Denver EcoFlora Project's Journal

May 10, 2022

May EcoQuest - Mystery of the Star-lily

Spring is finally here! One of the showiest spring-blooming plants in the Denver-Boulder metro area in early spring are the star-lilies, Leucocrinum montanum. Star-lily is the only member of the genus Leucocrinum, and is found throughout western North America in grasslands and shrublands. It is also often called sand-lily because these plants mostly grow in sandy soil. Despite its common name, star-lily is more closely related to asparagus than it is the true lilies. The name star-lily comes from the resemblance of these flowers to lilies – both have six perianth parts or tepals.

Star-lilies are rather unusual in that the fruit matures below-ground. In fact, once the plant has finished flowering in late May or early June, the entire aboveground portion of the plant withers away. The maturing fruit remains buried below-ground among the fleshy roots. Once the fruit is ripe, just how the seeds of star-lily are dispersed is a mystery – some speculate that the seeds are pushed out of the soil by new growth the following year, but others have suggested that the seeds are released from the fruit when the sandy soil surrounding the plant is worn away. One additional hypothesis is that ants or other insects transport the buried seeds food, and in the process replant them away from the parent plant. But, the seeds of star-lily offer no reward of food for ants, so this scenario seems unlikely.

Adding to the mystery of the star-lily is a lack of knowledge about what is pollinating these flowers for fruit to be produced. Some think that the flowers are pollinated by hawkmoths, which are attracted to the white flowers, and that are visible at dusk. The long floral tube of star-lilies could offer some kind of reward at the base for hawkmoths too. Or perhaps star-lilies self-pollinate, relying only upon themselves to produce seeds for the next generation. This is definitely a plant that needs additional study!

See if you can locate some star-lilies and help Denver Botanic Gardens by photographing as many plants as possible in the month of May. See if you can spot any insects that could be pollinating the flowers and photograph those as well as part of your observations. Post your findings to iNaturalist so they will automatically be added to the Denver EcoFlora Project.

Posted on May 10, 2022 12:56 by jackerfield jackerfield | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 02, 2022

March 2022 EcoQuest - Townsendia Tracking

Townsendia , or Easter daisy, are one of the first plants to bloom in the foothills. Like their common name suggests, you will typically begin seeing them bloom around Easter. Although the weather can be quite cold this time of year, Easter daisy is adapted to withstand freezing conditions and blankets of snow – these plants form low mounds close to the ground, a successful strategy that helps to maximize heat retention during colder periods.

As a member of the Compositae (Asteraceae), or aster family, these “flowers” are not all that they appear at first glance. Indeed, what looks like a single flower is actually a composite of many flowers arranged in an inflorescence called a head. Inside of this head, there are even two different types of flowers present – ray flowers, which are petal-like, on the outer periphery of the head, and disk flowers in the center. These heads are nested amongst a rosette of leaves, protecting them from potentially cold conditions.

There are two species of Townsendia in the metro area that you will see flowering – T. exscapa and T. hookeri. These two species can be very difficult to tell apart – the main difference being that T. exscapa has larger heads with disk flowers over 6.5 mm while T. hookeri has smaller heads with disk flowers under 6 mm in length.

Documenting the flowering period of species such as these can ultimately aid our understanding of plant responses to a warming climate. By comparing observations, in combination with natural history collections dating back over 100 years, we can better understand how seasonal patterns are changing, and even make predictions for the future.

See if you can locate some Easter daisies and help Denver Botanic Gardens document their flowering period by photographing as many plants as possible in the month of March. Post your findings to iNaturalist so they will automatically be added to the Denver EcoFlora Project.

WHAT IS AN ECOQUEST?
EcoQuests, part of the Denver EcoFlora project, challenge citizens to become citizen scientists and observe, study, and conserve the native plants of the City via iNaturalist, an easy-to-use mobile app.

HOW DO I GET STARTED?
Download the iNaturalist app or register online at iNaturalist.org
Take photos of the plants in bloom that you find on your daily neighborhood walk. It is ok if they are weeds! But avoid taking photos of cultivated plants in gardens or in your home.
If you are concerned about revealing the location of sensitive organisms or observations at your own house, you can hide the exact location from the public by changing the "geoprivacy" of the observation to "obscured."
Post your findings on iNaturalist via the app
Your observations will automatically be added to the Denver EcoFlora Project
You can add an identification to your photo when you post your findings on iNaturalist, or leave it blank for others to identify.

WHAT IS THE GOAL?
The EcoFlora project is designed to meaningfully connect citizens with biodiversity, and to assemble novel observations and data on the metro area’s flora to better inform policy decisions and conservation strategies.

Posted on March 02, 2022 19:56 by jackerfield jackerfield | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 04, 2022

February EcoQuest - Roses are Red - Not!

Roses have a long and colorful history. They have been used as symbols of love, beauty, war, and even politics. With Valentine’s Day approaching, you may see the phrase “roses are red, violets are blue” popping up on greeting cards and in poems. However, although the phrase “roses are red” applies to cultivated roses, our native roses are not red at all! In fact, all of our native roses exhibit pink flowers. Native roses are also different than cultivated roses in the number of petals – in native roses you will only see 5 petals, while you can see many petals in cultivated roses. These numerous petals in cultivated roses are actually derived from modified stamens, and bred to retain this characteristic.

In the metro area, there are three species of native roses that you may encounter – Rosa acicularis (prickly rose), R. arkansana (prairie rose), and R. woodsii (Wood’s rose). Although it is winter now and these roses are not in flower, their fruit can still be seen hanging from plants. The fruit of a rose is a “hip” or more technically achenes enclosed within a fleshy hypanthium. Rosa woodsii can be easily separated from the other two species by the absence of prickles on new growth. Rosa acicularis and R. arkansana are a little more difficult to separate this time of year – R. acicularis is separated from R. arkansana by the number of leaflets (5-7 vs. 9-11), and the presence of glands on the tips of the teeth along the leaflet margins.

See if you can locate some native roses as you venture outside this winter and help Denver Botanic Gardens document their range by photographing as many plants as possible in the month of February. Post your findings to iNaturalist so they will automatically be added to the Denver EcoFlora Project.

WHAT IS AN ECOQUEST?
EcoQuests, part of the Denver EcoFlora project, challenge citizens to become citizen scientists and observe, study, and conserve the native plants of the City via iNaturalist, an easy-to-use mobile app.

HOW DO I GET STARTED?
Download the iNaturalist app or register online at iNaturalist.org
Take photos of the plants in bloom that you find on your daily neighborhood walk. It is ok if they are weeds! But avoid taking photos of cultivated plants in gardens or in your home.
If you are concerned about revealing the location of sensitive organisms or observations at your own house, you can hide the exact location from the public by changing the "geoprivacy" of the observation to "obscured."
Post your findings on iNaturalist via the app
Your observations will automatically be added to the Denver EcoFlora Project
You can add an identification to your photo when you post your findings on iNaturalist, or leave it blank for others to identify.

WHAT IS THE GOAL?
The EcoFlora project is designed to meaningfully connect citizens with biodiversity, and to assemble novel observations and data on the metro area’s flora to better inform policy decisions and conservation strategies.

Posted on February 04, 2022 16:52 by jackerfield jackerfield | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 21, 2022

Plant Family Identification Class!

Join us to learn how to identify plants down to their family group. Imagine a plant you've never seen before. We'll show you how to get started and narrow down the possibilities. With our tools and techniques, you'll be able to find the similarities and differences in the plants you encounter.

This class is great for beginners or folks looking to better understand the field of taxonomy. As a class we will enjoy special access to Denver Botanic Gardens' herbarium specimens.

Click here to learn more and sign up!

Posted on January 21, 2022 18:59 by jackerfield jackerfield | 3 comments | Leave a comment

January 07, 2022

January EcoQuest - Make the Grade

Great job everyone – in 2021, over 66,800 observations of plants and fungi were made in the Denver-Boulder metro area! However, over 34,500 of these observations are still waiting to make research grade status. In fact, of all 168,933 observations included in the Denver EcoFlora project, 48% have not made research grade. This month, we encourage you to practice your identification skills by reviewing some of these observations so they can make the grade.

To make research grade, two or more reviewers must agree on the same species name. Once they’ve made the grade, these observations are uploaded to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF; gbif.org) database of over 1 billion biodiversity records. Your observations can then be used by researchers worldwide to answer questions such as: the past and potential spread of invasive species, the influence of climate change on biodiversity, the role of rare species in protecting critical ecosystem functions, and the identification of priority areas for plant conservation.

You can also use this opportunity to hone your plant identification skills. Pick a few species – maybe your favorite wildflowers, or a group you’ve always been interested in. Learn the characteristics of these, and then apply this knowledge to the Denver EcoFlora observations. From the project page on iNaturalist, simply click on “Observations” and then “Identify.” You can narrow this list down by entering a specific species in the search box. We can’t wait to see how many observations make the grade!

Posted on January 07, 2022 00:30 by jackerfield jackerfield | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 03, 2021

Community Survey

EcoFlora participants, we need your input!⁣

Do you enjoy being a part of the Denver EcoFlora Project? Has the project increased your appreciation of plant life or understanding of urban biodiversity? Let us know with our annual survey. We value your feedback and it will help us continue to build upon and improve the project in ways that support you best!⁣

Your answers will not only help to build and improve our local project, but also EcoFlora partner projects across the country.⁣

Survey closes December 15.

Take the survey.

Posted on December 03, 2021 16:33 by jackerfield jackerfield | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December EcoQuest - Blooming Bioblitz

Have you noticed plants blooming now, at a time when they are normally dormant in preparation for winter? Out-of-season blooming has been noted along the Front Range this fall, with plants that normally bloom in the spring reblooming, or late blooming plants still going strong. It is well-documented that dry weather can lead to drought stress, and trigger plants to bloom at abnormal times of the year. And this fall has been particularly dry and mild for the Denver metro area – in fact, this is the longest stretch in the history of recording meteorological data that Denver has received no snow.

Phenology is the timing of plant life-cycle events, such as flowering or leafing out. Phenology is also a leading indicator of climate change impacts – shifts in flowering time are directly correlated to climatic changes resulting from global warming, with many spring events occurring earlier and fall events happening later than they did in the past. Phenology not only affects the plant itself, but any organism that depends on this plant for food. For example, insect emergence is often synchronized with host plants leafing out, or pollinators emerge when plants are blooming. Shifts in plant phenology can lead to a disruption in important ecosystem services, and potentially have cascading effects on a multitude of organisms.

Help Denver Botanic Gardens document any flowering plants you see in the month of December for a phenology bioblitz, either native or cultivated. Post your findings to iNaturalist so they will be automatically added to the Denver EcoFlora Project. Let’s see just how many blooming plants we can find, and document these occurrences for future phenological research.

Posted on December 03, 2021 14:34 by jackerfield jackerfield | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 03, 2021

November EcoQuest - Jumpin' Junipers!

With fall here, most of our plants are now finished flowering until next year. While it might seem like there are no more plants to observe, this is far from true! One plant that stays green year round are Junipers. Junipers, in the genus Juniperus, are conifers (gymnosperms), and as such produce seed cones instead of flowers. There are two species of junipers along the Front Range – Juniperus scopulorum (Rocky Mountain juniper) and Juniperus communis (common juniper). Both produce round, bluish seed cones that are usually referred to as “berries.”

The two juniper species are easy to tell apart. Juniperus communis is a low-growing shrub with spreading branches, and spreading leaves, while J. scopulorum is an upright tree with appressed, scalelike leaves. Common juniper is found throughout forests and woodlands. Enjoy gin? Well, gin gets its distinctive flavor from common juniper seed cones! In fact, the name gin is derived from the Dutch jenever, which means “juniper.” Juniperus communis even has the distinction of being the most widespread conifer in the world, and is the only juniper species that occurs in both North America and Eurasia.

Rocky Mountain juniper is common in the foothills, and is often found with Gambel oak or in rocky places. In fact, its scientific name translates to “juniper of the mountains.” Rocky Mountain juniper is common throughout the western U.S.

Help Denver Botanic Gardens document the range of these junipers by photographing as many Juniperus as possible in the month of November. Remember to post only native or naturalized plants, not cultivated trees or shrubs. Post your findings to iNaturalist so they will be automatically added to the Denver EcoFlora Project.

Posted on November 03, 2021 21:50 by jackerfield jackerfield | 1 comment | Leave a comment

October 05, 2021

October EcoQuest - Rabbitbrush Roundup

Rabbitbrush are one of our most conspicuous fall flowering plants in the Denver metro area, but identifying among the different species can be a challenge. There are two species of rabbitbrush, often confused with one another – Ericameria nauseosa (rubber rabbitbrush) and Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus (yellow rabbitbrush). Although rubber rabbitbrush and yellow rabbitbrush are both considered rabbitbrushes, they are now placed in two separate genera. Much of the confusion between the two comes from this previous assignment – the older name for Ericameria nauseosa was Chrysothamnus nauseosus. Additionally, both rabbitbrush species are sometimes confused with snakeweed, Gutierrezia sarothrae.

Rabbitbrush and snakeweed are all members of the Asteraceae (sunflower) family, and as such have flowers arranged in heads. Telling the three apart though is actually quite easy! Ericameria nauseosa is usually a large shrub, with straight leaves and heads comprised only of yellow “disk” flowers. Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus is far less common than rubber rabbitbrush, and is easily distinguished from the other two species by its twisted leaves. And lastly, Gutierrezia sarothrae is a smaller shrubby plant, separated from both rabbitbrush species by the presence of yellow “ray” flowers in addition to the yellow disk flowers in its heads (versus only disk flowers).

Rubber rabbitbrush is often used as a landscaping plant because of its drought tolerance and prolific floral displays. Its common name refers to the plant being a source a rubber (although extraction is too expensive to be competitive), and its scientific name references the sickening consequences of consuming the leaves. Rubber rabbitbrush synthesizes a variety of compounds (terpenoids) that make it distasteful to most herbivores.

Help Denver Botanic Gardens document the range of Ericameria nauseosa, Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus, and Gutierrezia sarothrae by photographing these plants in the month of October. Post your findings to iNaturalist so they will be automatically added to the Denver EcoFlora Project.

WHAT IS AN ECOQUEST?
EcoQuests, part of the Denver EcoFlora project, challenge citizens to become citizen scientists and observe, study, and conserve the native plants of the City via iNaturalist, an easy-to-use mobile app.

HOW DO I GET STARTED?
Download the iNaturalist app or register online at iNaturalist.org
Take photos of the plants in bloom that you find on your daily neighborhood walk. It is ok if they are weeds! But avoid taking photos of cultivated plants in gardens or in your home.
If you are concerned about revealing the location of sensitive organisms or observations at your own house, you can hide the exact location from the public by changing the "geoprivacy" of the observation to "obscured."
Post your findings on iNaturalist via the app
Your observations will automatically be added to the Denver EcoFlora Project
You can add an identification to your photo when you post your findings on iNaturalist, or leave it blank for others to identify.

WHAT IS THE GOAL?
The EcoFlora project is designed to meaningfully connect citizens with biodiversity, and to assemble novel observations and data on the metro area’s flora to better inform policy decisions and conservation strategies.

Posted on October 05, 2021 13:26 by jackerfield jackerfield | 1 comment | Leave a comment

July 29, 2021

August EcoQuest 2021 - Amache Connections

Out on the southeastern plains of Colorado, near the town of Granada, lies the remnants of the Amache – Granada War Relocation Center, a WWII Japanese internment camp. From 1942–1945, approximately 10,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast were detained at Amache, unaware when or if they would be released. They did their best to cope with a life behind barbed wire.

In addition to copious amounts of art, poetry, and dance that came from Amache, one of the ways that the people of Amache showed commitment to resilience in interment was through cultivating gardens. Recently, Denver Botanic Gardens employees traveled to Amache to learn about the connections internees made with plants. They learned that internees were innovative with the limited resources they had at the camp to create beautiful gardens – they incorporated trash and byproducts of construction as stand-in garden features. They also used the natural features around – transporting ornamental rocks and native plant species found nearby. The gardens were a testament to the shared resilience of the Japanese-Americans who were detained, who created beauty in uncertain places during uncertain times.

As a historical place, Amache is also preserved from development – a small refuge of shortgrass prairie persists among a sea of agriculture on the plains. The plants found there today are most likely the same plants that Amache internees saw – such as thistle poppy (A., Argemone polyanthemos), buffalo gourd (B., Cucurbita foetidissima), bush morning glory (C., Ipomoea leptophylla), bractless blazingstar (D., Mentzelia nuda), and western spiderwort (E., Tradescantia occidentalis). Many of them enjoyed the beauty of these wildflowers, used the buffalo gourd for a source of food and medicine, and sat in the shade of the purposefully placed Siberian elm (F., Ulmus pumila) in the heat of the afternoon sun.

Although the plains portion of the Denver metro area is over 200 miles from Amache, many of the same plant species are shared between the two sites. See if you can locate any of the plants mentioned above, which are also found in the greater metro area. As you record an observation, think about the impact that this flower may have had on the inhabitants of Amache. Add your observations to iNaturalist so that they will automatically be included in the Denver EcoFlora Project. For more information on the archaeology of Amache's gardens, please read Finding Solace in the Soil: An Archaeology of Gardens and Gardeners at Amache by Dr. Bonnie Clark.

WHAT IS AN ECOQUEST?
EcoQuests, part of the Denver EcoFlora project, challenge citizens to become citizen scientists and observe, study, and conserve the native plants of the City via iNaturalist, an easy-to-use mobile app.

HOW DO I GET STARTED?
Download the iNaturalist app or register online at iNaturalist.org
Take photos of the plants in bloom that you find on your daily neighborhood walk. It is ok if they are weeds! But avoid taking photos of cultivated plants in gardens or in your home.
If you are concerned about revealing the location of sensitive organisms or observations at your own house, you can hide the exact location from the public by changing the "geoprivacy" of the observation to "obscured."
Post your findings on iNaturalist via the app
Your observations will automatically be added to the Denver EcoFlora Project
You can add an identification to your photo when you post your findings on iNaturalist, or leave it blank for others to identify.

WHAT IS THE GOAL?
The EcoFlora project is designed to meaningfully connect citizens with biodiversity, and to assemble novel observations and data on the metro area’s flora to better inform policy decisions and conservation strategies.

Posted on July 29, 2021 14:28 by jackerfield jackerfield | 0 comments | Leave a comment