Ponderosa Pine

Ponderosa Pine Courtesy USDA Forest Service

Ponderosa Pine
Western Yellow Pine
Pinus ponderosa
Courtesy USDA Forest Service

Ponderosa Pine Needles Courtesy US NPS from a US BLM Photo
Ponderosa Pine Needles
Courtesy US NPS from a US BLM Photo

Ponderosa Pine Bark Courtesy USDA Forest Service
Ponderosa Pine Bark
Courtesy USDA Forest Service

Ponderosa Pine Distribution Courtesy US National Parks Service, Bryce Canyon National Park,
Ponderosa Pine Distribution
Courtesy US National Parks Service, Bryce Canyon National Park

I’ve been accused of being a tree hugger over the years, a title I welcome! I’ve hugged many trees, as I’ve hugged many people, especially on Valentine’s Day! One tree that I’m particularly fond of hugging is the ponderosa pine- with its sweet butterscotch aroma meeting my nostrils!

A few weeks ago, I was skiing with friends through a lovely ponderosa forest in Bryce Canyon National Park. The trees had a special beauty with their fresh cover of snow and frost crystal. As my skis and I worked our way through the forest, many questions regarding these magnificent trees arose- how were they being managed by the park, other than controlled burns? It appeared to be a well-structured forest, a multi-aged stand from seedlings to much older members of “yellow bellies”, a name given to mature, older pines whose bark wore a yellowish-gold cast. When was the last fire where I skied?

This dry-land forest loves a good, cleansing burn every so often to keep it healthy and fecund, reducing the fuel load to prevent catastrophic fires that may kill the trees. Often occurring at higher elevation and towering over their lesser neighbors of limber pine, Douglas fir, subalpine fir, and juniper, they serve as highly effective lightning rods. More than 100 feet heights are common for these monarchs. Under ideal growth conditions, they may pierce the sky at 200 feet and over five feet in diameter! The oldest recorded ponderosa is 933 years although they average 300-400 years.

Ponderosa’s are among the highest valued lumber trees in the west. Most of the old growth ponderosas have been cut unless they’ve had special protection in parks and preserves. I’ve found small patches of trees well over 200 years in age, living long before the axes and saws appeared in the western US.

Native Americans ate the seeds either raw or made into a bread and the sweet, edible phloem in the inner bark. They used the pitch as adhesive and waterproofing agent for canoes, baskets and tents. Blue dye was produced from a root extract. The long needles were woven into baskets.

Many species of wildlife are found in these marvelous forests, some completely dependent on them, like the Abert’s squirrel. This squirrel species truffle feeding behavior has a symbiotic relationship with the ponderosa by spreading truffle spores through defecating and burying them, which form mycorrhiza with ponderosa tree roots allowing them to thrive.

There is less canopy cover in a ponderosa pine community compared to lodgepole pine and spruce/fir communities, resulting in more grasses, forbs, and shrubs. The high species richness of the understory makes it preferred by grazing animals such as elk, deer, and moose. A ponderosa forest bird I’m particularly fond of is the communal pigmy nuthatch. Their busy, constant chatter always brightens my day-including winter days in Bryce.

I recently read a delightful book on the ponderosa “Graced by Pines” by Alexandra Murphy, a wonderful read to pass these long winter nights.

Jack Green for Bridgerland Audubon Society and I’m Wild About Utah!

Ponderosa Pine Pictures: Courtesy US NPS,
Bark Picture Courtesy US NPS, Rocky Mountain National Park, https://www.nps.gov/romo/ponderosa_pine_bark.htm
Audio: Courtesy & © Friend Weller, https://npr.org/
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Ponderosa Pine, Bryce Canyon National Park-Utah, US National Park Service, Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/brca/learn/nature/ponderosapine.htm

“The Cheyenne Indians of Montana applied ponderosa pine pitch inside whistles and flutes to improve the instruments’ tone. The Nez Pierce used the pitch as a torch fuel; the Nez Pierce and Crow also used pitch as glue.”
Ponderosa Pine, Range Plants of Utah, USU Cooperative Extension, Utah State University, 2017, https://extension.usu.edu/rangeplants/shrubs-and-trees/PonderosaPine

“Ponderosa pine is unpalatable to domestic livestock but it may browse enough to slow or stop seedling recruitment. Pregnant cows that consume large amounts of ponderosa pine needles show an increased incidence of abortion and other reproductive anomalies.”
Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa), Poisonous Plant Research: Logan, UT, Agricultural Research Service(ARS), US Department of Agriculture, https://www.ars.usda.gov/pacific-west-area/logan-ut/poisonous-plant-research/docs/ponderosa-pine-pinus-ponderosa/

World’s Oldest Ponderosa Pine Found in Utah Fire Study, Utah Forest Landowner Education Newsletter, USU Extension, Utah State University, Volume 12, No 1, Winter 2008, https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsbdev7_016042.pdf

Journey of the Potato

Journey of the Potato: Potato Harvest Courtesy & Copyright Eli Lucero, Photo Editor The Herald Journal, Logan Utah
Potato Harvest
Courtesy & Copyright Eli Lucero, Photo Editor
The Herald Journal, Logan Utah

Potato Museum: Potatoes Courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Potatoes
Courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

When I walked into the Potato Museum in Blackfoot, Idaho, the first thing that caught my eye was a drawing of a farmer in the High Andes of Peru working the ground with a foot harrow. This is exactly what the Spanish Conquistadors saw when they marched into the area in the 1500’s looking for gold.
What they found instead was the potato. The Spaniards took the potato back to Europe, from where it eventually made its way to North America in the 1600’s. As for Utah, Brigham Young bought the potato here. Richard Jensen, writing for Utah’s LDS historical Society, tells us: “About noon, on July 24, the five acre potato patch was plowed when the brethren commenced planting their seed potatoes. The first irrigation in Salt Lake Valley was for the benefit of the newly planted potatoes.”

What Brigham Young didn’t know was that a small wild cousin of the domesticated potato was already here. In 2017 an anthropologist, Lizbeth Lauderback, was able to dig out the tiny bits of organic matter wedged into the stone grinding tools used by the Native Americans near Escalante. The organic bits proved to be potato starches. The stone tools were 10,000 years old.

But now the domesticated potato took over the field. The hefty Idaho Russet caught the eye of the McDonald food chain. They produced a fascinating video for the museum from inside their factory where the peeled potatoes were dropped in a fast moving water slide, accelerating to 50, 60 miles per hour. And BAM, they hit the slicer and came out the other side as slender, shapely strips now well on their way to becoming fries.

Back in Cache Valley, I was lucky enough to get invited to the Beutler Farm in Dayton to watch the potato harvest. Out in the field a giant harvester was forging ahead, scooping potatoes off the ground, bouncing them onto conveyor belts, and then sending them tumbling out a side chute into the bed of a potato truck keeping step alongside. Just as the truck filled to capacity, another truck sidled up behind and matched its pace with the giant machine.

The whole scene reminded me of the more formal dances in my high school, where couples would glide around the dance floor until another boy would sidle up behind the dancing boy, tap him on the shoulder, and take his place.

Keeping the rhythm of the dance of the potato trucks was the somewhat urgent beat of a ticking clock–potatoes still in the fields after a freeze would be ruined.

Falling in behind a departing truck, I was led to the above ground storage cellar where the potatoes were being piled into a massive wall that towered over my head. The wall was 22 foot high., and the potatoes kept coming. When the cellar was finally full, the doors were closed, the temperature and humidity controls set, and 8 million pounds of seed potatoes were left to wait out the winter at a cool 38 degrees.

The trucks moved on to filling the next cellar.

I was left standing there, marveling at just how many potatoes there were, wanting to sing the praises of all growing things, especially this farm’s successful mix of seed and sweat, of soil, of sun, of rain.

This is Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah.

Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

Idaho Potato Museum, https://idahopotatomuseum.com/

First use of wild potato in N. America Four Corners potato previously unknown part of ancient human diet, University of Utah, July 3, 2017, https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/274/Bamberg%20Press/Four_Corners.pdf and Morning Ag Clips, https://www.morningagclips.com/first-use-of-a-wild-potato-in-n-america/

Eating a potato with 11,000 years of cultural history, Includes photos by BJ Nicholls, Imagine, The University of Utah, Spring 2021, https://magazine.utah.edu/issues/spring-2020/ancient-spuds/

Davis, James W. and Stillwell, Nikki Batch, Aristocrat in Burlap, A History of the Potato in Idaho, Idaho Potato Commission, December 1992, https://idahopotato.com/aristocrat-in-burlap/online/8

Harwell, William S. and Collier, Fred C., Manuscript History of Brigham Young 1847–1850, Collier’s Publishing Co., Jan 1, 1997https://books.google.com/books?id=u33Szoj3pFQC&pg=PA61&lpg=PA61#v=onepage&q&f=false
and https://www.amazon.com/Manuscript-History-Brigham-Young-1847-1850/dp/0934964041/

O’Connell, John, Idaho potato industry sees good signs for profitable fall crop, Intermountain Farm & Ranch, Post Register (Idaho Falls, ID), Jul 29, 2019, https://www.postregister.com/farmandranch/crops/potatoes/idaho-potato-industry-sees-good-signs-for-profitable-fall-crop/article_e9d4a968-96df-5bf5-9e53-ba6df41c5947.html

Flandro, Carly, From the classroom to the spud cellar: harvest break teaches life lessons, EastIdahoNews.com, September 22, 2022, https://www.eastidahonews.com/2022/09/from-the-classroom-to-the-spud-cellar-harvest-break-teaches-life-lessons/


Berries: Oregon Grape  <i>Mahonia repens</i> Producing Blue Berries in the Grand Tetons Park Courtesy Pixabay, Mike Goad, Photographer
Oregon Grape
Mahonia repens
Producing Blue Berries in the Grand Tetons
Courtesy Pixabay, Mike Goad, Photographer,

Red Raspberry Rubus idaeus var. strigosus Courtesy NPS, Yellowstone's Photo Collection, JW Stockert Photographer, 1972 Red Raspberry
Rubus idaeus var. strigosus
Courtesy NPS, Yellowstone’s Photo Collection, JW Stockert Photographer, 1972

Thimbleberry Rubus parviflorus Courtesy NPS, Yellowstone's Photo Collection, JW Stockert, Photographer Thimbleberry
Rubus parviflorus
Courtesy NPS, Yellowstone’s Photo Collection, JW Stockert, Photographer

Utah-Serviceberry Rosaceae Amelanchier utahensis Courtesy National Park Service, Lee Ferguson, Photographer Utah-Serviceberry
Rosaceae Amelanchier utahensis
Courtesy National Park Service, Lee Ferguson, Photographer

Rose Hips Wood's rose Rosa woodsii Courtesy NPS, Yellowstone's Photo Collection, J Schmidt, Photographer, 1977 Rose Hips
Wood’s rose Rosa woodsii
Courtesy NPS, Yellowstone’s Photo Collection, J Schmidt, Photographer, 1977

The berry season is upon us- huckleberries, raspberries, gooseberries, chokecherries (not a berry but close enough), elderberries, bearberries, while early berries have faded- golden current, serviceberries, thimble berries are now fruit leather.

Berry picking during my youth in the North woods of Wisconsin was a wonderful tradition that I, and our black bear neighbors, looked forward to with great anticipation. We often shared the same patch evident by fresh bear scat and tracks. Those rare occasions where brother and sister bear were with us are frozen in time. “Just keep picking and talking- they won’t bother us.” My grandmother’s refrain. I was enthralled, watching every move and sound they made, with an occasional “woof” from mother bear alerting the youngsters.

Now, so many years later, I take my students to the Tetons hoping for a glimpse of bruins harvesting berries, rose hips, and thorn apples along streams and roadsides. Black bears are efficient berry-eaters, consuming up to 30,000 berries a day in a good year. They gather berries quickly, using their sensitive, mobile lips swallowing them whole. The berries enter a two-part stomach, which grinds the pulp off the seeds which pass through unbroken and are able to germinate, making black bears important seed dispersers.

Our Bear River Range here in Northern Utah was once a stronghold for the bruin. Overharvesting by hunters and the government has left it wanting, but the berries remain. One berry favored by bears is the white snowberry. Don’t copy the bears on this one as it’s toxic, but a great medicinal. Another that I avoid is the buffalo berry, called soapberry in the northwest. It contains saponin, the active ingredient in most soaps. It’s much like biting into a bar of soap, applied in my younger years for mouth cleansing. And please avoid the voluptuous red and white fruit of the bane berry, and cute little mini tomatoes of deadly night shade. You will be all the better for it.

“Harvesting berries can be a powerful meditation, centering us in the power of “now,” and is one of the oldest human experiences. This simple action can be an opportunity to revel in the abundance of nature. Tangibly interacting with food that is so wired into its life source is otherworldly, and it reminds us of a time when humans were more directly connected to the origins of our food. It is a grounding experience that demands every cell in your body resonate with the source of our food, catalyzing our connections to the universe.” Valerie Segrest quote

I strongly recommend “Blueberries for Sal” for younger generations. A delightful 1948 children’s book by renowned author Robert McCloskey. I recently visited the Blueberry Hill in Main’s Acadian N.P., the location for this story, and picked a few myself. Unfortunately, the bears had been replaced swarms of tourists!

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, and yes, I’m wild about Utah’s bears and wild berries!


Oregon Grape Producing Blue Berries in the Grand Tetons, Courtesy Pixabay, Mike Goad, Photographer, https://pixabay.com/photos/blue-wild-berries-in-the-tetons-blue-3842367/
Red raspberry (Rubus idaeus var. strigosus); JW Stockert; 1972, Courtesy NPS, Yellowstone’s Photo Collection, https://www.nps.gov/features/yell/slidefile/plants/rosefamily/Images/08720.jpg
Wood’s rose (Rosa woodsii) hips; J Schmidt; 1977, Courtesy NPS, Yellowstone’s Photo Collection, https://www.nps.gov/features/yell/slidefile/plants/rosefamily/Images/06964.jpg
Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus); JW Stockert; 1973, Courtesy NPS, Yellowstone’s Photo Collection, https://www.nps.gov/features/yell/slidefile/plants/rosefamily/Images/08718.jpg
Utah Serviceberry, Rosaceae_Amelanchier_utahensis, Courtesy US NPS, Lee Ferguson, Photographer, https://www.nps.gov/arch/learn/nature/images/Rosaceae_Amelanchier_utahensis.jpg
Audio: Courtesy & © Friend Weller, https://upr.org
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Valerie Segrest, Foods Still Matter: The Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project, National Museum of the American Indian, The Smithsonian Institution, 2018, https://americanindian.si.edu/nk360/pnw-history-culture/muckleshoot

Valerie Segrest, Food sovereignty, TEDxRainier, TEDxSeattle, https://tedxseattle.com/talks/food-sovereignty/

McCloskey, Robert(Author), Blueberries for Sal, Puffin Books, September 30, 1976 https://www.amazon.com/Blueberries-Sal-Robert-McCloskey/dp/014050169X

A Bear’s Menu, Student Activities, Educator Resources, Yellowstone National Park, https://www.nps.gov/teachers/classrooms/a-bears-menu.htm

Purple Wildflower Poetry

Purple Wildflower Poetry: Manti LaSal Majesty Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Manti LaSal Majesty
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Shooting Star Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Shooting Star
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Larkspur Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Scorpionweed Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

There are two lines in the patriotic hymn “America the Beautiful” that really sing to me. One is “Who more than self their country loved,” honoring history’s heroes, and the other I exclaim each time I stumble upon an alpine meadow in bloom. Decades ago my friend Amberly and I borrowed the phrase “purple mountain majesties” as we gazed at the larkspur dotting our way to Emerald Lake, and it has been a common exclamation for me ever since. The purple aster, bluebell, clover, monkshood, penstemon, and silvery lupine also complement the evergreens and azure skies in a way that takes my breath away, begging to be captured by camera, paint, and pen.

This fourth of July I compose this piece sitting not too far away from the Colorado mountain peak where Katharine Lee Bates sat in 1893 as she penned the first draft of her poetic “Oh beautiful for spacious skies” stanzas. She had traveled from her post teaching English at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, visiting Niagara Falls, Chicago’s Columbian Exposition, and Kansas grainfields on her first trip west to Colorado Springs, where she would be teaching a summer school session.

She and her fellow instructors took a “merry expedition” to an overlook on Pikes Peak and were immediately struck by the beauty. “It was then and there,” she wrote, “as I was looking out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, that the opening lines of the hymn floated into my mind.”

Two years after setting the manuscript aside as busy writers often do, she revisited her notebook scribblings and published what she described as “a more literary and ornate” version than we now know it for that fourth of July. In a letter dated October 8, 1919, acquaintance Robert Frost wrote to Miss Bates his sentiment that “free rhythms are as disorderly as nature.” I will admit that most of my poems, Mr. Frost, do not follow strict rules of rhyme and meter like yours and Katharine’s do, but just the same I admire the higgledy-piggledy scorpionweed’s violet bottlebrush clusters and haphazardness of the larkspur petals standing before me.

Frost’s third poetry collection titled “Mountain Interval” inspires me to record the explosive colors of the wildflowers I see as I watch fireworks spatter and scatter against the silhouette of the Rockies, mimicking the shootingstar flowers with their purple petals swept backwards that punctuate the path. Bates wasn’t writing about wildflowers as much as she was the geologic wonders and expansive views from 14,000 feet, but I can feel poems emerging from both.

In Nancy Churnin’s picture book biography “For Spacious Skies,” Katharine Lee Bates says, “Most glorious scenery I ever beheld,” and each wildflower cascading lavender from its sparkler-wand stem molds the makings of other poems celebrating the majestic allure of this land.

I’m Shannon Rhodes, and I’m wild about Utah.

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Additional Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections as well as J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin https://upr.org.
Text: Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Bates, Katharine Lee. ca. 1925. Falmouth Historical Society’s Museums on the Green. Massachusetts. https://museumsonthegreen.org/wp-content/uploads/Katharine-Lee-Bates-describes-how-she-wrote-America-The-Beautiful-after-1922-signed.pdf

Churnin, Nancy. 2020. For Spacious Skies: Katharine Lee Bates and the Inspiration for “America the Beautiful.” Park Ridge, Illinois: Albert Whitman and Company. https://www.nancychurnin.com/forspaciousskies, https://www.nancychurnin.com/thekidsareallwrite/2019/8/3/happy-birthday-wishes-for-katharine-lee-bates-poet-of-america-the-beautiful

Author, Nancy Churnin, reads her new book For Spacious Skies! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXyANvok7sE

Frost, Robert. 1919. Letter from Robert Frost, Amhurst, Massachusetts, to Katharine Lee Bates: autograph manuscript signed 1919, October 8. Wellesley College Digital Repository Special Collections. https://repository.wellesley.edu/object/wellesley31310

Frost, Robert. 1916. Mountain Interval. New York: Henry Holt and Company. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/29345/29345-h/29345-h.htm

Kratz, Andrew. Nuttall’s Larkspur. U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/delphinium_nuttallianum.shtml

Flowers in the Aspen Groves, Rocky Mountains, Utah, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. ​​https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/beauty/aspen/flowers/utah.shtml

Ponder, Melinda M. 2017. Katharine Lee Bates: From Sea to Shining Sea. Chicago: Windy City Publishers. http://www.melindaponder.com/the-book.html

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. America the Beautiful: 1893: A Spotlight on a Primary Source by Katharine Lee Bates. https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-resources/spotlight-primary-source/america-beautiful-1893

Westervelt, Eric. 2019. Greatness Is Not a Given: America the Beautiful Asks How We Can Do Better. NPR’s American Anthem. https://www.npr.org/2019/04/04/709531017/america-the-beautiful-american-anthem