Spring wildflower season is getting going around western Montana – here’s what I’ve been seeing on Missoula-area recreation lands lately. And remember to follow me on Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram for more frequent reports and photos!
That’s a buttercup bud at Missoula’s Blue Mountain National Recreation Area. And that’s a bright patch of snow in the background, near the top of the photo.
Officially, spring arrives March 20, and you can usually count on buttercups blooming at Blue Mountain sometime around now. Last year, I took my first photo of a buttercup at Blue on March 21, and Rocky Mountain douglasia was out on Waterworks hill a week before that.
It seems like there’s a bit more snow this year, so we’ll have to see when western Montana’s bloom truly begins.
Usually, the first flowers mean my column in the Missoulian will restart soon. Unfortunately, this year I’m recovering from an Achilles tendon injury and trying to take it easy so I can get back to running and hiking without further trouble. Sunday’s short walk around the lower open fields at Blue Mountain was my longest, hilliest outing in more than a month – and it wasn’t really that long or hilly.
The column will restart, but I might have to stick to shorter trails close to Missoula for a while.
You’ll have to hurry to make a reservation for the last activity near Missoula, a seven-mile trip in the O’Brien Creek area on Saturday, Feb. 12. The deadline to sign up is tomorrow, Saturday, Jan. 5. Call 531-8347 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The group will meet at the O’Brien Creek trailhead, about 10 miles from downtown Missoula near Blue Mountain. The route will be up the north side of the drainage to an old logging road and along the South O’Brien Creek Trail Loop. Total elevation gain is about 1,200 feet, with some steep terrain and some contouring in generally open meadows that are prime elk habitat.
The Missoula Ranger District is planning prescribed fires at Pattee Canyon and Blue Mountain, possibly starting today, to “reduce surface fuel concentrations, promote ponderosa pine regeneration and rejuvenate forest floor vegetation.”
I’ll be interested to see the effects of the burns on wildflower blooms this spring and summer, particularly in Pattee Canyon. The area being treated there is a good place to find glacier lilies, Lady’s Slipper orchids and stalks of pinedrops.
I saw my first buttercup in bloom this year on March 15 at Blue Mountain – but that wasn’t the earliest sighting around Missoula. Blog reader Paul Alaback wrote in an e-mail that they were out March 12 on Mount Sentinel, March 6 on Mount Jumbo and March 2 in the North Hills.
Alaback would know; he’s a professor emeritus of forest ecology in the University of Montana’s College of Forestry and Conservation and the lead scientist for Project Budburst. (On Facebook, too.)
Part of the reason Alaback e-mailed is because he’s looking for some help.
Project Budburst is a national program that relies on volunteers to report wildflower sightings in the spring, Alaback wrote. The goal is to collect climate change data based on when flowers first appear.
Anyone can sign up as a citizen scientist, and all it takes to participate is to register an observation site, add a flower and enter dates for various phases of plant development, from first leaves to first flower to fading color and falling leaves. From the site, you can also view recent flower sightings around the country.
It’s a quick and easy process, so if you’re hiking around western Montana this spring, spare a few minutes for science!
The bluebirds and robins are flying about, and buttercups are on the verge of bursting open at Missoula’s Blue Mountain National Recreation Area. Spring is nearly here, and with it I return to blogging at a freshened-up WildflowerWalks.com.
While we wait for the wildflowers, here’s a bit of eye candy from the upcoming “Life” series by the Discovery Channel and BBC!
Description: Flower is 2 to 3 inches wide with orange to purplish-red diskflowers surrounded by yellow rayflowers. Stands on a stem 8 to 30 inches tall with lance-shaped leaves up to 6 inches long growing from lower part of stem. Blooms June to early August in medium-dry to moist soil in open areas and on foothills. (“Peterson Field Guides Rocky Mountain Wildflowers,” by John J. Craighead, Frank C. Craighead Jr. and Ray J. Davis.)
Recently seen: North Hills, Mount Jumbo and Blue Mountain National Recreation Area.
The walk: There’s a bit of blanketflower out in the North Hills right now, especially on the southernmost slope. The trailhead is at the north end of Orange Street, where it becomes the Interstate 90 on-ramp and off-ramp. Follow the trail to the northwest of the parking area for a short distance, then cross through a gate on the north side of the path. The trail switches back up to a junction with the Fireline Trail. Turn southeast, walking uphill to the next junction. Turn northwest, and after a short distance join the Ridgeline Trail. Look for blanketflower between the trailhead and the ridge. From the ridge, follow the trail northwest to the top of Randolph Hill at 1.7 miles. Turn around here or continue farther on the Ridgeline Trail. I’ve seen more blanketflower downhill to the northwest of Randolph Hill.