This section is from the book "The Native Flowers And Ferns Of The United States ", by Thomas Meehan. Also available from Amazon: The Native Flowers and Ferns of the United States in Their Botanical, Horticultural, And Popular Aspects.
One foot high, scabrous-hirsute; one to two flowered; leaves oblong-lanceolate, very entire, superior ones sessile; heads small, involucre hemispherical, scales oblong, or ovate-lanceolate, (those I have seen erect,) hirsute with short gray hair; corolla teeth, somewhat hispid externally; ray florets about ten, (nearly an inch.) (Asa Gray in Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, vol. 8, p. 655.)
ONE who is familiar only with the wild plants of the Eastern, or, rather, the Atlantic States of the Union, or even with the vegetation of the Pacific coast, can have no idea of the unique character of the forms he may meet with in the interior portions of the continent. It seems to have a vegetation peculiar to itself. He may now and then meet with some familiar feature, but there are a large number that have characters essentially novel, and, indeed, whole families that are found in these wild places and nowhere else. This is particularly the case with the vegetation of the mountain region in Utah; for here a class of plants appears that have little relation with the flora of the older settled States, and whose allies would probably be found, if at all, in the warmer and dryer regions of more southern countries. Even the scenery itself is peculiar, and the very winds seem to tell of another land. The writer of this, as he has stood among these wonderfully beautiful Utah mountains and admired the curious flowers growing among them, could well exclaim with Bryant:
" Breezes of the South! Who toss the golden and the flame-like flowers,
And pass the prairie hawk that, poised on high,
Flaps his broad wings, yet moves not - ye have played
Among the palms of Mexico and vines
Of Texas, and have crisped the limpid brooks
That from the fountains of Sonora glide
Into the calm Pacific - have ye found
A nobler or a lovelier scene than this ?"
It was in a "scene like this," in the lower regions of the Wah-satch mountains, that the writer first saw what he believes to have been the "golden and flame-like flowers" of this beautiful Utah plant. Some of the stout roots were dug with his botanical trowel, and so sure was he of getting them to stow that no specimens were secured for the herbarium, but unfortunately they did not live. Subsequently, on the writer's return, Mr. A. L. Siler, of Kane county, Utah, was applied to, who in time furnished seeds, and from them plants flowered in the writer's garden, in 1878, which perhaps were the first living plants in the East, and from these our drawing was made. When it flowered it proved to be the Wyethia Arizonica, which had been described under this name by Dr. Gray, a few years before, from specimens collected in Arizona by Dr. Palmer. Dr. Gray also credits Captain F. M. Bishop with finding it in southern Utah, and Mr. Siler must share the credit of the early discovery with these deserving; names.
We may learn from this account how unsafe it is to depend on a plant's name for much knowledge. No species had been found in Arizona before Dr. Palmer discovered this; others, previously known, grew more northerly. It was named from its location, but we see it has already been received from Utah; and though this but partially robs the name of peculiarity, the finding of another species in Arizona, a not unlikely occurrence, would take the meaning entirely away.
As already noted, other species of Wyethia exist, but the first one was only found in 1834, and the circumstances connected with its discovery are so interesting that we are tempted to enlarge on them. People in these times often wonder how it was before the days of railroads and steamboats, when the whole interior of our continent was given up to savages and wild beasts, and was for thousands of miles a trackless wilderness, that men could be found to push through from the Atlantic to the Pacific in search of plants, no matter how great their love or enthusiasm for nature might be. But they were only able to do it by taking advantage of every opportunity that promised safety. In the case of the discovery of the Wyethia a party of individuals in New York and Boston formed themselves into a company with the object of establishing fishing, hunting and trading posts along the line from the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River, on the Pacific; and resolved on sending an armed expedition across the continent for this purpose. Thomas Nuttall, the botanist, then in Philadelphia, desired to join this company in order to get the chance to collect plants; and he was, in company with Mr. Townsend, another member of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, permitted to do so. They started by wagons across Pennsylvania to Pittsburg, and from thence took a boat and went down the Ohio to St. Louis, where they arrived on the 24th of March, 1834, after this long winter voyage, in time to go with the party. The expedition was commanded by Captain N. B. Wyeth, who also had a pecuniary interest in the trading company. Mr. Townsend tells us of the enthusiasm of Mr. Nuttall for his favorite pursuit, and which was, in a measure, communicated to all the party, so that on one occasion, when the flowers were more than usually lovely, the whole party "shouted 'beautiful! beautiful!' and Mr. Nuttall was here in his glory. He rode far ahead of the company and cleared the passages with a trembling and eager hand, looking anxiously back at the approaching party, as though he feared it would come and tread his lovely prizes under foot. From this time Mr. Nuttall found dozens of new species almost daily." After an immense amount of hardship and suffering they arrived at their destination, and Mr. Nuttall left the party to pursue his botanical investigations in the Sandwich Islands and California.
But it was not on this part of the journey that the Wyethia was discovered, but on the return trip to the Missouri of Wyeth's party. Knowing nothing of botany, yet Mr. Nuttall's love of collecting had so impressed Wyeth that he determined to collect himself, and this was among the lot he found. Mr. Nuttall subsequently described it in the "Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia" as Wyethia helianthoides. The location given was the "Kansas plains, near the Flat Head River, towards the sources of the Oregon." Since that time nine other species have been found, and there may probably be more by the time the interior of our country has been fully explored.
The first impression of the collector would be to compare it with the sun-flower - Helianthus - and this evidently was Mr. Nuttall's idea in the name of his first species - W. helian-iJwidcs; but a critical examination of the flowers will show the distinction. The tube of the disc corolla (see Fig. 4) is campan-ulate, and with very little constriction at the point of union with the achene.
Since the above was written, Dr. Rothrock's "Botany of the Wheeler Survey of the One Hundredth Meridian" has appeared, in which is a good plain drawing and description of the plant, which was found by the collectors at Willow Spring, Arizona. There are some little differences between the plant found here and the description adopted at the head of our chapter. Rothrock found the plant two or three feet high, and from two to four flowered, and the flowers are rather large instead of "small." There are also some slight differences in the details of the flowers. It is well to call attention to these little differences as showing the student that he must rarely expect to find a plant in any species to agree exactly with a description in every little particular. Variation, as a law of nature, pervades the individuals of a species, as well as gives the character to species itself.