Friday, November 20, 2009

What's in a name?

Recent visitors to the ACEC probably noticed the shrubs on our southern border that are laden with large, red berries. These fruits look particularly striking on the bare branches that have already lost their leaves in preparation for winter. If you look closely, you'll notice the branches of this shrub are reddish with thorns, especially on the lower portions. Ask yourself: what is one of the most well-known flowering plants with thorns? If you can recall the proverb "every rose has its thorn", then you will arrive at the right group for these shrubs, the rose family (Rosaceae).

There are many plants in this family, including apples, chokecherries, serviceberries, cinquefoil, and blackberries. Rosaceae members all have five petals and five sepals (the outer layer of modified flower leaves). They also have numerous stamens, the pollen-bearing (male) organ of the plant. To see a list of many of the members of this large family, search for Rosaceae here (

The ACEC is home to the Wood's Rose, also known as the Western Wild Rose (Rosa woodsii). If successfully pollinated, the pink 5-petaled rose flowers of the spring will turn into rose hips, the orange-red fruiting body of this shrub. Rose hips are a great source of food for birds, and they're good for people too! They are a rich source of Vitamin C. You won't want to eat the rose hip straight off the stem though, because they are full of small, hairy seeds. When prepared correctly, rose hips make great tea, jelly, stews, and seasoning. Oftentimes you can find rose hip tea in the grocery store too. Bon appetit!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Snow, eagles, and new sightings

Arriving at the ACEC this morning, I spotted a bald eagle perched on a mature cottonwood tree on the northwest corner of Norm's Island. The bird sat motionless, likely observing the landscape, alert to its surroundings. The world lay quiet, blanketed in a fresh coat of white snow. After a late reprise of summer, with temperatures hitting the mid-sixties last week, winter has come knocking on our door yet again. A storm blew in yesterday afternoon, winds gentle yet persistent from the northwest, bringing rain in the morning turning to snow by 3 PM. Now, a light layer, perhaps a 1/4 inch of snow, covers the earth and delights us with the cold, fresh smell of winter. The sun is rising and breaking through the fog; it won't be long until the snow is gone.

Yesterday, Norm spotted a new animal here at the ACEC. In the channel below the tree where the eagle now sits, a river otter was playing in the waters of the Yellowstone. River otters, Lontra canadensis, are members of the weasel family (Mustelidae). Other mustelids include fishers, martens, wolverines, short-tail and long-tail weasels. I have seen river otters before at higher elevations in the Lamar River in Yellowstone National Park, but not yet here at the ACEC. We hope these water-loving mammals stick around and become our newest residents. They feed primarily on fish, but will also include invertebrates and frogs in their diet. For more information on river otters, check out Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks' Animal Field Guide (