Diversity in the Desert

White Colorado Columbine; Ranunculaceae

Aquilegia coerulea var. ochroleuca

Playing a bit of roulette with my life after graduation, I didn’t state a location preference on my CBG application. For some reason, finding out that I’d be spending the next 7 months in Rock Springs, WY was not a daunting realization.

I’ve been undecided about future career plans for a while, so the opportunity to experience a totally new place (I’ve lived in Ohio my entire life) seemed like a great interim between school and more school and/or more work. 

Scarlet Indian Paintbrush; Schrophulariaceae

Castilleja miniata

I showed up towards the end of June without a great understanding of what I was getting myself into. Fortunately, botany is AWESOME and it wasn’t hard to get into the spirit of my job requirements. A lot of what we do involves identifying plants—most of which I had never seen before. Sagebrush? I got used to that pretty quickly. It is fun to look back at my time here so far and realize how much I’ve learned and how many awesome plants I’ve found.

Darkthroat Shootingstar; Primulaceae

Dodecatheon pulchellum

Even if we can’t collect everything we find, I still get super excited when I find some crazy flower and figure out what it is.

For example, while collecting Antennaria corymbosa and Penstemon humilis near the Wind Rivers I spotted an orchid (Spiranthes romanzoffiana, or Ladies’ Tresses) by a stream I was near. Put that at the top of the list of things I did not expect to find in Wyoming. However, that piqued my interest and led me to dig through our herbarium only to find that there are quite a few other orchid species in Wyoming as well, many of them in our district.  

Ladies' Tresses; Orchidaceae

Spiranthes romanzoffiana

The biodiversity that exists out here in the high desert district never ceases to amaze me. We go driving through hot, flat, desert and suddenly there are huge populations of beautiful, showy flowers.

Plains Prickly Pear Cactus; Cactaceae

Opuntia polyacantha

One of the most memorable moments for me was a day in the field after a big rain storm. It seemed as though overnight Opuntia polyancantha all over the desert had burst into flower, and the landscape was lit up by the yellow blossoms.

Living and working in such a different environment than I’m used to has led me to truly appreciate the crazy diverse ecosystems out here.

Old Man's Whiskers; Rosaceae

Geum triflorum

Accordingly, when people in the office (frequently) ask me what plants I’m managing to collect in the desert besides sagebrush and greasewood, I have some great answers for them!


Lara Kobelt
SOS Intern

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