When the winter snowpack sheds off Montana’s grassy hillsides and foothills, a suite of gorgeous and unique wildflowers make their annual appearances. Enthusiasts and Montana residents alike argue that wildflowers are what make Montana so perfectly picturesque. While our towering peaks and wide valleys radiate their own type of appeal, the addition of wildflowers to the Treasure State’s landscapes completes many of our country’s most iconic vistas. Whether you’re wandering around your own property, or enjoying a new trail hike through Southwest Montana’s wonderful public land, wild flowers are everywhere in the spring. Here are a few species you’re bound to encounter on any springtime wildflower hike:
Silky Lupine is a flagship Montana wildflower. First cataloged on the Lewis and Clark expedition in June of 1806, the Silky Lupine is a stunning purple-ish conical wildflower that peppers a variety of Montana landscapes, from lowland sagebrush to openings in aspen and conifer woodlands. The Silky Lupine Is a member of the pea family, and can colonize in low-fertility sites. For this reason, the stately silky lupine flower is often found near old mining sites, rail roads or places recently ravaged by fire. While the Silky Lupine is a steady source of calories for a variety of Montana wildlife, including Glacier National Park’s Bighorn Sheep, the Silky Lupine is toxic to the nervous systems of domesticated livestock. Lupine is responsible for killing more livestock in Montana, Idaho and Utah than any other plant genus combined.
The Glacier Lilly is another of Montana’s more well-known flower species. First collected on the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Glacier Lilly, or Avalanche Lilly is often one of the first flower species to emerge after the snows melt. The Glacier Lilly has beautiful yellow petals that bend upwards towards the sky. But perhaps the best part about the Glacier Lilly is its edible properties. This Montana wildflower is known for a peppery taste that seems to intensify later into the season. The entire flower is edible, with varying degrees of spiciness found in each part of the plant.
The Forget-Me-Not is an inseparable element of the Montana alpine landscape. Clustered in little bunches of bright, soft blue flowers, the Forget-Me-Not is at home in craggy alpine landscapes, or at home in soil that is loamy, well-drained, shaded and has a fair dose of sand or grit present. The Mountain Forget-Me-Not flowers from the months of June through August.
If you’re out fishing any of Southwest Montana’s high alpine streams this year, you’re likely to encounter the Common Paintbrush. As its name implies, the common paintbrush looks like exactly that; a paintbrush that’s been dipped in scarlet acrylic. Common paintbrush can reach a height of one to three feet and prefers moist soils in meadows or along streams in montane to subalpine zones.
Check out the Big Sky Community Organization's trail map to find trails like Uplands and Hummocks, just outside Big Sky Town Center, where these flowers can be found in Big Sky.
Photos by Dave Pecunies Photography.