Field Guide

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Plants and wildflowers add to the beauty of our foothills and improve the air and water quality, enrich and maintain the soil, sustain wildlife and provide humans with food and medicine.

We hope this website enhances your enjoyment of our local wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees. Learning their names brings a sense of familiarity that will develop as you continue to visit the Sage Hills and watch the progression of plants through the seasons. We hope that your growing appreciation of these plants will encourage you to preserve them for future generations.

Resist the impulse to pick these beautiful wildflowers! Picking a wildflower prevents the next hiker from enjoying the same beauty. It also reduces the plant’s chance for survival, impacting the insects and animals that rely on it for food and shelter. Why not leave them for everyone to enjoy?

Interested in growing native plants in your garden? Visit one of our local nurseries for plants or seeds.

 

Arrow-leaf Balsamroot Yellow Wildflower Balsamorhiza sagittata May
Ballhead waterleaf Purple Wildflower Hydrophyllum capitatum April
Barestem biscuitroot Yellow Wildflower Lomatium nudicaule April
Bastard toadflax White Wildflower Comandra umbellata May
Bearded hawksbeard Yellow Wildflower Crepis barbigera May
Big sagebrush Shrub Artemisia tridentata July
Bitterbrush Shrub Purshia tridentata June
Bluebells Blue Wildflower Mertensia longiflora March
Bluebunch wheatgrass Grass Pseudoroegneria spicata
Bugloss fiddleneck Yellow Wildflower Amsinckia lycopsoides April
Bulbous Bluegrass Grass Poa bulbosa
Bulbous prairie-star White Wildflower Lithophragma glabrum March
Cat's ears White Wildflower Calochortus lyallii May
Cereal wild rye Grass Secale cereale
Cheatgrass Grass Bromus tectorum
Columbia goldenweed Yellow Wildflower Pyrrocoma carthamoides July
Columbian puccoon Yellow Wildflower Lithospermum ruderale April
Crested wheatgrass Grass Agropyron cristatum
Dalmation toadflax Yellow Wildflower Linaria dalmatica June
Diffuse knapweed White Wildflower Centaurea diffusa June
Douglas-Fir Tree Pseudotsuga menziesii
Douglas’ brodiaea Blue Wildflower Triteleia grandiflora April
Dusty maidens White Wildflower Chaenactis douglasii May
Field bindweed White Wildflower Convolvulus arvensis April
Geyer's biscuitroot White Wildflower Lomatium geyeri February
Gray rabbitbrush Shrub Ericameria nauseosa August
Great Basin Wild Rye Grass Great Basin Wild Rye
Idaho fescue Grass Festuca idahoensis
Large-flowered collomia Peach Wildflower Collomia grandiflora June
Linear-leaf Daisy Yellow Wildflower Erigeron linearis May
Long-leaf phlox Purple Wildflower Phlox longifolia April
Meadow death camas White Wildflower Zigadenus venenosus April
Needle and thread Grass Hesperostipa comata
Parsnip-flower buckwheat Yellow Wildflower Eriogonum heracleoides May
Ponderosa Pine Tree Pinus ponderosa
Russian knapweed Pink Wildflower Acroptilon repens June
Russian thistle Green Wildflower Salsola tragus July
Sagebrush buttercup Yellow Wildflower Ranunculus glaberrimus February
Sagebrush mariposa lily White Wildflower Calochortus macrocarpus June
Sagebrush stickseed White Wildflower Hackelia diffusa var. arida May
Salsify Yellow Wildflower Tragopogon dubius May
Sandberg bluegrass Grass Poa secunda
Shooting Star Pink Wildflower Dodecatheon pulchellum March
Silky lupine Purple Wildflower Lupinus sericeus May
Snow buckwheat White Wildflower Eriogonum niveum July
Squirreltail Grass Elymus elymoides
Stiff sagebrush Artemisia rigida July
Sulphur lupine Purple Wildflower Lupinus sulphureus April
Tall buckwheat White Wildflower Eriogonum elatum July
Tall tumblemustard Yellow Wildflower Sisymbrium altissimum April
Thompson's Indian paintbrush Yellow Wildflower Castilleja thompsonii April
Thread-leaf fleabane daisy White Wildflower Erigeron filifolius April
Three-tip sagebrush Shrub Artemisia tripartita July
Upland larkspur Blue Wildflower Delphinium nuttallianum April
Wavyleaf microseris Yellow Wildflower Nothocalais troximoides April
Wax currant Shrub Ribes cereum March
Western groundsel Yellow Wildflower Senecio integerrimus May
Western Serviceberry White Shrub Amelanchier Alnifolia May
White-leaf phacelia White Wildflower Phacelia hastata May
Whitetop White Wildflower Cardaria draba May
Woolly-pod locoweed Pink Wildflower Astragalus purshii February
Yarrow White Wildflower Achillea millefolium May
Yellow bells Yellow Wildflower Fritillaria pudica March

Arrow-leaf Balsamroot

Common Name
Arrow-leaf Balsamroot
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Scientific Name
Balsamorhiza sagittata
Scientific Pronunciation
bal-sam-or-RY-zuh saj-ih-TAY-tuh
Plant Family
Plant Origin
Duration
Color
Plant Type
Typical Bloom (varies by elevation)

Balsamroot is one of the most prevalent and showy plants in the Sage Hills. The bright, yellow “sunflowers” present a widespread colorful display in the spring. The flowers grow singly on the end of a long leafless stem that is one to two feet tall. The arrowhead-shaped leaves grow as much as twelve inches long, six inches wide, and a covering of fine woolly hair gives them a softer, grayish appearance. The plant gets its name from its balsam-scented taproots. (Balsam refers to a strong-smelling tree resin).

Balsamroot was a significant food source for Native Americans in our region. All parts of the plant were eaten. The long taproot was most important and was dug before the plant began to flower. Leaves, stalks, and seeds were also collected for food. The embryonic leaves and bud stalks (which deer like also) were collected as early spring greens. The seeds were pounded into meal, which was eaten alone or mixed into soup or other dishes.

Native American boys would wrap balsamroot leaves around their ankles and see how far they could walk before ripping the leaves. This prepared them to walk silently and carefully.

Ballhead waterleaf

Common Name
Ballhead waterleaf
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Scientific Name
Hydrophyllum capitatum
Scientific Pronunciation
hy-droh-FIL- um kap-ih-TAY-tum
Plant Family
Plant Origin
Duration
Color
Plant Type
Typical Bloom (varies by elevation)
Additional Common Names
Dwarf waterleaf, woolly breeches

Ballhead waterleaf is somewhat inconspicuous because it usually grows amid thickets or beneath associated shrubs, such as sagebrush, and its dark, blue-purple to lavender, flowers blend in with the shady background. It is unusual because the flowers form a densely congested ball-shaped cluster near the base of the plant instead of at the top. The stamens extend well beyond the sepals and petals giving the flower head the appearance of a round brush. The stems and leaf stalks are soft and fleshy, growing four to sixteen inches tall. The leaves are up to six inches long with one or two deep incisions. There are more leaves near the top of the plant with fewer lower down the stems.

The common name, waterleaf, may refer to the fact that the leaves tend to collect water that is channeled down the stems to the roots.

Native Americans ate the roots by boiling or steaming them.

Barestem biscuitroot

Common Name
Barestem biscuitroot
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Scientific Name
Lomatium nudicaule
Scientific Pronunciation
loh-MAH-tee-um new-dee-KAW-lee/new-dee-KAW-lay
Plant Family
Plant Origin
Duration
Color
Plant Type
Typical Bloom (varies by elevation)
Additional Common Names
Barestem parsley, Indian celery

Barestem biscuitroot has a long slender main stem (up to three feet tall) that ascends up to a hub where smaller stems branch out like the spokes of an umbrella. At the end of each spoke is a dense ball-shaped cluster of small yellow flowers. The broad, oval-shaped leaflets are distinctive for a lomatium: smooth and thick, one to three inches long, one-half to two-and-a-half inches wide, and often clustered in groups of three. The flattened fruits have thin “winged” edges responsible for the generic name, lomatium.

Barestem biscuitroot provided abundant food for the Native Americans as wild celery or Indian celery. The raw shoots tasted crisp and peppery and were high in Vitamin C. The stems and leaves were cooked in stews for flavoring, or boiled and eaten with fish. When the greens were too bitter to be eaten as celery, they became a source of medicine. The dried seeds and leaves were used in a hot tea to fight a cold, reduce a fever, or cure colic. The seeds smell like licorice and were used as mothballs to protect ceremonial clothing from insects.

Bastard toadflax

Common Name
Bastard toadflax
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Scientific Name
Comandra umbellata
Scientific Pronunciation
koh-MAN-druh um-bell-AY-tuh
Plant Family
Plant Origin
Duration
Color
Plant Type
Typical Bloom (varies by elevation)

Bastard toadflax grows in clumps up to a foot tall, and has smooth alternating leaves from a quarter to an inch and a half long. The tiny flower starts as a tight little ball which opens up into a star formed by the five sepals. There are no petals. Blossoms remain open night and day for two days. The minute fruit are drupes, meaning a fleshy fruit with a stone such as a cherry.

The name, bastard toadflax, means false toadflax. Neither the flower nor the leaves resemble the other toadflax species that have a snapdragon-type flower. The scientific name is clearer, referring to the hairiness of the stamens and the flat-topped flower clusters that resemble umbrellas.

Bastard toadflax is a parasite that depends upon other plants for survival, and it is a member of a plant family that is able to use over two hundred different species as its host. This is the most diverse of any parasitic plant. Within two weeks of seed germination, subterranean roots attach themselves to nearby vegetation to draw nutrients and water. Although it is always parasitic, it can also make its own food through photosynthesis.

Native Americans used a decoction of bastard toadflax as a wash for sores or inflamed eyes.

Bearded hawksbeard

Common Name
Bearded hawksbeard
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Scientific Name
Crepis barbigera
Scientific Pronunciation
KREP-iss bar-BEE-ger-uh
Plant Family
Plant Origin
Duration
Color
Plant Type
Typical Bloom (varies by elevation)

Bearded hawksbeard closely resembles a dandelion, except that it grows up to two feet tall with multiple heads on one or two branched stems. The leaves grow from the base and look like an animal has taken bites out of the edges. The edges look viciously sharp, but they are not. The name ‘bearded’ may derive from the buds that are fuzzy like a man’s beard. The flowers look like dandelions and, like dandelions, the seeds float on “parachutes” in the wind for wide dispersal.

Big sagebrush

Common Name
Big sagebrush
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Scientific Name
Artemisia tridentata
Scientific Pronunciation
ar-teh-MEEZ-ee-uh try-den-TAY-ta
Plant Family
Plant Origin
Plant Type
Typical Bloom (varies by elevation)
Additional Common Names
Tall sagebrush

Big sagebrush is a strongly scented, woody evergreen shrub. It is the most abundant shrub in the shrub-steppe because it has adapted to a wide range of environmental conditions. It usually grows about four feet tall, but can grow taller than ten feet in areas with deep soil and more moisture. It has a common lifespan of forty to fifty years, although some plants live as long as one hundred years. The fuzzy gray-green leaves have three lobes at the tip, like a trident. Tiny hairs covering the narrow leaves give them a silky sheen and protect sagebrush from drying out in wind and heat. The golden-yellow flowers are so small you have to look closely to see them.

Big sagebrush has two types of leaves, with smaller and softer non-lobed leaves appearing in early winter which drop off during the drought season. More leaf surface area during the moister conditions of early spring results in more rapid plant growth. As the summer heat intensifies, big sagebrush drops the soft leaves and conserves the water the plant would have lost through them. It also has two types of roots: shallow, widely dispersed spreading roots that absorb rain rapidly before it can evaporate, and course deep roots that draw water from deeper reservoirs underground.

Big sagebrush is often killed by fire and relies on wind-blown seeds from outside the burned area for re-establishment. Cheatgrass has invaded much of the sagebrush habitat, and if left unchecked could possibly create a fire cycle that is too frequent to allow sagebrush to re-establish itself.

Many big sagebrush plants have rounded swellings, lumps or bumps on certain leaves, stems or stalks. These are not fruits but galls. A gall is a swelling growth of new plant tissue produced by the plant in response to an insect larva burrowed in the leaf. Galls vary enormously in texture and shape, and do no harm to the host plant.

Big sagebrush has a sharp odor, especially after a rain, like the herb sage but it is unrelated to culinary sage and has a bitter taste. The odor may discourage browsing. The chemicals responsible for the odor may cause dermatitis in sensitive individuals.

Native Americans had many uses for big sagebrush. It was an important fiber plant used in clothes, saddle blankets, arrow cases, sandals, and rope. A yellow dye was extracted from the flowers and leaves, it was a source of firewood, medicine, insect repellent, and it was also used in ceremonies. An aromatic plant, it was used in sweat lodges for respiratory ailments or as air fresheners. Leaves and twigs were boiled to make a medicinal drink for colds or sore throats. People with runny noses stuffed leaves into their nostrils to stop the drip.

Bitterbrush

Common Name
Bitterbrush
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Scientific Name
Purshia tridentata
Scientific Pronunciation
PUR-shee-uh try-den-TAY-ta
Plant Family
Plant Origin
Plant Type
Typical Bloom (varies by elevation)
Additional Common Names
Antelope bitterbrush

Bitterbrush is an extensively-branched, deciduous shrub that grows up to six feet tall. It produces many small three-lobed leaves, similar to those of sagebrush but lacking the gray, woolly hair, and brighter and more of an olive-green in color. The leaves are so tiny that the outline of the shrub’s limbs is distinctive. The flowers are small but bright yellow and abundant, making the shrub attractive during the flowering period in spring. Bitterbrush has no scent. It prefers sandy or gravelly locations.                                                     

Though bitter to us, bitterbrush leaves provide an extremely important food source for elk and deer, especially in winter on windswept, relatively snow-free slopes. The plants often become stunted from excessive browsing. Pocket gophers collect and cache the seeds in underground tunnels from which new plants often sprout.

Native Americans used the bitterbrush leaves as a laxative and to relieve itching. They also used the branches for fuel.

Bluebells

Common Name
Bluebells
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Scientific Name
Mertensia longiflora
Scientific Pronunciation
mer-TEN-see-uh lon-jee-FLO-ruh
Plant Family
Plant Origin
Duration
Color
Plant Type
Typical Bloom (varies by elevation)
Additional Common Names
Small bluebells, long-flowered lungwort, trumpet bluebells

This is one of the earliest blooming wildflowers, along with biscuitroot, buttercup, and yellow bells. Bluebells grow most frequently beneath sagebrush canopies and in other sheltered sites and on north-facing slopes. It is common in areas of abundant spring moisture.

This small rather succulent plant produces one to several green to reddish leafy stems two to nine inches tall with densely packed nodding or drooping blue flowers. The flowers have a bell-like appearance and range from sky blue to darker blue and often fade to pink with age.

Bluebunch wheatgrass

Common Name
Bluebunch wheatgrass
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Scientific Name
Pseudoroegneria spicata
Scientific Pronunciation
soo-do-ro-eg-NER-ee-a spi-KAH-tuh
Plant Family
Plant Origin
Duration
Plant Type

Form:               Bunch grass; densely tufted and erect

Height:              1 to 2 ½ feet

Seedhead:        Slender spike up to 6 inches long; has a rippled look

Seeds:              Usually reproduces by seed

Stems:              Erect and slender

Leaves:             Green to blue in color

Roots:              As deep as 4 to 6 feet. Heavy waxy layer on the roots prevents them from drying out.

Ecology:           Requires excellent drainage and mostly full sun. One of the most drought resistant bunchgrasses. Throughout the West, crested wheatgrass has overtaken much of the historical range of bluebunch wheatgrass. Although it can be a crucial source of forage, it is not necessarily the most highly preferred species.

Fire tolerance:   Usually survives fires because its buds are protected by soil and/or plant material.

 

Bugloss fiddleneck

Common Name
Bugloss fiddleneck
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Scientific Name
Amsinckia lycopsoides
Scientific Pronunciation
am-SING-kee-uh ly-COP-soy-deez
Plant Family
Plant Origin
Duration
Color
Plant Type
Typical Bloom (varies by elevation)
Additional Common Names
Tarweed fiddleneck

Bugloss fiddleneck is a weedy plant that thrives on disturbed soil. The small yellow tubular-shaped flowers occur along multiple stems up to two feet tall that coil distinctively like the neck of a fiddle. The plant is very hairy and looks like it is covered in fat green hairy caterpillars. The stiff and bristle-like hairs cause irritation to human skin, but provide a deterrent to harvest or ingestion. The four-inch long leaves alternate and often grow crowded at the base. Each flower produces four, small, hard-shelled, black and shiny nutlets that are reputedly poisonous to cattle.