Plants of the Beehive State

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This past week I was in the Beehive State, Utah, first speaking at a conference and then for a bit of vacation. My wife and I visited both the red rock and desert areas in southern Utah and then in the north, the more verdant areas of the Uinta and Wasatch mountain ranges. Utah, which became the 45th state in 1896, was named the Beehive State for the hard-working, industrious inhabitants.

 And plenty of bees.  Yes, Joe Boggs, I hear you screaming, and I do recognize that the bees in the lead image are not the European honeybees that we commonly honey-harvest from hives.   Utah also sports the blue spruce as the state tree, the Rocky Mountain elk as the state animal, and the California gull as the state bird.

  One of the interesting aspects of this trip was seeing familiar Ohio plants in a new light – or simply seeing related species. We do take for granted, for example, tough trees such as goldenraintrees, Siberian elms, and cottonwoods here. With the exception of the western cottonwood, these are non-native trees both to here and to Utah, but in the very tough, dry climates of southern Utah, these trees are king.



Goldenraintree fruits and thye bllue sky of Blanding Utah
Goldenraintree fruits and blue sky in Blanding Utah



  In the town of Torrey, Utah on the doorstep of Capitol Reef National Monument and in the town of Duchesne Utah, Siberian elms rule. The Sentinel cottonwoods of Fruita, Utah are storied trees dating back to early Mormon settlers, and goldenraintrees, especially the pink-fruited types are commonly planted street trees from Salt Lake City to the southern Utah red rocks country. 


Siberian elms in Duchesne Utah
Siberian elms in the drylands of Duchesne Utah emerge from the pavement


Sentinel western cottonwood in Fruita UT
Huge cottonwood in Fruita Utah was the Sentinel tree and post office stop. At the doorstep of Capitol Reef National Park. 


Flowers and fruits of goldenraintree mingle on this tree in Blanding UT
Flowers and fruits co-mingle on this goldenraintree in Blanding Utah



It is also fascinating to see familiar pests in remote areas such as the Calf’ Creek Lower Falls Trail in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument: from cone galls on willow to oak leaf blister and oak lace bugs.


Insects cause these cone galls on willow
Cone galls on willow along the Calf's Creek Trail in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument


Oak leaf blister disease
Oak leaf blister disease in Utah



There was the parasitic plant, dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium spp.), sapping the strength of Utah junipers at the Natural Bridges National Monument, different from the half-parasitic true mistletoes we see in Ohio (Phoradendron spp.) as little round balls of green growth in trees, especially in Kentucky and southern Ohio.



dwarf mistletoe on juniper
yellow-green dwarf mistletoe plants on junipers in southern Utah


dwarf mistletoe and juniper foliage
parasitic dwarf mistletoe (L) and juniper foliage (R) side by side


Note attachment area of dwarf mistletoe on juniper stem
Note little round area where dwarf mistletoe attached to this juniper stem



Our mistletoes have green leaves and photosynthesize but for dessert also send suckers down into the trees they parasitize. The western dwarf mistletoes feed on junipers and other conifers for breakfast, lunch and dinner, using their own limited amount of chloropyll only to produce fuel for dessert.


  I could go on and on, single-leaf ash trees that are not yet affected by emerald ash borer, invasive tamarisk trees with lovely blue-green foliage and soft pink flowers that nevertheless clog natural areas, incredible petunia planters in Vernal, Utah, at least several hundred strong lining city streets. Even dinosaur fossils you can touch at Dinosaur National Monument.


single-leaf ash in Utah
Single-leaf ash, Fraxinus anomola in Utah


Tamarisk foliage and flowers in Utah
This lovely tamarisk is an introduced species considered by many to be a problem invasive int he West


petunia plants are colorful in Vernal UT
Petuniamania in Vernal Utah!


Laying on of hands at Dinosaur National Monument in northeast Utah
Laying on of hands of dinosaur fossil at Dinosaur National Monument in northeast Utah


A Challenge: I mentioned dwarf mistletoe – and shared an image from Utah. I also mentioned true mistletoes, occurring in our neck of the woods. But I did not include an image of true mistletoes. I do not have one.  Even Joe Boggs does not have one. So, the best image electronically sent to me within the next week will receive an award (pie rather than a kiss comes to mind). This image will be included with attribution, in a follow-up bygl-alert, that will also expand upon mistletoes.