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Tiny Plant Guest Post by Daniel Murphy

It’s been a busy past couple of weeks here so I regret that I have been rather lax in my writing and blogging. I plan to remedy that though and get back into the flow. To hopefully help make up for my lack of posting I’d like to bring you this amazing guest post from Daniel over at Awkward Botany (You may remember me geeking out a while back about his blog). He takes us on a hike in search of a new to him species and encourages us to get down low and see the tiny plants usually hidden by their bigger and showier cousins. So without further adieu:

Tiny Plants: Idahoa scapigera
by Daniel Murphy

I have taken a real liking to tiny plants. So many of the plants we regularly interact with are relatively big. Large trees loom above us. Tall shrubs greet us at eye level. Flowering perennials come up around our knees or higher. But how often do we get down low and observe the plants that hug the ground or that reach just a few centimeters above it? Turf grass is ubiquitous and groundcovers are common, but among such low growing plants (or plants kept low), even more diminutive species lurk.

idahoa 4

It was a hunt for a tiny plant that sent me down a certain trail in the Boise Foothills earlier this spring. Listening to a talk by a local botanist at an Idaho Native Plant Society meeting, I learned about Idahoa scapigera. A genus named after Idaho, eh? I was immediately intrigued. Polecat Gulch was the place to see it, so off I went.

Commonly known as oldstem idahoa, flatpod, or Scapose scalepod, Idahoa scapigera is the only species in its genus. It is an annual plant in the mustard family, so it is related to other small, annual mustard species like Draba verna. It is native to far western North America and is distributed from British Columbia down to California and east into Montana. It occurs in a variety of habitats found in meadows, mountains, and foothills.

Idahoa scapigera is truly tiny. Before it flowers, it forms a basal rosette of leaves that max out at about 3 centimeters long. Next it sends up several skinny flower stalks that reach maybe 10 centimeters high (some are much shorter). One single flower is born atop each stalk. Its petite petals are white, and they are cupped by red to purple sepals. Its fruit is a flat round or oblong disk held vertically as though it is ready to give neighboring fruits a high five. Happening upon a patch of these plants in fruit is a real joy.

Which brings me to my hunt. It was the morning of March 20th (the first day of Spring) when I headed down the Polecat Gulch trail in search of Idahoa, among other things. The trail forms a loop around the gulch and is about 6 miles long with options for shortening the loop by taking trails that cut through the middle. I have yet to make it all the way around. Stopping every 10 yards to look at plants, insects, and other things makes for slow hiking.

idahoa 2I was about a half mile – 1 hour or more – into the hike when Idahoa entered my view. A group of them were growing on the upslope side of the trail, greeting me just below waist level. I was too late to see them in flower. They all had fresh green fruits topping their thin stalks. At this location they must be a late winter/early spring ephemeral. I made a mental note of the site and decided to return when the fruits had matured. Next year, I will head out earlier in hopes of catching them in flower.

idahoa 1On the way to Idahoa, I noted numerous other small, green things growing in the sandy soil. It turns out there are countless other tiny plants to see and explore. It got me thinking about all the small things that go unnoticed right underneath our feet or outside of our view. I resolved to move slower and get down lower to observe the wonders I’ve been missing all this time.

 
Resources:
Calflora – http://www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/species_query.cgi?where-taxon=Idahoa+scapigera
iNaturalist – http://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/77486-Idahoa-scapigera
Jepson Herbarium – http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/eflora/eflora_display.php?tid=28891

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