragma parviflorum flower
Lithophragma parviflorum stem leaf

Lithophragma parviflorum basal leaf


Monday, April 27, 2015

Wildflowers Now Blooming...Current "Power Tool"

Actively searching out wildflowers this spring. Having much fun with my Canon 70D camera. So I've embedded what I "captured/created" for your viewing pleasure. According to Daniel DiPiazza, Fortune writer, "Creativity is your power tool regardless of your industry". He quotes Picasso, Stephen King and Einstein as to the process used in creativity and problem solving. They recommended "working backwards", setting daily quotas and "combinatory play". May the images below assist in your finding good ideas :-)
Heartleaf Arnica
Red Kittentails

Little Larkspur

Nuttall's Pussytoes

Wyeth's Lupine


Saturday, April 25, 2015

1st Dragonfly...err Damselfly for the Year

Much to my surprise a small damselfly flushed out of the Pollinator Garden at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge today. Was able to relocate and get a photo. Tweeted the accomplishment:
This post isn't supposed to be about me boasting of an early date or discovery, instead it is a template for your success. Know, that if you apply yourself...well you get better in ways you cannot guess. Being aware of wildlife/nature is a well of possibility for "combinatorial creativity". I am no Maria Popova, but I embrace her writing and hope to develop this blog in such a way :-)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Thomas Nuttall...Naturalist Extraordinaire

Thomas Nuttall was born in Yorkshire (England) in 1786. Considered one of the greatest botanists following his death in 1859. As a teenager, his father signed him up for a seven year printer apprenticeship. His real love...well he got hooked on botanizing local moors. So he came to the United States in 1808 to do just that. He connected with Benjamin Barton (author of Elements of Botany, 1803) in Philadelphia. Barton just happened to be looking for an apprentice and Nuttall, now 22, jumped at the opportunity. That was the beginning of incredible accomplishment.

Nuttall became the most traveled naturalist of his generation, six expeditions as far as Hawaii. Most collection (for plants and animals) trips were done alone and on foot much like John James Audubon. He was humble; he admitted to getting lost and rescued by other travelers in his journals. Some folks of that time described him as a "whimsical kind of madman". Could be, Nuttall was singularly focused on collecting plants and animals and information about them. His hard work paid off when he got lecturer position at Harvard University in 1823. He authored, published an affordable bird guide A Manual to the Ornithology of the United States and Canada in 1833. He also coauthored Flora of North America with John Torrey and Asa Gray.

He is memorialized with three bird species named after him (can you name them?). Numerous plants are also bear his name. I found two yesterday along the Clark Fork River in Missoula, MT: Nuttall's Rockcress (Arabis nuttallii) and Nuttall's Violet (Viola nuttallii). Could not find Nuttall's Pussytoes in bloom for three of a kind :-) What's in your neighborhood that may have been discovered 150 years ago?

Reference: Audubon to Xantus The Lives of Those Commemorated in North American Bird Names, Barbara and Richard Mearns, 1992, Academic Press Limited, San Diego, CA
Nuttall's Rockcress

Nuttall's Violet

Thursday, April 16, 2015

More Spring Wildflowers

Our neighborhood has open space "parks" that are essentially disturbed patches of native bunchgrass/forbs. So after work visited for some discovery/camera work. Had success; found three new wildflower species for the year in bloom.

All were fairly easy to detect, 6 inch plus in size either vertical (Hoelbell's Rockcress [Arabis hoelbelli], horizontal (Large-fruit Lomatium [Lomatium macrocarpum] or bushy (Western Gromwell [Lithospermum ruderale]. Wildlife watching strategy can be summed up at times as "what's different?" So, in thirty minutes got fresh air, exercise, employed photography skillset and experienced "flow" (read Csikszentmihalyi 1990). You should try it...it is fun.
Hoelbell's Rockcress

Large-fruit Lomatium

Western Gromwell

Monday, April 13, 2015

Photographic Endeavors Do Not All End in Success

Sometimes certain plants, animals and weather do not cooperate with your photographic efforts. That was partially true today; had great backdrop of temperatures in the mid 60's with lots of sunshine. I went to one of my favorite places, Bass Creek National Recreation Area. It is great for a host of wildlife (birds, butterflies, fungi,wildflowers and lichen). Primary focus today was on early season butterflies with a backup plan of birds and wildflowers. Butterfly action was good, plenty to see and cooperative. First of year Western Pine Elfin recorded along with several Spring Azure, Green Comma, Hoary Comma and Mourning Cloak.

Ah yes, then the photo nemesis, the darting/never landing Sara Orangetip (Anthocharis sara); it blasted by me until the third encounter. I ran after it (on gravel road as opposed to the uphill scramble of last week...still breathing hard :-) and it landed on one of the two Prairie Star (Lithophragma sp.) wildflower species. The slightest breeze and this diminutive plant sways. I stopped a distance away and shot a multitude of photos prioritized on shutter speed. From the "best four" I created an animated GIF for your viewing enjoyment:
Sara Orangetip (Anthocharis sara)
Yep, they are all out-of-focus :-) No worries I have a couple of shots from a couple years ago to show you how stunning these critters are (below). Now, you can understand how easy it is to chase after this species...it is just very cool looking!
Nectaring for a brief period


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Cladonia sp. lichen - The Forest Within the Forest

Sometimes little effort and little space is needed to find wildlife. For instance a single boulder (anywhere, USA) likely has six or more species of crustose (pancake-like in structure) lichen growing on it. Secondly, season doesn't effect lichen watching - snow can't cover everything (e.g. tree trunks, yep lichens grow there).  Thirdly, looking where you step in the forest is the perfect behavior for finding lichens. Yep, soil is one of the most widespread substrate for lichen, especially those species in the genus Cladonia, generically referred to as Pixie Cup Lichen.

Wildlife names usually hint at what the plant/animal looks like. So, Pixie refers to the "little people" myth of the United Kingdom and I'm guessing they employed Cladonia as drinking vessels (many are cup-like in structure and these lichen occur in Great Britain).  The "little people" must have been really small as many of these lichen are only a half-inch tall, if that. For sure they look like cups, but also like a miniaturized forest, stumps and shrubs in particular. You will see what I mean if you take along a hand lens/camera; either is sufficient to magnify and identify. Any public land area in your area should have a representative of the Cladonia genus; there are 128 species in the U.S. (Brodo et al 2001).

Video (habitat and context) and macrophotographs of four species found in the span of a 30 yard road cut at Bass Creek NRA (Stevensville, MT) follow:



Cladonia multiformis (Sieve Lichen)

Cladonia chlorophaea (Mealy Pixie-cup)

Cladonia coniocraea (Common Powderhorn)

Cladonia fimbriata (Trumpet Lichen)