I can’t believe we’re only a week away from the Solstice. It seemed like just yesterday I was shoveling snow and now there’s more than 15 hours between sunrise and sunset.
Tangent: And in case it snuck up on you or something, this week and next week are as much light as you’re going to get all year. So if you like to get out before or after work, and if it ever stops raining (more on that in a moment), this is the week you should stop making excuses and get out.
Mid-June is a good time to take stock of Spring, because at different altitudes right now it’s almost like completely different seasons. Today I’ll catch us up on what’s going on at the 5,000 foot level, tomorrow we’ll check out what’s happening at 7,000 feet, and Wednesday we’ll climb up to 9,000 feet, where the world is just now starting to wake up*.
*Like all my blog-plans, this one is subject to me flaking or changing my mind..
The Balsamroots are all but bare (pic above, right). Where you do find hanger-on flowers they’re battered and beaten. The Yellow Salsifies that dazzled me a couple weeks ago are still blooming but the first generation has already gone to seed. They look like giant Dandelion heads (pic left), and the achenes/parachutes are giant versions of those on Dandelions, allowing you to better see the fine detail of the achenes and their converted-calyx-parachutes (pic right). (For an explanation of what an achene is, and how it’s not a seed or a fruit, see this post.)
When you look down, alongside the trail, you might notice these little tufts of “wool” all over the place. These are the seedpods of the Woolly Milkvetch (pic left) that was flowering all over the place here 6-7 weeks ago.
But one of the prettiest updates is this: Sego Lilies are all over the place. Every white dot in this shot (below) is a blooming Calochortus nuttallii, and if you’re going to sneak a bulb-snack, this is probably your best week to do so.
There are also several new flowers blooming in the low foothills that we haven’t seen before. But first, let’s talk about the rain. Seriously, how long can it go on raining like this? More than a week now of crazy, torrential downpours. From time to time on this blog, I succumb to the middle-aged-man’s deepest, darkest, most burning desire: To Rant. But this rain is something else. This calls for more than just a rant; this calls for my…
Tangent: I’m fully aware that no “manifesto” ever leads to anything really positive*. Look at the guys who write them: Marx & Engels, Bellegarrigue ,Tom Hayden, Ron Paul, the Unabomber. Seriously, whatever your politics, none of these guys is someone you’d set your sister up with**. But for good or evil, sometimes a “rant” just isn’t enough. You have to dress it up, give it a couple more syllables, and that’s when a manifesto is called for.
*Yes, yes, I know the Declaration of Independence was technically a manifesto. And we all know how important that was. If it weren’t for the Declaration and the ensuing War of Independence (Because the American Revolution was not a “revolution”, any more than the American Civil War was a “civil war”), we could well have ended up like Canada, what with nice people and real multi-party elections and universal healthcare and…wait a minute…
** Awesome Wife once said that one piece of dating advice she’d give to any single woman was to pass on any guy who has a manifesto.
Anyway, here it is. I hate rain. Absolutely hate it. I hate biking in the rain, hiking in the rain, camping in the rain or just driving in the rain. Yeah, you say, so what? We all hate it. No, we don’t. I hate it more than you, because I drastically changed my life, moved thousands of miles away from all of my friends and loved ones and relocated to the 2nd-driest state in the nation, specifically to limit my exposure to rain.
I grew up in Massachusetts, where it frequently rains for days on end. And I hated it there too. But as I grew older, and I became aware of the larger world, I realized that there were places where it didn’t rain all the time, where most days were actually sunny, and you could do stuff outside almost every day. And a thought came into my head: that when I could, when I was through with school, and had a few years professional experience and a little bit of money saved up I would leave New England, and go live in one of those sunny places where it didn’t rain all the time.
Tangent: I remember exactly when and where I was when it finally gelled. It was a Monday morning in May 1989, and I was waiting for the Avis shuttle bus at the Newark Airport. The night before I had watched a video of “The Milagro Beanfield War”, a film full of beautiful open New Mexico vistas. And I thought, “What am I doing here at the Newark Airport? I should go live in a place that looks like that movie…”
My then-girlfriend and I researched dozens of possible Western locations. Our bible was a book called “The Places Rated Almanac”, which had all kinds of stats for every city in the US: population, crime, unemployment, cost of living/housing. But best of all it had weather stats. And Utah was the 2nd-driest state in the country.
It took 6 more years, and several steps I won’t get into here*, but I made it. I finally wound up in Utah. And 99% of the time I love it. But I gave up a lot to get here. I moved thousands of miles away from… oh yeah I said that part already. Well anyway I love it here. Except when it rains.
*4 month-long road trip, 5 years in Colorado, 1st marriage/ divorce, several dead-end jobs, pushing a handcart across Wyoming. OK I made the last one up.
And I have to say, it actually rains a fair amount here. Not just this week, but practically every time I venture into the backcountry. I can’t count the number of backpacking or camping trips I’ve been on in the most desolate-looking of places- places that look like sets out of the Coyote & Roadrunner cartoons- and it’s pouring rain! Why doesn’t this place look like Vermont? Anyway, the point is, I gave up a lot to get out of the rain, and so when it acts like New England or Seattle here for a week+, I get really pissed off…
Tangent: I will admit, the rain has kept the foothill grasses lush and green later than normal. Here’s a video off pre-storm winds creating “waves” in the grass @5,000 feet. (Yellow flowers in foreground = Yellow Salsify.)
Back to the Flowers Already
But just across the street from the zoo there are new flowers that weren’t there just a couple of weeks ago. In this shot (pic left)purple Lupine and yellow Toadflax stand out nicely against the fully-leafed Oak. These 2 flowers are all over the place. The Lupine is a native; I talked about Lupines in general last week up on Shoreline. This one, lower down, looks different (pic right), but I haven’t yet made the species ID; Lupines are tricky, with a lot of variation.
The yellow flower is another exotic, but it’s a beautiful one: Common Toadflax, Linaria vulgaris, also known as Butter-and-Eggs. Toadlflax is a common European weed which has escaped cultivation here. It’s a beautiful flower, with an elegant and distinctive snap-dragon-style architecture, and in fact Linaria is closely-related to Snapdragons (genus = Antirrhinum.) Both belong to the Plantain Family, Plantaginaceae.
Besides their cool-looking flowers, here are 2 neat things about Toadflax. First, the architecture of the flower, specifically its closed underlip, requires pollinators that are large/strong enough to pry then open. Here in Utah, the most common pollinators are Bumblebees.
Second, unlike most (practically all?) wildflowers around here, they do pretty well in a vase. And since they’re non-native, you can pick them guilt-free. So think about picking a bouquet for your sweetie.
Tangent: Seriously, the best reason not to pick wildflowers- enviro-ethics aside- is because they’ll wilt to nothing before you get them home. Over the course of this project I’ve picked a number of flowers in order to pull them apart and check out their anatomy under controlled (good light, no wind, etc.) conditions back home. Most are unrecognizable within a couple of hours. A Larkspur for example will be shriveled to almost nothing in less than 30 minutes.
Speaking of weeds, another common one down on the ground that’s appeared in the last couple weeks is this guy, Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis, (pic right) also known as White Morning Glory, although the flowers range from white to pink, and most of ours around here seem to be faint pink with whitish stripes. It’s native to Eurasia but now grows wild in all 48 lower states and across Southern Canada. This flower is different from others we’ve looked at in that its 5 petals are fused, creating a funnel-like structure. Like Toadflax, it’s a weed, but another good-looking one, and it’s also all over the place in the lower foothills right now.
But I saved the best foothill-weed, and possibly the best flower shot of this blog ever- for last. Next time you mtn bike, run or hike the trails across the street from the zoo, take a moment before heading out, and walk about 30-40 feet down Sunnyside Ave, along the North side of the street, just past the exit from This Is The Place. Alongside the wooden fence, look for a few flowers that look sort of like big, blue Dandelions. It’s Blue Sailor, Cicorium intybus, and it is a stunner.
Like Dandelions, Balsamroots or Salsifies, Blue Sailor is a Composite, meaning that each “petal” is actually its own separate flower. And like Dandelions (and Salisifies) it’s a Ray-Only Composite, with no disk flowers in the center. Although it’s similar in form to a Dandelion, it’s bigger enough that it’s structure and anatomy is much easier to recognize, with the reproductive parts clearly connected to the base of each “petal”/ray flower.
Blue composites are very rare worldwide, and there are no native blue composites in Utah. Blue Sailor is native to Europe, and is also known by the common name Chicory. Its leaves are edible, and are sometimes (mistakenly) called “endive.” The roots have been used as a coffee substitute. Supposedly drinking Chicory-root coffee long-term impairs your vision, but that may be an old wives tale.
*True endive is another, closely-related species, Cichorium endivia.
Side Note: Several Asters and Daisies (both composites) are purple or lavender, but none are truly blue.
This is probably the easiest place around Salt Lake to see a blue composite growing wild. Take 2 minutes at the end of your next Shoreline trail ride and check it out.