Blooming in Tough Places
Imagine you are hiking in the Sawtooths. Many different types of trees, shrubs, and wildflowers fill the meadows with bright and vibrant colors. You take a breath of fresh air and feel the cool mountain breeze brush across your shoulders. When you reach a vast meadow filled with wildflowers, you wonder why there are flowers here. With a lot of snow and a harsh winter environment, it seems like a difficult place for plants to flourish. So, why are there flowers here? How did they get here, in such vast variety?
Do wildflowers matter? Not only do they enhance the beauty of the landscape, wildflowers provide food for animals and insects. Animals like snowshoe hare, elk, deer, and many more depend on the food from these plants. Bees and other insects and animals rely on wildflowers for pollination. When an insect or an animal interacts with one flower, it collects the pollen and then unintentionally passes it to another flower. This is an important process for the flowers to help them bloom and reproduce.
On average, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area gets 79.5 inches of snow annually (2). Surprisingly, that can actually be great for flowers. Having a lot of snow in the winter provides a warmer, more constant, soil temperature. Significant snowfall provides the soil with more humidity and protection from drying and abrasion by wind (1). This allows a variety of flowers to bloom throughout the season.
Flowers like Indian Paintbrush, Larkspur, and Silvery Lupine can be seen growing in meadows and along trail edges. These flowers that grow in the Sawtooth’s can withstand the diverse and extreme environments, even in seemingly impossible places. Have you ever seen what looks like a flower growing through a rock? The rocks will have moisture in a crack or fissure, and the flower then proceeds to grow that crack. Wildflowers can even bloom on rocky hillsides. They help prevent erosion and increase soil moisture. Having wildflowers mixed in with rocky hillsides can act like an anchor, keeping the soil more intact and stable.
The Sawtooth Range is home to a variety of wildflowers. Silvery Lupine can withstand the heat and cold that comes with the Sawtooths. Shooting Star is one of the many flowers in this region. It’s easy to tell where this flower got its name; it looks like a shooting star in the sky! It likes wet and marshy areas (1). Fireweed blooms in open or disturbed areas, especially where there has been a recent fire. The seeds of fireweed have silky hair that carry the seeds to open ground. After a fire, fireweed is one of the first plants to come back. The open, sunny ground creates the perfect habitat for it to flourish. Fireweed is the perfect pink splash of color after a wildfire.
As pretty and beautiful as wildflowers are, make sure that you only take pictures of them. Transplanting wildflowers at home has a low survival rate. Let everyone enjoy their beauty. So, remember to leave only footprints, and preserve this memory for future visitors and through photography. A picture can last a lifetime; a picked flower will only last a couple of days. Wildflowers are beautiful and tough; they can endure in these harsh environments and provide a pop of beautiful color to the Sawtooths.
Mari is a naturalist for SIHA. Some of her favorite activities are hiking and swimming. She likes to look at wildflowers along her hikes and is constantly distracted by their beautiful colors. Cold rivers and high alpine lakes are some of her favorite things.
1. Plants of the Rocky Mountains
Shooting Star: http://www.threeflowersessences.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Poets-Shooting-Star-626w.jpg