Wildflower of the Week by Chick Keller

This week’s plant is another lily, Death Camas. Anticlea elegans is its new name, and Zigadenis elegans is its old one.  Its rather daunting common name points to its poisonous nature, which belies its real beauty.  To see this one you have to again go up high (as for last week’s Mariposa lily).  It’s currently blooming in a number of places, but nowhere in such numbers as on the trail between the Ski Hill and Cañada Bonito.  It’s usually about two feet tall so is hard to miss.  As with other monocots, its flower parts are in threes and sixes.  Thanks to Craig Martin for the picture, which shows its habit of sending up a single stalk with a raceme of flowers.  

All parts of the plants, from the leaves to the bulbs, contain zygacine, a steroidal toxin.  While not as toxic as its cousin Zigadenus venous (meadow death camas), it causes cardiovascular distress, but hospital care usually can save the person.  This plant is not to be confused with one of the same common name also having bulbs used for food by northwest natives and made famous for being eaten (with mixed results) by members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  Enjoy its beauty though—one of our really pretty flowering plants. Thanks to MountainNature.com for additional information about this plant.

 

Photo by Craig Martin
Photo by Craig Martin

Wildflower of the Week by Chick Keller

This week’s wildflower is one of our most beautiful—mariposa lily (Calochortus nuttallii).  It blooms in our high mountain meadows, often stretching upwards to compete with the tall grasses.  As the pictures show it has a range in color variation.  In Colorado it is nearly white, more like our low altitude Sego Lily. The flower is so beautiful that nobody notices the graceful thin leaves.  As a lily, it grows from a bulb and bides its time until moisture is right.  Some years a field that had only a few before is covered with them. Also, as a lily, its flower parts come in threes or sixes—three petals, three sepals, six stamens—count them!    

Some more information about this plant is from to Montana Plant-Life.org, including its edible and medicinal uses:
 
Edible Uses: The bulb of Gunnison’s mariposa lily is edible, raw or cooked. One report says that the raw bulb tastes like a raw new potato. It has a crisp nut-like texture and a pleasant flavor when cooked. The bulbs can be dried and ground into a powder for making a sweet porridge, mush etc. They were eaten by many tribes, and were widely used by settlers in Utah when food was scarce. Leaves are edible cooked. It is hard to obtain a sufficient quantity of the leaves since they are small and use of the leaves will weaken the bulbs. The seeds can be ground into a powder. The flower buds are edible raw and can be added to salads.
Medicinal Uses: A tea of the plant was taken internally by the Acoma and Laguna Indians to treat rheumatic swellings and by the Navajo to ease the delivery of the placenta. Juice of the leaves were applied to pimples.
Photo by Chick Keller
Photo by Chick Keller

Wildflower of the Week by Chick Keller

This week’s flower is a beauty—bee balm or monarda  (Monarda fistula var. menthifolia).
 
It’s a lot prettier than my poor photograph.  It’s in the mint family and smells like tarragon or oregano.  It often blooms in big bunches with as many as 30 stems and flowers.  Hummingbirds love it as well as butterflies and other insects.
 
From Wikipedia:  Wild bergamot was considered a medicinal plant by many Native Americans including the Menominee, the Ojibwe, and the Winnebago (Ho-Chunk). It was used most commonly to treat colds, and was frequently made into a tea. Today, many families still use wild bergamot during the cold and flu season. The tea may be sweetened with honey, as it tends to be quite strong.
 
Enjoy.

Wildflower of the Week by Chick Keller

 

This week’s flower is Purple Easter Daisy, Townsendia eximia.  It’s called Easter Daisy because its stemless white cousin, T. exscapa, blooms in early spring around Easter time. I’d call it Purple Daisy. It’s blooming in lots of places —Dot Grant Trail, Quemazon Trail, Frijoles Canyon, and Bayo Canyon, especially South Trail.

It’s a really pretty flower when you look closely.  You can tell it from other daisies due to the pointy (almost cactus-like) leaflets that are the base of the flower ‘holding’ the petals.
 
This genus is named for an ornithologist, John Kirk Townsend. He went west with the botanist Thomas Nuttall, who put Townsend’s name on some plants.
 
A description of the path these two men took is described in Across the Rockies by John Kirk Townsend.  According to the author:
“When Nathaniel Wyeth led his second expedition to the Rocky Mountains and the Columbia in 1834, he was accompanied by a young ornithologist, John Kirk Townsend. Townsend, and his companion Thomas Nuttall, a botanist, were among the first naturalists to study these regions. Specimens taken by Townsend were an important contribution to the work of Audubon.
 
Their journey took the naturalists to Independence, MO, where they joined Wyeth’s party. From there, they proceeded west over what was to become the Oregon Trail, to the trapper’s Rendezvous on Ham’s Fork of the Green River. Continuing west, the party established Fort Hall, near what is now Pocatello, ID. Thence onward to Fort Vancouver, on the Columbia.”

Wildflower of the Week by Chick Keller

The flower this week is again two:  purple (P.strictrus) and scarlet (P. barbatus) penstemon. They are showing sparingly all around our woods—a spike of purple or scarlet flowers by the trail or off among the other plants.  Always a welcome sight.  We have some six rather common penstemons in the county: james’, whipple’s, one-sided, spike (or wandbloom), purple, red and slender (the little blue and white on on Dot Grant Trail near the cemetery), and a few other rare ones (Glabra and anguvstifolia).  
 
Our scarlet one is perhaps appropriate for this week because its common name is firecracker penstemon!  It has the curious flower shape that it has two lower lip-like structures that are ‘reflexed’ that is, bend backwards.  So it looks like a long hood with these two ‘petals’ below it. The purple one is not strictly native to our area but is native elsewhere in the state. Here it has been both planted and escaped from cultivation and has established itself in many places around the Town Site—probably not in White Rock.  It shows many flowers on a spike that are deep purple—usually quite a robust plant—very showy. Try to find all our penstemons.  James and one-sided are pretty much done blooming, but fragile and spike are in full bloom and whipple’s (found higher up) is soon to start.  Enjoy.