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Idaho Mountain Wildflowers

The Pea Family: Fabaceae 

Northern yellow crazyweed, Oxytropis campestris (L.) DC. var. cusickii (Greenm.) Barneby (left). The northern yellow crazyweed is a variable, far flung species. Twelve varieties are recognized; var. cusickii is the only one found in Idaho. The plant grows as high as the alpine zone, where this plant was photographed. It is a ground-hugging plant at this altitude, with odd-pinnate leaves, each with seventeen, or fewer, leaflets and pale-yellow to off-white flowers. Black tipped calyceal teeth seem to be typical

Bessey’s crazyweed, Oxytropis besseyi (Rydb.) Blank. var. salmonensis Barneby (right). Bessey’s crazyweed is characterized by gray-green, furry leaves, and longish stems topped with tight clusters of brightly colored red, or reddish-purple flowers. All parts of the plant save the flower petals, are noticeably hairy. Half a dozen varieties of Bessey’s crazyweed are recognized differentiated by differences in size, distribution, type of hairs, etc. The species is relatively common, although the variety shown here is not, for it is found only in Idaho where it grows in dry mountain valleys that drain into the Salmon River south of Challis. The plant favors rocky ground, blooming at the same time as the desert phlox (Phlox austromontana Coville) shown in the photograph.

Late yellow crazyweed, Oxytropis monticola A. Gray (left) is a subalpine and alpine plant (also mountain crazyweed, formerly Oxytropis campestris var. gracilis). The crazyweeds (or locoweeds) are so named from their effect on grazing animals. Oxytropis means “sharp-keel” for a pointed leading edge where two lower petals fuse. This plant's short-stemmed, papilionaceous flowers are borne on erect stems. The leaves are made up of varying numbers of leaflets with a single terminal leaflet (“odd-pinnate”). The name, monticola, means “mountain-loving.”

Nevada pea, Lathyrus lanszwertii (right). Lathyrus was a name used by ancient Greeks for the European chickpea. Plants in this genus are known as “vetchlings,” or “sweet peas” from the related European sweet pea, Lathyrus odoratus L. They are rambling, climbing plants whose of the (some species lack tend feather-like compound leaves  typically have the one or more tendrils at their ends). The Nevada pea grows in high foothills to montane ponderosa pine forests. It is distinguished by its large, white, or pink-tinged flowers borne in small clusters. The species honors Belgian-born California pharmacist, Louis Lanszweert (1825-1888).

Mountain thermopsis, Thermopsis rhombifolia Nutt. (left). The mountain thermopsis (or mountain golden pea) is a tall, showy plant that would be at home in an ornamental garden  as it does well when grown from seeds). Bright yellow, loosely clustered flowers and clover-like leaves help to identify it. The name Thermopsis comes from two Greek words: the first was used for lupines, and -opsis is an an ending that means “looks like.”

Purple-flowered woolly vetch, Vicia villosa Roth (right). This purple flowered plant, also known as winter vetch, is a colorful native that is often seen growing near roadsides at higher elevations. It is villous (hairy) and its flowers grow in a spike-like cluster, always on one side of a tallish stem—an identifying feature.  Another vetch, Vicia sativa L., the European common vetch, or tare (not shown) is often seen near cultivated fields at all elevations. It is characterized by large pink flowers, and dainty vine-like foliage whose pinnate leaves end in tendrils that clasp any nearby vegetation, commonly sagebrush in our area.

Long-stalked clover, Trifolium longipes Nutt. (left). Several native clovers grow in our mountains. This is the species most frequently seen, growing as high as the alpine zone. It is identified by a single small flowerhead atop a rather tall stem (longipes, means “long-stalked”). Close to a dozen varieties are recognized; their classification is based on minor technical differences. This plant’s flowers are white and dependent (the purple ones in the image are unopened flowers), whereas in other varieties they may be purple. Its trifoliate leaves bear lance-shaped leaflets.

Owyhee clover, Trifolium owyheense Gilkey (right) is a small, nativeclover that grows on dry ground in the Owyhee highlands in southern Idaho and adjacent oregon. It is characterized by its rather thick gray-green leaves and attractive flower-head. (Thanks to Mike Mancuso for showing us this rare plant.)

Yellow sweet-clover, Melilotus officinalis (L.) Pall. (left). Yellow sweet-clover and the very similar white sweet clover, Melilotus alba Medik. (not shown), were both introduced from Europe as fodder plants. Although now considered weeds, they do have value, for they fix soil nitrogen. Their clover-like flowers and leaves are small. Sweet-clovers are extremely common and often form large yellow patches along our roadsides, to mid-elevations. Homer used the word melilotus to describe animal fodder. Like many other Eurasian imports in this ,and other plant families, sweet clovers are found everywhere in North America.

Sainfoin, Onobrychis viciifolia Scop. (right). Sainfoin is a European import whose usefulness as fodder has been known for millennia. Its name Onobrychis, from the Greek, means “donkey-food.” “Sainfoin,” in turn, is derived from the French words sain[t] and foin, the latter word meaning “hay,” thus “blessed hay.” Its flowers are borne  in a cluster on a tall stem; its feathery leaves (viciifolia means “vetch-like leaves”) have narrow, opposing leaflets. The flowers are small, but showy, with petals that are more prominently veined than those of any other member of the pea family in our area. The plants are common near settled areas as high as the montane zone.

White clover, Trifolium repens L. (left). The white clover is another everywhere plant, introduced in the long-ago past; it grows in every state and province in North America. Its species name, “repens,” is used fairly often as a species name for creeping plants (cf. “reptile”) describing a plant that grows along the ground. The trifoliate leaves are small and often form patches of considerable size in moist places. It is seen, not uncommonly, growing in high mountain meadows.

Red clover, Trifolium pratense L. (right). The red clover, is useful both as a cultivated forage plant and as an ornamental. A Eurasian import, it is now well established throughout North America s. The red clover is easily identified by its large trifoliate leaves, ovoid leaflets, and a large and showy  reddish-purple flower head. The species name, pratense, means “of the meadows.” It is at home in our mountains, often seen growing well away from cultivated places, as high as the subalpine zone.

Alfalfa, Medicago sativa L. (left, right)  Alfalfa, as well as the four  plants shown above, the common vetch (Vicia sativa, not shown) and several other clovers and grasses are Old World plants that have long been cultivated as domestic animal browse. Presumably these members of the pea famly were introduced into the New World during the imporation of cattle from Europe. They escaped cultivation and are frequently found growing wild near settled areas. Other species of alfalfa are sometimes encountered: none are originally native to the United States. Medicago sativa is the most common, frequently seen near pasteurland and along roadsides growing to fairly high altitudes.

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