One week in and there is already too much to talk about...

Lab Note #11
Jul 19, 2014
OK, so when we last updated you on our progress, there was quite a bit of storminess happening in the Idaho/Montana area and we were grounded for half a day trying to figure out where to go and how to get there -- turns out that lightning storm set almost 30 large, uncontained fires in the Pacific Northwest... YIKES!!! Breathing the air outside where I write this post in Missoula, Montana, falls only a bit short of sticking my face in the plume of a campfire -- let's just say it is a bit muggy outside.

That said, we've been über productive in the last few days, including Tommy's first real-life sighting of Claytonia lanceolata sensu stricto (pictured below) on what appears to be Quartzite. Is it weird to study a plant species and not actually see it until year three of your study? You can't blame Tommy for the misidentification of thousands of specimens in the Pacific Southwest by previous workers... Either way, it was a rainy (and stormy) day in the Little Belt Mountains, but an exciting one none-the-less as the team finally caught up with the rapid-paced phenology of Claytonia

This discovery came after some 'fruitful' efforts in the Castle Mountains to the south, which included the collection of more Draba oligosperma by Ingrid, collection of Silene parryi (first picture below) and Androsace filiformis by Tommy, and finding five sympatric Boechera at our campsite! Can you see the differences in fruit orientation of the five operational taxonomic units of rock cress pictured below (second picture)? It is tough! From right to left: erect, ascending, spreading-arcuate, secund, and reflexed.

One also cannot forget about the Calvatia gigantea (pictured below with Ian Gilman for scale) we found in the Castle Mountains, which made for a delicious dinner in the field for all. 

After the Castle and Little Belt Mountains, we hit the Continental Divide at Roger's Pass in the Big Belt Mountains. There we found none other than another population of Draba oligosperma (first below picture) for Ingrid to collect, as well as some Cystopteris fragilis (second picture below) that Tommy collected for a collaborator, Carl Rothfels. This fern is by far the most widespread alpine plant we have collected to date, literally inhabiting (almost?) every continent -- an awesome factoid to throw down at your next dinner party. 

Draba oligosperma in seed!

After Roger's Pass in the Big Belt Mountains, we headed into the Swan Range and took a quick jaunt up to Mount Morrell on the Lolo National Forest -- not because we were looking for Morchella, but because we were looking for yet another alpine peak adjacent the Continental Divide where we might collect more alpine plants. We were not disappointed at this stop, for although we didn't find any Draba, Tommy found literally thousands (millions?) of blooming Claytonia lanceolata sensu lato (pictured below) -- what a treat! The views from atop the mountain (pictured below) were pretty swell as well. 

After Mount Morrell, we blasted up to a campsite near Glacier National Park -- we travelled through the park the next day to observe phenology of the many alpine plants that inhabit the higher elevation areas there. We weren't disappointed in finding another several hundred Claytonia lanceolata sensu lato and a few new species of Draba, but the wildlife sightings (pictured below) were the highlight of the day. The Bighorn sheep in the parking lot (first picture below) was a bit startled as crowds of people gathered around to snap pictures while we put our boots on adjacent the back of our car. It only wanted to escape, and it took a law enforcement officer to clear a path for it. Never have I been so close to a Bighorn -- humbling experience as it came around in front of our parked vehicle. Luckily, I had my camera in hand and was able to snap a quick (and safe) picture from a distance. We had no idea it was even there until it was right in front of us! Seeing mountain goats (second and third pictures below) all over the trail was another spectacular sight! Such majestic animals...

After observing alpine plant phenologies at Glacier National Park (pictured below), we visited Mount Marston in the Kootenai National Forest. More Draba, more Claytonia, and more mosquitoes... the latter being our least favorite associated species. 

Much more to come, surely, as we head back south into more mountains in Montana and Idaho, including the BitterrootsSalmon River, and Sawtooth Mountains -- stay tuned!
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