This is my first official post as an SOS botany intern with the Lander Field Office in WY, and I couldn’t have asked for a more picturesque location to spend this field season. Since things are just starting up here, my partner and I have yet to spend a ton of time getting to know the flora of central WY; however, this week we began to familiarize ourselves with the BLM field protocol: getting acquainted with different GPS systems, practicing our radio checks–I was surprised how nervous I felt the first time I used one, and of course remembering NOT to lock the keys in the work truck. Unfortunately, that last item we learned the hard way 🙁 but luckily, we weren’t at all far from the field office, and another intern was more than happy to help…but long story short, if your pack comes with a key loop, use it!
Towards the end of our week, we focused on a project that entailed us surveying several corridors of a field site along the Red Canyon in Fremont county. In particular, we were looking for two rare plant species that have been identified around the area in previous years. Phlox pungens is a rare cushion plant that occurs in central WY, not to be confused with Phlox multifora or Phlox hoodii, both common cushion plants in the area. Apart from having stiffer, more prickly leaves, the main characteristic that allowed us to discern this Phlox species from the other common ones, was the presence of glands at the end of each cilia along the margins of the leaves. We were successfully able to find populations of P. pungens almost immediately into our search, which was very exciting!
The other rare plant we were surveying for was Physaria saximontana var. saximontana, which proved to be a bit more challenging to correctly identify, as its sister taxa, which is not considered rare, also occurs frequently throughout this region. Typically, one can expect to see larger, broader leaves and taller stems and pedicels on the rare species of P. saximontana var. saximontana; however, this part of WY had a rather dry Spring (not nearly as much April rain or snow than seen in years past) so plants that would normally flower in early May might not do so for another week or two. This also means that the plants we are seeing flower are possibly stunted or smaller from inadequate Spring precipitation. Therefore, positively identifying P. saximontana var. saximontana, was a bit more challenging, as we didn’t want to confuse the two sister taxa and unintentionally lump them together. Overall, with the help of our mentor, I believe we were able to correctly discern between the two sister taxa, and give an accurate representation of the P. saximontana var. saximontana populations that occur in the area.
Looking forward to a wonderful field season,
CLM intern, BLM-LFO (Lander Field Office)