Salmon-Challis National Forests, Little Lost River Drainage
By Dr.Rick Williams, Janet Bala, and Pam Reschke
Each year herbarium staff, students, Idaho Native Plant Society members, and friends come together for a long weekend to survey and collect plant specimens representing different regions of Idaho at the Idaho Botanical Foray. This is an opportunity for amateur and professional botanists to work together and enjoy the company of other native plant enthusiasts. This year, botanists started arriving Thursday, June 16 at the Mill Creek Campground in the Little Lost River Valley in Butte County.
The Little Lost River basin is located in Eastern Idaho on the northern margin of the Snake River Plain. It is flanked by the Lost River Range on the west and Lemhi Range on the east. Our campground was located north of Howe, a few miles off Little Lost Highway on Sawmill Canyon Road. Nestled in a grove of Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) adjacent to Mill Creek, the campground provides access to a wide variety of habitats, from sagebrush to alpine. The trail from the campground leads two miles to a beautiful mountain lake. In our backyard we could see Big Windy Peak, 10,390’ and Bell Mountain, 11,612’. While across the wide valley to the north we could see Mt Borah at 12,667’ and Leatherman Peak at 12,228’. What a view to enjoy and navigate by during the foray.
Dr. Jim Smith (Boise State University) initiated the first botanical foray in 2008 and it didn’t take much to convince the other herbaria in Idaho to participate.
Each year a different university hosts the foray by picking the site, making camping arrangements, providing the plant pressing materials, and then identifying and processing the plants after returning from the foray. 2016 was the 9th annual Idaho Botanical Foray, hosted by Dr. Rick Williams and Janet Bala of the Ray J. Davis Herbarium in the Idaho Museum of Natural History at Idaho State University.
The site of this year’s foray was chosen to complement and expand on the recent floristic survey conducted by Jessica Irwin for her Master’s thesis at the University of Wyoming. Her knowledge of the unique geology and plant communities of the area helped us choose interesting sites and habitats where we would find good botanizing. With so much area to cover, from Howe to Challis, we concentrated our efforts in the Little Lost River Valley. Each day, several groups would disperse across the valley to collect plants from different elevations and habitat types. Each group of 3-5 people collected as many plant species as possible to represent a locality. Enough material was collected and pressed to make 3-4 duplicate herbarium specimens to be distributed to the participating herbaria. For each specimen, information about location, habitat, soil type, and other plants growing in the same location were noted, increasing the value of the specimens to future botanists.
Our group of 32 enthusiastic botanists came from six universities including ISU, Boise State University, College of Idaho, University of Idaho, Washington State University and Lewis and Clark State College. We also had members of the Idaho Native Plant Society, US Forest Service and BLM join us. We collected for four days (Thursday-Sunday), with the largest groups going into the field on Friday and Saturday.
In the course of 3 days, we collected about 840 different plants and over 2500 individual specimens, filling our eight foot trailer with plant presses. Photos of many of these species can found on the “Idaho Botanical Foray 2016” project on iNaturalist.
Thanks to all of the 32 participants in this year’s foray. With their help, approximately 840 plants were collected and will become permanent vouchers in Idaho’s herbaria.
The tenth Annual Idaho Botanical Foray is being hosted by Jim Smith, Boise State University in the Bear Valley area of the Boise National Forest, home of the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Watch for information about where and when the next foray will be in upcoming issues of Sage Notes. On behalf of all of the herbaria that participate each year in the foray, we hope to see the same faces and new faces come and enjoy the great plant diversity we have in Idaho.