Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fritillaria atropurpurea
Fritillaria pudica

Those Crazy Fritillarias of Spring

The first clue that spring is coming for many rural Americans in  the West is the bloom of  yellowbells (Fritillaria pudica).  During my years living in Central Oregon, the cheery little yellow flowers were like a rite of passage for warmer weather and brighter days ahead.  You couldn't miss them as they rose up from an otherwise largely brown landscape in late February and March.  Just like clockwork they were.   However, since moving to South Dakota I've had to travel west a state or two to commune with my little yellow pals.

However,  a cousin of yellowbells known as spotted fritillary (Fritillaria atropurpurea) does grow in South Dakota.  These two species of Fritillaria are the widest ranging within the genus, but I find it fascinating where each species have decided to put down roots.  

Yellowbells do grow as far east as North Dakota, but for some reason haven't made the short leap across the border into South Dakota.   A study of the USDA Plants Database range map for yellowbells revealed that even though they grow in California, Nevada, and New Mexico for some reason they refuse to take up residence in Arizona.  Yellowbells can even be found in western Canada (British Columbia and Alberta).

Central Oregon yellowbells

Spotted fritillary also have their own nonsensical quirks about where they grow.  They not only grow in North Dakota, but also South Dakota and Nebraska.  
Black Hills  Spotted Fritillary

There are so many similar habitats in Oregon and Washington that one would expect to find spotted fritillary in both states, but for some reason they don't like Washington.

Columbia Gorge Fritillary

While yellowbells maintain their consistency to be bright yellow, the spotting and coloration blend of spotted fritillary is wildly variable, as can be seen above in the photos of the South Dakota and Oregon cousins.

Pinewoods fritillary (Fritillaria pinetorum) are very similar in appearance to spotted fritillary, yet they only grow in California and Nevada.  One reliable way to tell pinewoods from spotted fritillary is that the flowers on pinewoods don't nod. Thus if one were to see what they thought was a spotted fritillary without nodding flowers when they are in California or Nevada, they should realize that it's really pinewoods fritillary.   Likewise, California is the only state that hosts the chocolate lily (Fritillaria bicolor) which has much larger flowers that are deep chocolate brown. 

While humans seem to spend a lot of time wondering how we got here and then arguing with others about whose tribe was here first, it's highly likely that the Fritillarias haven't given any energy to the subject at all.  Perhaps we should take a lesson from the Fritillarias and put our energy into doing what comes naturally by celebrating a time of renewed growth and enjoying life wherever we've put down roots.  Diversity truly is more of a pleasure than a pain!

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