The fringed gentian, Gentianopsis thermalis, grows in meadows, bogs, and on moist ground. This species prefers growing in warm places and it’s common near geysers and hot springs in Yellowstone National Park. It is the official flower of the park.
This plant grows to a height of 4-16 inches and blooms in May through August. This annual has purple flowers 1.5-3 inches in length. The showy flowers are fringed along the edges.
Fringed gentians can be found across northern Canada and south through the Rocky Mountains and into parts of New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada.
Native Americans used gentians to treat headaches and as an antidote to witchcraft.
Fun fact: The flowers curl up and close on cloudy days leaving just the tops visible. The closed flowers resemble a small windmill.
Prairie smoke, Geum triflorum, is a native plant of the prairies and it’s a less showy member of the rose family. The sepals on their droopy flowers are fused shut so they can’t open fully. I was drawn to this plant with its plain flowers and deeply serrated leaves.
The plants grow 6-10″ tall and bloom in late spring through early summer. Once the flowers are fertilized, they are followed by feathery wispy “fruits” (achenes) that somewhat resemble smoke. Another common name for this plant is Old Man’s Whiskers. The semi-evergreen leaves turn varying shades of red, purple, and orange in the fall.
Native Americans used prairie smoke roots and crushed seeds in eye washes, sore throat remedies, yeast infection treatments, and to help with stomach and menstrual cramps. The Nlaka’pmx used its roots in a drink and in a body wash in sweathouses. The Okanagan also used it in a love potion for women.
This plant can be found in southern Canada and in the central and northern United States (Zones 3-7). It grows in gravelly soils, but also in silty and loamy soils.
It can be grown in rock gardens and prefers sites with moist springs and drier winters. Prairie smoke tolerates summer sun and has low water needs.
Fun fact: Prairie smoke flowers are pollinated mainly by bumblebees. They have to force their way into the closed flowers to reach the nectar.
The antelope bitterbrush appears to be reaching for the sky in this photograph. This plant gets its common name due to the fact that it is so important to wildlife. Deer, elk, moose, mountain sheep, and pronghorn (antelope) browse on its small three-toothed leaves and use its dense growth for cover. It’s also important for deer mice, kangaroo rats, sage grouse, and Lewis’ woodpecker.
I have seen plants over twelve feet tall but in my yard, they only reach a height of about three feet. My “landscapers” love to prune them. In certain parts of this plant’s range, bitterbrush can comprise up to 91% of mule deer’s diet in September.
The Central Oregon Wildflower Show is on hiatus in 2018 but the Native Plant Sale is taking place this weekend, June 9 and 10, at Sunriver Nature Center. Click on Sunriver Nature Center – Upcoming Special Events for more information. I am sharing an article I wrote last year about the show.
Getting to know local flora at the Wildflower Show
Colorful examples of native plants drew crowds to the 29th annual Central Oregon Wildflower Show at Sunriver Nature Center on July 1-2, 2017. Participants could visit a room packed full with cuttings of plants, each of which were clearly labeled. Visitors could go on short staff-led wildflower hikes near the Nature Center to see some of the featured plants growing in the wild. Volunteers working at the event were ready to answer questions visitors might have.
Teams of volunteers headed out on the day before the show to collect wildflowers and other plants. They collected plant cuttings in the Cascade Mountains and near Metolious, Odell, and Crescent Lakes. They also collected specimens near Bend and eastwards into the Ochoco Mountains. Nearly 300 specimens were collected and identified for the wildflower show, the only event of this type in Central Oregon.
Up close and personal
If you’ve ever wondered what a particular plant was, this was a good place to find out. “Is that what balsamroot looks like?” I heard one visitor say. She was happy to put a “face” with that name. Seeing labeled plant cuttings of certain plants that are hard to identify, such as grasses, helped visitors figure out what they may have seen in the field.
There were cuttings from grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, and trees at this show. Cuttings of the plants were neatly arranged in water-filled vases around the room. Many were in full bloom. Lavender-colored Mariposa lilies shared the room with scarlet red paintbrush, yellow Oregon sunshine, blue and purple showy penstemon, and delicate white queen’s-cup. It was interesting to see so many plants in one place and think about which types you might want to put in your own yard.
Going native with plants from the Wildflower Show
The Wildflower Show had a limited supply of native plants for sale that were provided by a local nursery. Planting your yard with low-water usage plants can not only help you spend less on your water bill, it can also ensure your plants grow well and attract butterflies, bees, and other wildlife.
One of the most interesting displays at this show consisted of weeds that grow in the area. Yes, the Dalmatian toadflax plant is pretty with its snapdragon-like yellow flowers and interesting leaf structure. However, it can easily get out of control and push out native species. Knowing what some of these noxious weeds look like can make it easier for you to know what to pull in your yard. Here’s a link to a brochure that has pictures of some of the invasive weeds that grow locally. Noxious Weeds: Your Responsibility.
Learning from our community
Booths representing several local groups were set up outside at this show. Local author, LeeAnn Kriegh, featured in the July 2017 High Desert Voices newsletter, was among them. Participants had many questions and the representatives from the different groups were very helpful in answering them. There were several wildflower-related lectures at this show. Damian Fagan, of the High Desert Museum, gave a lecture about locations where you might find various wildflower species. Other lectures were about getting to know some of the state’s flora, native plant landscaping, and how to provide habitat for monarch butterflies.
If you are curious to learn more about native plant species, consider going to this show next year. It is small, but it’s jam-packed with helpful information. Proceeds from the native plant sale and admission benefit the non-profit Sunriver Nature Center.
There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I was fortunate to share a moment with a wild rose near Clarno, Oregon. It is beautiful and delicate when viewed close up.
Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses.
Zooming out you can see how its blossoms and fruits are protected by sharp thorns. As you make your way through the thorns of life, keep looking forward towards the moments of peace offered by its flowers.
Lupine plants were in full bloom on a recent trip I took to Glass Buttes, Oregon. They have beautiful flowers and a unique leaf form. The palmately divided leaves of lupine can have five to 28 leaflets. Water often funnels down the leaflets and collects at their base.
The leaves of a plant usually frame a beautiful flower. In the case of the bitterroot plant, the flowers are so “big” you hardly notice the leaves. These delicate flowers are only about an inch and a half across.
In the early spring months, you might notice the narrow succulent leaves of the plant sprouting up long before they flower. They are so small that you may overlook them. Here’s what they look like.
This plant was very important to Native Americans in western North America. The roots were dried and mixed with berries and meat. The plants were also used medicinally. Bitterroot roots were collected and traded and they were an item of high value. For more about them, visit my post – Desert Bitterroot Oasis.
Here are a few pictures of the blossoms from that post. They are a very small plant with tiny leaves, large blossoms, and enormous beauty. One of my favorites!
One of my favorite things to do when I get up in the morning is to look out my window at this night-blooming primrose. I love getting a glimpse of its bold yet delicate blossoms before they go to sleep and close up during the day.
Oasis moments sometimes happen in the desert. While hiking to Chimney Rock near Prineville, Oregon, we came across a patch of bitterroot flowers. The small flowers burst forth from cracks in the sandy soil in shades of pink and white. The flowers are only about an inch and a half across. The plant is delicate yet hardy at the same time.
I had never seen so many blossoms in one place. Bitterroot has always been a plant that amazes me. It was hard for me to keep walking with our group when a part of me just wanted to crouch down to their level and marvel at their perfection.
What Meriwether Lewis wrote about bitterroot
Beneath the soil, a taproot gives this plant its name. Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, first saw the bitterroot plant in Lemhi County, Montana on August 22, 1805. Lewis tasted the root and described it in his journal:
this the Indians with me informed were always boiled for use. I made the exprement, found that they became perfectly soft by boiling, but had a very bitter taste, which was naucious to my pallate, and I transfered them to the Indians who had eat them heartily.
Baskets & photo of digging stick, Warm Springs Museum
Usage by Native Americans
Bitterroot can be found in much of western North America in drier areas with well-drained gravelly soils and several tribes made use of the plant. Shoshoni, Flathead, Nez Perce, Paiute, Kutenai, and other tribes used digging sticks to collect the roots in the spring. The roots were dried and were often mixed with berries and meat.
The roots were traded and bartered and were considered to be of great value. A bagful was worth as much as a horse. They were used as food but also had medicinal uses. Bitterroot was used for several ailments including heart problems and sore throats. They were also used to treat wounds and to increase milk flow in nursing mothers.
President Thomas Jefferson had asked Lewis to collect plant specimens on their expedition. Bitterroot plants were collected on the return trip in June of 1806. The area in Montana where the plants were collected is now known as the Bitterroot Valley. Specimens were given to the botanist Frederick Pursh in Philadelphia. Pursh named the plant Lewsii redviva in honor of Lewis.
Fun fact: The species name redviva means “reviving from a dry state.” The specimens presented to Pursh came back to life even though they had been dug up many months before.