Monday, July 13, 2015

Branched Umbrellaplant with Pink and White Flowers

Branched Umbrellaplant. Copyright © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
Branched Umbrellaplant ©SB
We found the Branched Umbrellaplant in rock-strewn clay in range land near the Canada/U.S. border, on our way to the southern section of the West Block of Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan.

These hairy gray perennials were so small — less than eight inches in height from woody base to frilly petals — and the nearby Prickly Pear Cactus so flamboyant, that at first, I didn't notice these delicate wildflowers, scattered across the badlands before us.

Like many Prairie wildflowers, Branched Umbrellaplants are best seen at ground level, so I sat in the dirt to look closer at their small, dense umbels of pink, coral and white mini-flowers.

As my eyes became accustomed to the scale, I eventually found a few woolly Branched Umbrellaplants with paler pink and whitish flowers, too, each so tiny that to photograph them is to provide a clear, though partial, answer to the question someone recently asked me...

"Why do you like taking pictures of Prairie Wildflowers?"

Because to photograph is to look, and to look is to see — and my camera with a macro or zoom lens helps me see so much more than my weak eyes alone can manage. Worlds open. I sense more about my surroundings. I'm often in awe of it all.

Branched Umbrellaplant. Copyright © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
Close-up of Branched Umbrellaplant flowers. Delicate and lovely,
each is only a tiny fraction of an inch — a few millimetres — across. ©SB

And the more I learn, the more in awe I am. 

For example, the locally rare (S3, in Saskatchewan) Branched Umbrellaplant or Eriogonum pauciflorum or Fewflower Buckwheat is the sole source of food for the threatened Prairie population of the Mormon Metalmark butterfly — except in adulthood, when these small brown butterflies may also feed on nectar from Rabbitbrush.

Mormon Metalmarks are typically found in the southwestern U.S. They are the only species in the mainly neotropical familyRiodinidae that occurs in Canada. And in Canada, they are only found in B.C.'s Similkameeen Valley and Grassland National Park in Saskatchewan.

Branched Umbrellaplant. Copyright © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
Clusters of Branched Umbrellaplants in the badlands of Grasslands National Park ©SB

Branched Umbrellaplant. Copyright © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
Lighter, whitish flowers clusters, which I think are also Branched Umbrellaplants.
(If not, please let me know.) © SB
Branched Umbrellaplant. Copyright © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
Close-up of an umbel of pink, white, yellow and coral Branched Umbrellaplant flowers  ©SB
Branched Umbrellaplant. Copyright © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
An umbel of paler pink flowers, on the whitish clusters of Branched Umbrellaplants in the photo above. ©SB  

For more on the butterflies, see the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada 2003 report on the Mormon Metalmark or the related Description of Residence for Mormon Metalmark, which has a map showing its three GNP locations (the middle site is where we found these Branched Umbrellaplants), along with a photo of their preferred habitat — a hillside with rough, disturbed soil that looks exactly like the one that was directly above us. And, for more on these flowers, see Glen Lee's great Saskatchewan Wildflowers website. And, for a related Eriogonum, see the Yellow Umbrellaplant at Grasslands National Park.

My partner wanted to climb that arid hillside, but I was exhausted by the heat. Perhaps one day we'll return to GNP in late August or September, with luck during the few days when these butterflies with white checks and red wing spots mate and fly.

Prairie Wildflower: Branched Umbrellaplant.  
Location: Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Photo Date: June 23, 2015.  


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