It’s finally spring in the Seeley Swan Valley of Montana, which is where I live. The ground, which just recently seemed brown and lifeless, is beginning to bust forth with flowers!
Wildflowers feel like gifts. No one plants them. No one waters them. They show up and we get to be the recipients of their beauty. Who would think that something so delicate and ephemeral would generate such joy?
Besides its divine beauty, our mountainous country offers the added benefit of hosting a progressive bloom; which means if we yearn for spring in July, we just have to hike uphill to find the delightful faces of the flowers that bloomed on the valley floor in May and June.
The lowlands lose their snow before the forested slopes, so if you need a flower fix right now go walk in the sage and look for one of the earliest blooming flowers in our area, the sagebrush buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus). Its tiny yellow blooms are hunkered down close to the ground, so keep your eyes open.
The Buttercup Family (Ranunculaceae) has lots of different flowers in it, many of which are early bloomers and many, at first glance, that don’t seem to be related. Besides the familiar buttercup, some early-blooming members include pasqueflower, larkspur, and sugar bowls.
A few facts: The juices of most buttercup species are mildly toxic and will cause blistering if rubbed on your skin. Mountain tribes used the concentrated juice of the buttercups on arrowheads to help kill their prey. According to Daniel Mathews, author of my favorite natural history book, Rocky Mountain Natural History: Grand Teton to Jasper, larkspurs have been responsible for more cattle deaths than any plant in the West. On the other hand, goldenseal, a member of the Buttercup Family that grows in the eastern US, has well-documented medicinal properties.
One cool thing about snow buttercups, which grow way up high in our mountains, is that they track the sun. Their tracking sensors are in the upper stem, so they’ll still keep following the sun even if their flowers have been broken off. Sun tracking helps warm the flower and improves its chances of being pollinated. Bugs seek out the warmth and bask in the blossom and end up pollinating the flower at the same time. Not a bad exchange!
If you want to learn about the wildflowers firsthand, come on a hike with me in the Seeley Swan Valley. I will share what I know about the plants and landscape.
You can find more info at www.fourseasonforays.com