Wind and Sagebrush

Wind and Sagebrush

Wind and Sagebrush: 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

Wind and Sagebrush:Three-tip sage (Artemisia tripartite) with visible yellow flowers. - Photo Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Leila ShultzThree-tip sage (Artemisia tripartite) with visible yellow flowers. – Photo Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Leila Shultz

Hi, I’m Holly Strand of the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University.

By late summer, most of Utah’s flowering plants have fizzled out for the year—those that remain are looking pretty spent. But not true for the sagebrush. It’s show time for over 20 types of sagebrush of the Intermountain West.

Like grasses and conifers, sagebrush plants are pollinated by the wind. They have no need for the specialized traits designed to attract live pollinators. Instead, they have evolved other strategies to survive and multiply.

For instance, wind-pollinated plants don’t need showy, colorful petals to attract insects or birds. The wind is going to do its job anyway regardless of visual cues. Thus sagebrush flowers are very small and nondescript. In fact, when passing by flowering sagebrush you might not even notice that it’s in bloom. Look for long spikes with clusters of tiny flower heads. The pale yellow flowers are concealed by petal-like bracts, which are the very same color as the rest of the plant.

While the flowers of sagebrush lack in beauty, they make up in quantity. A single flowering stem of the most common sagebrush—known simply as big sagebrush–can hold hundreds of flower heads that produce a massive amount of pollen. Most wind-blown pollen grains won’t end up anywhere near the female part of another plant. So to make up for this risky method of fertilization, individual plants must produce greater volumes of pollen. In contrast, plants with live pollinators get door to door service during fertilization. Far less pollen is needed to get the same job done.

Scent is another way for plants to attract live pollinators. Species pollinated by bees and flies have sweet scents, whereas those pollinated by beetles have strong musty, spicy, or fruity odors. However, the iconic western scent of the sagebrush has absolutely nothing to do with pollination. Instead, the pungent aroma of the sagebrush is a by-product of certain chemicals produced in the leaves. These chemicals evolved to repel animals and to reduce the odds of being eaten or grazed.

The chemicals—bitter terpenes, camphors and other secondary compounds–—peak in early spring. But as the late-summer flowering period approaches, the chemicals start to break down. By winter, browsers like deer and elk can nibble on the protein-rich seed heads without getting a nasty aftertaste.

Thanks to botanist Leila Shultz for sharing her knowledge of sagebrush. For a link to the online version of Leila’s book Pocket Guide to Sagebrush, go to www.wildaboututah.org
If you’d like a hard copy of this Pocket Guide, send an email to wildaboututah@gmail.com We have 5 copies to give away to listeners from across the state.

For Wild About Utah and the Quinney College of Natural Resources, I’m Holly Strand.

NOTE: The copies are gone. You can view the book as a .pdf here or check here for the next printing from http://www.sagestep.org/pubs/brushguide.html.

Credits:

Photo Courtesy & Copyright 2007 Dr. Leila Shultz
Text: Holly Strand, Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University

Additional Reading:

Dudareva, Natalia. 2005. Why do flowers have scents? Scientific American April 18. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-do-flowers-have-scent/

Shultz, Leila. 2012. Pocket Guide to Sagebrush. PRBO Conservation Science. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/sagestep_reports/20/
As pdf: http://rdjzr2agvvkijm6n3b66365n-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/sagebrush_pock_guide_reduced.pdf

Shultz, L. M. 2006. The Genus Artemisia (Asteraceae: Anthemideae). In The Flora of North America north of Mexico, vol. 19: Asterales, pp. 503–534. Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. Oxford University Press. New York and Oxford.

USDA, NRCS. 2012. The PLANTS Database, National Plant Data Team, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS): http://www.plants.usda.gov

VanBuren, R., J. C. Cooper, L. M. Shultz and K. T. Harper. 2011. Woody Plants of Utah. Utah State University Press & Univ. Colorado. 513 pp. https://upcolorado.com/utah-state-university-press/item/2323-woody-plants-of-utah

Utah’s Changing Climate and Weather

Utah's Changing Climate and Weather: History of global surface temperature since 1880 Click to visit https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-global-temperature and explore interactive graph. Courtesy NOAA Climate.gov
History of global surface temperature since 1880
Click to visit https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-global-temperature and explore interactive graph.
Courtesy NOAA Climate.gov
Hi, this is Mark Larese-Casanova from the Utah Master Naturalist Program at Utah State University Extension.Utah’s Changing Climate and Weather

When I’m standing in line at the post office on a cold, snowy day, I inevitably hear someone make a sarcastic comment about global warming. The reality is, weather and climate are two distinctly different measures. Weather is the combination of current atmospheric conditions, such as temperature, humidity, precipitation, and wind. It changes from day to day, sometimes from minute to minute. It affects our choices of clothing each day, or whether we carry an umbrella.

Climate, however, is a prediction of future weather conditions based on data that have been collected during at least the past few decades. Climate can change as well, but this occurs more slowly over greater time scales. Climate determines which plants we can grow and how much we insulate our homes.

During the last 500 million years, the earth has experienced several different climates from very warm periods to ice ages. Between about one hundred thousand to ten thousand years ago, the planet was impacted by an Ice Age where 30% of the earth was covered by ice extending from the poles. During part of this time, much of Utah was covered by Lake Bonneville, and was home to several now-extinct mammals, such as mammoths, saber-toothed cats, and ground-sloths.

The modern era has also seen climatic changes. Ocean sediments and polar ice core data show that from 900-1300 A.D., the earth’s climate was warmer than normal. However, between about 1300-1900 A.D., the earth experienced a little ice age. Scientists believe this was caused by a combination of three major, natural events- less solar radiation reaching Earth, five major volcanic eruptions, and the disruption of ocean circulation due to melting polar ice caps.

Even though Utah has the second driest climate in the country, annual precipitation has actually increased 14% since the late 1800’s. Sounds great, right? Well, during this same time period, the average temperature has increased three degrees Fahrenheit. This means that more of Utah’s precipitation is falling as rain rather than snow. Because water is released from snowpack at a slower rate, we are provided with water throughout the year. If more of this water comes from rain, it could result in increased stream flow in winter and spring, but decreased stream flow in summer and fall. Furthermore, it is predicted that Utah will be faced with a reduction in snowpack upwards of 50% by the year 2085.

While those of us who enjoy winter sports might experience a gradually shortening ski season, less snowpack is likely to affect us all throughout the year. With Utah’s population expected to double around the year 2050, we’ll need to find creative solutions to an increased demand on water resources.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Mark Larese-Casanova.

Credits:
Utah’s Changing Climate and Weather
Images:
Text:     Mark Larese-Casanova, Utah Master Naturalist Program at Utah State University Extension.
Utah’s Changing Climate and Weather
Additional Reading:

Climate Change and Utah. 1998. US Environmental Protection Agency. EPA 236-F-98-007z. Available at: https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPDF.cgi?Dockey=40000PTI.PDF

Hotter Utah- Not All Bad? 2007. Deseret News. March 18, 2007. Available at: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/660204298/Hotter-Utah–not-all-bad.html

Global Warming: What about Water? 2006. Salt Lake Tribune. October 30, 2006. Available at: http://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=4149629&itype=NGPSID

Lindsey, Rebecca and Dahlman, LuAnn, Climate Change: Global Temperature, Climate.gov, NOAA,

Steenburgh, Jim, Wasatch Weather Weenies https://wasatchweatherweenies.blogspot.com/

Weatern Regional Headquarters, National Weather Service, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) https://www.weather.gov/wrh/