Yosemite Nature Notes - Episode 1 - Wildflowers

Uploaded by yosemitenationalpark on 06.12.2009

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.