More Elk Lake Flora

While the snow falls thick and steady outside my window, the colorful pictures which cover my computer screen remind me of the summer beauty being nourished by the frozen precipitation we are receiving. My focus on summer flora in the dead of winter may seem a bit askew. However, my reasons are more practical than, perhaps, obvious. Flower identification posts are the most time consuming of all. The research for identification and edification takes time! So. . .while my days are less hectic, I am working to reach my original goal of identifying one hundred local plants.

Today we will focus on 10 more - moving the final count to seventy plants to date. When you realize that almost all of those plants have been wildflowers - well you get an idea of the varied and profuse flower garden growing naturally outside my back door. Even after all this time, I find them absolutely stunning!

61. Leopard Lily (aka: Purple Fritillary)

What I Knew - This unusually colored flower shows up in a variety of habitats. Yet it seems to prefer heavy shade and is often quite solitary. It is showy, even for its lack of color, because of its distinct spots. About the size of a half-dollar, it is easy to overlook as the top side is quite plain and, unlike many other lilies, it droops to face the forest floor. While I most often see this plant producing only one flower-head, on rare occasion I have seen more than one flower growing on a stalk.

What I Learned - There are other flowers known as Leopard Lilies which do not look at all like this plant. Thus if you are seeking more information, use its scientific name: Fritillaria atropurpurea. This flower is not listed in my Montana flower guide. I did find it in the Grand Teton flower guide. It is only alluded to in the Audubon Flower Guide.

Yet, this flower ranges from California to North Dakota giving it the widest range of the Fritillaria family. It prefers subalpine and lodgepole forests, can be found 6,000 to 10,500 feet in elevation, and is perennial.

I know I have further photos, but I have no located another before sending this live. However, I can tell you the plant reaches 4 to 24 inches in height, has long narrow leaf-less stalks (note the top portions in the photo), and is easily overlooked.

For a plant with such wide distribution, like the feline which shares its name, this little flower seems to abhor the spotlight. Not as useful as some of our wild plants, I did find Leopard Lilies can be crushed and applied to swollen body parts. Furthermore, the bulb is small but rich in starch and can be eaten.

62. Baneberry

What I Knew - These plants grow quite profusely in areas around the resort. The flowers are showy white columns often growing from a lush leafy low-growing bush. The fruit is brilliant red and about the size of a huckleberry. The plants often grow in the same vicinity, and the Baneberry's beautiful fruit can be tempting to the unsuspecting ‘picker’.

What I Learned - Don’t eat the fruit! This plant is quite poisonous. In fact, as few as five or six berries can make one very ill. Eat many more and you could die! In fact, some Native Americans apparently used the plant’s juice to poison their arrowheads. Fortunately the fruit is very acidic and not at all pleasing to the palate.

On the positive side, the plant’s roots have been used for menstrual problems. Furthermore they provide a healthy (and safe) feed for birds as our avian friends are not effected by their poisonous attributes. Even so, even their foliage is rarely consumed by animals.

While the plant also comes in a white variety, I have only seen the red ones growing around here. A fairly wide-spread plant, there are even varieties of Baneberry growing in Europe.

The plants grow 1 to 3 feet tall. They seem to prefer shaded locations and can be found under the forest canopy and along streams in west and central Montana.

63. Twin Arnica

What I Knew -A small yellow flower often seen in ‘pairs’ but occasionally in singles (as in this photo), this plant grows on a long slender stem. The plant has lance-shaped leaves. Distinctive for its bright yellow flower, this flower does not seem to be too plentiful around the resort. This particular photo was taken in the Centennial sand dunes.

What I Learned - Of the about 30 species of this perennial herb, 12 are known to grow in Montana. This particular variety grows on a stem 8 to 24 inches tall. The flowers are about an inch to an inch and a half in diameter. (This one is a bit shriveled - probably due to its not-quite-hospitable growing conditions.)

Arnica is used as a medicinal gel applied topically to strains, sprains, bruises and even wounds. It is believe the plant increases blood supply and thus accelerates healing. Internally it has seen use as a immune booster and to treat heart complaints. Presently its internal use seems to be limited to treating shock, pain, and injury.

64. Dusty Maiden

What I Knew - A bushy plant clearly adapted to its dry habitat, Dusty Maiden is a distinctive wildflower. It grows in small bushes and has odd, almost stinted, leaves. The flowers are pinkish-white and are more like long tubes than an open spreading flower. I have found this plant growing in numerous drier locations around the resort although I snaped this photo in the Centennial sand dunes.

What I Learned - The plant does well over a variety of elevations (1400 to 11000) and seems to prefer drier soils and rocky areas. It covers most of the western United States and British Columbia spreading as far east as the Dakotas. Unlike many wildflowers it can be cultivated.

65. Cushion Buckwheat

What I Knew - Although not as common as its cousin, Sulphur Buckwheat, Cushion Buckwheat can be seen quite readily around Elk Lake. Like its cousin, it is a fairly low growing plant rising from a leafy mat. However, unlike Sulphur Buckwheat, Cushion Buckwheat boasts no leaves on its stem.

What I Learned - It grows 6 to 12 inches tall. The leaves are egg-shaped and the leaf mats may reach 12 to 16 inches wide. Found in North America from California to Alberta, its flowers occur in several different colors (although yellow is all I’ve seen around here). There are several species - some unique to one particular area - and at least two are listed as endangered species.

66. Meadow Asters

What I Knew - This pretty purple flower is widely scattered around Elk Lake. Not as common as Fleabane (another purple daisy-like flower), I found this plant particular plant in the Centennial sand dunes. Pretty purple petals surround a bright yellow center. The flower grows on a stem ranging from 4 to 20 inches long.

What I Learned -In Montana, one may also find Meadow Asters in white or yellow. I’ve seen the white variety covering fields on the Idaho side of the mountain. Over here I have only seen the yellow and purple varieties - and never in such almost invasive profusion.

While this plant can be found throughout Montana, it is more profuse in the western regions. Further abroad it can be found from British Columbia to California but only seems to range east into Idaho, Utah, and Montana. This plant is a member of the sunflower family and thus closely related to the daisy. This family is made up of more than 20,000 different flowers.

67. Wartberry Fairybell

What I Knew -I think you'll agree. This is an unusually pretty flower. Its drooping nature makes it hard to photograph and easy to overlook. However, its distinctive twin leaves with flower head between makes it easy to spot - and identify once you know what it is! In fact, I have to thank one blog reader (Allen), for helping me identify this flower. Since my Montana wildflower book did not even have a photo of the flower, I was spinning my wheels.

What I Learned - There are apparently two different fairybells which grow in Montana. While my book says northwest, obviously this variety, at least, grows in southwest Montana. This photo was taken along the Hidden Lake trail.

The plant enjoys moist forests. It grows on a 1 to 3 foot tall stem. The flowers are a bit shy and often hide under the pair of leaves which flank the stem’s end. While my photo is of a single flower, I have seen pictures (in flower books) of supposedly this same plant with a cluster of white flowers on the end of the stem. I do not believe any of the Montana fairybells grow in clusters.

There appear to be several varieties of Fairybells which make it hard to identify this specific flower. Several different sites identify Fairybells but with different pictures on each one. Therefore I assume this plant must have different blooms in different parts of the country.

68. Pale Evening Primrose

What I Knew - This is a rare plant prefering the driest growing conditions. This particular plant was growing in the Centennial sand dunes. The species growing in the sand dunes is supposed to be on the endangered species list.

What I Learned - Varieties of Evening Primrose grow in British Columbia and most of the western states except California. The only place this plant is found in Montana is in the Centennial sand dunes.

The plants flower through July and into early August. The flowers are white with a distinct yellow center. The leaves are thin and short - looking more like green thorns than leaves. The plant is a perennial.

69. Painted Milk Vetch

What I Knew - This plant is rare and found only in a few places. I found these plants growing in the Centennial sand dunes. A very unique plant, if it were not for the lack of flora in the sand dunes, it might be next to impossible to spot. Its leaves look more like stems with no real ‘leaf’ shape. It is a low growing plant which is completely unassuming and unremarkable. The seed pod, however, is amazing.

What I Learned - Only found in the upper Snake River highlands of eastern Idaho and the Centennial sand dunes of Montana, this plant is considered rare although, apparently, not endangered. It flowers from late June into July.

It prefers old sand dunes at a limited elevation range of 6600 - 6700. It tends to be limited to moderately steep south and south-west facing slopes. It is a perennial.

Perhaps the most interesting piece of information I uncovered was on a medicinal herb page. Here I read the plant was dug after a rain and the root was eaten raw as a sweet. Other than its pleasant taste, however, the plant appears to have no medicinal value.

70. Silverleaf Phacelia

What I Knew - This is not an unusual plant. I have found it growing in many areas around Elk Lake. It seems to prefer drier, rocky soil. The flowers are its most prominent and beautiful feature. They grow in clusters on the top of the stem. The colors are vivid and their long stamen appear to have tiny yellow ‘balls’ on their ends.

What I Learned - There are about 200 species of this perennial herb all native to North and South America. There are several species which grow in Montana. One relative which we have already covered is the Ballhead Waterleaf. Most appear to have the distinct stamens and to grow in clusters. Also most appear to be purple.

The plant does not appear to have any medicinal uses. It grows stems from 6 - 15 inches long but some can reach up to 3 feet. The leaves are lance-shaped and covered with silky white flat hairs. The flowers are dull lavender and can even appear white. There are five hairy stamens in each flower.

And so we have reached the 70th plant in our goal of 100. It has been a colorful trip - one I hope you are enjoying. While it may be a few posts before we revisit this topic, I do hope to get us to 100 before the summer season rolls around. Then, as you hike out and about near our Montana Vacation Lodge, maybe you will enjoy the lovely color splashes all the more because of your increased awareness of these Montana natives.

Lady of the Lake

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