Friday, July 11, 2008

I Make a Mistake, But Make Up For It By Identifying The Best Natural Toilet Paper

So for several days I’ve been suspecting I made a significant ID error in my July 1 post. And I confirmed today that indeed I did. When I realized that I’d made a significant error, 3 options occurred to me:

Option 1: Do nothing. Nobody ever reads this blog anyway, and the few people who do probably know less about flowers than I do.

Option 2: Go back and edit the post. Fix it. If anyone did read it already, they probably won’t remember the original anyway.

Option 3: Admit the error, leave the original post intact, correct the error here.

Upon reflection, Option 1 is probably the most sensible, but Option 2 would be best for my ego. So I’m going with Option 3. (This kind of decision-process probably gives you some idea of why my investment-related decisions generally suck.) I guess my reasoning is that this is a blog, not a book, and a blog is supposed to not just convey information, but capture the author’s experience related to that information.

Here’s the error: I’m pretty sure that the yellow, post-Balsamroot/Mules ear flower blooming all over the foothills a week and a half ago is not Heartleaf Arnica. The truth is I don’t know what it is… some member of the Sunflower family to be sure, a species of Helianthela or Groundsel perhaps. And in fact I’m not 100% sure that it’s not Heartleaf Arnica, but the fact is that on 2 recent mtn bike rides, I’ve come across a yellow flower that looks more like Heartleaf Arnica (pic right), and is where Heartleaf Arnica is supposed to be: on the floor of a coniferous (specifically spruce/fir) forest.

Check out the leaves (left): those points are the giveaway. The foothills flowers lack them, but those in upper Mill Creek drainage have them. What really got me excited and threw me off about the yellow-unspecified-foothill flowers were the Dandelion-like parachute achene/calyxes…

What can I say? When you learn botany by the seat of your pants, you’re gonna get tripped up in the forest a couple of times…

Wherein I Redeem Myself with an Extra Botanical Nugget about the Flower in Question

So I’ll try to make up for my bum ID steer first off with another cool nugget about Heartleaf Arnica. In my original (flawed) post, I discussed the interesting polyploidy of that species (which by the way, was all correct.) And I mentioned that most Heartleaf Arnica plants are either chromosomally triploid or tetraploid. A cool thing about this is that the triploids seem bloom earlier than the tetraploids. So chances are that the Arnicas blooming right now are triploid, but as the bloom tails off over the next 3-4(?) weeks, most will be tetraploid.

Wherein I Redeem Myself Further with Another Great Flower

So here’s another flower I just saw (and ID’d) today in the upper Mill Creek drainage: Thimbleberry, Rubus parviflorus (pic left) There are 2 cool things about this flower. First, it produces wild raspberry-like berries. The genus Rubus is a massive (couple hundred species) genus rife with polyploidy, hybridization and apomixis. From a botanist’s perspective it is both rich and complicated. Rubus has been around for more than 30 million years, and includes all of the raspberries, blackberries and dewberries. Thimbleberries are generally raspberry-like, but bigger. They make a great jam, but they’re so soft that they can’t be packaged or shipped commercially. They grow in dense understory-thickets and spread by root-cloning.

Recipe Tangent – Thimbleberry Jam: Equal parts thimbleberries and sugar, boil for 2 minutes, pack in jars.

The second cool thing is actually nearer to my heart, because while I’m generally good about packing snacks on extended backcountry excursions, I often forget toilet paper. The soft, oversized, vaguely maple-like leaves of Thimbleberry (pic right) make excellent wipes, and the leaf hairs are non-irritating (unlike so many other plant hairs.)

Wherein I Go Off the Deep End and Provide Way Too Much Botanical Info

If you think Thimbleberry flowers look a bit like a “white wild rose”, it’s because they’re part of the same family, the Rose Family, Rosaceae. Rosaceae is a huge and very successful family of plants, with well over 3,000 species across ~100 genera, ~50 of which are native to North America.

A common trait of all Rosaceae flowers is 5 distinct petals and number of stamens that is always a multiple of 5. Many of the plants we’ve looked at previously are members of Rosaceae, including Wild Rose, Blackbrush, Bitterbrush, Cliffrose, Mountain Mahogany and several shrubs/flowers I haven’t profiled but have been passing and seeing the past several weeks, including Serviceberry and Chokecherry, as well as apple, cherry and peach trees.

Tangent: Numbers of petals or stamens can often be an indicator of the family or order to which the plant belongs. For example, and important numeric indicator I skipped over during Monocot Week (man, was that an awesome week or what?) was the number 3. Monocot flowers typically have petals, sepals and stamens in multiples of 3- Lilies and Iris are 2 great examples. This “magic 3” indicator of monocots quickly identifies Columbine as a dicot; it has pointy, suspiciously monocot-ish looking petals, but it always has 5 of them- not a magic monocot number (i.e. multiple of 3.)

Nested Tangent: Columbine, by the way, is not part of Rosaceae, but rather the Buttercup family, Ranunculaceae, to which Western Clematis and Low Larkspur also belong.

Next Up: Enough with the flowers already- let’s see some trees!

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