Tag Archives: botany

Sagebrush

12 Mar
Sagebrush.

Its aroma is almost an aphrodisiac.

It is the timeless scent of an ancient organism
that evolved with the sand and deserts
of the Great Basin.

Many of the Artemesia spp. are very aromatic; their leaves lush with terpenoids. These aromatic lipids are volatile and will relinquish their scents when leaf cells are crushed, or even under the right weather conditions.

Adding to the symphony of volatile compounds are the three isoprene rings that build the  sesquiterpenoids; lactones that repel herbivory, invite the sagebrush checkerspot butterfly to lay their eggs, and gall midges to build galls to house their nymphs.

But they also attract humans that cherish the yin and yang of their leaves and scent. The silver hairs, the trichomes, on the leaf surfaces that catch the sun and dew; the aroma they impart when crushed between fingers, the scent when scattered upon a fire.

In a harsh land where sun and sand cover the earth,

in the shadow of the mountains,
sagebrush provides shade for sage grouse,
structure for fly nymphs,
caterpillar homes,
and an aroma that
sits
and
waits
between the fingers
of the Ancient Ones.
Sagebrush,
all Artemesias,
are my spiritual plants.

The Belle of Spring – Yellow Bells

5 Apr

Coming recently from south-central New Mexico I was thrust backwards in the progression of seasons. At the Bosque del Apache NWR daily temperatures were already in the low 80’s and nights above freezing. Here in in the high desert of SE Oregon (same altitude of 4500 feet) spring is still trying to assert her dominance.

Although I arrived at the Refuge during a sunny warm day in bare feet wearing sandals, that was a tease. Night temperatures have been consistently below 32 F (one night at 17 degrees!) and I’m lucky to see day temps in the high 50’s. I wish I had brought more warm clothing.

Two days this week were devoted to hiking and scouting the Stinking Lake Natural Research Area, a ‘wilderness’ area on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Armed with binocular, maps, GPS, water bottle, and thick warm layers, a total of 15 miles were hiked and explored, with the last day accumulating 8.5 of those miles. My back and feet are still protesting (need better boots).

Yellow bells (Fritillaria pudica)

An example of a small spring-fed alkaline lake, the predominant plant community along the shore is alkali-saltgrass/black greasewood. On my way to nearby Derrick Lake I happened to find the first flower of spring here in SE Oregon’s high desert. Diminutive, dainty, bright, and elegant yellow bells are the harbinger of spring in sagebrush country.

Yellow bells can be found in loose dry soil in alpine and sub-alpine communities as well as in sage-steppe lands. It is one of the earliest spring flowers, sometimes appearing in small bare islands surrounded by shallow snow. It needs the early season’s moisture, but can also be found along rocky ridges in the mountains.

Like most other lilies, yellow bells have grass-like leaves which arrive from underground bulbs. The 1-2 nodding flowers branch from the top of a thick round stem. Numerous smaller bulblets grow on the main bulb’s primary roots and the bottom exterior surface, which is why this plant is sometimes referred to as ‘rice root’. Native Americans used the bulb and bulblets as a source of food, cooked or raw.

The bright yellow nodding flowers are short-lived and become orangish or reddish as they age. Dried capsules resemble a dice box, a cylindrical box used to shake dice by the Romans. This is reflected in the generic name for this plant, Fritilaria, derived from the Latin term, fritill, meaning ‘dice box’.

The species name, pudica, is Latin for ashamed or bashful and refers to its nodding habit. On the other hand, there are several more nodding Fritillarias that can be found on the North American continent. Another species I am familiar with is F. affinis, also known as chocolate lily, checker lily, or leopard lily. This flashy nodding flower is often found in the deep woods of western Oregon, again appearing in early spring. This species is not commonly found within the high desert area, instead preferring a more wet, darker and more humus environment. Although this flower’s velvety dark chocolate or purple background is beautifully speckled with orange and yellow, its aroma is repugnant.

How better to attract flies for pollination in a dark moist place than smell like decaying meat?

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