Nature News from Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem #9, June 27 2020
The weeks are passing, light is long and vibrant. Colors resonate depending on time of day. Phenology of species happens in the time honored continuum. As we approach the end of June, flower species have either disappeared or they are now seen at higher elevations. Today on my walk I saw some blooms that are finally in all their glory and some new blooms not yet seen since last year at this time.
Anemone (or windflower)
Many species of the genus Anemone are found in different habitats. They lack true petals, but have colorful petal like sepals which can be creamy to pink, sometimes even bluish in color. When the plants fruit and go to seed, the appearance is an almost -fluffy “seedball”.
Upland Larkspur (Delphinium nuttallianum) can grow in moist meadows and open coniferous forests . Delphinium is derived from the Greek word “delphin” or dolphin perhaps from an imaginary resemblance of the flower to the sea mammal! You can see the spur on the flower, hence the name larkspur (perhaps it looks like a spur on the foot of a lark).
Showy Indian paintbrush (Castilleja sp.) This genus of flowers can be deceiving. What looks like the flower are actually showy toothed bracts that are anywhere from crimson red to salmon to fuchsia pink depending on elevation, soil types or even hybridization. The actual flowering part of the plant is a greenish, smaller, spikey tube which can appear hidden in the bracts. Some believe the hummingbirds and Castilleja may have evolved together. The flowers are full of nectar. The bright colored bracts attract the hummingbirds and with their long bill they can easily extract the sweet nectar.
Leopard Lily (Fritillaria atropurpurea)
Chocolate Lily is another name for this hard-to-see flower. The flowers appear brownish to purple. The bulbs are edible and some tribes collected these. Today it is discouraged because they are rare. They have an unpleasant fragrance and are (not surprisingly) pollinated by flies.
Yellow Bells (Fritillaria pudica) One of my favorite late spring flowers. Meriwether Lewis remarked in his journal that the bulb was eaten by early people he encountered. At times they would be missed with the bitterroot bulbs. Again, the collection of these is discouraged and they are best enjoyed for their beauty. Bears and ground squirrels would prefer to eat them than be inspired by their beauty, however!
Bitterroot (Lewisia redivivia) are finally blossoming this time of year. Bitterroots start their growth late in the year with a very inconspicuous rosette of small fleshy leaves. In the spring, they come back (redivivia) to life. In time a very small bud appears. It takes some time in the dry sandy soil, where they are typically found, for the bloom to finally open in all their glory! This is always an event that locals will talk about and let each other know when it’s time to go find the bitterroot blooms! They are found in the same areas every year. Named for Meriwether Lewis, who brought a sample back from the expedition he co led with William Clark, he mentioned the significance of this plant as a food source to many tribes in the Northwest. Bitterroot is the Montana State flower.
Stages of the Bitterroot
Pussytoes (Antennaria sp)
Many different Antennaria are found and they can reproduce without pollination so many different races form, which leads to confusion in identifying individual species
They vary from white to pink.
The heads of the flowers are actually bracts, which is a modified leaf and they remain on the plant for a very long time. It’s delightful to imagine the resemblance of these beauties to “pussytoes”.
Yellow Columbine (Aquilegia flavescens)
Often the Yellow Columbine, with spur-like yellow petals, will have pink tinged sepals. Sepals along with petals together form a showy flower. Sometimes they are green, and sometimes they are colored as in this Columbine. Columbine are found in wet meadows or stream side habitats. Some say that Aqua (water) legere (to draw) is the derivation of this genus because of where they grow. Some say the genus is derived from the Latin word Aquila (eagle) as the spurs resemble the talons of an eagle.
You’ve joined me on a journey through some of the wildflowers that are blooming at this time in SW Montana. These are the treasures that accent our days and bring great delight!
May you find ways to get outside and fill your heart with all that nature has to offer.