By MICHELLE SCHMIDT
And some of these native plants — or endemics — grow here and nowhere else in the world.
Take Idaho phlox, perhaps the rarest of the state’s flora. The waist-high plant grows only within a four-mile radius near Headquarters in Clearwater County. Sunny, moist meadows are filled with its lavender blooms during the early summer.
“It’s one plant, on one spot, on one mountain,” said Mike Mancuso, who is giving a talk tonight on plants found only in Idaho.
It sounds like a Seussian story, but in this version, the rare plant is monitored regularly by regional botanists and the population seems to be holding strong.
What makes Idaho phlox different from similar plants are small, technical differences that most would never detect. That’s why it’s generally experts — either by profession or by hobby — who discover these rare plant varieties.
For the botanical-discovering sort, Idaho is an ideal setting. With plenty of virtually untouched spaces and fewer experts looking, much of the state’s flora remains undiscovered, Mancuso said.
And Mancuso would know. As a freelance botanical researcher who studied at UI, he spends his time divided between the warm months out in the field and cold months at his desk in Boise, writing reports for whoever hires him, usually federal agencies or conservation groups.
Tonight in his talk, sponsored by the White Pine Chapter of the Idaho Native Plant Society, Mancuso will show pictures and share insights about plants that grow all over, but with a focus on those that grow more locally.
“To me, these plants are just a part of our heritage,” Mancuso said. “It’s one of the things that makes Idaho, Idaho.”
As part of Idaho’s history, their names are often telling.
Sacajawea’s bitterroot — or Lewisia sacajaweana, by its Latin name — is a bitterroot variety that was discovered about seven years ago in the Boise National Forest. No, there are no historical ties between this plant and either of its Lewis and Clark Expedition namesakes, but it is the first plant to be named in Sacajawea’s honor.
Unlike the tall Idaho phlox, Sacajawea’s bitterroot grows low on the ground on the arid mountain sides of central Idaho. When the snow melts, an underground root sends out succulent leaves and quarter-sized white flowers. Its showy blooms transform the landscape for a season at Craters of the Moon, one location where it grows.
Though these plants are unique to Idaho, they aren’t necessarily hard to find. Urban development disrupts natural habitats, so to find them, you’ll need to head out of town and start climbing.
“A lot of these plants like nice views,” Mancuso said.
Such is the case for Idaho douglasia, a low-growing succulent in the primrose family. When the snow melts at high elevations in early July, patches of Idaho’s mountainside turn a vivid pink, from the upper Selway down to the Boise National Forest. The places where the plant grows are already beautiful, said Mancuso, and the blooms only make it more so.
Few of these endemics have been studied beyond simple identification and monitoring, so Mancuso’s talk will simply introduce these plants to those who might not have known their unique value.
Those seeking events and more information about the Idaho Native Plant Society, White Pine Chapter, may visit www.whitepineinps.org.
Schmidt can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
if you go
What: “Only in Idaho: a Tour of Plant Species Found Nowhere Else,” presented by Mike Mancuso
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, March 21
Where: 1912 Center, Fiske Room, 412 E. Third St., Moscow