Saturday, May 9, 2020

Glacier National Park

At a certain point in the summer,
meadows are filled with the blossoms of
Bear Grass, Xerophyllum tenax. Photo by
my father, Fred C. Essig, on our 1964
family vacations.
Stuck at home during the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems that new field trips and
new wildflower blogs are far on the horizon.  I occasionally post a flower or two on Instagram.  You can find me there under the tag botanyprofessor.

Fortunately, as I go through my old pictures, I sometimes discover trips from long ago that I have not yet shared with you. Happily then, I am able to now take you to one of my favorite places: Glacier National Park in the Rocky Mountains of Montana. I first visited with my parents and siblings in 1964, and returned with my own family in 2004, exactly 40 years later. The marvelous thing about our national parks is that they remain beautiful and wild over time. Let's encourage our leaders to keep them so.

What we don't see much of in Glacier National Park is glaciers. Of the 150 glaciers larger than 25 acres, only 26 are  left, and they are likely to disappear before the end of the century as overall temperatures continues to rise.

In 2004, the scenery was as green and
pristine as I remembered from before.
The rugged, alpine terrain of this Park is home to many wildflowers, with much in common with the American west in general.  There are more animals here than I have seen in most western national parks, with mountain goats and sheep everywhere, as well as grizzly bears that sometimes became dangerous to the human visitors.  As usual, I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

We crossed paths frequently with mountain goats

Penstemon montanus is found throughout the mountains on sunny, rocky alpine slopes.

Glaciers carved these valleys, but most are gone now or will be soon.
The cow parsnip, Heracleum maximum. The yellow flowers are
probably a Groundsel, Senecio sp.

We missed the Bear Grass season in 2004, so here is another shot from 1964.
Harebell, Campanula rotundifolia is found
throughout the mountains of the west.

Bighorn sheep were not shy either.

The common Mullein, Verbascum thapsus,
is actually a weed imported from Europe.

Horsemint, Monarda fistulosa, is common in open meadows.
I always love columbines, and this
yellow species, Aquilegia flavescens, is
common in the Rocky Mountains.
Aspens, Populus tremuloides, form groves along the mountainside.
They actually expand through adventitious buds, or suckers, that
develop on the spreading roots.

The pink Monkey Flower, Mimulus lewisii.
Potentilla fruticosa, the shrubby Cinquefoil of the Rose family.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Autumn in Greece

The large palms commonly planted along the Mediterranean
coast are Phoenix canariensis, a relative of the date palm.
Traveling to Greece in November, I didn't expect to see a lot of wildflowers.  Summers are dry and hot in this Mediterranean country, but rains throughout the winter bringing green hillsides filled with wildflowers in the spring.

There had already been some rain a few weeks before we arrived, however, and that brought some interesting surprises.  Some plants bloom early after those first rains, and others begin to put out their new leafy  growth.
Bougainvillea is popular in Greece, often grown
in balcony tubs, as here in Mykonos.

Dandelions survive between rocks on the Acropolis
archeological site.
The Parthenon, on the Acropolis in
Athens, Greece, is being restored.
In Athens we visited the famous Acropolis, where dandelions were blooming.  I thought that was all I was going to see, but when we moved to Olympia, and then to Delphi, I had my surprises.  Fall crocus and cyclamens were in full bloom.
A wild Crocus, probably C. boryi, blooms in early November, at the
site of the original Olympic games in Olympia.

A wild Cyclamen graecum blooms at the Olympia archaeological site/ 

A giant wild fennel stalk, Ferula communis, from last year
 remains among the ruins of the ancient city of Delphi.  A
 fresh leaf is sprouting at its base. 

Wild "English" ivy straggles over rocks at

A wild cucumber is blooming and setting fruit at the Delphi
archaeological site.

The fabulous landscape of Meteora, home of half a dozen medieval monasteries, features smooth, deeply cut rocks covered with mosses and other herbs.
At St. Stephans Monastery, now occupied by Greek Orthodox nuns,
begonias and chrysanthemums decorate a walkway.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Fall comes to Paradise

Clad in ice and snow as always, Mt. Rainier stands another 6000 ft
above the alpine meadows of Paradise.  Deciduous
shrubs are turning color as the last of the wildflowers put on their
show in late September
I did not know what to expect when I went up to Paradise on Mt. Rainier, Washington, in late September.  Would there still be some wildflowers?  Would it already be brown and lifeless? I've always been there in the spring or summer before.  I've seen  the spectacular displays of wildflowers at various times in the summer, and ten feet of snow when I went up to early, but never ventured up during the Fall.  My wife and I happened to be up visiting family and friends in Washington this September.  We had a free day, so we said, 'what the heck - let's go up and have a look.'

We were not, in fact, prepared for the brilliantly colored landscape that awaited us as we rounded the final bend into the Paradise parking lot.  At 8000 some feet, Fall colors come earlier to Paradise then at lower elevations.  I thought that aside from the temporary displays of seasonal wildflowers, there was nothing else up here but the evergreen alpine firs. Wrong!  The alpine blueberries were ablaze in different shades of yellow, red and purple.  Mountain Ash (actually a member of the Rose Family, Sorbus acutaria) also turns orange-red, while bearing bright red fruits.

It is the season for fruits.  The Mountain Ash fruits were being greedily consumed by chipmunks, birds and other animals.  Fireweed and Pasque Flower (Anemone occidentalis)  were also shedding their wind-born achenes.
Pearly Everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea, sets out a feast of nectar
for insects in the Fall, perhaps their last meal before all life goes

Surprisingly, there were a few flowers still out. Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis) was at its peak, and there were a few stragglers of a blue Aster. Both, incidentally are in the Sunflower Family (Asteraceae).  Members of this family can go from flower to mature seed in a matter of weeks, sometimes days, so dominate Fall flower displays.

Much of the Fall color at Paradise comes from the alpine blueberry.
The Pasqueflower, Anemone occidentalis,
is shedding its tassled achenes, which
have been developing all summer.
Though called "Mountain Ash," Sorbus
produces little red fruits like
Pyracanthus or other members of the Rose
Family.  True ashes have winged achenes
that are dispersed by the wind.

The cottony seeds of the Fireweed, Epilobium angustifolium, are being
releasted from their capsules into the wind.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

A brief glimpse of the Alaskan flora

The southeastern coastal areas of Alaska
are covered in temperate rain forest, similar
to that in the Olympic Peninsula of
Washington. The dominant colors here
are greens, provided by a rich carpet of
mosses, skunk cabbage, and other
understory plants.
Alaska is billed as the last American frontier, and like the rest of western North America, boasts an incredible array of wildflowers.  As I often find myself, other reasons called me to this great state recently, but I took the opportunity to capture a small sample of the floral diversity on (virtual) film. 

Arriving by cruise ship on nearly the longest day of the year, I experienced the other nickname for the state: land of the midnight sun.  Though still too far south to actually see the sun at midnight, the days were incredibly long, and dusk blended into dawn without getting really dark.  Wildlife somehow almost completely evaded me on this trip, though I heard other people shouting 'bear,' 'moose,' 'whale,' etc. - always from the other side of the train, bus or cruise ship. They somehow knew I was a botanist and probably thought I wouldn't be interested.

The first stops on any north-bound Alaskan cruise land us in temperate rain forest, dominated by green foliage and mostly white flowers.

The dwarf dogwood, Cornus canadensis, was our constant companion in the lowland forests of Alaska.
Maianthemum dilatatum (Asparagaceae),  the False Lily-of-the-Valley, is
another white-flowered denizen of North American forests.

Buttercups (Ranunculus spp.) can be counted on to brighten sun-lit clearings throughout western  North America.
Streptopus lanceolatus (Liliaceae) brings a bit of color
 to the forest floor, unlike it's white-
flowered cousin, Solomon's Seal.

A wild rose, Rosa acicularis, was found blooming
abundantly near Anchorage.

Cerastium beeringianum, another member of the Caryophyllaceae, was
growing not far from the wild rose. 

The chocolate lily, Fritillaria camschatcensis
(Liliaceae), like many members of its genus, has
odd, dark-colored flowers.

Lupinus nootkaensis (Fabaceae), is a common Alaskan lupine, seen here growing on top a ledge at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor's Center.

A wild pea, of the genus Lathyrus, brightens a sunny spot.

In sunnier areas, such as the slopes around Mt. Denali, the colors expected in alpine areas make their appearance. 

Arnica angustifolia, a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae), brightens up a rocky slope near Denali National Park.
Another member of the Fabaceae, apparently an Astragalus, occurs with the Arnica on rocky slopes.
As spruce trees diminish at higher elevations, much of the green cover consists of
shrubby willows.
One of the common shrubby willows  (Salix sp.) of the Alaskan taiga.

A surprising find was this dwarf willow, Salix reticulata, which branches at ground level and rises scarcely two inches.

Flat mounds of Silene acaulis, a perennial of the Carnation family
(Caryophyllaceae), can be found among boulders on rocky slopes.

Potentilla villosa (Rosaceae) forms similar low mounds on the same rocky
slopes with Silene acaulis.



Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Florida favorites

In swampy areas throughout the state, one can find the
spectacular Hibiscus coccineus growing at the edge of
.It may seem that I spend more time among the mountains of the west or even more exotic locations, but I have of course been living and teaching in Florida for over 40 years, and I have accumulated some nice photos from this fine state as well!  I have already shared my favorite carnivorous plants of Florida, and here are few of my other favorites.

In Florida, one does not go up the side of a mountain to find different habitats, nor follow changing climatic conditions to go from forest to desert. Here, however, just a few feet of elevational difference can thrust one into a different community.  Florida might be described as an elongate swamp surrounded by beaches. That's an oversimplification, of course.  There are hilly areas, mostly old piles of sand, and vast flat areas that flood some times in the year and are dry at other times, but all of these may be fairly close together.  Within the short distance of 50 feet, one can go from sandhill vegetation, through pine flatwoods, and down into a cypress swamp.

Florida lies over limestone, which is exposed in some areas, particularly in the south, and occasionally in sinkholes.  Here one finds different, lime-tolerant plants.

Hibiscus grandiflorus is another of the 12 species
of hibiscus to occur in Florida.  It also is found at
the edge of swamps, sometimes not far from its
bright red cousin.

Florida is also a fairly long state, and from north to south, one can go from an essentially Appalachian flora, with meadows filled with the eastern red columbine, to the nearly tropical everglades and keys in the south, where a number of native palms dwell.  It is indeed an exciting state botanically.
The eastern red columbine, Aquilegia canadensis,
is found in meadows over limestone in the far north
of the state.

Lilium catesbaei blooms in moist meadows in the Fall.

Ipomoea cordatotriloba is one of many wild
morning glories in Florida.

Lycopodiella cernua has no flowers, but makes a
dramatic appearance in wet meadows
and pond edges.

Scutellaria arenicola is a member of the mint family,

The non-vining Clematis baldwinii (Ranunculaceae)
occurs in pine flatwoods.

Clematis reticulata grows in the dry soil of the
sandhill community.

Clematis crispa grows in wet soil along rivers and swamps.

Crinum americanum (Amaryllidaceae) grows in swamps, along with the floating water fern, Salvinia.

Like its spectacular cultivated cousin, the wild poinsettia,
Euphorbia cyathophora, has brightly colored bracts surrounding
clusters of tiny flowers. Photo by Glenn Fleming

Bidens laevis is one of many members of the sunflower family.  This one
grows in swamps and river margins.

Liatris aspera is a member of the sunflower family,
but with rather loose flower heads. it blooms in
the Fall.
Sabatia is a genus of the Gentian family.