On my recent trip to Montana I enjoyed the sheer diversity of flowers that were found at various altitudes. On one hike we climbed several hundred feet up to a mountain pass. Each mile was traveling back in time with regard to the flowers. At the trail head it was certainly early August according to the flowers. At the top it looked more like June or maybe July by the flowers that were in bloom. The colder climate high on the mountains leaves very little time for many flowers to bloom. This means that those flowers that we usually associate with late summer in the lowlands may not even be found at higher altitudes.
Orchids are usually associated with a tropical paradise in some far off land. Orchids can be found in just about any habitat, from prairie to mountain top, for those willing to look. Orchids like a thick layer of dead and decaying plant matter to grow. This is why we usually don’t see them, there just aren’t too many places they can live around people. The first thing humans do for the sake of “development” is to strip the topsoil from the designated area. This important layer holds seeds for many plants and acts as a that dead layer where plants like orchids thrive.
This picture tells a story. The log in the background was once a tree. When this tree, and others around it, fell it created a light gap in the forest canopy. This change in light changed the types of plants that are found there. One example is the red flower in this picture, Indian Paintbrush.. This flower is one of the quintessential mountain meadow flowers. It is also one of my favorites!How neat is that!!
Wild Rose is another late bloomer up in the mountains. Wild Rose produce Rose Hips when they are done flowering. Rose Hips contain one of the highest concentrations of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) in the natural world. More that oranges or other citrus fruits. A lack of Vitamin C in your diet leads to scurvy. Scurvy once accounted for up to a 1/3 of death on sea voyages. Captain Cook was the first to identify this and required all of his crew to eat citrus or other “scurvy grass” each day. This revolutionary (seemingly common sense) change was one of the reasons that the British Navy rose to become masters of the sea! A little Vitamin C goes a long way!!!
Daisy fields were found throughout the meadows. Daisies are often one of the first flowers to move in after a disturbance like a fire or flood. It is nature’s version of a bandaid.
Gaillardia is another wild flower that can be found in many mountain meadows. Note the different stages of the flower in the pictures above. The first several photos show the final product after the flower has finished blooming. The seeds ensure there will be Gaillardia next year. The final picture shows the flower in full bloom. Note the pollen granules on the flower.
This last picture is one of my favorite pictures I have ever taken. I have an unofficial top ten list and I know this has to be somewhere up there . I really like how it is a different angle. The sun, the sky and the flower all seem to be working together. The flower is reaching toward unattainable heights.
Yep, one of my favorites.
Up Next: Mountain Critters