City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

June 22, 2017

June 14th

Filed under: Foxglove beardtongue, Horsechestnut, Seasons, Western salisfy, Wild carrot — canopus56 @ 9:20 pm

End of the Vernal Season

6:45 p.m. This is the last day of the vernal season, or the time of the year in which plants grow at their greatest rate (Feb. 16th). An early heat wave near 100 degrees Fahrenheit has fallen on the city, and I have come to the canyon for a short run in the cool evening air. At the end of the vernal season, early spring flowering plants in the first mile have largely passed and their thickened ovaries grow pregnant with this year’s seeds. Wood rose blossoms are shriveled or have have dropped their leaves, revealing bulbous green spheres beneath. The largest of these are the infant berries of the chokecherry bushes. Western salisfy, also called Giant dandelion, has almost all gone to seed. Its blossom have transformed into a large compound head of achenes – larger version of dandelion weed seeds. The small floating seeds grow out equally spaced from an inverted saucer-shaped head. A result of the large floater seeds competing for limited space is that the giant dandelions’ spherical heads form geodesic dodecahedrons.

The base leaves of the Wild carrot (also called Fernleaf biscuitroot) plants that line the first mile have turned turned yellow and orange, and their blossoms have formed seeds that are turning from green to a light purple. Their fibrous tap roots extend beneath the surface for about a one foot, and they were widely used by First Peoples throughout the Intermountain west (Natural Resources Conservation Service 2011). Great Basin Indians ate the seeds and boiled the roots to make a drink. Other tribes used the first shoots in a salad (id). Modern city “foodies” also collect the plants.

A new delicate penstemon, Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) has appeared overnight along the road. This is an eastern native, and in the canyon, it first appears with white flowers that turn a streaked pink as the flowers age. This is a later spring replacement for the many failing flowers along the first mile. Horsechestnut trees now bear sprays of its spiked fruit, but these new fruits are miniature one-inch diameter versions of falls’ three inch spheres. This year’s growth has returned and the land is pregnant.

* * * *

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on June 14th, 1852, he notes that “[t]he twilight seems out of proportion to the rest of the day.” On June 14th, 1851, he lists birds heard on a twilight walk including bobolink, swallows, fifteen whippoorwills, blackbirds, a robin and night hawk. He contrasts the evening song of the robin with crickets, and notes fish rising in a stream to feed on insects. On June 14th, 1852, he sees a wild rose bush. On June 14, 1853, he hears the season’s first locust and observes aphids on tree leaves. He sees white lily, blue-flag flower, mosquitoes, and fish in the stream. He sees hummingbirds and hears a cuckoo, a red-eye, and a wood thrush. On June 14th, 1854, he sees a cicada. On June 14th, 1859, he sees a grosbeak and a pout’s nest.

* * * *

A cousin of Foxglove beardtongue, Common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), is the source of digitalis heart medication. Digitalis is commonly used to strengthen the contractions of the heart muscle in the aged.

* * * *

On June 14th, 1914, the Salt Lake Tribune describes various outdoor hikes around Salt Lake City, including to Big Black Mountain. On June 14th, 1908, the L. H. Murdock of the U.S. Weather Service reported a storm with one-half inch of rain and heavy snowfall in City Creek Canyon (Salt Lake Tribune). On June 14th, 1908, Mayor Bransford, City Engineer L. C. Kesley, Waterworks Superintendent Hobday and Street Supervisor Jake Raleigh discussed steps to abate current flooding from City Creek Canyon (Intermountain Republican). Raleigh defended his use of manure embankments to contain the flood waters (id).

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