Shrubby-Reed Mustard: The Best Little Plant You’ve Never Heard of (Aug 2016)

Shrubby-Reed Mustard Bush, Hesperidanthus suffrutescens
Shrubby-Reed Mustard Bush
Hesperidanthus suffrutescens
Courtesy & Copyright Matt Lewis

Shrubby-Reed Mustard Blossoms, Hesperidanthus suffrutescens Shrubby-Reed Mustard Blossoms
Hesperidanthus suffrutescens
Courtesy & Copyright Matt Lewis

Shrubby-Reed Mustard Blossoms Closeup, Hesperidanthus suffrutescens Shrubby-Reed Mustard Blossoms
Hesperidanthus suffrutescens
Courtesy & Copyright Matt Lewis

Tucked into isolated pockets of the Uintah Basin’s arid wildlands is the best little plant you’ve never heard of. Known to exist only in Duchesne and Uintah Counties, Shrubby-reed Mustard seems to occupy only the semi-barren “islands” of white shale in areas of the Green River Formation’s Evacuation Creek region. The endangered plant features thick, almost succulent, blue-green leaves and small yellow flowers.

“The habitat of Shrubby-reed Mustard is visually striking,” says USU alum Matt Lewis, a botanist with the Bureau of Land Management in Vernal, Utah. “It grows in very shallow, fine-textured soils and shale fragments that form narrow bands in the desert shrub community.”

Among the first plants to flower in spring, the perennial herb is visited by large number of insects, including many native bee species that forage for pollen. Scientists believe these bees may be critical in the plant’s reproduction and survival.

Lewis says the plant, also known as Toad-Flax Cress and Uintah Basin Waxfruit, offers an understated beauty to the stark landscape. With a shrub-like form and multiple stems, Shrubby-reed Mustard grows to about 20 centimeters in height. Its leaves, which feel almost like leather, change to a bright purple in the fall.

The plant is also enticingly fragrant, Lewis says. “Its scent reminds me of roses mixed with apples and pears.”

Despite its fragile status, Shrubby-reed Mustard is a long-lived plant. USU ecologist Geno Schupp says some individual plants may be one hundred years old.

The elusive species has outlived scientists’ attempts to classify it and has undergone several taxonomic changes. It currently boasts the scientific name Hesperidanthus suffrutescens, placing it solidly in the mustard family.

Lewis knows of no history of Shrubby-reed Mustard as a culinary or medicinal herb, though documented reports of such uses for mustard plants date back to ancient times. The plant appears to provide welcome forage for some four-legged creatures, he says, as he recently witnessed plants that had been grazed completely and ripped from the ground.

“Whether that was due to livestock or native ungulates, I’m not sure.”

Credits:
Images: Courtesy & Copyright Matt Lewis
Text:     Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Utah State University College of Natural Resources
Credits:
Matt Lewis, botanist, Bureau of Land Management, Vernal, Utah.
Eugene “Geno” Schupp, professor, USU Department of Wildland Resources.

Additional Reading:

http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/factsheets/ShrubbyReed-mustardFactSheet.pdf

http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/plants/shrubbyreedmustard/5YearReview2010.pdf

Sacred Mountains

White Pine Lake hike., Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart
White Pine Lake hike., Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart

Devil's Staircase, Tony Grove, Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart Devil’s Staircase, Tony Grove, Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart

False Hellebore/Corn lily (Veratrum californicum), Tony Grove, Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart False Hellebore/Corn lily (Veratrum californicum), Tony Grove, Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart

White Pine Lake and Mount Magog, Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart White Pine Lake and Mount Magog, Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart

Police Car Moth on Rob Garrett's thumb, White Pine Lake hike. Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart Police Car Moth on Rob Garrett’s thumb, White Pine Lake hike.
Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart

Elephanthead Lousewort (Pedicularis groenlandica), White Pine Lake hike. Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart Elephanthead Lousewort (Pedicularis groenlandica), White Pine Lake hike.
Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart

White Pine Lake and Mount Magog, Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart White Pine Lake and Mount Magog, Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart

Rob & Jack & big tree, Limber Pine hike Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart Rob & Jack & big tree, Limber Pine hike
Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart

Beaver Dam at USU Forestry Camp (LCFS hike) Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart Beaver Dam at USU Forestry Camp (LCFS hike)
Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart

Jack in 560 year old Limber Pine tree 7/27/16 Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart Jack in 560 year old Limber Pine tree 7/27/16
Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart

I just completed teaching a 5 day Utah Master Naturalist course through USU extension on Utah mountains. The course allowed me to revisit the immense influence these lofty lumps in the earth’s crust have had on my life, and the life of so many others.

It was mountains that drew me here from the flatlands of Michigan. They have become my main source of spiritual renewal, of aesthetic pleasure and recreation. I run, ski, and hike their trails, explore their hidden canyons and forests, revel in the rich tapestry of wildlife and wildflowers that adorns their slopes, and at present, need I say, seek relief from summer’s heat.

Having served 11 seasons as a seasonal Wilderness ranger for the USFS, I was able to explore much of the backcountry in the Bear River and Wellsville mountains of N. Utah. Beyond these, I’ve been atop Kings peak, the Lasals, Abajos, Cedar and Pine Valley Mountains, the Raft Rivers, and many of our high plateaus. But this is small potatoes considering Wikipedia lists 65 others yet to be explored in our state.

Mountains are what we are. Without them, Brigham Young and the Saints would have continued their exodus on to other parts of the west for the rich resources they bless us with.
Mountains = water. This liquid gift provides over 80% of Utah’s water as they do for most other western states. In the early years, they offered timber and rock for structures, including temples, tabernacles, and other historic buildings. Cool breezes followed canyons down to give relief from intense summer heat, and grew forage for cattle and sheep. The Oquirrh mountains on the west edge of Salt Lake valley are host to one of the world’s richest mines yielding approximately 25 percent of the country’s copper, 12 tons of gold, and 120 tons of silver each year.

Going beyond Utah and the west, it is water from mountain glaciers that support over 2 billion people in India, China and several middle east/Eurasian countries. With rapidly receding glaciers from a warming planet, this has become a grave concern.
On a lessor note, I recently accompanied a group of college students on a YNP pica inventory to follow their population trends as they are being impacted by a changing climate.
I’ll conclude with an 1877 quote from early American naturalist John Muir upon first entering the Salt Lake valley.

“The mountains rise grandly round about this curious city, the Zion of the new Saints, so grandly that the city itself is hardly visible. The Wasatch range, snow-laden and adorned with glacier-sculpted peaks, stretches continuously along the eastern horizon, forming the boundary of the Great Salt Lake basin; while across the valley of the Jordan southwestward from here, you behold the Oquirrh Range, about as snowy and lofty as the Wasatch.

The glacial developments of these superb ranges are sharply sculpted peaks and crests, with ample wombs between them where the ancient snows of the glacial period where collected and transformed into ice, and ranks of profound shadowy canyons, while moraines commensurate with the lofty fountains extend into the valleys, forming far the grandest series of glacial monuments I have yet seen this side of the Sierra.”

This is Jack Greene reading and writing for Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy and Copyright Hilary Shughart
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Additional Reading:

Wasatch Mountains, History to Go, Utah.gov, http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/the_land/wasatchmountains.html

Geology of Utah, History to Go, Utah.gov, http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/the_land/geologyofutah.html

Logan Ranger District, USDA Forest Service, http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/uwcnf/recarea/?recid=8985

Bird Banding in Red Butte Canyon

Volunteers and members of the Şekercioğlu lab who run the bird banding station in Red Butte Canyon. From left to right: Kyle Mika, Jennifer Bridgeman, Kylynn Clare, Anna Vickrey, JJ Horns, Ahmed Bwika, and Patricia Gao.
Volunteers and members of the Şekercioğlu lab who run the bird banding station in Red Butte Canyon. From left to right:
Kyle Mika, Jennifer Bridgeman, Kylynn Clare, Anna Vickrey, JJ Horns, Ahmed Bwika, and Patricia Gao.
Courtesy & Copyright Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

[Sound of walking on gravel]

J.J. Horns – Our lab name is the Biodiversity and Conservation Ecology lab and our work focuses on how human land use affects different types of wildlife.

J.J. – I’m J.J. Horns.
Patricia Gao – I’m Patricia.
Ahmed Bwika – I’m Ahmed.
Anna Vickrey – I’m Anna Vickrey.
Kyle Mika – I’m Kyle Mika.
Jennifer Bridgeman – I’m Jennifer Bridgeman.
Kylynn Clare – I’m Kylynn Clare.

J.J. Horns, a graduate student in the University of Utah Biodiversity and Conservation Ecology lab, observes a yellow warbler (Setophaga petechia) that was recently measured and banded.
J.J. Horns, a graduate student in the University of Utah Biodiversity and Conservation Ecology lab, observes a yellow warbler (Setophaga petechia) that was recently measured and banded.
Courtesy & Copyright Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

J.J. – Here in Red Butte Canyon we monitor migratory songbirds as they move through and try and get a picture of one, what is the bird community like in Utah. That’s why Red Butte Canyon is such a nice place to work because it’s a protected canyon so it gives an idea of what the natural state of birds along the Wasatch should be like. And we monitor their populations, look for any population level changes, and we look for changes in their migration, in the health of the birds, and try and understand how human effects like land development and climate change are affecting these bird communities.

Metal leg bands with unique numbers are attached to each bird, like this spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus), allowing individuals to be identified in the future if they are recaptured.
Metal leg bands with unique numbers are attached to each bird, like this spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus), allowing individuals to be identified in the future if they are recaptured.
Courtesy & Copyright Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

Ok, so we’re ready to go around and check our nets.

Anna – The mist net is this really superfine, hard to see material with shelves in it. So when the bird flies into the net it kind of falls into one of these net shelves and that material is so fine, especially if you put it in front of a tree, that the birds don’t see it and so they’ll just fly right into it, fall in, and we come around frequently enough that they’re not in there for a long time.

J.J. – So this is a bird called a spotted towhee and based on how brown that head is

Blowing the feathers away from the body allows researchers to examine a bird's fat levels and overall health. An inspection of this spotted towhee also reveals a brood patch, indicating it is incubating eggs.
Blowing the feathers away from the body allows researchers to examine a bird’s fat levels and overall health. An inspection of this spotted towhee also reveals a brood patch, indicating it is incubating eggs.
Courtesy & Copyright Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

Anna – And the eye color, right?

J.J. – and the eye color, we can tell that it’s a little baby, just born this year. Towhee squawking in the background. When the bird lands in the net like this they get all tangled up, they get the net around their wings and around their legs, and so what we do is we carefully take it off of any part of their body where it’s tangled up and then we put them in these little bird bags. And the bird bags are just little cloth sacks that keep the bird warm and because they’re kind of dark the bird stays really calm.

Blowing feathers away from the head reveals the skull beneath, enabling the bird's age to be determined. The pattern of skull ossification on this black-headed grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) indicates it is an adult.
Blowing feathers away from the head reveals the skull beneath, enabling the bird’s age to be determined. The pattern of skull ossification on this black-headed grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) indicates it is an adult.
Courtesy & Copyright Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

Jennifer – It’s a baby yellow warbler!

Kylynn – Spotted towhee.

J.J. – Black-headed grosbeak.

Mourning dove.

Kyle – Song sparrow.

J.J. – So this is a yellow warbler. So as part of the banding we take the age and the sex and then a bunch of morphological measurements. We can tell this one’s a male by those brown streaks on the breast and we can also tell it is an older bird. It’s been around for at least one year because of that nice yellow edging on those tiny feathers there.

[Sound of JJ blowing the bird’s feathers away from its body.]

A mourning dove is examined closely by a scientist at the Red Butte Canyon bird banding station. Courtesy & Copyright Jessie Bunkley, Photographer
A mourning dove is examined closely by a scientist at the Red Butte Canyon bird banding station.
Courtesy & Copyright Jessie Bunkley, Photographer

Let’s say a CP of one. A CP is a cloacal protrusion, it’s what males get when they’re breeding. Sound of blowing. No brood patch. Brood patches are where birds will loose feathers on their stomachs so they can incubate eggs. Sound of blowing. No fat. Birds deposit fat in a really predictable way. They have a little cavity where their collar bone is. Sound of blowing. No body molts. Not growing any feathers on his body. Wing is sixty-two and his weight is 8.4.

If anyone is interested in helping out bird conservation just in their day to day life, if you have cats either keep them inside or buy them a cat bib or a couple of bell collars. That’s probably the number one thing you can do to help bird conservation.

Everyone – For Wild About Utah this is the Şekercioğlu lab in Red Butte Canyon!

Pioneer Day Edible Native Plants 2016

Mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata subsp. Vaseyana) in flower - Photo Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Leila Shultz
Mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata subsp. Vaseyana) in flower – Photo Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Leila Shultz
 
 
 
 
With Pioneer Days looming, let’s explore a bit of our local heritage.

Following several days of cold and snowy weather in early May, my friend and USU graduate student Ian Keller and I approached the Mormon Handcart outpost near Evanston Wyoming on Deseret Land & Livestock Company land. We braved the elements to deliver a seminar to 8 missionary couples on Mormon pioneer use of wild plants as they struggled toward the Promised Land of Salt Lake Valley.

Ian’s graduate work encompasses this topic. Some of what follows is from his good work combined with others later mentioned. And we must not overlook the origins of this knowledge which came from the native peoples, acquired through thousands of years of trial and error.

(I must add that following our seminar we feasted on a variety of sumptuous foods the missionaries had prepared from pioneer recipes!)

I’ll begin with a remarkable plant big sage brush or Artemisia tridentate, which was their constant companion for much of the journey.

Medicinal uses included treatment for headache, diarrhea, sore throat, vomiting and even bullet wounds. Tea made from leaves was used for hair tonic and a poultice for bee stings.

“Brighan Young advised gathering and drying it for winter medicinal purposes. From a pioneer journal- “We washed our hair in sage tea, sage tea is good to cure night sweats”. And from Phil Robinson, 1883- “Someday perhaps a fortune will be made of it, but at present its chief value seems to be as a moral discipline to the settler and as cover for the sage hen.”

Dandelions, Photo Copyright 2002 Roger Banner, Intermountain Herbarium, USU
Dandelions
Copyright © 2002 Roger Banner, Intermountain Herbarium, USU
 
 
 
 
Another plant that rarely gets its due, the common dandelion.
For Dandelion Salad- “Gather the tender young plants of the dandelion. Wash and cut up into a salad. Serve with dressing oil, or just with salt and pepper.”— Ilene Kingsbury.

And from Larry A. Sagers, USU Extension Horticulture Specialist in the Thanksgiving Point Office-
Thistles that we now curse were once highly prized by the pioneers. One early pioneer wrote, “I used to eat thistle stalks until my stomach would be as full as a cow’s.”
The young leaves of stinging nettles were also used as greens. The cooking destroyed the irritating parts that affect the skin.
Camas bulbs for which Kamas, Utah, was named, were also used for food. The bulbs were eaten or a crude molasses was made from boiling the bulbs. Unfortunately, if too many of the bulbs were consumed they could cause severe illness. The bulbs also grow in proximity with death camas, so this particular plant involves certain risks to the user.

Tall Thistle (Cirsium altissimum), Photo Courtesy NPS, Kelly Manktelow, Photographer
Tall Thistle
(Cirsium altissimum)
Aster family (Asteraceae) in flower
Photo Courtesy NPS,
Kelly Manktelow, Photographer
The pioneers also used grease wood sprouts and other plants to supplement their meager diet.
Gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries and currants grew in the mountains and were highly prized. Chokecherries were a favorite for preserves and jellies.
A recent book by Brock Cheney “Plain but Wholesome: Foodways of the Mormon Pioneers.” is a delightful book with many pioneer plant stories and recipes, as is Dr. Wesley P. Larsen’s “Field Folio of Indian and Pioneer Medicinal Plants”.

Perhaps your Pioneer Day’s activities will include preparing a recipe from one of these sources to garnish your picnic! And let us include the plants which garnished our pioneers with flavor if not survival during their epic trek!

Jack Greene, Smithfield Utah

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Leila Shultz
Copyright © 2002 Roger Banner, Intermountain Herbarium, USU
Courtesy NPS,
Kelly Manktelow, Photographer
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Brock Cheney, Plain but Wholesome: Foodways of the Mormon Pioneers, http://www.amazon.com/Plain-but-Wholesome-Foodways-Pioneers/dp/1607812088

Wesley P. Larsen, Field Folio of Indian and Pioneer Medicinal Plants,
http://www.amazon.com/Field-Indian-Pioneer-Medicinal-Plants/dp/B007HFR7A2