Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Bighorn beauties and beyond

Calochortus nuttallii in the Bighorns
 This was (in fact) one of the first special flowers we saw last Thursday as we drove up Highway 14-Alternate on the Bighorns. This is probably the 10th or 12th trip I've led to the area--in this case the overflow from the Bighorn/Beartooth/Yellowstone trip that departed today (our "second" trip came a week earlier) for the North American Rock Garden Society that has launched wildly successful flower tours: both tours to the Bighorns last year filled. This year we had to add yet another, and the Dolomite tour was doubled as well! The trip to Northern Michigan at the Annual Meeting two years ago was overbooked, and I have a hunch the trips in the pipeline for next year will do so as well: be advised! Join NARGS and be quick about it!

The lower foothills of the Bighorns are covered with Sagebrush steppe--an acquired taste. Once you've acquired it, you can never have enough--I warn you! (What's that blue stuff in the sagebrush anyway?)...

It's one of the innumerable penstemons found hereabouts--in this case Penstemon subglaber.

Pinus albicaulis
The whitebark pine occurs mostly at high elevation--but there are some lower down: many are succumbing to Blister Rust: very worrisome.

Penstemon laricifolius v. laricifolius
Widespread on Wyoming steppe--one can never have enough of this flashy waif: hundreds of clumps on the roadcuts to Five Springs campground.

Not just pink penstemons...but this: Penstemon aridus

Penstemon aridus
I had a little trough full of a miniature form of this for years--maybe decades. Time to do it again! A specialty of the region.

Pulsatilla patens albino
One of my sharp eyed associates found this albino: I would dearly love to grow this!

Pulsatilla patens
Truth be said, nothing beats the blue form. It's much smaller and bluer than around Denver up here above treeline: maybe it will be easier to grow as well?

Eritrichium elongatum
I know, I know: some lump it with E. nanum: the seed morphology is very different--and most here have little stems. They're every bit as brilliant no matter what their name.

Since this was the snowiest winter in 40 years, we finally found Kelseya in full bloom~

Here are the two same clumps--I had to use a telephoto for the closeups (Jan wouldn't let me get close)...

Another slightly blurry shot from too far away--but the contrast of rose flowers and orange lichens are truly unique!

A little Lesquerella
I know they're now supposed to by Physaria--but the unilocular ones MUST be slightly phylogenetically distinct! I believe this is P. paysonii.

Androsace montana
Tass Kelso told me they'd be merged a decade or more ago: and in her honor I'm fallowing suit (but Douglas did deserve his own genus don't you think?)

Aquilegia jonesii (on the right--as if I had to say that)
The snowdrift looked so large through telephoto lens leading to the locus classicus of this columbine we had to settle for the fewer number on Mediine Wheel.

Penstemon eriantherus
This happened to be photographed near Wapiti, but I know it grows all around the Bighorns..heck, I'll be adding a few other outliers as well (hence the title)..

Ranunculus eschscholtzii and Frasera speciosa rosette emerging through water.
I'm very pleased with this picture: it amazes me now much the Frasera looks like a Protea! These forms are elemental.

Fritillaria pudica and Claytonia lanceolata
This happens to be by the gate towards Clay Butte on the Beartooth, but there ARE Frit. pudica ont he Bighorns too..

Chaenactis douglasii
We saw this everywhere: this one taken near Wapiti.

Penstemon deustus
A rain the day before washed the dusty Deusty clean.

Packera frewmontii
I won't swear it's this species--but looks like it!

Polemonium pulcherrimum
Closeup of one of the best Jacob's Ladders...

It grew in fantastic drifts along the shoreline of Lake Yellowstone: there must have been thousands every few paces...

Wyethia helianthoides
The queen of its genus: we saw a hillside covered with these but couldn't stop. I need this for my garden.

What is Glenn Guetenberg photographing, prithee?
The President of the local North American Rock Garden Society chapter is an avid and talented photographer. As well as a great gardener! Almost as photogenic as the plants thereabouts!
Erythronium grandiflorum
This was what he was taking a picture of...

And a wonderful ochroleucus form of Erigeron compositus. Or is it E. ochroleucus?

Yellowstone falls
Even more dramatic than any painting or photograph. Always a pleasure to re-visit.

Heuchera cylindrica
If you had a really good telephoto lens, you might have seen this coralbells from the OTHER angle--it's growing on the verge of Yellowstone falls!

Erigeron compositus v. discoideus
And nearby the rayless form of cutleaf daisy...

We saw Viola nuttallii everywhere...

And this Antennaria in the parkinglot of Artist's Overlook. Not sure which one...

Opuntia polyacantha with Absoroka Mountains in background...
I can't begin to express my gratitude to the North American Rock Garden Society for sponsoring these amazing trips: these are just a few glimmerings of six magical days with a wonderful cast of characters and the superb Retreat Center that hosted us in royal style!

Life is sweet!


  1. Amazing location. Loved the Protea lookalike growing in the water.

  2. Besides pasque flower, how many of the above are being maintained in Chicago area gardens? The Lesquerella is probably fairly easy. I have a few Aquilegia jonesii. I actually had one try to flower, but an early stretch in the 90 degrees F range caused the flower to abort. I want to try A. jonesii in the shade of trees where it will get sun before the trees leaf out but midday shade by flowering time. I am hoping a different placement might help with the flowering problem. I grew Chaenactis, but they all died after flowering spectacularly just once. However, I do have one small seedling that I believe is from the Chaenactis growing in my rock garden. Like many rock garden plants, continued propagation will be needed if Chaenactis is to be maintained. What are your thoughts on my beginning question “Oh, Great Rock Gardener?”

  3. It's been a long time since you've chimed in, James! I hoped you might have been able to join us at the AGM in Madison (not TOO far away from you) but I know you have kids and duties: some day we shall meet I know.

    I actually find our native pasqueflower quite hard to grow. I know Kelseya thrives in Britain (in alpine houses) and many of the others (Fritillaria pudica) are available commercially. I daresay a clever gardener could manage most. A. jonesii is by far the hardest, and you're growing it now...and I'm not. So who, prithee, is the great rock gardener? Hope summer is not too hot--we're going through a three day cool stretch I'm loving.


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