Daggerpod (Phoenicaulis cheiranthoides) is a neat looking plant, they have a cluster of fuzzy gray-green leaves that look as if someone came along and folded them in half.
Daggerpods belong to the mustard (Brassicaceae) family and have the typical four petaled flowers. The flowers are light pink, similar to the pink of a wild rose flower and they grow in a cluster (like most mustards) at the end of a long steam. The flowers tend to grow along the ground, out of the sides of the plant, forming a pretty purple halo around the cluster of leaves. The fruits, in contrast to the soft leaves, have sharp-edged blades that give it it's common name--daggerpod.
Daggerpods grow in many types of habitats, but tend to grow on rocky slopes in the sagebrush steppe. They tend to like areas that are between 5,000 and 10,000 feet in elevation, and grow throughout the Great Basin.
The Hot-Rock Penstemon (Penstemon deustus) is fairly inconspicuous. It has small flowers and the plant is quite bushy so you don't necessarily notice the flowers at first. When you do notice the flowers, you find that they are unique and quite beautiful. They are white and trumpet-like with five-lobed mouths. The flowers also have dark purple/brown guidelines that lead to the nectar hidden within. It is a perennial herb with upright branches. The leaves are lance-shaped to round, and are sharply toothed.
Hot-Rock Penstemon is a useful plant, it is used for wildlife habitat enhancement and restoration efforts. It is also a popular plant used in xeriscaping. In addition, a poultice of the smashed leaves has been used to aid in the healing of skin sores, such as boils, mosquito bites, tick bites and open sores.
It's fun to see the Hot-Rock Penstemon in nature, because it's so different from most of the penstemon in the area. Many Penstemon tend to have bright purple, pink and/or blue flowers, so the white flowers of the Hot-Rock are quite unique.
These little beauties are commonly known as Nevada Dustymaidens or Sierra Pincushions and they belong to the sunflower family (Asteraceae). Nevada Dustymaidens prefer to grow in dry environments, in sandy or gravely soils. The flowerheads are made up of many tiny tube flowers and can be anywhere from a light yellow to a rosy red. The leaves form a basal rosette and are woolly and pinnately lobed. Gorgeous!
The first time I saw a dwarf waterleaf (Hydrophyllum capitatum) was several years ago on the Hunter Creek trail in northwest Reno. When I first saw it I thought it was so interesting because it has beautiful leaves and hidden underneath the leaves are bunches of pretty little lavender flowers. If you're not looking it is an easy plant to miss.
Dwarf Waterleaf belongs to the Waterleaf family (Hydrophyllaceae). The leaves are large and deeply lobed, quite distinctive. The leaves grow up on erect stems forming a sort of umbrella that covers the small flower clusters. The stamens are long, growing out past the ends of the petals and sepals. I have found these plants mostly on rocky slopes. I've also seen a lot of them coming up in burn areas in the year following a burn in the Santa Rosa Mountains.
Waterleaf has been used as a food. The shoots and leaves can be collected before the flowers appear and cooked as a vegetable.
Indian paintbrush is a fun plant to see, it tends to bring a bright splash of color to desert hillsides. There are many species of Indian paintbrush and they can be tricky to identify. Paintbrushes belong to the Snapdragon Family (Scrophulariaceae). They come in all sorts of bright colors, yellow, pink, orange and red. Although, it seems most people tend to associate them with red.
Indian Paintbrush are partially parasitic, which means they get some nutrients from the sun, but they also get some nutrients from the roots of other plants. Paintbrush parasitizes directly from the roots of plants, unlike snow plants who parasitize the fungi surrounding plant roots--mycotrophic. In Nevada, paintbrush likes to parasitize sagebrush (Artemisia spp.). You'll tend to see paintbrush growing right next to or under a sagebrush as seen in the picture above.
It's interesting to note that the bright parts of this plant are not actually the flowers, they are modified leaves that form a bract. The actual flower is hidden within the of bright leaves toward the top of the plant. The flowers of the Indian paintbrush are edible, however, they tend to absorb selenium from the soil, so you want to be careful in eating them and not eat them in large quantities.
Western Peony (Paeonia brownii) is such a cool little plant. The leaves are quite lovely and it is one of the few plants that have "brown" petals, making it quite unique and an absolute treat to see when hiking in the back-country.
Western Peony, also known as Brown's Peony, is a dicot, perennial, herbaceous plant. It likes to grow in Sagebrush Scrub, Yellow Pine, and Chaparral communities and tends to grow in elevations between 3,000 and 8,500 ft. Western Peony tends to flower between May and July.
The flowers have 5 or more maroon/brown petals with a large number of bright, yellow stamen that contrast beautifully with their brown petals. Within a few weeks, the petals and stamens fall to the ground and are replaced by large seedpods. The large, green seedpods tend to pull the plant towards the ground, giving it a drooping appearance. The leaves are large, bluish-gray in color and are irregularly lobed.
Sources and links to more information:
USDA Plants, Profile for Paeonia brownii: http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=PABR
Jepson e-Flora: http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/cgi-bin/get_IJM.pl?tid=35854
The Great Basin Violet (Viola beckwithii), is a perennial dicot native to the basin and range region. It tends to live in sagebrush scrub, pinyon-juniper and yellow pine communities. Their growing season is form March through July and they tend to be among the first of the wildflowers I see each season.
Violas are gorgeous little plants. They have bright, cheery flowers that are bilaterally symmetrical--meaning they have a balanced distribution of duplicate parts along a plane. The flowers are two-tone with the upper two petals having a dark purple/maroon color and the lower three petals having light purple/white color with violet veins and yellow bases. The flowers perch atop leafless stalks growing from a low tuft of basal leaves. The gray/green leaves are deeply divided and somewhat fan shaped. And, since they appear early in the season, they are a lovely sight for eyes longing to see the bright colors of spring.
The Great Basin Violet is also know as Beckwith's Violet.
Western Columbine AKA Crimson Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) can be found in moist areas throughout the Basin and Range. It belongs to the Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). Columbine is a perennial plant that grows up to 4 feet in height. It tends to flower between May and August with seeds ripening from July to September. They like well-drained, moist soils and tend to grow along stream banks, springs, ponds, in meadows and even on moist mountain slopes.
Western Columbine has showy, bright red and yellow flowers that nod or hang upside down. The long, tubular petals form distinctive red spurs that reach toward the sky. These spurs contain nectar sacs in their knob-like ends. Hummingbirds and bees are attracted to the flowers and the sweet nectar and are the most common pollinators this plant. The sepals are red and flare outwards and are often confused with petals. The mouth of the petals tend to be yellow and contain long-protruding stamens. The leaves tend to be compound, divided into three leaflets.
Blackwell, L.R. "Great Basin Wildflowers: A Guide to Common Wildflowers of the High Deserts of Nevada, Utah, and Oregon." Morris Book Publishing, LLC., 2006.
The last invasive species we are going to meet for National Invasive Species Week is Saltcedar (Tamarix ramosissima).
Saltcedar is native Eurasia and Africa, it was deliberately released in the U.S. in 1837 to help control wind and water erosion and has been used in the past as an ornamental. Saltcedar is a deciduous, small tree and can grow up to 30 feet in height. The stems are thin, giving it a wispy appearance. The leaves are scale-like and overlap, somewhat reminiscent of juniper leaves. The pink flowers are tiny and occur in plumes that bloom from spring through fall. Saltcedar produces a long, deep taproot that can pull groundwater from great depths. It is a perennial that reproduces by seed, roots and stem fragments--making it difficult to control.
The second invasive species that we are going to meet during National Invasive Species Awareness Week is musk thistle (Carduus nutans) aka nodding thistle. I worked closely with musk thistle two summers ago when working in the Mount Rose Wilderness. We found a bunch of it in the Hunter Creek drainage at the north end of the wilderness area. I led several volunteer trips into the wilderness area to hand pull the thistle.
Musk thistle is a biennial, which means it lives for two growing seasons or two years. Typically in the first year it forms a rosette and in the second year it bolts, flowers and goes to seed. However, musk thistle can also be a winter annual, emerging in fall and going through all of its life stages within a single year. Musk thistle reproduces by seed. When the plant first emerges the leaves form a rosette, which is attached to a deep taproot. The leaves are distinctive with a light-yellow/green midvein and silvery, purple edges. Leaves can be between 4 and 15 inches in length and have spines that will hurt you if you touch them too hard. As the plant grows, it can get as tall as 2 to 7 feet in height. The stem is sometimes covered with hairs and is branched. It has spiny wings that extend down the length of the stem with leaves that tend to alternate up the stem.
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