Grayia spinosa, spiny hopsage, is a common native western perennial shrub. In southern deserts it tends to be evergreen, however, in northern deserts it tends to lose its leaves in the summer. It has diffuse branches and varies between 1 and 5 feet in height, with a profile that is similar to sagebrush.
Spiny hopsage has fleshy, elliptical leaves. The flowers are small and inconspicuous., typically blooming from April to July. The color you see on many of the plants does not actually come from the flowers, but rather the large bracts that surround the seeds. Spiny Hopsage grows between 2,000 and 5,500 feet and is highly tolerant of drought and fairly tolerant of grazing and fire.
Native Americans ground "parched" seeds for pinole flour.
It is distributed throughout the the Western United States included all of the basin and range region. It is also known as applebush and has been known as Atriplex spinosa.
Most of the information on this page taken from the Utah State University Extension "Spiny hopsage" webpage.
Great Basin Bristlecone Pines are incredible organisms. They are extremely long-lived and are the oldest living, single organisms that we know of. The oldest known bristlecone is roughly 5,000 years old.
In the Basin and Range region we have the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva), which reside in California, Nevada and Utah. The Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pine (Pinus aristata) is located in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.
Great Basin Bristlecones have dark green, short needles in clusters of five. The needles grow along the length of the branch, giving them a fairly unique look. The cones grow at the ends of the branches. The cones have a thin bristle on each cone scale--which is how they got the name bristlecones. The older bristlecones often have spikey dead tops, bare wood on limbs and trunks, distorted polished limbs and exposed roots.
Great Basin Bristlecones grow only in cold, dry windswept locations at high elevations. The oldest of the bristlecones tend to live in the harshest of conditions. The tough conditions produces wood that is hard, resin-filled and resistant to insects, disease and decay.
Great Basin Bristlecone Pine Slideshow:
Desert Peach (Prunus andersonii) is in the rose family and is a woody shrub. It has bright, beautiful pink flowers that bloom early in spring, usually April-June, a welcome sight for wildflower enthusiasts. In spring you can often see dense areas carpeted with these gorgeous plants.
Desert peach typically grow between 2-6 feet tall. They have five spoon shaped petals and a cluster of long stamens with yellow anthers--which you can see them in the picture above. The leaves are small and slightly toothed, usually appearing in bunches on the gray, spine-tipped stems. They develop little fruits that look similar to a small peach, hence it's common name, desert peach.
It is restricted to the western section of the Basin and Range region, occurring in eastern California; and western and central Nevada. Desert peach is found in Sagebrush shrublands, yellow pine forests, and pinyon-juniper woodland habitats.
Prickly Poppies (Argemone sp.) are beautiful little plants that are found throughout the Basin and Range Region. You can often see these plants when driving as they tend to grow along roadsides. They like sandy or gravelly flats in the sagebrush steppe and can be found up to around 9,000 ft in elevation.
Prickly Poppies have large, white, showy flowers that remind me of tissue paper. The flowers tend to be between 3-5 inches in diameter and have a yellow center which is a cluster of stamens. The pistil is dark maroon and sits high above the stamens--as seen in the pictures above.
The leaves are lobed and have silver prickles, giving the leaves somewhat grey in appearance. These plants also secrete a poisonous alkaloid from its steams. The alkaloid along with the prickles keep animals from using these plants for a snack.
Prickly poppies have a history of herbal use, an example of a historic use is that the seeds were made into a salve to treat burns and sores.
Green ephedra (Ephedra viridis) is a unique looking plant that is found throughout the basin and range region. The plants are medium sized shrubs that are woody toward the base. They are green in color, and do not have typical leaves, but rather the foliage is in the form of the green, tube-like, segmented branches. These green branches are photosynthetic, as their small, vestigial, sets of leaves are not photosynthetic. They are not flowering plants, male plants produce pollen cones at the nodes and female plants produce seed cones which are slightly larger and contain two seeds each.
Green Ephedra tends to grow at elevations between 3,000 and 7,500 ft and is prevalent along transitional zones between pinion-juniper woodlands and drier communities. Their distribution often overlaps with that of sagebrush, but is more common further south. Green ephedra is moderately palatable to all domestic livestock and many big game species, especially as winter browse.
In addition, Ephedra has historically been dried and for use as a tea.
http://www.washoecounty.us/parks/arboretum/mormonTea.htm accessed 2/23/2015
http://medplant.nmsu.edu/ephedra.html accessed 2/23/2015
http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/shrub/ephvir/all.html accessed 2/23/2015
Perennial Pepperweed (Lepidium latifolium), also known as tall whitetop, belongs to the mustard family. It is considered a noxious weed in several states, and has been an issue in the Basin and Range Region for a while now. Originally from Eurasia, it is now found in much of the United States. It is thought that it was brought in as a contaminant in sugar beet seed in the early 1900s.
Perennial Pepperweed tends to grow in riparian areas, along stream banks, irrigation ditches, meadows and other moist places, but can also be found in drier upland areas, such as roadsides, pastures, and agricultural fields.
Growing upwards of 6 feet tall, perennial pepperweed typically grows to between 2-4 feet in height. In early spring, it starts as a basal rosette, then stems grow out of the rosette. The leaves are bright green and the lower leaves are petioled (having a little stem between the main stem and base of leaf) and upper leaves are sessile (base of leaf is attached directly to the main stem), but this varies quite a bit. Also, the rosette leaves are about 4-11 inches long and 1-3 inches wide, but the leaves become smaller towards the top of the stem. The flowers form dense clusters arranged in panicles (branched inflorescence) at each stem. The flowers are small and white with 4 petals. Seed pods are round and flat, usually covered with hairs.
Perennial Pepperweed has extensive root systems that make it hard to control, as new shoots can sprout up from the roots. Some roots creep horizontally and are fairly shallow beneath the soil, others penetrate deep into the soil. The roots that creep horizontally tend to be responsible for localized spread.
Perennial pepperweed reproduces from both seed and its creeping roots. Mature plants can produce thousands of seeds each year. Also, roots and seeds float, which means plant material can be transported long distances by water and can establish new populations miles downstream from the original site.
Perennial pepperweed grows very aggressively, forming dense colonies that exclude native species. It reduces the quality of wildlife habitat, especially in riparian areas where it interferes with the regeneration of willows and cottonwoods, important habitat for birds and nesting waterfowl. The shallow, creeping roots also lead to erosion along stream banks and other areas.
Early detection and rapid removal is the best way to control perennial pepperweed, an established population is much harder and costly to manage. Mowing, digging, tillage, burning and grazing established stands are NOT effective, however, it has been found that small, un-established populations can be controlled with hand pulling, removing as much of the root as possible--but you must take caution not to spread the plant material as it can create new populations and exacerbate the problem. Pesticides have been the most effective of controlling these plants.
Sources and where you can learn more:
Great Basin Invasive Weeds, Perennial Pepperweed:
http://www.usu.edu/weeds/plant_species/weedspecies/pepperweed.html accessed 2/25/2015
USDA Forest Service, Lepidium latifolium:
http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/forb/leplat/all.html accessed 2/25/2015
NM State; College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Science, Lepidium latifolium:
Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) is a common tree in the Basin and Range region especially at elevation between 6,500 and 10,000 feet. It is actually one of the most widespread trees in North America. Aspen are often referred to as "quakies," but they also are known as trembling poplar, golden aspen and mountain aspen.
Quaking aspen grows on a variety of soils ranging from shallow and rocky to deep loamy sands and heavy clays. The best quaking aspen stands in the Basin and Range are on soils developed from igneous rock, and from neutral or calcareous shales and limestones. Aspen tend to grow well wherever soil moisture is not limiting.
Aspen can grow between 40-100 feet in height. They have white, smooth bark that is distinctive. It can be confused with birch however birch bark peels off the trunk like paper where aspen bark does not. Aspen have characteristic black scars on the white bark where old limbs have fallen due to to self pruning. The leaves are green, alternate, slightly toothed and are cordate to round in shape. The top of the leaves are a darker, glossy green, while the bottoms are paler. The leaves turn bright gold in the fall, sometimes turning bright orange and red.
Aspens are really neat, unique trees. All of the trees in a stand of aspen tend to be from one single organism, with most of their "body" residing underground. They have massive root systems that can reach up to 20 acres in size. When there is enough sunlight, roots sprout up from the ground to form white "trunks", which then leaf out and look like individual trees. This is a type of Asexual reproduction--where offspring arise from a single organism and offspring are basically a clone of the parent. Aspen will reproduce sexually, as a flowering plant, only after severe fire and/or under ideal environmental conditions.
http://www.na.fs.fed.us/pubs/silvics_manual/volume_2/populus/tremuloides.htm accessed 9/2014
http://www.nps.gov/brca/naturescience/quakingaspen.htm accessed 9/2014
Rubber Rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) holds a near and dear place in this writer’s heart. Its violent attack on my sinuses every year surely signals the start of fall. It is a common and widely distributed throughout the basin and range and the whole of the arid areas of western North America. Sources say that it is also known as Chamisa, rubber and gray rabbitbrush, nut I've only ever heard rabbitbrush. It is a perennial shrub that belongs to the Aster family, so it’s related to daisies as well as sagebrush (with which it often grows).
It grows in disturbed areas and does well in poor conditions. It also can handle coarse, alkaline soils. It’s best distinguished by its bright clumps of yellow flowers and its otherwise gray appearance. It can grow to be very tall (up to eight feet!) but in my experience generally remains about 2 to 3 feet.
Shrubs are generally rounded if seen from above and flower heads are made up of 5 small, yellow, tubular flowers, and are arranged in dense, rounded or flat-topped clusters at the ends of the branches. Flowers bloom from August to October as other plants fade and rabbitbrush provides vivid color and an important pollen source for insects late in the summer (as well as its aforementioned sneeze producing potential and the distinct smell of it on the wind). Shrubs reproduce via an abundance of small, wind-dispersed seeds and can also sprout from the base.
According to Joseh Masco (via Wikipedia), The Nuclear Borderlands, specimens of rabbitbrush growing in Bajo Canyon near Los Alamos contained a concentration of radioactive strontium-90 that was 300,000 times higher than a normal plant! Apparently it’s roots tapped into nuclear waste thinking that the strontium was calcium due to their similar properties. The radioactive shrubs are, according to Masco, “indistinguishable from other shrubs without a Geiger counter.”
Rabbit brush is a very important plant for the basin and range. It quickly moves into disturbed sites which are also often the targets of invasive weeds and it provides ground cover and erosion control. It is an important pollinator and also provides limited forage. According to the Plant Fact Sheet Native Americans used rabbitbrush for baskets, yellow dye, chewing gum, tea, cough syrup, and to treat chest pains. During World War II it was considered as a substitute for commercial rubber and remains a minor commercial rubber source.
Rabbitbrush is a familiar face for many of us in the basin and range, its pungent odor and beautiful fall colors surely marking the change of the seasons and its fading away also marking the end of the allergy season!
Contributed by: Daniel Montero
The Great Basin and Invasive Weeds site, Utah State University, “Rubber rabbitbrush.” http://www.usu.edu/weeds/plant_species/nativespecies/rabbitbrush.html.
USDA Forest Service. “Plant of the Week: Rubber Rabbitbrush.” http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/ericameria_nauseosa.shtml.
USDA NRCS, “Plant Fact Sheet: Rubber rabbitbrush.” http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/ericameria_nauseosa.shtml.
Wikipedia, “Ericameria nauseosa.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ericameria_nauseosa.
Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) is fairly prominent across the western landscape and is also known as antelope brush, deerbrush and quininebrush. Bitterbrush tends to grow below pinyon-juniper and ponderosa pine forests and is typically associated with sagebrush, rabbitbrush, curlleaf mountain mahogany, balsamroot and mules ear. It commonly grows on dry, south-facing slopes--preferring sandy to rocky, well drained soils.
It tends to be a medium sized bush, but the size can vary greatly depending upon where it's growing. At higher elevations it can even become prostrate, but typically it ranges from 3-9 ft in height. The leaves are simple with three lobes and are bright green which helps distinguish the leaves from that of a sagebrush. They have many small, five petaled, yellow flowers that bloom in late spring. The flower petals are spoon-shaped narrow towards the center of the flower and wide towards the edge.
Bitterbrush is very important winter forage for wildlife. Mule deer and pronghorn depend upon it for sustenance during the winter months.
Yellow Bell (Fritillaria pudica) belongs to the lily or Liliaceae family. It has an erect stem with lance-shaped leaves and can grow to be about 4-12 inches tall. The flowers are yellow and they nod towards the ground. They are also shaped like a bell, hence the common name, Yellow Bell. Yellow Bells are one of the first flowers to show up after the snow melts. It typically bloom in April and May.
The bulbs of the Yellow Bell are edible and are quite tasty. They can be eaten raw or cooked and can be a nice addition to soup. However, it would take killing many of these beautiful little plants to create a meal. Personally, I think it would be a shame to kill large amounts of this lovely little plant to eat, unless it's absolutely necessary.
Remember, if you are going to pick wild food from nature try to take less than 10% of what is there. That way the population can sustain itself and you and future generations can continue picking wild edibles for years to come.
Also, beware that many plants in the lily family are quite poisonous and eating them can lead to death. Many lilies can look quite similar when they are young. Please take great care and have a solid grasp of plant identification skills before you ingest any wild plant material
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