Note: I traveled for work last week, and tried to squeeze this post in while on the road, but couldn’t get it done till the weekend back home. So it’s a week behind, and the blooms I describe a bit dated, but it covers a couple of flowers I wanted to blog about out, so I’m getting it done anyway. Sorry for the time-lapse.
These next couple of weeks are my absolute favorite time of year. Most everything below 8,000 feet has melted out and is starting to bloom, and the final patches of snow are starting to disappear up at the 8,000 – 9,000 foot level. Wherever the snow gives way, life just explodes- shoots, leaves, flowers- it’s like there’s something new to see every time you walk outside.
And there’s just so much time to be outside now. The sky is already that soft pre-dawn royal blue when I walk out at 5:00AM for the paper. And when I crash at around 10:00PM it’s barely dark enough to see a star or two.
Tangent: This, BTW, is why I haven’t done an Astro-Post in so long. Because I cannot stay up late- or get up early- enough to see any stars. I had the best of intentions for a Hydra post, but I just get so darn sleepy around 10… The only things I’ve regularly been able to see this last week or so have been Venus when I go to bed and Jupiter when I go out for the paper.
Which is why- and yes, this whole little Ode to Spring is going somewhere- I feel it is such a fundamental sin to travel for work outside of Utah in June. And yet, last week, at the glorious peak-bloom of June, I found myself back on a plane to the Acid Swamp, for more employee training. It’s as if you went to the movies and spent 2 hours watching a film that was building up to some huge, plot-resolving showdown-climax, and you decided right then to get up and go to the bathroom. What? Don’t leave now! Cross your legs! Pee in a cup! But whatever you do, don’t step out now! But of course that’s exactly what I did last week…
Tangent: I’ve been holding off on doing a tangent about the exercise in sickly-sweet false sincerity and age-regression that is Corporate Employee Training. Too many coworkers read this blog. It’s just too risky. But I’ll share just a quick tidbit that made me think…
Nested Tangent: Actually, at this point I think I ought to distinguish between Generation 1 coworkers and Generation 2. Gen 1 coworkers are coworkers from my old, pre-acquisition company. Gen 2 coworkers are coworkers from the much larger acquiring company. Several Gen 1 coworkers read this blog. If you are a Gen 1er, I’d prefer that you not share the blog- or at least my identity- with any Gen 2 coworkers*.
*I don’t believe I have any Gen 2 coworker readers. If I’m mistaken, and you’re a Gen 2 reader, I’d appreciate your giving me a heads-up. (I’ll give you a sticker.)
On the flight out, I thought, “Oh dear god. Please don’t have them make us do another “team-building” exercise. I’m 46 years old. I graduated from college a quarter-century ago. I have a family, a house and 2 cars, a 401K and a 529. I am a grown-up. I don’t want to forge make-pretend bonds of trust and camaraderie with coworkers I’ll never see again from Columbus and Tulsa. I don’t want to sit in a circle and have us each “share with the group something no one knew about you before*…” For Christ’s sake, we’re coworkers, not lovers. I just want to take the class, learn the stuff, get the sign-off, and go home…”
*I’ve already shared in these types of exercises pretty much all the interesting things about me, namely a) my godfather was the guy who wrote Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask, b) that I have walked away from 2 motorcycle accidents, a horse rolling over on top of me, and a bullet wound to the head, c) that I accepted an offer of an employment out of college with the CIA but never got the security clearance, d) that I used to be ½” taller, and e) that I can play the William Tell Overture on my face. I am totally running out of material.
Sure enough, on Day One, following Welcome and Introductions, our instructor had us break into pairs for an “ice-breaking” exercise. Which is kind of ironic, because all of the class attendees were salespeople, a decidedly “un-icy” group. If you were running a class full of less outgoing types- say particle physicists, chimney sweeps, or serial killers- then I could totally see the need for an “ice-breaking” exercise. But when you run a class full of salespeople, you don’t need to “break the ice”; you need to tell everyone to sit down and shut the hell up.
But as it turned out, our exercise actually got me thinking.. We had to share with our partner several things about ourselves, one of which was our first paying job, which for me was Paper Boy*. And that made me realize that 1) “Paper Boy” dates me. There are no Paper “Boys” nowadays and haven’t been for maybe 20(?) years. Eventually, maybe 50 years from now, the remaining Former Paper Boys will be like WWII veterans- there’ll be hardly any of us left. Maybe we’ll get together for reenactments, riding around on bikes at dawn and throwing papers on peoples’ steps, and the President will make speeches about us. And that 2) I have fond memories of getting up dawn to ride my bike around… which ironically is what I do pretty much all the time nowadays. Maybe I’m just a frustrated Paper Boy at heart.
*Technically I think it might have actually been babysitter, but I thought that sounded a bit girlie…
Before I flew out last week I finally rode Pinebrook. Even though the trails are at the same altitude as Glenwild/Flying Dog, they tend to be North-facing, and so take another couple of weeks to melt out. The trails were tacky, dust-free and smooth.
Video Note: The white blossoms on the small trees lining the trail are Serviceberry flowers.
The Groundsel, Larkspur and Ballhead Waterleaf (pic, above right) are all blooming here like they are on the other side of I-80 (Flying Dog/Glenwild) but so is much more. One of my favorite blooms in moist, shady spots in early June is Western Clematis (pics left & right). I blogged about this flower a couple of years ago, and as a reminder, one of the coolest things about it is that it’s a native climbing vine, which is pretty unusual in Utah*. Another neat thing about it is that its lavender “petals” are actually sepals; the true petals are the soft, white, almost translucent flimsy bits sheltered within.
*Poison Ivy is another, which I blogged about in this post. Man, it is like I have a post for everything.
Though most of the flowers were like old friends, I had a first-time sighting on the ride: Blue Violet, Viola adunca (pic left). This is the third violet species I’ve spotted in Utah. Last summer AW and I came across Mountain Violet, Viola purpurea (pic below, right), growing at 9,000 feet in newly melted-out Aspen forest near Guardsman Pass, which I blogged about in this post (and which you can check out for some basic violet info.) Then late last July I spotted- but never got around to blogging about- Canada Violet, Viola Canadensis (pic below, left), at around 8,500 feet along the Mid-Mountain-Mill Creek connector trail, in deep, dark Spruce forest.
There’s a common thread across these 3 sightings: Violets grow low, way low, and are characterized by short herbaceous stems bearing just a few small leaves and the tiny florescence, only 3-5” off the ground. This means that in the Wasatch, violets only bloom either a) where there’s little or no underbrush- such as shady, acidic-soiled Spruce forests, or b) where there’s little or no underbrush yet, such as in new-melted out Aspen groves…
The Pinebrook you see in these helmet-cam videos is an open, early-season, nearly-bare Pinebrook. In the weeks ahead the underbrush- Ninebark, Chokecherry and more- will fill in, leaf out, and, in turn, bloom, creating the “aspen jungles” of July and August. Violets dodge the onslaught of the jungle, either by moving fast and early, or by hiding in the dark spots where the jungle can’t reach them.
Video Note: There’s a bonus in this one for local mtn bikers. If you ride Mid-Mountain between Canyons and Pinebrook, there’s a long boring down/up, depending on your direction- down if you're headed Southbound- of 32 very monotonous switchbacks. But there's a great, lightly-ridden and much better bypass option. In this video, moving Southbound, the first 3 turns in the first 40 seconds show how to access the bypass.
(Another) New Flower
There was another flower along the ride that I have spotted before- many, many times- but which falls into that so-common-I’m embarrassed-I-haven’t-blogged-about-it category. It’s this little guy, Lanceleaf Springbeauty, Claytonia lanceolata (pic below, left), another low-to-the-ground early bloomer.
There are 26 species of Claytonia, a genus belonging to Portulacaceae, the Purslane family. We haven’t looked at Portulacacea before, but it has an interesting family tree, and the long and the short of it is that Springbeauty- and other Portulacacea- are more closely-related to things like carnations, cacti and even tamarisk than they are to just about any other flower you’ll come across in the Wasatch. If you live in the Eastern US, you’ve likely spotted Lanceleaf Springbeauty’s (very similar) Eastern cousin, Eastern Springbeauty, Claytonia virginica. Springbeauty’s roots, which run laterally a few inches below the surface, are thick and edible.
Wonderfully Coincidental Side Note: Although Springbeauty is the first Purslane family member we’ve looked at in this blog, it’s not the first for readers of SkiBikeJunkie’s blog, who coincidentally were exposed to another Claytonia species the week before last.
In a comment to SBJ’s recent lovely wildflower montage, I jumped in- show-off that I am- and ID’d all of his flowers- except one. That one exception, which I didn’t recognize at the time, is almost certainly one of 2 species, the first being Streambank Springbeauty, C. parviflora.
But the other possible species- and the one I’m really rooting for, as it’s one I’ve been hoping to spot- is Miner’s Leaf Lettuce, C. perfoliata, so named because 19th century miners supposedly munched on its Vitamin C-rich leaves to ward off scurvy. (SBJ: I need you to guide me to it this next week…)
But none of this is the really cool thing about Lanceleaf Springbeauty in the Wasatch. No, the really cool thing about C. lanceolata here is its polyploid races and their distribution.
I’ve blogged about polyploidy in plants several times (and you can read the basics here.) One of the early ploidy-related posts I did was about Creosote, which has distinct polyploid races. In the Chihuhuan Desert Creosote is diploid, with 2 sets of chromosomes, 13 from each parent, for a total of 26. In the Sonoran Desert, Creosote is tetraploid, with a total of 52 chromosomes. And in the Mojave (like around St. George and Vegas) it’s hexaploid, with six sets- or a total of 78- chromosomes. Well, it turns out that something roughly analogous seems to be the case with LL Springbeauty in the Wasatch.
From ~5,200 - 7,500 feet in the Wasatch, LL Springbeauties, like the ones I saw in Pinebrook, are overwhelmingly diploid, with 16 chromosomes, 8 from each parent. But up around 7,800 – 11,000+ feet they’re nearly all tetraploid, with 32 chromosomes. For whatever reason, the tetraploid race seems better able to grow and reproduce better in the colder, shorter-growing-season climate of the higher altitudes.
Between 7,000 – 8,000 feet, a third race is sometimes found, with 24 chromosomes, making them chromosomally triploid. It’s suspected that triploids, found in areas where the diploids and tetraploids overlap, may be the results of crosses between the two, receiving 8 chromosomes from one parent, and 16 from the other.
Extra Detail: Though this may sound complicated, the ploidy situation with C. lanceolata in Northern Utah is actually really straightforward compared with the crazy chromosome counts for this same species found in nearby Colorado and Wyoming. LL Springbeauty there often has chromosome counts of 52 or higher, and many plants are aneuploid, having an odd number of chromosomes, like 37. When you read literature on the topic, various hypotheses are often suggested for how these came about.
For example, an LL Springbeauty with a chromosome count of 36 in Colorado could be the result of an previous triploid (24 chromosomes) hybrid cross, whose progeny subsequently doubled in a subsequent ploidy event to 48 chromosomes. If the hexaploid then backcrossed with a triploid, you could then wind up with a 36 chromosome plant, having received 24 from the hexaploid and 12 from the triploid parent. The possibilities are both endless and conjectural, but it gives you a feel for all the crazy evolutionary paths polyploidy opens up for plants.
Anyway, like I said earlier, it’s a sin if you have to travel away from the Wasatch these next couple of weeks. But you know what’s an even worse sin during this same time? Spending your days down in the valley and not finding a reason to get up into the mountains or foothills, for at least 30 minutes or so, every day. The best show of the year is playing right now, and you don’t want to miss a single episode.