03 June 2008

Townsendia vs. Erigeron, and Other Mysteries of Nature

Knowing nature, grasping the meaning of life, clinging to a few leaves as we hurtle past...

Before leaving the house for my trek down to the college this morning, I remembered to grab a couple of field guides to wildflowers. I was thinking about my identification of Townsend's daisies vs. the other possibilities in the daisy/aster/sunflower family.

It's a bit like that chilling passage (one of many) in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. Judge Holden is obsessed with collecting specimens and cataloging all the new forms of life that the party encounters on their ride through the mountains bordering the Yaqui River. Quotation from pp. 198-199:

...he [the judge] would dress expertly the colorful birds he'd shot, rubbing the skins with gunpowder and stuffing them with balls of dried grass and packing them away in wallets.... Toadvine sat watching him...and he asked him what was his purpose in all this....
Whatever exists, he said. Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.... This is my claim.... In order for it to be mine nothing must be permitted to occur upon it save by my dispensation....
I dont see what that has to do with catchin birds.
The freedom of birds is an insult to me. I'd have them all in zoos.

Well, it's a bit like that. I don't want all of "nature" in a zoo. Freedom is no insult. But to know the name of a thing is, in some sense, to capture it. Indeed all of science, in some sense, embodies the spirit of Judge Holden.

Well, back to the Townsendia vs. Erigeron mystery. Strangely enough, the usually reliable Audubon wildflower guide (Western Region) was not helpful at all, and does not even list the Townsendia clan. My answer came from Donald Anthony Schieman Wildflowers of Montana (2005), p. 246:

Some daisies and fleabanes resemble Townsendia species, but townsendias usually have larger flower heads, shorter flower stalks, and a scalelike pappus.
Cutleaf Daisy Erigeron compositus
...The distinctive leaves are divided two or three times into threes, ending in narrow, fingerlike segments.

Ah so easy when you know what you are looking for:

The red or sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) also grows along Big Butte. Not a native, but it seems to fit in just fine. Herbalists like it for the vitamins and tart acidic taste. Pretty, too:

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