Hells Canyon and High Water – August in Council Idaho

Ergot fungus on blue bunch wheatgrass
Sterile hybrid between two of our target species, blue bunch wheatgrass and bottlebrush squirreltail

First seed shipment to Coeur d’Alene Nursery

Levi immediately after attempting to climb Clematis vine
Levi realizing his dreams will never come true…
Mormon crickets attempting to eat a lupine seed bag
Grasshoppers and crickets eating my backpack
Checking Sulphur-flower buckwheat for seed fill

I am writing this monthly post while holed up in the community library hiding from a storm that seemingly came out of nowhere. The minor flooding and landslides are the price paid for relief from the wildfire season that was reaching its peak when broken just in time. The smoke and oppressive heat previously settling over both forests is gone for the time being, but now we wait for the roads and woods to dry before resuming our search. With only three viable collections left in the field we have transitioned back again into primarily scouting. The summer has passed and fall colors have begun to set in on the lowest and most productive sites. The Council team is now searching further, higher, and more intensely for remaining target species. It has become clear that some of our target species will not be successfully collected this year. To combat the difficulties of the situation our mentors have given us permission for recollections of species already targeted, and independence in determining additional species for collection. The new policies have allowed our team to target Columbine flavescens, start scouting western-coneflower for collection, and recollect a superior population of Columbia needlegrass. The added diversity will help us remain productive as our season progresses. Disease like the fungus pictured above, and pests like the mormon crickets on our lupine would have been intimidating setbacks for me at the beginning of the season. Now, these problems seem more and more manageable as I gain experience and familiarity with the two forests I am assigned to. As I look at the reddening maple outside the window, I see the branches oscillating with the gusts and leaves shuttering. Soon the tree will stand motionless again, and the Boise – Payette team will be back out and searching.

First Month in Council, Idaho

Young rattlesnake narrowly avoided while searching for needle-grass
Camas meadow in the West mountains near Council, Idaho
Castilleja in a recently burned area around Warm Lake, Idaho

The famous rapper(?) Supa Hot Fire once remarked “I ain’t a rapper, so quit rapping at me!” This line, now cemented in contemporary lore, previously described my feelings towards botany. If I had a dollar for each time I heard “I’m a little rusty but” or “could you say it in Latin please” I would need to find a hedge fund manager. Miraculously, this past month of work has seemingly thawed my cold indifference towards jargon and along the way, helped me learn more about plant identification than throughout my whole college career. After a successful beginning of the season we now stand ready to start our first collection with only a blogpost to hold us back. Successful identification of 17 different target species including fleabanes, lupines, cinquefoils, and buckwheats have taken long hours with floras in hand. I am looking forward to the transition from scouting to collecting as the season progresses, and having a visual representation of the fruits of our labor.

Check for that tomentose abaxial foliage or something like that,