Every plant species is at one time or another someone's UFO (Unidentified Flowering Object; sometimes also referred to, with a raised eyebrow, as "mystery plants"). Recognizing the UFO dilemma, in the early 1980's the Salt Lake Chapter of UNPS often held UFO meetings where individuals would bring in plant slides for potential identification by resident experts. The need has not decreased. In addition to continuing to address the need in historical ways, UNPS frequently receives requests to identify unknown plants growing in Utahscapes in the digital age. As a means to help others in their UFO quests, we present this section. As this section grows and we go back into some of our archives, it will be divided into more logical groups based perhaps on location and/or plant characteristics.
Images contained here are used with permission by the respective photographers (identified on each image along with date and county where taken) and may not be used without the permission of that photographer. Members of the public are welcome to submit digital images to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please keep the size to a reasonably low level (a cropped picture that is in the 100K-500K range is a good place to start; we'll ask for more details if needed). Be sure to also provide the date the picture was taken, who took the picture, where in Utah the picture was taken, and any other information about the habitat or associated species.
Click on the image for a larger view. In the text we provide the plant family scientific and informal name, the plant's scientific name and common name(s), and comments concerning characteristics and distribution.
For some plant identification resources, see links as well as the Wasatch CD, Penstemon CD and Flora ID links.
Cymopterus acaulis var. parvus
Usually under 7 cm tall
Peduncles shortly than leaves, less than 4 cm
An early bloomer.
A narrowly restricted Utah endemic that only occurs in Millard and Tooele counties, typically on aeolian sand
(Basin white-cup spring-parsley)
5 to 15 cm tall
2-3 times pinnately dissected glabrous basal leaves
Whitish bracts forms cup around inflorescence
White to purple flowers
An early bloomer.
Occurs in all Utah counties except Daggett, Davis, Morgan, Summit, Wasatch and Weber; occurs in other western states
Sausage-like, fleshy leaves
1 to 3 cm tall
Leaves 2-5 cm long
Rose or white flowers
Occurs mainly in western Utah, but also in central Utah and in Daggett, San Juan and Washington counties; occurs in other western states
Left: before flowering
Right: flowers hide leaves
Subshrubs forming clumps
5 to 20 cm tall
Spine-like terminal branches
Pink-purple flowers with yellow keels
Somewhat widely distributed in western and southern Utah and also in central Utah and in Duchesne and Uintah counties; occurs in other western states
(syn. Abronia micrantha)
Stems reddish, glandular, 1-6 dm
Flowers 5-15 per head
Perianth tube green to pink
Anthocarps 2-4 winged, veined and suffused with pink
Usually grows in sand, mixed desert scrub, somewhat more concentrated in southeastern Utah, but occurs also in the west desert, southern Utah generally, and in the Uinta Basin; occurs in other western and central states
(Narrowleaf lomatium, Milfoil lomatium)
Usually 15 to 60 cm tall, aromatic
Leaves borne at base, 3 to 5 pinnately dissected leaflets
An early bloomer.
Two varieties occur in Utah: var. depauperatum occurring in western Utah and adjacent Nevada, and var. grayi widespread and occurring in other western states in dry, open, usually rocky places from valleys/foothills to midmontane.
Labiatae or Lamiaceae (Mint)
(Paperbag bush, Bladder-sage, or Mexican bladdersage)
Not a sage!
Shrubs, 3-10 dm tall
Soft twigs, small entire green leaves oblong or lanceolate
2-lipped corolla, upper lip white to light violet, lower lip 3-lobed and dark violet
Fruit becoming papery, inflated
In Utah only occurs in Washington Co. in lower elevation areas, sandy areas in mixed desert shrub, blackbrush, Joshua tree, pinyon-juniper communities. Also found in California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas and Mexico.
Asteraceae (Composite or Sunflower)
(Tidytips or White Layia)
Early blooming (typically May) composite
White 3-lobed ray flowers
Rays overlapping and appearing concentric or 5 or fewer and apart
Yellow disk flowers
Reddish stems with long spreading bristles
Plants may be only a few inches tall (2-5 cm) or as tall as a foot or more (3-5 dm)
In Utah it occurs in an elevational range of roughly 3700 to 6100 ft. In southern Utah, most commonly found in Washington Co. but also occurs in Kane and extreme southwestern San Juan Co. in desert shrub and pinyon-juniper habitats. Distribution in south-central to northern Utah follows mainly the Wasatch Front in foothills, grasslands, on dry open slopes. It once occurred in Salt Lake County primarily in the (4300) 4800 to 5300 foot range (City Creek Canyon and to east side of Salt Lake Valley) but has not been collected since 1904 (A.O. Garrett, May 4, 1904 at 4700 ft.). Also occurs in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico.
Annual, succulent herbs
Prefers saline soils
At first prostrate
When in fruit (as pictured), branches ascending
Fruits papery, winged
Typically 8-30 cm tall
Introduced as a forage crop in the 1930's in northern Nevada but is poisonous to grazing animals, especially sheep. Quickly spread to low elevation deserts of Nevada and Utah, and then from eastern Utah into other states, and has spread into much of Utah.