The problem with being a mtn biker/wildflower nut* in May is that you keep stopping over and over again on rides to take photos. Though I almost always carry a camera when I ride, I’ve started to divide rides into Photo and Non-Photo rides. On Photo rides- which are by necessity solo**- I stop for anything cool. On Non-Photo rides I try not to stop unless I see something really new and amazing. Sunday morning I climbed the Shoreline trail up/East out of City Creek.
*Actually, that’s only one of the problems. Other problems include a) your mtn biking friends thinking you’re a greenie-enviro-science-plant-geek b) your plant friends thinking you’re a destructive, anti-nature, adrenaline-junkie-gearhead c) your wife thinking you have a girlfriend because you always get home late from “quick” rides and d) your coworkers repeatedly surprising you in your office, catching you with some big flower-shot on the screen. e) Oh and your mom reads your blog.
**Lest I manage to scare away the few riding friends who will still put up me.
So many of the blooms I’ve blogged about the previous 2 years are well underway. On the gradual climb up paralleling the canyon bottom, the Gambel Oaks were probably 1/3-way leafed-out. To climber’s left, along open, sunny, Southeast-facing slopes, Arrowleaf Balsamroots are already popping out in clumps all over the place, and the larger open spaces are nicely sprinkled with blooming Milkvetch (pic right). To climber’s right, shaded by the brunt of the sun by the Oak, Oregon Grape is in full bloom down low. Carpet Phlox and Tufted Evening Primrose are also blooming along this stretch.
New Flower (But not the flower I meant to blog about; this is just a warm-up flower)
Along this stretch, also on the sunny, Southeast-facing slopes, there’s a flower blooming I’ve meant to blog about for a year or so, but just hadn’t gotten around to. It looks like a giant Long-Stalk Spring Parsely, with a flower-stalk some 1.5’ – 2’ off the ground. It’s Fernleaf Biscuitroot, Lomatium dissectum (pic left), a common, if unspectacular, wildflower throughout the Western US and Canada.
There are some 70-80 species of Lomatium, all native to North America, and, like the Spring Parsleys, belonging to the Carrot/Parsley family, Apiaceae. Many species were used by Native Americans for food or medicine. The roots of Fernleaf Biscuitroot are edible when cooked* and were used locally by the Paiutes as a treatment for- among other things- venereal diseases, for which they applied it both internally** and topically. They- and numerous other tribes- also employed it as an asthma remedy.
*And supposedly also when raw in young shoots.
**I mean they ate it, not whatever else you were thinking.
Side Note: Speaking of Paiutes, something kind of interesting about Salt Lake Valley immediately prior to Euromerican settlement was that it was something of an in-between/no-mans-land between the Utes* and the Paiutes. Jim Bridger actually advised Brigham Young that Utah Valley was probably the better location for a settlement, but the Mormon settlers chose Salt Lake Valley instead, in part because there was a fairly consistent Ute presence in Utah Valley.
*For more about the Utes, see this post. Again, I am telling you- a post for everything.
The tall, yellow, branching-at-the-head umbrella-stalks are what you’ll recognize first. But after you come to associate the lower, fern-like leaves sprouting from the base with the plant as well, you’ll notice that the leaves- if not the flower-stalks- are all over the place on sunny, South-facing slopes. It’s another one of those things that once you recognize it, you suddenly start seeing it everywhere, and wonder how you didn’t notice it for so long…
Tangent: This brings up a maybe-obvious thing that I’ll mention anyway: Spring is a great time to recognize the leaves of shrubs/flowers, in that the ground isn’t yet all that crowded with vegetation. In another month or so the open patches will be such a jumble of things growing, grown and even already-wilting that although the flowers will still be easy to pick out, their leaves won’t be nearly as obvious. And though you may not think so, recognizing the leaves of wildflowers- before* the flowers bloom- is actually way cool, in that it tells you what is happening in an area and gives you a bigger framework- over both area and time- in which to check out a given wildflower. Right now you can easily pick out leaf-clumps where Balsamroots are about to bloom, and along damper/shadier stretches the Mule’s Ears are already obvious, a good 2-4 weeks before their flowers will bloom.
*Or after, as in the case of Sticky Geranium.
After about a mile and half the trail turns sharply left and starts switchbacking West up the steep slope. This stretch- which I call the Green Tunnel- is treed mainly with Bigooth Maple, which though of similar height and form to taller Gambel Oak, leafs out 2+ weeks earlier, such that this stretch is much shadier than the Oak-lined trail lower down. There’s much more Oregon Grape here (pic left) in the shade and some other familiar sights, including one of my favorites, Blue Flax (pic below, right). I blogged about this flower last year (in the same place I think!) but since then I’ve noticed something else and read something else about it.
The thing I noticed is that it has one of the most enduring blooms of Wasatch wildflowers. The bloom in the foothills may last till mid-June, but last summer I came across isolated patches up around 7,500 feet in Park City clear into mid-August. A given plant blooms multiple flowers successively over a period of weeks, even though a given flower lasts only a day or two. In other words, if you go ride this same trail tomorrow, you’ll almost certainly see the same plant blooming, but you’ll be looking at different flowers than I saw.
The thing I read is even more interesting. Blue Flax flowers come in 2 types. One type has slightly shorter stamens and pistils, and the other slightly longer. A given plant will have all flowers of one or the other types- but not both, and it turns out that pollination can only occur between flowers of different types. The existence of the 2 types thereby acts as a safeguard against self-pollination.
Side Note: I haven’t yet ID’d the 2 types. I compared this year’s photos with last years (above, left), but both appear to be the same, which may be because I’m pretty sure I photo’d the same plant…
(The Real) New Flower
In the heart of the “tunnel”, coming out of a tight switchback, I caught a flash of white down low I’d never noticed before. The flowers were tiny, 6-petaled, and arrayed on zig-zaggy racemes, and the leaves were narrow and pointy- both suggesting a monocot. A closer view revealed that the six petals were actually tepals (3 petals and 3 sepals) and I knew I’d found a new lily. It’s Star-Flowered False Solomon’s Seal, Maianthemum stellatum (formerly Smilacina stellata).
Maianthemum is a genus of a couple dozen species of tiny woodland lilies spread clear across the Northern hemisphere. M. stellatum is common from Alaska to Appalachia, but somehow I’d never noticed before. Once you do notice it, it’s worth checking out. The zig-zag of the raceme is an extension of the zig-zag form of the stalk, which zigs just a titch one way, then the other, with every leaf-base.
Side Note: Solomon’s Seal- “real” Solomon’s Seal- is a different, but closely-related family of lilies, Polygonatum. I always think it’s bit of a raw deal when something gets named “false” something-or-other. It’s not the thing’s fault we named it wrong…
After the switchbacks, the climb breaks through a long, mostly open, sidehill climb. Every once in a while the trail passes through a small stand of Gambel Oak, and as you go up, each stand is a bit less leafed out right now than the one below it. Eventually as you climb the upper slope before the saddle, you get back into the Oak- shorter now- but these Oaks are just barely just flowering and starting to leaf out. This stretch is well flowered in yellow blooms, mostly Balsamroot (pic left- love this shot), but some other things as well.
There are some Singlestem Groundsel (pic right) blooming right now (though oddly, nowhere near as many as this time last year.*) But the most common yellow blooms after Balsamroots are Dandelions. Or, well, things that look like Dandelions.
*And come to think of it, it sure seems like the scrub oak is about a week behind, leaf-wise, where is normally is for the 3rd week of May. And then there’s that whole weirdness with the Rufous Hummingbirds showing up early, but that’s a whole other post…
Dandelions line* most of this stretch of the Shoreline trail now and again; they’re quite common on the lower stretch paralleling the canyon bottom. And they’re up high toward and on the Saddle as well. But not everything that at first glance appears to be a Dandelion here is a Dandelion; you have to look more closely. At least half the “Dandelions” on this stretch are “Mountain Dandelions”, or Agoseris glauca, which of course aren’t Dandelions at all, but similar-looking composites typically found alongside SS Groundsel and Larkspur in the high rangelands.
Dandelions and Mountain Dandelions are easy to tell apart if you stop and check out the leaves; Mountain Dandelion leaves are long, narrow and unlobed, like exaggerated blades of grass, while Dandelion leaves are lobed/spiky. But with a little practice, you can pick them out on a ride-by on the flowers alone.
*And by “line”, I mean just that. They’re super-common alongside the trail, but there are hardly any just 6 feet or so off the trail, for what I suspect are 2 reasons: Firs, Dandelion seeds seem to do pretty well in disturbed soils, which of course is what the edge of a trail is… Second, Dandelion seeds are common in parks and yards and such, and so can be easily transported along trails by a hiker’s shoe, or say,… a dog. I’ve mentioned this before- I love dogs, but I’m convinced they’re a huge dispersal vector for exotics in the foothills.
On top of the saddle I broke out the helmet-cam, sipped some water, and turned around. Here’s the descent again, but this time I’ve got a cheat-sheet for you, so you can follow along, and know what we’re passing. I recommend you open the video* in a separate window, so that you can watch the timer and follow the notes below as you play it.
*And yes, I’m sorry, you need to select “HD on”; I still haven’t figured out KanyonKris’ hack…
0:00- The clip starts as I fork left and downhill. The Scrub Oak here on this dry, South-facing slope is only about chest-high, and at ~5,500 feet, hasn’t leafed out yet.
0:06- As early as here, and for a while on down, you’ll notice a small clump of dull, light green leaves rising just a titch above the grass. These are yet-to-bloom Arrowleaf Balsamroots. The lighter color/aspect is caused by the little white hairs covering the leaves catching the morning sun.
0:16- First blooming clump of Arrowleaf Balsamroot on the left. You’ll see it frequently the rest of the clip.
0:21- This one is hard to catch, but we pass a group of 4 blooming SS Groundsel (yellow) stalks on the left.
0:25-Even harder to catch- couple of Mountain Dandelions on the left.
1:00- Speed picks up a bit as we weave through a nice stretch of blooming Balsamroots.
1:13- It doesn’t look it, but I am telling you, this loose, off-camber, turn is the sketchiest piece of this whole descent.
1:30- we pass into another stand of Scrub Oak, and already you can see how much more leafed out they are just a couple hundred feet below where we started.
2:05- Check out the monster-trophy-homes below on the right. We’ll come back to these tomorrow…
2:22- At this point you’ll notice that the ground on either side of the trail is covered with a low, clumpy, yellow-green-blooming cover. This is the Evil Myrtle Spurge, the runaway Mediterranean exotic I posted about last year that is taking over huge sections of the foothills.
2:36- Pass through a Scylla-Charybdis pair of rocks. Check these out- we’ll cover them in tomorrow’s post. Immediately after, at…
2:59- Another big Spurge patch on left.
3:07- At this point you’re looking straight up to the head of City Creek Canyon. The snow-covered peak at the end is Big Black Mountain. Just behind it, to the right, is a slightly-higher (9K+ ft) Grandview Peak, still on my yet-to-climb list.
3:22- Begin series of switchbacks dropping down into the canyon.
3:34- The much more leafed-out tree on the right is our first Bigtooth Maple, the first of many we’ll pass.
3:44- This switchback always has Blue Flax blooming in May on the downhill of the inside.
4:04- Begin “Green Tunnel”. It’ll get way more tunnel-y over the next 2 weeks.
4:11 – Right here along the right is blooming the Star-Flowered False Solomon’s Seal.
4:43- Blooming Oregon Grape on left as we exit the switchback. BTW, that’s a “regular” Dandelion blooming across the trail on the right.
5:16- Exit the tunnel, turn right onto main trail paralleling canyon bottom
5:26- As we pass over the green pipe, we’re passing by a perennial spring, that… oh wait, I’ll leave this for the geo-post…. Right after this, things get nice and fast for a bit. Mostly Oak along this stretch, with the occasional (leafier) Maple.
6:10 & 7 :00- the open areas on the right are filled not only with the visible blooming Balsamroots, but also carpeted with hot-pink blooming Milkvetch (which unfortunately doesn’t show up in the video.
7:09- Don’t worry, I never run over kids. Usually not adults either, unless they’re Utah County Republican convention delegates. Dogs neither, unless it’s a Weimaraner (only dog that ever bit me on a bike.)
8:08- Down low, hot and dry, the Sagebrush starts up with a big clump on our right.
8:16- The Church office building, state capitol and the Southern end of the Oquirrh Mountains all come into view ahead to the South/Southwest.
8:55- A well-timed trackstand can be helpful in not getting run over.
9 minutes, 3 miles- that’s a lot of cool stuff.
Next Up: What about the rocks?