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Get outside with this cross-country scavenger hunt

by Timber Press on April 17, 2017

in Natural History

Photo by Mark Turner.

Summer is the ideal time to pack up for a journey from coast to coast. Whether you want to study the diversity of landscapes from the Pacific Northwest to New England (and everything in between), or you’re just enjoying afternoon explorations in your own backyard, our Timber Press Field Guides will inspire and educate. How many of these amazing natural wonders you can see this summer?

Juniperus maritima

seaside juniper

Native, scattered, seed cones mature in 1–2 years, 3–50 ft. Coastal, west-side forest, low elevation.
Tree or shrub, crown cone-shaped to rounded, bark brown, scaly to stringy, shed in strips, twigs reddish brown, non-hairy.

Leaves evergreen, opposite, awl-like on young plants, scalelike otherwise, rarely overlapping, to 0.1 in. long, dark green, rounded, gland on lower (outward-facing) surface visible, tips rounded.

Cones pollen and seed cones on separate plants. Seed cones mostly kidney-shaped, berrylike, fleshy, 0.2–0.3 in. long, light blue or tan when immature, becoming blackish blue, stalks mostly straight, seeds visible, extending beyond cone scales.

Photo by Mark Turner.

Ecology grows in forests, forest edges, coastal bluffs, and rock outcrops in sandy or granitic soils. Formerly considered part of J. scopulorum; scientists think seaside juniper was isolated during the Pleistocene, leading to DNA and chemical differences. Distinguish seaside juniper by seed cones that mature faster (in 14–16 months), dark green leaves with rounded tips, and visible seeds. Rare in British Columbia.

“A treasure. This detailed guide draws you in closer to really look at, and identify, our wildly diverse flora.” —Pacific Northwest Magazine







Amanita muscaria var. flavivolvata

fly agaric, sacred mushroom

Medium-sized to large, bright red-orange to faded cap with scattered pale, cottony warts; white free gills; whitish stalk with skirtlike veil and bulbous base; yellowish cottony scales in bracelets around base.

Photo by Vera Stucky Evenson.

Fruiting body cap 5–20 cm wide; hemispheric as button, then expanding to convex or plano-convex; bright red to orangered, fading to pale yellowish orange to dull pinkish orange where exposed to sunlight; buttons at first densely covered with yellowish crumbly, soft tissue, then at expansion forming pale yellowish warts at maturity; margin at first yellowish and cottony, soon smooth, faintly striated; when fresh, red cuticle between the warts feels tacky.

Gills free, white to cream, crowded, broad, edges roughened.

Stalk 7–14 cm long × 1.5–3 cm thick; white to creamy white; ring superior, skirtlike, creamy white, membranous with thickened edge and yellowish undersurface; stalk enlarging below into bulb, and encircled in its lower part by three to five yellowish, concentric volval rings.

Flesh of cap thick, white to yellowish with red-orange below cuticle, not staining when bruised; odor not distinctive, do not taste.

Spores White in print, 9–12.5 × 6.5–8.5 μm, elliptical, smooth, nonamyloid.

Ecology Common and widely distributed; single, gregarious, to clustered in duff under mixed conifers in foothills to the subalpine ecosystems of the Rocky Mountain region, under lodgepole pine, Douglas-fir, Engelmann spruce; July through September.

Observations With its yellowish universal veil remnants, var. flavivolvata is the common variety of the species in the southern Rocky Mountain region. Many records of var. muscaria, which has whiter universal veil remnants, are reported from Idaho and Utah as well as Alaska and other regions of North America.

All varieties of Amanita muscaria are equally toxic. Called fly agaric because of its early use as a fly poison, this gloriously colored mushroom is probably the most famous mushroom in the world and the subject of myths and fairy tales in many cultures from Siberia to South America. Its toxins can cause bizarre psychological experiences, which has made it a source of interest since prehistoric times. Amanita muscaria has been analyzed for more than two centuries. In fact, the first identified mushroom toxin, muscarine, was named for it, although it was later proven that the main toxins in A. muscaria are ibotenic acid and muscimol.

In the Rocky Mountains, this is the mushroom most talked about, admired, and photographed by the nature-lover. Such an exotic-looking mushroom growing along a hiking path in Colorado’s high country is indeed a spectacular sight. Beware of confusing Amanita buttons with puffballs. Cutting A. muscaria var. flavivolvata buttons in half lengthwise will reveal a reddish pigment just under the outer skin, along with the outline of the developing stalk and gills. In contrast, puffballs are white and homogeneous throughout in the fresh edible stage.










Monarda didyma

bee-balm, scarlet bee-balm, oswego tea

Summer, 2–5 ft., perennial. Thickets, roadsides, and open, disturbed sites. Native to much of eastern United States, introduced in New England. CT , MA, ME, NH , VT

Photo by Arieh Tal.

Flowers bright scarlet, 1¼–1¾ in. long, slender, 2-lipped, clustered on bristly heads; the whorled, leafy bracts beneath the flower heads red.

Leaves 3–6 in. long, lance-shaped or oval, dark green, on petioles ½–1½ in. long.

Stems hairy.

Fruit capsulelike, 1/16 to 1/8 in. long.

When you are identifying a plant, be patient and look carefully. The flower and leaves are the primary elements of identification, but it is important to have a sense of the entire plant: height, growth habit, and habitat. What is the appearance of the sepals and stamens as well as the petals? Do the leaves have petioles, or are they sessile? Are there hairs on the stem, and, if so, are they fine or coarse?

As you look for and identify wildflowers in their natural habitats, keep in mind the importance of their conservation. Many wildflower populations have disappeared due to collection or damage to their habitats from overenthusiastic naturalists and photographers. Unless you have a permit to do so, please do not collect the plant, and take special care not to trample or damage the ground around the plant. Remember that plants on public and private conservation lands are legally protected. Take photographs, make sketches, and observe and appreciate the plant, but leave the flowers, and their habitat, in the condition in which you found them. As the adage goes, plants grow by the inch and die by the foot.

Taxidea taxus

American Badger

25 in. + 5-in. tail; very broad, low, flat animal with thick fur grizzled yellowish gray-brown; white stripe down face; forefeet heavily clawed for digging. Visitor on e slope, ranging to CasCr
in OR and (rarely) to Fraser Gorge in BC.

This squat, ungainly, but fantastically powerful burrowing creature lives mainly by digging ground squirrels, gophers, and snakes out of their holes. It is common in the drier country just east and south of our range.

Photo by Jon David Nelson.

Positive identification of small mammals utilizes the number and shape of molar teeth, and caliper measurements of skulls and penis bones (a feature of most male mammals); the creature must first be reduced to a skeleton. Don’t worry, this description will not go into molar design or the meaning of “dusky,” but will offer size, tail:body length ratio, form, habitat, and color, to facilitate educated guesses as to mammal identities. Our typical glimpse of a shrew, mouse, or vole, unless we trap it or find it dead, is so fleeting and dark that we can only guess based on habits and habitat.

Among closely related mammals, populations of dry regions are often paler than their wet-side relatives, each tending to match the color of the ground so as to be less visible to predators (especially owls) that hunt from above in dim light. Dry country has pale dry dirt, whereas moist forests have dark humus and vegetation.

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