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Utah wildflower update: Revenge of the Plyf

First Published      Last Updated Jun 14 2017 11:06 am

Learning to identify flowers is one of the most gratifying parts of hiking for me.

But yellow flowers are a struggle.

A lot of them look generally like sunflowers or dandelions in various sizes, and I don't always remember to take a photo that clearly shows the foliage or the size of the plant. The identification guides don't always show those things either.

A few years back I joined the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation for a wildflower walk around Silver Lake in Big Cottonwood Canyon, and I noticed some yellow blooms along the trail and asked the guide if he knew what they were.

"Those are plyfs," he told me.

I started flipping to the index of my field guide. "P-L-I-F ..."

"P-L-Y-F," he corrected me. "Pretty Little Yellow Flower."

So I guess it's not just me. Steve Hegji, author of the book Wasatch Wildflowers, writes to me that the yellow members of the sunflower family (or composite family) "are lovingly called 'DYC's.' It stands for 'Da**ed Yellow Composite'."

"The D part of the phrase is because there are so many of them, and often it's some minor feature that distinguishes them, that it frustrates us all," Hegji wrote.

According to the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, other botanists have adopted the term "DYT" — Damn Yellow Things — to identify these plants. UNCE's writers explain that ultraviolet patterns in yellow flowers appear blue to insect pollinators, in a way that highlights the center like a bullseye. That may have selected yellow as a common color in early wildflowers, they write.

Meanwhile, red, for example, is less conspicuous to bees; they can SEE red things, but finding the blossoms is less efficient, so those get saved for nectar-feeding birds, according to Spanish researchers Miguel A. Rodríguez-Gironés and Luis Santamaría.

Different critters prefer different flowers, and when bees are the most common pollinators, their favorite color will be well-represented, writes Oklahoma Master Naturalist Becky Emerson Carlberg.

So while they're a dickens to identify, I should probably be happy because yellow is my favorite color, too — and the plyfs are turning up on the trail.

Entry 2: March 24

Hike: Ensign Peak

I didn't see many flowers on this hike, which mostly is on the east face of the slope, but yellow sprays of Oregon Grape were cascading over the nature park at the trailhead (elevation 5,030 feet). You will see this blooming around town as this plant is becoming more common in home landscaping.

About 75 feet higher, I spotted my first plyf of the season — later identified for me by Hegji as arrowleaf balsamroot. Many buds were developing higher on the slope and should be blooming soon.

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