Sunday, January 6, 2019

Plants of the Day... of the Year

As is always the case at the end of the year, I feel like I haven't blogged enough. For most of the year I've been reading and synthesizing other people's science, rather than conducting my own.  In my work as a Wetland Coordinator I've been gathering background info to support Conservation Action Planning meetings and reading state and tribal water quality standards to guide developing wetland water quality standards in Utah. It’s important, but gathering information for my Plant of the Day has been more fun. Every week I post a picture and factoid about a plant that has caught my eye. It started out almost three years ago as a way for me to justify and share all the plant pictures I had taken, then my boyfriend got me a macro lens and things got really excellent.  This year I put together a little Marsh Llama watermark that I'm pretty smitten with and a posting schedule and the Plant of the Day (which happens weekly but I'm not changing the name) has become a highlight of my week.  

I draw on a lot of internet sources, guide books, and interpretive signs to get factoids for the #PlantOTD. Seriously, interpretive signs are my favorite thing in the whole world, thank you to the people who make them. Internet databases and websites dedicated to regional plants or a random family provide a lot of good info and an opportunity to verify factoids. These are the sites I use the most: 
Given the amount of joy the #PlantOTD has brought me this past year, I decided to review the top 5 plants from 2018 with a new factoid I didn't share the first time through. However, choosing the top 5 was not as easy as I had hoped as each site I share the plants on (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) had a different set of top 5. I still can't explain the differences across each site, so I added up all the 'Likes' for each species across all three sites to get the overall top 5.  

Phragmites australis subsp. americanus
Polypogon monspeliensis
Hordeum vulgare
Phragmites australis subsp. americanus
Pinus longaeva
Hordeum vulgare
Platanthera dilatata
Hackelia patens
Pinus ponderosa
Platanthera dilatata
Pinus longaeva
Linum lewisii
Hordeum vulgare
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis
Wolffia columbiana
Pinus ponderosa
Platanthera dilatata
Castilleja miniata
Acer grandidentatum
Galium aparine

Native Phragmites (Phragmites australis subsp. americanus)

A nuanced Plant of the Day: native North American phragmites (Phragmites australis subsp. americanus). This beautiful grass belongs to the same species as invasive phragmites (my enemy), but has distinct enough features the native and invasive are classified as different subspecies. Native phragmites grows shorter and less dense than its invasive relative (i.e., it plays nice with others). The stems of native phragmites are shinier and the leaves come off easier than invasive phragmites. Native phragmites flowers are smaller and are shaped like flags rather than Christmas trees. Native phragmites is often found in different places than invasive: desert streams and washes, isolated ditches and playas, and hanging gardens in the desert. Unfortunately, around Great Salt Lake invasive phragmites has pushed out the native subspecies :( #PlantOTD #Subspecies #Phragmites #ItsComplicated
A post shared by Becka Downard (@marsh_llama) on

Fun fact about native Phragmites I didn’t share earlier: Phragmites pieces have been found in the 40,000-year-old poop of extinct Shasta ground sloths. It’s been in North America for a long time.

Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva)

One strategy that keeps bristlecones alive for so long is partial die-off of the bark and trunk. A half-dead tree requires less water and nutrients than a totally alive tree. Also, the location of the oldest bristlecone pine is a secret. There is a very old tree is named Methusela, which I really like but couldn't work into the original post.  

Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa)

Ponderosa pines are well-adapted to fire: the bark is really thick, which protects it from mild fires and the lower branches are dropped as the tree grows, which means it harder for big fires to climb to the tree tops. Another common name for ponderosa pine is black jack pine, named for the black cracks in the bark. 

Barley (Hordeum vulgare)

Because barley is such an important and old crop, a lot of research is done on barley diseases. Loose smut of barley is an unfortunate disease in which grain seeds are replaced by the spores of a fungus, but the name is real fun.

White bog orchid (Platanthera dilatata)

White bog orchid is pollinated during the day or the night by skippers and owlet moths which actually land on the flowers rather than hover. 

It's been interesting to note the features that seem to make for a popular plant. I thought at first that it would be coolness, like the adaptations that plants have to their environments. Other nerds think that's cool, but as a broadly popular feature, nah. Then I thought it must be pretty flowers that people are drawn to, but I was wrong there, too. Instead, from what I can see in my accounting, the plants people have a personal connection to are most popular. I was surprised that Gooseberry currant, which I was excited about, wasn't popular at all. To make up for that, I'm sharing it again here.

Gooseberry currant (Ribes montigenum)

The species name 'montigenum' means mountain-borne and this species can be found across the mountain west. 
 Animals don't enjoy eating gooseberries, but people can make it into jams and pies.
 Gooseberry bushes are quite spiny and have drawn my blood.

Before moving on to 2019's plants, I need to make a tiny rant on taxonomy and common names.
  • It's so hard putting together an accurate Plant of the Day when taxonomists keep changing up families and genera that species belong to. I just need to whine about it. I know it's important and actually really cool that our understanding of the world keeps changing with advances in DNA technology and other things. But gosh. If bulrushes change one more time I'm going to flip.
  • Who chose to just squish multiple plant descriptors into single words? Threesquare bulrush. Scentbottle. Pricklypear. I still haven't been able to figure out if Bidens cernua is nodding beggar's tick or nodding beggar stick. Further, multiple common names exist for the same plant (which I kind of love, it's more descriptive that way) and the same common name can be applied to multiple species, which necessitates using the Latin names that taxonomists keep changing.
Another big plant-related event happened for me this year, which I'll just throw in while you're thinking on plants. A printed version of "Wetland Plants of Great Salt Lake" came out this year. Actually holding a physical copy of the guide book was amazing and I still just flip through it sometimes to check that it's real. If you love Great Salt Lake plants, you can download a copy for free HERE or buy a physical copy for $20 HERE.

Just snuggling my baby book
Having a physical copy of the book was a pretty big deal, having a little story about it on UPR was icing on the cake. 2018 was a good year for me and plants. 

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