In a field of Wyethia

Exactly a month ago I submitted my first blog post and had been working here in Idaho Falls for a total of three days. Since then, things have picked up at a wonderful rate. The rain has left us (for now), the snow is melting, and plants are blooming! Often times we are traveling from the northern tip of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, far east into the Wyoming ranges, and down south to the beautiful Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest of Utah. Covering an amazing amount of country and finding seeds in between.

Look at this beautiful Oenothera sp. (Onagraceae) at the base of the Lemhi Mountain Range outside of Howe, ID. These flowers were growing with one of our target species, Erigeron pumilis.

The tremendously small Calypso bulbosa (Orchidaceae) nestled underneath a dense Douglas-Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) outside of Alpine, WY.

In lieu of beautiful flowers, it feels necessary to share with you all the stunning field of White Mule’s-Ear (Wyethia helianthoides) we came upon while looking for a moths outside of St. Anthony, ID. As were were getting closer to this 0.25 mile field made up exclusively of white flowers, I thought to myself, “This is horrible! Look at how prolific this invasive flower is. Think about all the willows that would be growing in this area if this aster had not taken over!” To my great surprise, this beautiful species is 100% native to the region. It is know to dominate rich, moist sites. White Mule’s Ear often hybridizes with Yellow Mules-Ear (Wyethia amplexicaulis) creating a slue of peach or pale-yellow composites! 

White Mule’s-Ear (Wyethia helianthoides) as far as the eye can see.

Olivia Turner was equally enthused about the field of white.

Soon after our hearts melted in front of thousands of Wyethia, we came back the following week with a full itinerary. We managed to have two successful seed collections of Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagitata) in a week. This means we collected over 30,000 seeds for the Seeds of Success (SOS) program. Each balsamroot head has roughly 50 seeds. 50% are viable. To gain the 10,000 viable seeds required for SOS and the 5,000 for Rocky Mountain Research Station, we ended up collecting over 1,200 heads to ensure a viable seed count. 

This is a herbarium voucher of Balsamorhiza sagitata pulled from one of our seed collection sites near Swan Valley, ID.

Arrowleaf balsamroot just gone to seed!

It is quite the opportunity to continue learning the greater impacts the SOS program has on restoration projects. Simply knowing each seed collected by my hands could one day be part of a site reclamation project is amazing in itself. 

Claire Parsons

Caribou-Targhee National Forest S.O.

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