CO-Horts Blog

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Native Fruits of the San Miguel Basin

 by Yvette Henson

Last Thursday I led a native fruit field trip that we call Native Fruits and Nuts of the San Miguel Basin.  This is a local class I developed and have taught several times over my years with Extension.  I enjoy it very much!  I thought I would share a little about the day and what we learned.

The San Miguel Basin refers to the San Miguel River watershed.  It is also what we call the area covered by my Extension Office, San Miguel and West Montrose counties.  For this class, we visited 4 locations from 9800' feet elevation in the mountains to 6800' elevation along the San Miguel River. At each location, we looked at plants that produce edible fruit and learned identification characteristics. we also talked about poisonous plants and the importance of being sure about your identification. The class was also given a booklet that gives identification keys, plant habitat and uses, including recipes.  We even harvested several kinds of fruit to make something yummy to share with each member of the class.

I will start with a photo of this year's class participants.

2023 SMB Native Fruit and Nut class participants

Some of the plants we saw in fruit were gooseberries (Ribes inerme), mountain currants (Ribes montigenum), Oregon grape holly (Berberis repens), blueberries and bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus and Vaccinium cespitosum), raspberries (Rubus idaeus), chokecherries (Prunus virginiana), buffalo berries (Shepherdia argentea), lemonade berries (Rhus trilobata) gamble oak acorns (Quercus gambelii) and service berries (Amelanchier alnifolia).

Gooseberries are tart.

Mountain currants are sweet.

Grape holly fruit make an excellent jelly.

These are bilberry flowers.
Blueberry and bilberry fruit look just like tiny versions of the blueberries we buy at the store.  

Wild raspberries are tart/sweet and are so yummy just to snack on. 
They can also be used mixed with other fruit in almost any recipe.

Chokecherries have a distinct flavor that causes your lips to feel puckery. 
They make the quintessential jelly and syrup of the western states.

Leigh Ann, a class participant, picking buffaloberries.

Buffaloberries are full of tart-sweet flavor!  They get sweeter when dried.

Lemonade berries, when soaked in water make a lemony flavored drink. 
They are refreshing to suck on when out hiking.

Gamble oak acorns are low in tannins and so aren't as bitter as most acorns.

Serviceberries are the sweetest native fruit I know of.  They make excellent juice that can be added to other beverages like tea or lemonade to sweeten them.  The fruit is so good eaten fresh!

I hope you enjoyed this picture blog of native fruits.  I would love to know your favorites, and how you prepare them!

Monday, August 28, 2023

Western Slope Willow Workshop

 Posted by Mollie Freilicher, CSU Extension, Tri-River Area

Even though it meant a trip through Glenwood Canyon twice on a rainy day, last week I attended a willow identification workshop in and around Vail. (Spoiler alert - the canyon stayed open and the workshop was great!) 

The workshop was hosted by the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and the Colorado Native Plant Society and led by botanist Gwen Kittel. Gwen recently published a book on willow identification Willows (Salix) of Colorado: Their Ecology & IdentificationWillows (genus Salix) readily hybridize, which can make identification difficult. I was hoping to demystify willow identification a bit and learn more about the species of willow here in Colorado, and particularly on the Western Slope. Other attendees included CSU Extension Native Plant Master Trainers, consultants, and others interested in learning more about native willows. 

upper side of leaves
Mountain willow (Salix monticola), upper side of leaves

lower side of leaves
Mountain willow (Salix monticola), lower side of leaves

We dove right in at the bike path at Copper Mountain, elevation 9,830 ft. Gwen handed us a vegetative key she developed for willows (and recently revised for her book). She walked us over to our first prospect and asked us to key it out.  After what felt like an eternity and lots of looks at leaf hairs under a hand lens, we arrived at the species, Drummond’s willow (Salix drummondiana)…and then proceeded to do six more at the site.

conifers and willows along a stream
Willows along the bike path at Copper Mountain.

Some of the things we were looking for as we went through the key -

  • Were the twigs pruinose? That is, did they have a waxy coating on the twig surface? 
  • How hairy are the leaves? Are they hairy above? Below?
  • How much longer are the leaves than wide?
  • And much more

We moved on to the second site at Vail Pass, elevation 10,663. Here we had a great comparison of two willows, we had seen at the first site - planeleaf willow (Salix planifolia) and Wolf’s willow (S. wolfii var. wolfii). We could easily see the hairy leaf underside of Wolf’s willow, compared to the smooth hairless, planeleaf willow.

two different shrubs that look similar
It took a close look to distinguish Wolf's willow and planeleaf willow.

underside of leaves
Looking closely, we could see the hairs on the upper and lower leaf surface of Wolf's willow.

We had, for the most part, dodged the rain, but by the time we got to the last stop, the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail, elevation 8,200, it was pouring and was not going to stop. 

One of the last willows we identified, coyote willow (Salix exigua). Unlike all the other willows we had seen during the day, this one had much narrower leaves.

We persevered along the bike path and keyed out more new species. The keying got mentally easier the more we did it, but physically harder because of the rain. By the end of the day, we had identified 12 species and keyed even more as review. I came away with improved keying skills and more familiarity with and appreciation Western Slope willows.


Friday, August 11, 2023

Flower-Visiting Beetles--not always visiting why you think!


Posted by John Murgel, Douglas County Extension


We get a pretty regular supply of interesting insects coming through the Extension office as folks find bugs in yards and gardens through the season.  This time of year, with many native shrubs and flowers coming into full bloom, is no exception.  Flowers are entomological restaurants, pick-up joints, and crime scenes; well worth spending a few minutes observing while out in the garden (or on a hike!).


One of the common groups of insects that is brought in for identification are termed “flower-visiting beetles.”  The adults are often seen on open blossoms like sunflowers, asters, and rabbitbrush, sometimes in large groups.  These beetles are perhaps sipping nectar, but don’t let this fool you—many are fierce predators of the insect world.


This week a sample of a flower-visiting clerid, or checkered beetle, came in.  Checkered beetles, both as larvae and adults, are almost all predators of other beetles—particularly bark beetles like ips or mountain pine beetle.  This particular insect, though, was in the genus Trichodes, the bee-eating beetles.  Most Trichodes prey on solitary bees and wasps, laying sticky eggs on flowers for bees and wasps to inadvertently carry to nest sites with them, where the eggs hatch and consume the bee larvae and the food the mother bee stored up for it.  A few even accost hosts at flowers and riding back to nest sites in order to lay their eggs near their bee-victims’.  This week’s beetle was, thankfully, less emotionally taxing for a gardener—its larvae feed on the eggs of grasshoppers. 


clerid beetle side view

beetle from top view

Adult beetles not only eat pollen but also hunt a wide variety of insects smaller than themselves.  They are covered in defensive bristles and have powerful, downward-pointing jaws to get the job done.  Their wings are a beautiful blue-purple with red markings, possibly a warning-color mimicry of stinging insects used to deter predators like birds. 


clerid beetle in side view
Look at those jaws!

A lot is going on in the average garden, and much of it is inconsequential to our gardening success.  It sure is fun to watch, though, and not for the first time I am grateful to be the size that I am and not a grasshopper!