Sunday, January 14, 2018

Spring Ephemeral

That's large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora), from the Chequamegon National Forest, in Price County, WI. Photo 5/11/07.

One way or another, most life on earth depends upon light from the sun. Over the course of a year, a tremendous amount of solar energy reaches the earth’s atmosphere – many times the amount energy used by the human race in a year. Of that, about one-third is reflected back into space and one-half is absorbed at the earth’s surface. 
Lately, there is a lot of energy being poured into the conversion of solar energy into electrical energy. Solar panels. Their useful life is about 30 years and then they become waste. It is estimated that Japan will produce 10,000 tons of solar panel waste in the year 2020. Recently, the production of solar panels in California produced about 5,000 tons of contaminated sludge and water per year. It is estimated that the human race will produce 60-78 million tons of solar panel waste by 2050. Some electronic waste is burned to recover valuable minerals but the smoke is highly toxic. Most of the electronic waste in the US is stacked in garages and closets, pausing before it enters what is called the "trash stream", which, from where we stand, looks an awful lot like an actual stream with actual dead fish that is emptying into an actual dying ocean. 
Meanwhile, at the earth's surface, plants capture solar energy and, through photosynthesis, convert the light into sugar, which is then used for tissues, structure, growth, and reproduction. Solar panels. A leaf has a useful life of no more than a few years, in the case of evergreen species. Deciduous leaves are good for less than one year. Once their useful life is over, they become waste. The leaves turn shocking hues of red, orange, yellow which stun and bemaze onlookers, flutter to the ground, are dismantled cell-by-cell by trillions of unpaid organisms, and are completely reabsorbed into this thing called an ecosystem, enriching the soil, enabling growth of yet more plants. 
Light is life. Plants will orient their leaves and stems toward the light, following the sun across the sky and jockeying for patches of sunlight that have slipped through the forest canopy. In temperate latitudes, when those deciduous trees and shrubs lose their leaves in the fall, it exposes the forest floor to the sun’s rays. When spring returns and the sun rises higher in the sky, daylight and soil temperatures increase and snowmelt moistens the soil. Trees and shrubs break out of their winter dormancy. But before the light and temperature are sufficient for trees and shrubs to leaf out and cast shadows all over the forest floor, a special group of plants lying beneath the leaf litter reanimate and emerge, taking advantage of the open canopy and bounty of sunlight. Found in North America, Russia, and Japan, these are called spring ephemerals.
Plants are like shift workers; different species are active at different times of the year. Spring ephemerals work best in cooler temperatures, those found in the early spring. The spring shift. They photosynthesize at high rates and absorb water efficiently when the soil temperatures are low, when most deciduous trees and shrubs are just beginning to move sap and produce leaves. Thus, while many other plants take an entire growing season to produce leaves, flower, set seed and go dormant, spring ephemerals are able to accomplish this in a matter of 6 to 8 weeks.
After these weeks pass, spring ephemerals have stored enough carbohydrates for the next growing season. By then, soil temperatures have become intolerably warm for these species. This signals the end of their shift. Their flowers fade, leaves wither, nutrients are recycled from stems and leaves, and seeds are set. Just as the rest of the forest is leafing out and gearing up for a busy summer of solar alchemy, the summer shift, spring ephemerals are retiring for the season, spending the remainder of the summer in a dormant state. They disappear from view. Where there were once carpets of trout lilies (Erythronium americanum), Carolina spring beauty (Claytonia caroliniana), and Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), there is a shaded forest floor beneath a dense canopy of trees and shrubs.
What a life. No punch clock. No boss. No litigation. No indentured servitude, remediation, arbitrators, hazardous materials, safety violations, labor riots, lockouts, sick leave, hostile takeovers, unfunded mandates. No maintenance schedule, failure points, recalls, noxious fumes, spaghetti code, obsolescence, incompatibility. And no patents. This technology is free for the taking.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Fires to Date

This is fire.
Photo 8/26/12 near Fairmont Hot Springs, MT. 

Probably from the Mustang Complex Fire along the Montana-Idaho border. It burned 332,000 acres or 518 square miles, about twice the size of Chicago or 2000 times bigger than Disneyland, which may have a thrilling, all-ages amusement ride involving fire and Bambi, but we are not certain. 

It is the end of the year and this is a good time to review the list of the wildfire acres in the US for the past 58 years (data from the National Interagency Fire Center).

You will note that the past year was the third worst fire season since 1960. And you will note that the average acreages have about doubled since the 1960's and the top ten fire seasons have occurred since 2000. 

*** Update: Since this was posted on January 1st, the final numbers for the 2017 fire season came in and it proved to be the second-worst fire season since 1960, surpassing the 10 million-acre mark for the second time. *** 

Plot this on a graph, describe the slope of the line, and see where it leads you in say, 20 years, at which time you may reminisce about the days when you didn't camp in fireproof tents.

Spoon-leaf sundew (Drosera intermedia)

Photo 7/24/04, Cook County, MN
Meat tenderizer. 

These are carnivorous plants, inhabiting fens, bogs and peatlands in the northern latitudes. Pretty as they may be, these peatlands are killing fields. Insects are attracted to a sweet mucilage secreted by the glandular hairs on the sundew leaf. The hairs are thigmonastic, that is, they move in response to touch or vibration. The hairs converge on the struggling insect. The musilage contains enzymes: chitinase, esterase, peroxidase, phosphatase, protease. The mucilage secretion is stimulated by specific molecules. A quote from Matusikova 2005: "The reaction of sundew leaves depends on the molecular nature of the inducer applied." And from Gallie 1997, regarding pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea), another carnivorous plant found in fens and bogs: "Hydrolase expression is induced upon perception of the appropriate chemical signal."
This is to say, the glistening tentacles of sundew respond to touch and the chemistry of the insect that lands on them, inducing the plant to produce enzymes and to curl the tentacles around the insect. 
The purpose of all of this is to convert the insect into digestible material for the plant, enabling it to live in a nutrient-poor habitat, such as bogs are. 
Yes, like a cold fog, death creeps across the sodden moor. 
That is not all. These northern bogs have two other carnivorous plants. Pitcher plant traps insects in a leafy vase filled with rainwater and enzymes. The vase is lined with sharp spikes, like concertina wire, preventing any escape. Bladderwort (Utricularia) has a submerged bladder under negative pressure that has a trap door and a lever. A water flea or mosquito larvae that touch the lever open the trap door, sucking it into the bladder within tenths of a second. Once again, it is bathed in digestive enzymes. 
The insect dies within 15 minutes, and it is safe to say that these are the most horrifying 15 minutes of his brief, hapless life, as the powerful enzymes attack his defenseless, softening body and reduce it to a soupy meal. 
We are pleased that insects do not scream, at least in a range heard by humans.…/ar…/PMC158611/pdf/1151461.pdf

Seed Bank

Death Valley 4/8/16
Flowers are desert chicory (Rafinesquia neomexicana), pebble pincushion (Chaenactis carphoclinia), golden evening primrose (Camissonia brevipes), desert dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata), showy gilia (Gilia cana triceps) to mention a few. 
Soil seed bank, to be precise. These are flowers in Death Valley, many of which are annuals, germinating from seeds in a rare year when rains are sufficient. Look up "Superbloom." The seeds have been in the soil for years, waiting for the right rains to come. 
The Soil Seed Bank is the repository of seeds in the leaf litter, soil surface, or soil layer. They are like a bank in that they are available for germination in a landscape that has failed to produce seeds in one growing season or more. This failure can happen in times of drought, fire, landslide, floods, hail, human disturbance. The seeds in the seed bank may germinate when favorable conditions return, restoring the historic array of species. That is, as long as the seeds remain viable over the course of the unfavorable conditions.
Seed banks are found wherever plants, animals, wind or other vectors deposit seeds: in the black prairie soils, the bottom of lakes, the muck in swamps, bogs, and marshes, dunes, badland soils, and even permafrost. Some species of seed may be viable for decades, even centuries. In 2012, Russian scientists regenerated Silene stenophylla (narrow-leaved campion, a plant found in Siberia and northern Japan) from a 32,000-year-old late Pleistocene seed that had been buried in the permafrost. Although this specimen wasn't regenerated from a seed, it indicates a potential for ancient germplasm in ice-age seed repositories. 
Some of the seeds in our modern soils may have a very long viability in the seed bank. In 1879, botanist William Beal put seeds from 20 species in glass bottles and buried them 20 inches deep. Every 5, 10, or 20 years scientists have dug up a bottle of his seeds to see which ones germinate. In 1980 they were able to germinate moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria), common mullein (Verbascum thapsus) and common mallow (Malva neglecta), over 100 years after their burial. 
So, the natural cycles of disturbance may play within these time limits, but we are not convinced that anthropogenic disturbances play by the rules. Like the story of the Romanov family, we have the alarming capacity to eliminate a whole lineage in one dark night.

Hell Creek Formation

Hell Creek Formation badlands below the red line, Ludlow Formation Badlands above the red line. 
Photo 10/4/06 in Corson County, SD.

Of moving-pictures fame, the Hell Creek formation is a series of greyish, mostly bedded, freshwater claystone, siltstone, mudstones, and sandstones and lesser amounts of lignite. Notice the rust-colored rocks in the foreground. In our travels, that has been a telltale marker of the HCF. It was deposited during the Cretaceous period at the end of the Mesozoic Era. It contains sedimentary features such as siderite nodules, mud cracks, raindrop impressions, ripple marks, and bird and animal tracks. It has produced many excellent and renowned dinosaur skeletons, including Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex. 
The Ludlow formation is of more recent origin and lies on top of the Hell Creek formation and dates to the early Paleogene (Tertiary) period at the beginning of the Cenozoic Era. Much like the Hell Creek formation, it is composed of bedded claystones, siltstones, mudstones, and sandstones interlayered with lignite. It is distinguished from the Hell Creek formation by the persistence of lignite and a brownish hue.
The fossil is likely to be a fragment of a Triceratops shield, with what appear to be the blood vessel tracks. There are innumerable Triceratops fragments scattered across the Hell Creek Formation. Ultimately, the species was the victim of the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) extinction event, wherein three-quarters of the earth's plant and animal species went extinct in a very short period of time, including almost all dinosaurs, many marine invertebrates, many land animals, and many angiosperms. Current theory holds that it was caused by a celestial Doomsday Machine, a meteor that hit the Yucatan Peninsula with the force of 100 million atomic bombs, incinerating terrestrial life with an infared radiation pulse, dusting the planet in iridium, shrouding it in darkness and sulfuric acid aerosols, and plunging it into an impact winter. 
Should have sold while they had a chance.

Ground Nest

Photo 9/28/06, Corson County. SD

This is probably a Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis) nest. It's made out of Artemisia cana sticks, in an isolated location, no closer than 1.43 miles from any human habitations. No bones, feathers, or other signs of activity at the time of the photo. 
No surprise. In the early 1900's, North Dakota was referred to as the "ferruginous-rough-leg state" because of the abundance of the species. At that time North Dakota had vast, unbroken prairie, ideal Ferruginous Hawk habitat. The hawk thrives in expansive, open, arid grasslands and shrub-steppe communities. 
But that was then. A century of agricultural, residential, and commercial development has degraded their habitat. Thus, their numbers have declined across their range. 
Here are some details: Ferruginous Hawks are very susceptible to agricultural or human disturbance. They will select nest sites to avoid human habitation, avoid nesting within 0.7 mile of an occupied building, and may be less productive in areas with disturbance, or may abandon nests if disturbed too often by human activity. Historically, nests were most often ground nests on grassy overlooks in native prairie, less often in trees or rocks, occasionally in peripheral, isolated trees. More recently, due to pressures from predators, their nesting preferences have become isolated trees, haystacks, and power line towers.
This preference for large, unbroken habitats suggests that Ferruginous Hawk is an interior species. Interior species are adversely affected by highly fragmented habitats and prefer the interior of large, unbroken, relatively undisturbed habitats. Here is a quote from the USDA:
"Fragmentation of a landscape reduces the area of original habitat and increases the total lineal feet of edge, favoring species that inhabit edges at the expense of interior species that require large continuous patches. Ecologists, such as Wilcox and Murphy, believe that habitat fragmentation is the most serious threat to biological diversity and is the primary cause of the present extinction crisis." 

Extinction crisis. That's for another day. Should I live to see it.

Bullion Butte, ND

Southwestern Billings County, ND. Photo 6/3/03; Penstemon albidus in the foreground

There be better buttes but this be a butte.

This is a 3350-foot tall butte, rising about 1000 feet above the Little Missouri River which is 1.5 miles to the northeast. The cliffs along the rim of the butte are about 120 feet high. Prairie Falcons nest in the rocky rim and the overhangs and caves have sheltered mountain lions. The winds get strong up high on the prairie, nothing holds them back.

This butte is one of several dozen prominent buttes in the western Dakotas (Thunder, Sentinel, Square, Round Top, Haystack, Castle Rock...). They are the product of differential erosion, where erosion occurs at differing rates in a unit of land due to varying hardnesses of the surface material. The harder material that remains while the rest of the softer surface material erodes away is called a caprock. The landform that is created by the caprock is called a butte, a reminder of the elevated plateau that once was.

Climbing to the summit of Bullion Butte in low hanging clouds and a cold mist, one might expect to discover a lost world of Titanotheres, Oreodonts, and Entelodonts peacefully grazing on the short grasses as a giant meteorite streaks overhead towards Chesapeake Bay. No, not today. But, these summits have some unique plant species generally not found on the surrounding plains that may be relicts of the pre-Pleistocene Ice Age landscape, the elevated plateau. One species is Phlox alyssifolia. The sideslopes, scree, and talus surrounding the butte have thousands of specimens. But it is not found on the surrounding plains. It is thought that the species had a wider distribution on the elevated landscape that was eroded away. These remaining populations are relict populations, like the buttes, reminders of what once was.

Keystone Species

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia), McKenzie County, ND. Photo 8/11/15. 

Although widespread and numerous, their numbers are declining. They are considered rare in some western states and Canada. These birds are strongly dependent upon prairie dog town burrows.

This is the story: It is estimated that there were 1 billion prairie dogs in North America before European settlement. As a result of widespread deliberate poisoning, conversion of prairie to cropland, and the introduction of sylvatic plague, the acreage and population of prairie dogs saw a 90-98% decline from the year 1900. This eradication has had unintended and unforeseen consequences. The landscape features created by prairie dogs support a host of other species, including the Burrowing Owl. A quote from Miller, 2000:

"Nine of the species depended on prairie dogs. Abundance data for an additional 20 species indicated the opportunistic use of prairie dog colonies, and abundance data for another 117 species was lacking on or off colonies, but their life history indicated that they could potentially benefit from prairie dog activities." 

In so doing, the prairie dog is considered a keystone species. Quoting from Miller again, a keystone species "must exert an effect, the effect must be larger than predicted by their abundance, and the effects should be unique." In other words, they have an outsized influence on the species around them and an exceptional number of those species rely upon them.  

The unintended and unforeseen consequence: As prairie dogs declined, so did many of those 146 species around them. The most notable example of this was the black-footed ferret, which dines almost exclusively on prairie dogs. As prairie dogs were eradicated, the ferret followed, nearly to extinction. By 1981, only one small colony in Wyoming remained, and in 1985, it barely survived an outbreak of canine distemper, another introduced disease. Today, there are about 300 of them at captive-breeding facilities and they have been introduced into the wild at 28 locations to date. Four locations have self-sustaining populations. It is estimated that there are hundreds of ferrets in the wild today. Distemper, plague, and inbreeding threaten to usher them out of existence and into museum displays. 

At one time there were tens of thousands.

Stone Circles

McKenzie County, ND. Photo 9/14/09

Easily overlooked, they appear as random stones to many who walk across the prairie. Circles of stone in the prairie grass, often on ridges, overlooks, four-star views, sometimes hidden by accumulations of soil and thatch. 
There is some debate about their purpose and use. The understanding in past centuries was that they were used for holding down the edges of the tipis used by plains Indians. As you pass through the northern Great Plains, you may note that the winds remind you of those found on Jupiter, especially as a low-pressure system passes through in the colder months. But today, some take issue with the term "tipi ring", believing they may be ceremonial arrangements of stones. Hence, they are no longer called "tipi rings" by some. 

In any event, the Hind Expedition of 1858 observed:
"On the banks of the valley the remains of ancient encampments in the form of rings of stones to hold down the skin tents are everywhere visible, and testify to the former numbers of the Plains Cree."
Another anthropologist stated in 1889:
"The Indians claim that the stone circles mark the places where in former times the tepees of their people were located, and that the bowlders held down the edges of the skin tents in place."
Nicollet observed in 1838:
"One mile from the Traverse des Sioux, and on the bank of the river, are the remains of an Indian camp; the circular area of which is still indicated by the heaps of stones around each lodge."
Barrow observed this firsthand in the 1880's:
"The typical tepee was a conical lodge of specially tanned elkskin stretched over a framework of perhaps twenty-five skin peeled lodge-pole pine. The bottom of the tepee was held down by stones."
And so forth.
Here is a bulletin from the Smithsonian that contains numerous testimonials:
And an 1889 report describing ceremonial stone sculptures near Watertown, SD:

Short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma douglassi)

Photo 7/31/08, Billings County, ND
Declining across its range, imperilled in SD and Saskatchewan, vulnerable in MT, and there was talk about tracking it or listing it on the Dakota Prairie Grasslands. 
About 14 species of the lizard in the US. They are found in the western US, in hostile environments. Hot, dry, barren. In ND, they are found in the western badlands. 
This is a big monster in a little body. They do pushups and other feats of strength when approached by a human and, most alarmingly, they squirt their foul-tasting blood from the corner of their eyes for a distance of five feet, a terrifying act made possible by their ability to increase the blood pressure in their head. Currently, we are glad that they are not the size of humans.

Bird Mortality

Here are some studies about bird mortality in the US.
Bird-Communication Towers - 6.8 million birds/year.
"The resulting estimate of mortality at towers is 6.8 million birds per year in the United States and Canada."
Bird-Vehicle - 89 million birds/year
"We estimated that between 89 and 340 million birds die annually from vehicle collisions on U.S. roads."
Bird-Building - 599 million birds/year
"We estimate that between 365 and 988 million birds...are killed annually by building collisions in the U.S., with roughly 56% of mortality at low-rises, 44% at residences, and,1% at high-rises."
Bird-Wind Turbine - 234,000 birds/year
"We estimate that between 140,000 and 328,000 (mean = 234,000) birds are killed annually by collisions with monopole turbines in the contiguous U.S."
Bird-Power Line - 26 million birds/year
They "estimate that between 12 and 64 million birds are killed each year at U.S. power lines."
And, lastly, I must throw cats into the mix:
Bird-Cat - 2.4 billion birds/year
"We estimate that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.3–4.0 billion birds and 6.3–22.3 billion mammals annually."
This study has been contested. Professor of Anthropology Barbara King complained about "demonizing cats with shaky statistics."

Fassett's Locoweed (Oxytropis campestris var. chartacea)

WI endangered, Federally threatened.

Photo 6/23/09. Western Bayfield County, WI
A story: Notice the secondary taxonomic ranking, a variety. Species within the Oxytropis campestris complex are found around the northern hemisphere. This variety is disjunct, that is, distant from other O. campestris varieties - the nearest variety is v. gracilis, some 340 miles to the west. At one time this was considered to be identical to v. johannensis, a variety found near James Bay and the Saint John River. However, genetic studies showed that the Fassett's locoweed samples descended from a common ancestor and the variety is a sister to v. johannensis. Thus, it was more isolated than some had thought. 
It exhibits high within-population diversity and low among-population differentiation. This leads to the notion that this species is a relict of a wider pre-Holocene distribution, possibly along the shores of large glacial lakes in the region. Glaciers receded, populations became isolated and differentiated.
Today, v. chartacea it is limited to the sandy, exposed, sunny shores of shallow, seepage lakes in WI. In times of high-water tables, when shores are submerged, the plant will be absent. Some may panic, thinking that it has been extirpated, or has become locally extinct. However, when periodic drought resumes and the exposed shoreline expands, the dormant seeds buried in the substrate, the seed bank, will sprout and the shoreline will be repopulated with the species. 
This was the case in 2009, as northern WI was in the midst of a 9-year drought and seepage lakes were shrinking dramatically. Although surveys a few years earlier during high water had revealed no Fassett's locoweed, and a grave sense of alarm was growing, the surveys in 2009 revealed approximately one gazillion specimens. 
Interestingly, the low water conditions exposed old corduroy logging roads that may have been constructed during the drought of the 1930's. 
Rain comes and rain goes.

Dakota buckwheat (Eriogonum visheri)

Grand River National Grasslands, Perkins County, SD
Photos from August 2013 and 2014. 
Rare across its range. Limited to the western half of the northern Great Plains. 
Edaphic endemic, annual. Endemic means unique to a geographic area, in this case, the north-western plains. Edaphic means specific to a particular soil, in this case, exposed, often disturbed, badland claystones, mudstones, siltstones.  
These mobile, elusive populations shift across a given badland outcrop from year to year. It is our suspicion that the location of the following year's population is partly determined by the prevailing direction of the strongest winter winds and the direction of runoff during rains and snowmelt. 
Being an annual with such particular tastes, it is inherently at risk of extirpation. One bad stretch of weather, disturbance, or pathogen and the seed bank viability may have lapsed. This is the life of an annual in the wild. 
That being so, viabilty of the seeds in the seedbank is essential for the survival of this species. Apparently, it has innate dormancy, some seeds resisting germination despite ideal conditions, ensuring the survival of some seeds into the next year in the event that the current crop fails. It has been observed that Eriogonum annuum has one of the largest seed banks in the Nebraska Sand Hills, yet only 6% of the seeds germinate in any given year. 
As always, it is worth noting that there are several other species of Eriogonum out there that are very similar in appearance to E. visheri, such as E. gordonii, E. trichopes, E. corvilleanum, E. cernuum, E. rotundifolium, and E. gracile.

Barr's milkvetch (Astragalus barrii)

Scenic Basin, SD, June 1993
USFS Sensitive species; S1 NE; S3 SD, MT and WY. 
A perennial, regional endemic found on exposed, eroding soils in western SD, southeastern MT, northeastern WY, and northeastern NE. The largest population, found near Scenic, SD, numbering possibly 12 million specimens, showed a predilection for a specific badland formation, the Chadron Formation claystone. When in bloom in such numbers, the air was perfumed like a field of clover. Which it nearly is, being a legume. Most occurrences are in the Powder River Basin in WY.

Michaux's sedge (Carex michauxiana)

Northern Bayfield County, WI. 7/5/05
Rare in parts of its range - Wisconsin, Massachusetts.
Along the exposed, sandy shores of a seepage lake in the Moquah Pine Barrens. This was during a prolonged drought and the lakes were very low.
The barrens are on a dry, sandy outwash plain. It is a fire-dependent ecosystem, ordinarily dominated by low-lying plant species. But 60 years of fire suppression resulted in widespread encroachment by trees and shrubs. It is a USFS Research Natural Area. 
Carex are distinct from grasses, usually having three-edged stems and a bottle-shaped bract surrounding the female flower and seed. The bract is called a perigynium and the fruit is called an achene.

Hooker's townsendia (Townsendia hookeri)

Rare in the northern Great Plains, secure in the remainder of its range, typically found in elevated, gravelly, badland exposures.
Perennial from a branched caudex, forming a tuft of leaves. 
Very difficult to distinguish from another species, Townsendia exscapa. The species identity may best be indicated by habitat: hookeri is usually on badland exposures, exscapa is usually in the thick of prairie grasses apart from badland exposures. This is a fairly consistent phenomenon. 
The legend of this species is that two botanical experts on Eriogonum disagreed on the identity of a single specimen of Eriogonum, one calling it hookeri, the other calling it exscapa. The solution was Solomonic: Cut the species in two and give it back to everyone; the authorities deemed both of the species as rare and be done with the squabbling.
This photo was taken on April 14, 2016. The population was engulfed by the Ridge Road Fire on April 14, 2015 and was back in bloom exactly one year later. Not a scratch. Prairie forbs have most of their biomass below ground, protected from fire.

Western prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera praeclara)

Sheyenne National Grasslands, Ransom County, ND.
Federally threatened species; rare across its range.
A tallgrass prairie species, occupying the edges of prairie wetlands, this species declined, along with many others, as almost every square yard of the tallgrass prairie was converted to cropland. All that remains are a few weary patches in cemeteries, railroad right-of-way, and small, embattled preserves.
Notice the Fibonacci sequence, a sum of the previous two numbers to infinity. This is how matter is packed into space with minimum wasted space. 

Smooth Goosefoot (Chenopodium subglabrum)

Photo 8/3/07, Perkins County, SD, Grand River National Grassland
This specimen was found in parabolic and blowout sand dunes in Northern Wheatgrass-Needlegrass Plains. These are apparently eolian sediments derived locally from weathered Ludlow Formation sandstone and/or sandbars deposted by the Grand River.
The species is rare across its range in the Northern Great Plains.
It is an early successional species, stabilizing active sand dunes such as dune slacks, blowouts, river banks, and disturbed sandy plains. It is vulnerable due to dune encroachment. Grazing animals maintain suitable habitat. 

Dry Falls

Photo 5/12/17
This is in Dry Falls State Park, WA. Shrub-steppe habitat. At the head of Lower Grand Coulee, a large canyon without a river.
This, as far as we know, was the largest waterfall on earth, 3.5 miles wide. 
The broad valley with dry falls was formed when the ice dams at the south end of the Cordilleran ice sheet broke, draining Glacial Lakes Missoula and Columbia, at one time rivalling Lake Michigan in size. There may have been 25 or more of these Missoula Floods. The wall of water is estimated to have been 300 feet high, travelling at 65 miles per hour, an intensity required to move the garage-sized boulders downstream. The floodwaters filled the Willamette Valley, depositing rich Palouse Silt, before exiting at Wallula Gap, the chaos giving rise to millions of apples. This is how the earth farms itself.