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Yosemite Nature Notes – 1 – Wildflowers


[Music] My name is Alison Colwell. I am a Botanist. I work in Yosemite
National Park, sitting in this beautiful
spring slope of Goldfields and Dwarf Lupine and
Bird’s Eyes and Red Maid’s and Fringepod, on a beautiful April afternoon. Yosemite is a great
place to be a botanist. The diversity, because of
the different rock types, the different elevations, the
mountains, the river valleys, it all leads to a great
abundance of species and plant communities. I guess it’s kind of
for me a smorgasbord of wildflower displays. The landscape is nice too,
but it’s just habitat as far as I am concerned. My name is Shelton Johnson, I am a Park Ranger
in the Division of Interpretation and Education here in Yosemite
National Park. When I think
of wildflowers, I think of concentrations
of color, concentrations of life. I mean, it’s just as if life
itself is being focused right in these
little pockets, in the soil,
alongside a tree, I mean, it’s a color, it’s almost like the stars
fell out of the sky, but they’re right there in
the ground, looking back up. Plants to me are the
great synthesizer, they show you how… the waters and the climate
and the topography and everything
that’s going on gets kind of
synthesized into why this plant is here
at this one spot. There’s so
many connections, and that’s what gets
really exciting, is the connections. I need to step back
every once in a while because I’ll be
walking around, trying to remember the
scientific name of something and every once in a while
I can just put that aside, and it just hits me, there is something gut level
that just connects you, and for me it’s the
beauty and the color. Beauty of course and the
incredible diversity in floral structure. Color, shape, I mean it’s
just a natural attractive, we resonate so much
with color and form. You look at a whole
field like this and it’s just the massive
color and display and the thousands of individuals
participating in that. And it’s almost like the
earth itself is overdoing it, the earth is
just displaying, look what I can do with a
palette, with the spectrum, by just having all of
these different variations on just the color red,
or the just the color yellow, or just the color blue. We might
appreciate the display, but it’s not meant
for us really, it’s really designed for
the eye of the insect. It’s tied into the fact
that they’re depending on another organism,
a bee, a butterfly, some other animal to be their
love messenger for them, to bring pollen from the male
flower to the female flower. Well, I mean, there
is the flower and then there is the
insect that comes in that’s drawn by the flower, and then it goes
into drink the nectar and then
there is the pollen that moves up
alongside the insect and it goes to
another flower. Well, there at that point you
can start playing violins, you know it’s
romance is in the air, actually romance
in that case is right alongside
the insect itself, as it’s moving
in to get a meal. And it’s an interesting thought
that flowers themselves become gifts, become a means of forming
or forging a relationship or telling someone
that you love them. Why is it that forests have been
such perfect subject matter for painters, for centuries? There’s so much cultural
connections with flowers, and not just
one culture, but human cultures
all across the world recognizing the flower as something that is
part of the earth that we can grab hold
of and give it to another. Enid Michael was one of the few
women ranger naturalists in the early days of the
Yosemite National Park. And when I think
of Enid Michael, I basically
think of one thing, her passion
for flowers. When people thought about
wildflowers in Yosemite Valley, in that time, it would be difficult to not
think about Enid Michael, because she was the caretaker,
she was the ambassador, she was the spokesperson,
she was the poet, she was all of those things. Enid would pick flowers and display them in front
of the Visitor Center and she wanted to bring
the flowers to the public, so they could have a
complete understanding of the flora,
of the park. She did a lot of exploring. She and her husband were
both avid mountaineers, rock climbers, and during her climbing outing, she would collect plants and she has discovered
quite a few species that weren’t
known to exist here. The Yosemite Onion
is a big showy onion. It grows on mountaintops
and cliff tops around here. It’s known to have a really
restricted distribution, to just a few sites, and it was something that
Enid Michael discovered. She describes how
it was so pungent when she carried
it back with her that she was
followed by a stream of bottle
flies behind her, that were
following the smell. She pressed the onion
in her plant press and it went on to sprout
at the side of it, but it turns out it
was a new species when they finally identified it. We’ve gone back recently,
a couple of years ago, to try and resurvey
the population she found and ended up climbing up a cliff face to
try to get to it, and then after a whole
day of climbing discovered that we were
about three weeks too late and they had all dried
up and gone to seed, so we’ve got to
go back sometime. It’s not easy getting out
to these unusual habitats and unusual places in the elements looking for
what we need to look for, it takes a tough person,
man or woman to be a botanist. You can spend a whole lifetime
learning the plants here and I am just starting
to learn them and I am not ashamed of that. In fact, I like that idea. I am not going to get
bored anytime soon. Or over the other hillside,
front and back of us, there is probably a dozen things that I have no
idea what they are, and we’ll sit down with the
field guide and figure them out, or if it’s not in there, we might get really
excited about that. Alison, she has
a special talent; there is a lot of
variation in plants, but Alison knows what
is meaningful variation and what is just your
average variation that you see out there. So she walks this earth
with a special eye. Well, quite honestly,
I’m not sure how she does it, but she studies
the ground a lot and studies
the flora a lot, and has a sense to pick up
something that may be different and bring it
back and study it. A couple of years ago
we found an orchid that was new to science
as it turns out. We made a specimen of it,
took it back, looked at it more closely, couldn’t figure it out, sent
it out to an expert to look at, he couldn’t figure it out, that’s at what point
we got really excited about it. So seeing it in the
flesh like that, he took one
look at it and said, oh yes, this is
entirely different, we need to write
this up right away, this is a new species. We described that
and put into print and it has got a new name now. It’s the Yosemite Bog-orchid,
in the honor of Yosemite, because that’s the only
place that it grows. There are unique
plants in Yosemite, plants that you can’t
find anyplace else, not just in the
Sierra Nevada, but anyplace
else in the world, like the
Yosemite Bog-orchid, it is the
Yosemite Bog-orchid, it’s not a
Sequoia Bog-orchid, it’s not a Rocky
Mountain Bog-orchid, it is the
Yosemite bog-orchid, so its entire universe is
rooted right here in this soil, in this history,
in this landscape. There’s other things like
that out here, I know, they just haven’t
been discovered yet. Yosemite is really big,
1,200 square miles and there is only two or
three roads through parts of it, so it really is the wilderness
and relatively unexplored. So for me it’s
like a candy shop, there is a lots of
stuff out there that is waiting to be discovered,
so that makes the job exciting.

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