Research project becomes wildflower guide

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    Danner Pickering stops along the Whitefish Trail to photograph a wildflower.

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    Flathead Valley Community College professor Mirabai McCarthy and student Danner Pickering in front of a poster on the guide at the American Society of Plant Taxonomy conference in Hawaii.

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    Danner Pickering stops along the Whitefish Trail to photograph a wildflower.

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    Flathead Valley Community College professor Mirabai McCarthy and student Danner Pickering in front of a poster on the guide at the American Society of Plant Taxonomy conference in Hawaii.

Danner Pickering and Mirabai McCarthy have both been known to ride along the Whitefish Trail on their bikes, stopping abruptly when they see the glint of wildflower.

Pickering and McCarthy spent months and many miles searching for the wildflowers along the trail. Their work has culminated in “A Pocket Guide to the Whitefish Trail Wildflowers.” The guide was produced by Flathead Valley Community College’s biology department in partnership with Whitefish Legacy Partners and Montana Native Plant Society.

Pickering is a student at FVCC and McCarthy is a plant biology professor at FVCC. Both live in Whitefish and frequent the trail.

“The trails are a fantastic resource,” McCarthy said. “We didn’t have anything that was suitable as a guide and we wanted to inspire people to pay attention to what’s out there in the sea of green. The guide can help people appreciate the wildflowers more.”

The guide contains color photographs and names of more than 125 flowering plants found on the trail.

FVCC encourages its students to participate in undergraduate research. Guided by McCarthy, Pickering conducted a survey of flowering herbs and shrubs in the landscape along more than 40 miles of the Whitefish Trail. The project provided Pickering with field research experience and expanded his knowledge of local plants during the three semesters long project.

He spent last summer out on the trail identifying, cataloging and documenting the flowers along the trail. Then the fall and winter was spent organizing the photos and preparing the guide.

“I’ve taken botany classes, but this was a more interactive process,” Pickering said. “This was fun and it serves a purpose in the end. It teaches you a lot working in the field.”

The guide is small enough to throw in a pack or put in a pocket and is printed on coated paper to protect against the elements. The photos of the flowers are arranged by color to assist with identification, and plants are labeled as native, introduced, noxious weeds, or as circumboreal, which refers to plants found in a range that circles the north portions of the earth.

“We documented everything we saw,” McCarthy said. “We went all the way to the top of Big Mountain and then had to filter through which to include. For the guide, we selected the plants we saw most frequently. We also didn’t include plants that are more commonly known — like dandelions.”

Pickering presented the work at two botanical conferences, among much more seasoned researchers. He was nervous about the experience, but glad he participated.

“It was nerve wracking,” he said. “I’m a novice and I was presenting to experienced botanists. I’m fortunate to have been able to be a part of that experience.”

McCarthy said presenting scientific work is an important skill for students to learn because it’s a key part of any scientific work. She notes that FVCC provides many opportunities for students to present their work even locally at the college.

“The last step is to deliver the research to the public because it’s important to get that information out,” she said.

The pocket guide is available for purchase at the FVCC Bookstore, Whitefish Legacy Partners and various retail stores in Whitefish. The guide can be purchased for $7.95, with sale proceeds supporting FVCC study abroad programs and Whitefish Legacy Partners.

For more information on FVCC programs, contact McCarthy at mmccarthy@fvcc.edu or 756-3624. For more information about the Whitefish Trail, visit www.whitefishlegacy.org.

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