Shrubby-Reed Mustard: The Best Little Plant You’ve Never Heard of (13 Feb 2017)

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

Ancient Native Plant Relationships Reviewed

Ephedra, Ephedra viridis Coville
Ephedra
Ephedra viridis Coville
Courtesy USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 6 February 2016). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA., BLM Photographer

Hi I’m T.J. Knudson and I’m Gilbert Young.

Stretching from the snowy peaks of the Wellsville Mountains, south to the sandstone shadows of Beaver Dam Wash, an ancient, native relationship provided unity to the diverse landscape. It is admired in the haunting tune of a wind pipe, it comports like a wool blanket; and its tapestry goes beyond the cliff art at Potash, and preceded John Wesley Powell and Brigham Young.

The Ute, Shoshone, Piute, Goshute, and Navajo cultures each echo today an enduring sustaining relationship bonded to the reliable plant life in a diverse land. this relationship sustained our state’s ancient culture, but little is understood about these gifted craftsmen in utilizing the materials and fibers.

In southeast Utah, the shepherd Navajo nation found a companion in the Prickly-Pear Cactus. Despite his short stature and sharp countenance, this ally was able to provide a fleshy, refreshing fruit. After rolling repeatedly through the direct to lose his spines, and soaking in water; there sparks a reaction of the most spectacular die; which was often orchestrated into many shades of red. Despite his stature on the lonely desert floor, the prickly pear creates a color that epitomizes the Navajo beauty and lives on to future generations.

As our ancient travelers would ascend upward into the hills, they would spend time in the Pinyon/Juniper woodland to collect pine nuts. Natives would also search for three other valuable resources: pine pitch, firewood and shelter materials. Underneath the pines and junipers plentiful sumac, can be found; the sumac branches provide the means to develop a midnight-black die and was also an essential basketry material. The third element needed to create this black color was ocher (okerr), a yellow mineral abundant in Navajo territory. The Pinyon-Juniper woodland met the needs of native people, much like modern superstores. Like these plants working together as a team, we all have an opportunity to join others in creating a unified community.

Prickly Pear Cactus, Opuntia ficus-indica
Prickly Pear Cactus
Opuntia ficus-indica
Courtesy US FWS

Across the canyons, a lone plant is found that nursed and comforted tribes long before the hospitals and prescriptions. Ephedra was a medicinal hero, when sharp cold winds swept the valleys. It could be boiled into a delicious tea that combated the common cold, allowing airways freedom of congestion. Also known as Brigham Tea, Natives shared this knowledge to the early Utah Pioneers in their time of need. The evergreen stems of Ephedra offer healing and a comfort that aided the native people and settlers. We also have the ability to heal our souls by intimately connecting ourselves to nature’s bounteous gifts. We can also provide healing to those who are in need of comfort and guidance.

If the past could speak to us today, it would remind us of connections and relationships that have been forgotten. Our hope today is that you may connect with these ancient relationships for yourselves. For more information, check out the Wild About Utah website.

For Wild About Utah this is T.J. Knutson and Gilbert Young.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy , Photographer
Text:     T.J. Knutson and Gilbert Young.


Additional Reading:

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