Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, is one of my favorite flowers because it is tough and the deer don’t seem to like it. Its shallow roots make transplanting easy and it tolerates some neglect in the process. It is drought resistant and spreads by shallow rhizomes, so it fills my flower garden even when I forget to water it!
Yarrow is in the Composite Family, not the Parsley Family as some might guess, so please learn to identify it correctly before using it. To the untrained eye, some poisonous plants can be mistaken for yarrow.
With a magnifying glass you can see that the flowers in each flower head consist of a bunch of teenier flowers, which are, in fact, a conglomeration of the Composite Family’s signature ray and disk flowers.
Yarrow offers a wide array of medicinal properties and it’s helpful to keep some of them in mind no matter where you are. Yarrow’s most significant property is its blood-clotting ability. It has been used to staunch bleeding for thousands of years, earning it the name herbal militaris in ancient Greek times, and soldier’s woundwort during the Civil War. Its additional antiseptic and numbing properties help with just about any wound. You can use it on bee stings or yellow jacket bites or to stop nosebleeds. It’s aromatic fragrance acts as an insecticide and fumigant.
Yarrow also improves circulation of peripheral blood vessels so yarrow tea is helpful for certain types of headaches. It lowers blood pressure, breaks fevers, and helps reduce menstrual bleeding. It can cause miscarriages so pregnant women should avoid it, but tea taken after delivering your baby helps reduce bleeding.
Do your own yarrow research. You’ll be surprised at how much healing such a “common” plant can provide.
When the bark beetles were in full swing I copped an attitude against lodgepole pines. They seemed weak and a waste of space in the forest. But I have come to understand their important role in fire ecology habitats and have adjusted my attitude.
Though short-lived, lodgepole pines, Pinus contorta, are the most common Rocky Mountain tree species north of New Mexico because they are fast growing, reproduce prolifically, and can inhabit almost any soil.
Lodgepoles produce normal cones and also serotinous cones, which are sealed shut with resin. Lodgepoles’ normal cones shed their seeds any time of year, but their serotinous cones need a wildfire to open. The heat melts the resin and the cones open, shedding their seeds, which quickly germinate.
Lodgepole’s regrowth after fire is so crowded it has earned the name “doghair stands.” The good news is they quickly protect the soil and provide habitat for other species. These thick stands eventually burn again and the whole cycle repeats itself.
Because doghair stands produce tall, yet small diameter trees tribal people used them for tipi poles – thus the name lodgepole. They also hauled their belongings on a travois, created with two lodgepoles and leather slung over a horse. Lodgepole’s inner bark (cambium) was also a crucial source of food and medicine each spring when the sap rose.
When white settlers moved into the West, the abundant lodgepole provided them with building materials, especially logs for cabins and fencing. As a neighbor who operates a post and pole business stated, "Lodgepoles are the staff of life."
The recent widespread beetle kill was due to several converging factors: our warmer and drier climate, many lodgepole stands reaching the end of their 100-plus-year life cycle, and overcrowded forests due to years of fire suppression. The earth couldn’t support all those trees so something had to give. Contrary to what I once thought, lodgepoles are not “a waste of space” and the beetles are not ”bad.” They are simply part of the earth’s complex balancing act.
It’s a good beargrass year. The slopes on either side of Hwy 83 are filled with their tall, crazy looking flowers. It’s worth taking a drive or hiking up a trail to witness how beautifully their white blooms decorate our forest-covered mountains.
Beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) is in the Lily Family. Each stalk has hundreds of flower buds, which start blooming from the bottom of the stalk and bloom upwards to the top. Blooming patches of beargrass light the forest up as if they were torches. The fun thing is you can enjoy their display from early June into July by going up to higher elevations.
It takes years for one clump of beargrass to store up enough energy to create a blooming stalk. Once it blooms the clump dies back but the energy stored in its tissues is passed on to an adjacent clump. Colonies of beargrass bloom every 3 to 7 years, sometimes all the plants in the colony bloom at same time.
Bears eat the tender leaf shoots in early spring, but by summer those leaves get tough with sharp edges and the only ones brave enough to eat them are mountain goats. Rodents, elk, and bighorn sheep eat the flowers and seedpods and pollinators frequent the flowers. The large leafy clumps provide great overstory habitat for rodents, and grizzly bears sometimes use their leaves in their winter dens.
Beargrass leaves are an important weaving material for Native Americans. Native people used fire to revitalize landscapes and beargrass benefited from this practice. It is quite fire hardy. The new shoots, which sprouted up quickly after a fire, were sought after for weaving.