Rob's Blog Archive

July 6, 2014

The Small Adventure of Wildflowers










Trees come into leaf in May.  Then comes the spring runoff.  That peaked in June.  With the streams now receding, it’s time for the annual wildflower display.  This will continue from now until September. 

Like most events in Montana’s annual cycle, the annual bouquet varies from year to year, sometimes flower to flower.  Beargrass peaks every five to seven years.   I saw this the first time in 2010 and a pretty intense bloom last year as well.  I’m guessing last year’s peak was the result of the 2007 fire.  This year, the beargrass shoots are a bit more picky.  There are fields of these I’ve ridden by on my bike, but these are in the areas hit by the 2007 fire, still a favorite for the funny looking lilly.

While not a peak year for beargrass, all of the rest of the flowers look to be making quite a show.  One of the shortfalls I am fixing is that I know the names of only a few of the wildflowers.  Even in writing this I am learning the names of a number of these, or at least determining which of a pair they are:  I have mariposa lilies on my property, not trillium. 

Of course, there are flowers that seem to grow everywhere.  This starts and ends with lupine.  I don’t know that there’s an ecological system north of the tropics that doesn’t have lupine as a wildflower.  They’re like ravens, they are so common that we forget how pretty they actually are. 

In the west, indian paintbrush isn’t far behind lupine in ubiquity.  It ranges from deserts to mountaintops.  There’s plenty of the classic soft red flower here, but I was spoiled by the subspecies found in the Cascades, magenta indian paintbrush.  It is such a striking flower that even in the carpets of avalanche and glacier lilies that the Cascades and Olympics are famous for, it could stand out. 

Other flowers include columbine, blue harebells, yarrow, asters, and a dozen whose names I haven’t yet learned.  And with all of these native flowers, comes the ironical flower.  Soil and climate are apparently near perfect for oxeye daisies and we get dense fields of them.  They are beautiful.  They are also from another world, Europe.  By any working definition, they are a weed.  It’s not clear what the impact of these plants is, but anybody looking around can see that there are large fields of them where, historically, they never existed. 

Different invasions of species have had devastating effects.  It’s estimated that Dutch elm disease killed 75% of all American Elm trees.  Even worse, chestnut blight effectively wiped out the American Chestnut.  It’s not always that bad, but it’s rare that there’s no consequence when a new species of any sort is introduced.  With this, I’m not quite as comfortable admiring the fields of daisies as I am fields of lupine or beargrass.   Still, I stop and look.

It was shortly after reading Colin Fletcher’s “The Thousand Mile Summer” that I really started noticing wildflowers.  As a junior in high school, I couldn’t just get up and hike the length of California, but I could hike from my house to Marineland and back, about twelve miles.  A very short adventure, but with plenty of open lots, I could take a closer look at what grew mid-summer in California. 

Since that little adventure, I have always taken time to notice what flowers were blooming.  Coming back from my first trip to Alaska in 1977, I remember noticing the fireweed, among the last flowers in the boreal forest to bloom.  Climbing Bear Creek Spire in the Sierras during the last week of September, 1983, I saw flowers that normally bloomed in late June and early July.  82’-83 had been a record El Nino snow year and the snow had melted away only a couple of weeks earlier. 

Most recently, of course, are the flowers here at Silly Lake.  Along with my own aspen and tamarack, I have my own columbine and beargrass.  I also have many flowers whose names I am just now learning.  All seem to be out there now with the notable exception of fireweed.  With these, the season will come to an end.  In the mean time, I am enjoying walking, running, and riding through wildflowers, learning their names, and simply being outside.  There will always be big adventures.  There will always be little adventures.  I enjoy both. 

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