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Idaho Mountain Wildflowers

Rose family, Rosaceae  (continued)

Herbaceous (non-woody) plants

Prairie Smoke, (Old Man's Whiskers), Geum triflorum var. ciliatum. “Geum” is an old Latin name for avens—the common name for this genus. The species name, triflorum, is easy; the flowers grow three to a stem. Given its nodding, vase-like shape, the reddish color of its five petals, and its spreading recurved bracteoles (accessory sepal like leaves), the plants are easily identified. Prairie smoke is a common perennial in our area, found at least as high as treeline and blooming often in large patches in mid– to late spring. Another common name for the prairie smoke is “old man’s whiskers.” Lewis and Clark gathered Geum triflorum—a plant previously unknown to science--on Idaho's Weippe Prairie, June 12, 1806 during their return journey.

Pinewoods honeydew, or horkelia, Horkelia fusca Lindl. (left, right). Horkelias, named for a German physiologist, Johan Horkel (1769-1846) seem rather uncommon, as we had not encountered the plant prior to late spring of 2009 growing in a meadow near the Sun Valley resort. Several varieties have been described, distinguished chiefly by the shape of the leaves. The plants are rather tall, with leafy stems, and a very congested flower cluster born at the top. The leaves are rather similar to those of potentillas, the flowers are small and, in our variety white (possibly var. capitatum (Lindl.) Peck), although pink flowers are seen in other varieties. The species name, fusca from the Latin, means "fleeting,"  or "rapidly withering."

Ross’s avens, Geum rossii (R. Br.) Ser. var. turbinatum (Rydb.) C. L. Hitchc. (left) Ross's avens is a yellow-flowered plant that bears little resemblance to the geum shown above (although the leaves are similar).  It grows from mid-elevations (where it is a taller plant) to well above treeline. Pinnatifid (feather-like) leaves help to identify  it,  as do purple-tinged stems and calyces. Only var. turbinatum with a raised central disk is found in Idaho.The name rossii honors arctic explorer Sir James Clark Ross (1800-1862).

Sheep cinquefoil, Potentilla ovina  Macoun ex J. M. Macoun (right) has pinnate leaves that arise mostly from the base of the plant; these have small, tightly ranked, furred leaflets. It is a small creeping plant found from montane to alpine elevations. The yellow flowers are similar to those of other potentillas. Macoun, who described this plant, found it on Sheep Mountain in British Columbia, and gave it the name ovina, a word that means “of sheep.” Several similar low-growing potentilla grow in our mountains; their identification can be difficult.

Slender cinquefoil, Potentilla gracilis Douglas ex Hook. Jeps. (left, right). There are at least four varieties of this plan classified by differences in their leaves: e.g. how deeply indented the lobes of the leaflets are, how much hair grows on their surfaces, etc. All have palmately compound leaves with five to nine toothed pinnate (feather-like) leaflets and five-petaled yellow flowers with a central disk. The plants are fairly tall and commonly bloom in late spring and early summer. Var. brunnescens, characterized by its frilly, fern-like leaflets is shown on the right.. Slender cinquefoils grow as one variety or another throughout the West, north to Alaska, in our northern tier states as far east as the midwest, and in most Canadian provinces.The species name, gracilis, means “slender.”

Early cinquefoil, Potentilla concinna Richards (left). The early cinquefoil's leaves vary from palmate (as shown here) to pinnate. The individual leaflets are toothed at the ends. The grayish undersurface of its leaves, are covered with downy, whitish hairs. The plant was collected in 1820 by John Richardson, physician-naturalist with the first Franklin expedition, on the Saskatchewan River in Canada. The name concinnus means “neat.” (Photographed on Mt. Borah in the Lost River Range.)

Cliff drymocallis, Drymocallis pseudorupestris (Rydb.) Rydb. var. saxicola Ertter (left). Until recently, this wildflower was classified as Potentilla glandulosa Lindl. with the common name “sticky cinquefoil,” and so identified in guide books. Recent studies show, however, that the plant is not related to the potentillas. Var. saxicola is common in Idaho where it grows as high as treeline in reduced form (right). The species, as one variety or another, is found in most states and provinces west of the Mississippi River. The name drymocallis, from the Greek, means “wood beauty”; the Latin name, saxicola, means “mountain (or cliff) dwelling.,” reflecting this variety’s growth preference. The plant's foliage and stems are noticeably sticky.

Gordon’s ivesia, Ivesia gordonii (Hook.) Torr. & A. Gray (left) is found at high elevations throughout Idaho. Pale yellow flowers form heads on the ends of several long stems. The petals are glossy giving the flower heads a glistening appearance. The central portion of the flower—the “hypan”—is turbinate. Its leaves are pinnate, made up of very closely ranked small leaflets. Once one knows the plant it is surprising how often it is encountered on rocky alpine terrain. (The  tall plant in the background is an unidentified composite). . A rare species, Ivesia tweedyi Rydb., grows in mountains near Coeur d’Alene. Dr. Eli Ives, (1779-1861), for whom the genus was named, was a physician and botanist.

Kelseya, Kelseya uniflora (S. Watson) Rydb. (right) is an early flowering, mat-forming alpine plant, the only one in its genus. Though uncommon, it has spread around the world as a cultivated rock garden  plant. Kelseyas spread over rocks forming a carpet of tiny blue-gray leaves dotted with minute pink and white flowers. Kelseya uniflora  was named for Rev. Frank Duncan Kelsey (1849-1905), of Helena, Montana, who first collected the plant.

Wild strawberry, Fragaria virginiana Mill var. glauca (S. Watson) Staudt (left, right). Wild strawberries are found in every part of North America. They occur at all elevations in our mountains, even above treeline. Their flowers are large, with five separated petals, and many anthers and stigmas arising from a central receptacle. Fruiting plants are not common, but when found, they are unmistakably strawberries, in taste and appearance. Two varieties occur in Idaho. The plant shown here has smooth, almost hairless leaves. The other variety, var. platypetala, has larger flowers and furry leaves and stems. The name, Fragaria, was derived from fraga the Latin word for “strawberry.”

Sibbaldia, Sibbaldia procumbens L. (left) is the only North American plant in its genus although five species, including this one, grow in Eurasia. The sibbaldia is an alpine plant in the United States. It is far smaller than the illustration suggests and may be identified by tiny flowers borne in small clusters at the ends of stout stems. There are five prominent sepals and as many narrowly attached petals. Its basal leaves are strawberry-like, with several teeth at the end of each of three leaflets. Sir Robert Sibbald (1641-1722) was a prominent physician of Edinburgh with an interest in botany. He published a natural history of Scotland in which he described this plant. Linnaeus took note of Sibbald’s contribution and named it Sibbaldia.

Western burnet, Sanguisorba annua (Nutt.) Nutt. (right) has dense clusters of tiny flowers borne, on several branching stems. The stem is leafy in its lower part with fern-like pinnate leaves. The burnet grows in our mountains at least as high as the montane zone. It prefers open fields.  The name “burnet” has been used for centuries for a European species; the word means “brown,” reflecting the color of post-mature flowerheads. Sanguisorba, in turn, implies “blood absorbing” as the plants were thought to have styptic properties.

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