That Montana-Missouri Connection

Yellow salsify (Tragopogon dubius)

The size of the seedheads bobbing about in a ditch near the entrance to Burr Oak Woods conservation area in Blue Springs, Missouri made clear I’d found something other than an ordinary dandelion. From three to five inches in diameter, their gleaming fluff begged to be identified.

Identification turned out to be easier than I could have imagined. As I began catching up on blogs after two weeks of travel and family time, I discovered a similar puffball in a post from Montana Outdoors, together with a photo showing yellow salsify in bud and in flower. Eventually, I learned that the plant, originally from Europe, sometimes is called goatsbeard, but that risks confusion with yet another goatsbeard — Aruncus dioicusthat’s part of the rose family and which also (somewhat oddly) is known as bride’s feathers.

Intrigued by the coincidence, I wondered which other spring wildflowers Montana and Missouri might share. As if on cue, Terry followed up his post of the salsify with photos of a flower called self-heal. The examples I found scattered throughout Missouri and Arkansas seemed nearly at the end of their bloom, but they remained interesting and attractive.

Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris) at Missouri’s Diamond Grove Prairie
Self-heal seen from above in the Ouachita mountains of Arkansas

Only a few days before, Terry had posted photos of a Montana native: the Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana). While that wild rose doesn’t overlap with Missouri’s native pasture rose, their appearance is similar, and the delight of their flowers surely is equal.

Beyond that, Rosa carolina also is listed as present in a few far northeastern counties of Texas, as well as in Kerr and Gillespie counties, which I occasionally visit. Next spring, I’ll make it a point to seek out this native rose closer to home.

Pasture rose (Rosa Carolina) at Missouri’s Diamond Grove Prairie

Certainly I expected to find at least a few unfamiliar wildflowers during my recent travel, but discovering these Missouri-Montana connections provided an extra dollop of delight.

Comments always are welcome.


40 thoughts on “That Montana-Missouri Connection

  1. The timing of your finding these flowers is incredible! Now you will have flower friends wherever you go. It wouldn’t be surprising to see that the flowers that we share will have different timing of their blooming period from place to place because of different climate conditions.

    1. One of the different conditions that really caught my attention was the forest. It was interesting to see plants that thrive in full prairie sunlight here (like winecups) blooming away beneath the trees’ canopy. I found it quite a different experience to photograph in the woods, too. Either it was unbelievably dim, or the contrast between bright sunlight and deep shadow was hard to deal with. I need to revisit some of those places when I’m alone, and can mess around as long as I want in one spot.

      1. You’ve discovered the key to photographing in a forest (messing around for as long as you want). I’ve messed around for ten years trying to figure out the camera settings that will adequately capture scenes or objects in them. It’s so satisfying when you find something that works. Each situation there is unique and usually vastly different from the previous one.

    1. I saw the seedhead described somewhere as a dandelion on steroids. That made me laugh, but the description certainly is apt. Groupings of them look like floral fireworks.

        1. I have a friend who brought a seed head back from Minnesota. She turned it upside down and sprayed it lightly with hair spray, and then put it in a square Kleenex box for her flight. It’s lasted for a full ten years and maybe more, so, yes: I’d say you can keep them.

    1. Thank you, Tom. The self-heal seemed just a little sticky to the touch. Perhaps that’s why the ants in the second photo were attracted to it. I found this interesting:

      “Ants are attracted to the nectar found on the plant stem or sepals (not the nectar found in flowers that is used by pollinators). The ants patrol these plants and disturb herbivores and seed-eating insects by attacking them, by causing them to fall off the plants, or by interrupting feeding, egg laying, courtship, or molting.

      “The ants crawling all over sticky peony buds in early summer, for example, protect them from enemies, and the ants are rewarded with a rich food source. Some plants also reward this pro­tective role by housing ants in special structures, in addition to providing them with food rich in proteins, lipids, and car­bo­hydrates.”

  2. Thanks to your site, I now look purposely to see wildflowers. Being so congested here, there aren’t many lots growing wild and there used to be fields of periwinkles, but no more. I find mostly small and blue flowers in the weeds on lawns.

    1. I’ve found that even the most urbanized environment often has plants and flowers around. it’s amazing how many pop up in a marina between cracks in the docks, or along bulkheads. I like to call them accidental gardens — they can be just as pretty as any high-dollar, high-maintenance garden, and I enjoy them just as much.

  3. Beautiful finds, Linda — and I’m glad you’re safely back from your travels. You’ve captured some beauties I’m not familiar with. Does that Pasture rose have thorns the way other roses do?

    1. The rose certainly does have thorns; I can offer personal testimony to that. It took two weeks to rid myself of one that embedded itself into the palm of my hand. Of course, it wouldn’t have been there had the berry vines not wrapped themselves around my ankle and thrown me into the thicket — but that’s another story, from a trip that had a number of good ones.

    1. I particularly enjoyed finding the roses, which were a complete surprise. Our Macartney rose is gorgeous, with large white flowers, but it’s non-native, and terribly invasive.

      I saw so many wonderful plants I hardly knew where to start sharing them — so I just started!

  4. Lovely images and I agree that the Salsify seedhead that both you and Terry shared online is very special and fascinating to see for its size as well as its appearance.

    Your Selfheal image is particularly appealing in both colour and lovely sharp focus.

    1. I probably would have assumed this seedhead was an aberration, had I not seen an entire colony of them lined up just like dandelions. All were quite large, and very impressive. I was delighted to learn more about them — although my own mental auto-complete keeps wanting to turn salsify into salsa-fy. Bring on the chips!

      I was happy to find that I had at least a couple of decent photos of the self-heal. I didn’t have time to experiment with settings as I would have liked, but they turned out ok.

  5. That’s a dandelion on steroids! I’ve run across a self-heal in Oregon, but I’d have to look it up to compare it with yours (and I’m toward the end of my day!). But, the Nootka rose I’ve definitely seen in Oregon and it’s lovely. Sounds like your trip was a good one!

    1. Self-heal is spread across the U.S. and is listed for Oregon, although there is a variant (Prunella vulgaris var. lanceolata) that’s native to the Pacific Northwest. It seems that the shape of the leaves is the primary difference. I can’t tell you how tickled I was to find the roses. When I saw that they’re listed by both the USDA and BONAP for Kerr and Gillespie counties, I just laughed. Be in the right place at the wrong time, and it’s easy to make assumptions about what is and isn’t around.

      The trip was good. For one thing, I had a chance to experience Arkansas’s native ice cream — Yarnell’s — which is sold only in the state. Would I drive back to Arkansas solely for that ice cream? No. But I’d think about it.

  6. Interesting photos. The first one is so pretty. I am a huge fan of goats beard. I collected lots of seeds last summer near Round Rock on my way to Seaton Hospital. I forgot I had the seeds and did not plant until late February or early March. The seeds did not come up. I am hoping the seeds are still viable and I will plant this fall in October. Maybe they need exposure to the weather and stratification .I also forgot about the seeds you sent me and will put those out in the fall as well. Hoping they will germinate..

    1. The basket-flowers are beginning to bloom here now; up in the hill country, they’re already beginning to form seed. There’s been a lot of mowing, and I was afraid the colonies I found last year might be gone, but there are some conveniently-placed stands still around, and after our rains end they should be ready for some photos.

      I learned that one of my friends has a goatsbeard seed head that she’s kept for a decade or more. She brought hers back from Minnesota in a square Kleenex box after spraying it (upside down, and lightly) with hair spray. I used hair spray on some little bluestem that I collected four or five years ago, and it hasn’t dropped more than a few seeds. Amazing.

      1. Oh I was hoping that you were going to say that your friend had planted the old goatsbeard and that it had produced a plant. I will try some hair spray on some of the seeds. I will plant more seeds this Fall.

  7. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the commonalities of wildflowers. Almost none of the species I saw at Garden in the Woods in eastern Massachusetts also grow in Austin, yet several do, including the cardinal flower.

    1. I suppose that lack of rhyme or reason is a large part of what makes exploring different areas appealing to me. So many variables come into play, and conditions certainly can change even from year to year, as you’ve so often noted.

      While I wasn’t able to explore as fully as I would have liked on this trip, one thing was obvious: the farther north I traveled, the more I moved back into spring. By the time I got to Kansas City, there still were pussy willows around, and flowers in bud (like spiderwort) that already have faded here On the other hand, there weren’t many wildflowers blooming at Crystal Bridges; it seemed the transition from spring to summer was happening. It all was great fun to see.

      1. I experienced a similar regression of the season when driving from Austin to northern Iowa in the spring of 2008. The Kansas City area was magnificent with redbud blossoms, which had long since disappeared from Austin. By the time we got to northern Iowa, no leaves had yet appeared on any trees, the temperature was 45°, and the wind blew cold.

        What did you think of the O’Keeffe exhibit at Crystal Bridges? We passed through Little Rock yesterday and could have deviated to Bentonville but it would have lengthened the trip another day and we were already tired and eager to get home after 25 days on the road.

        1. I enjoyed the O’Keeffe exhibit, which turned out to be different and more thought-provoking than I’d anticipated. Her work was shown in conjunction with that of other contemporary artists, some of which I was drawn to, and some of which seemed unbearably kitschy.

          As I recall, only two of her florals (a jimson weed and purple petunias) were included, but there were paintings from her time in Lake George that were unfamiliar and delightful, as well as representative work from New Mexico and New York. I haven’t yet spent time with my notes and photos, but the connecting thread seemed to be her own developing convictions about the nature and importance of abstraction. My provisional conclusion was that she didn’t equate abstraction with the unrecognizable. Once I’ve spent some time with it all, I’ll see if that stands, and post a bit about it.

  8. I wish more people hunted the way you do, with a camera rather than a rifle. “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints” — a good motto. I also like your choice of “prey.” Quite a colorful bunch. I’d admire to have some Rosa Carolina growing in my yard. For one good reason and another. I missed the window of opportunity on my wild flowers. Next year for sure, I’ll have that front bed forked and weeded, seeded and watered, and have the wildest flowers in captivity.

    1. When it comes to plants, that caution to “take nothing but pictures” is important for another reason. One downside to encouraging interest in native plants is that it can stir the desire to possess native plants — that is, to pick the flowers.

      I came across this Forest Service article about the ethics of enjoying wildflowers and native plants, and it really resonated. Propagating wildflowers from seed is one thing; pulling them out of the ground is another. One reason native plant enthusiasts don’t always share the exact location of their most wonderful discoveries is that they’re trying to protect the plants from those who might be tempted to do them harm.

      From what I can tell, it would be nigh unto impossible for you to get that native rose to take hold. But there are plenty of wildflowers that would love your neighborhood — here’s to that coming crop.

  9. That’s a whopper of a seedhead! Great photograph. And I like the color of that pasture rose a lot.
    I’ve seen salsify once in a while around here – – do you know anyone who’s tried eating the roots? I have not, mostly because when I’ve seen the plant, it’s growing alongside a roadside ditch.

    1. I don’t know anyone who’s tried a salsify salad — or anything else, for that matter. Of course, until quite recently I didn’t know salsify existed, so there’s that. It was great fun to find so many unfamiliar plants this trip: not so much because I was in different territory, but because I was covering some of the same territory in a different season. Once I get things sorted, I think I may have the photos to do a spring/fall comparison of Diamond Grove prairie. It really was interesting, even though my time there was limited.

  10. ‘An extra dollop of delight’! Ah, yes, and it was nice seeing that you too are perusing the native flowers – down here I’ve recently taken some great images of monarch butterflies on what we called ‘blue mist flower’ or ‘wild ageratum.’ My wildflowers of the usa/handbook doesn’t show them – I could have sworn they were in there long ago when I consulted it often! they’re just as misty and lovely here as in the usa!

    The monarchs are also visiting the ‘tropical milk weed’ which is quite different from the milkweeds you have.

    For now it’s time to dash home, as I’ve been at the public wifi hotspot in the park for way too many hours… the battery is keeping the computer running by willpower!

    have a good week!

    1. Our blue mistflowers started blooming about a month ago. They’re one of my favorites, and they clearly are loved by the butterflies, too: all sorts, and not just the monarchs. A few years ago, before I was able to take a decent photo of them, I found quite a colony of them at a local nature center. I’ve not been back to see if they appeared this year, but life finally is settling down a bit, and I’m looking forward to checking them out. So much has been competing for attention — a bit of travel, house guests, the installation of new flooring, painting, surviving work in the ghastly heat — I’ve found it hard to focus. But one by one, it’s all getting done, and it’s even raining today. I’ve been watching the ducks plashing about in the puddles: such pure enjoyment is wonderful to see.

      Speaking of milkweed, I found at least three different varieties on my trip. It was great fun discovering so many new species of plants. They’ll all show up here, eventually.

      1. You would have such fun meandering down the gravel road and admiring all of the wildflowers, birds, trees, etc. There are so many unique species, and I have few reference books for her. That’s a new ‘must have’ for the future if I ever find a source to have book in hand!

        1. As I’ve wandered around, I’ve been discovering new identification sites, too. One of the best I’ve found is the one maintained by the Arkansas Native Plant Society. Look at this entry on self-heal, for example. Good photos, exploded views, scientific language that reads easily — whoever Sid Vogelpohl is, he deserves some kudos.

  11. I bet that was really cool. Salsify and Self-heal are familiar plants from when I lived back east, and right now, I can’t remember if I’ve seen them here, too. So confusing! But I know the Nootka rose is a local flower, though I know NY has a similar one…nice plants to meet, wherever you are. I smiled when you said you were surprised at how easy salsify was to ID – I think I had the same reaction after I saw it for the first time, I believe on railroad tracks in Hoboken, NJ, just across the Hudson from NYC.

    1. I found that traveling north and slightly east made quite a difference in plant life. Not only that, there is an area (Missouri, Arkansas, parts of Oklahoma and Kansas) that shares certain plants that don’t seem to appear anywhere else in the country. (Don’t tell the plants, of course. They laugh at our rules.)

      I enjoy so many of the names from the Pacific Northwest and western Canada, like Nootka rose. Every time I buy Tillamook cheese, I smile.

  12. When I had not yet scrolled down to the caption, the picture of the puffball brought the name “salsify” to my mind, even thought I think this yellow version is a bit fancier than the common salsify that grows around here with a purple flower, Tragopogon porrifolius, also called “oyster plant,” because the roots taste a little like that…?

    We had a housemate decades ago who had lived previously in the deep woods of northern California, and who showed me the plant in the first place, and that you could eat the roots. I think she did cook some for us — or did I cook it? That was a long time ago! I know that in the recent era, by the time I notice it, the flower is developed so far that the root has certainly toughened, and in the adobe clay soil around here I’m sure one would have to work very hard to dig up just one of those very slender roots.

    From the comments here I have two ideas now: to preserve with hair spray a seed head of the salsify by the creek near here, next spring; and to save some seeds to try planting in my garden beds!

    1. I read about the purple version, and about the fact that the roots taste rather like oysters. I suppose that could be a plus or a minus, depending on your attitude toward oysters. I did read that, like so many foraged plants, getting salsify roots young and tender is critical. How you’re supposed to find them is the issue, as you say. I’ll just eat my carrots and spinach, and let it be.

      It surprised me that you’d consider planting salsify in your garden. Even though it’s not on the federal or state noxious/invasive weed lists, I guess I’d be reluctant to nurture it. Of course, we’re having so much trouble with so many truly terrible invasive plants, I suppose my prejudices have hardened up.

      If you do decide to give it a try, this page from the Forest Service seems to have all the information you’d ever need to get your salsify off to a good start. It’s as technical as you’d expect, but it’s not hard to find the relevant portions.

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