10 June 2009

Life in Recovery: Spring Wildflowers in Butte America

The environment in and around Butte, Montana, suffered from a century of copper mining and smelting, when the Anaconda Copper Mining Company used the environment as free garbage dump. In my 20 years as a resident of this little city of the northern Rocky Mountains, I have watched the environment recover. Sometimes, as with Silver Bow Creek, this is because of massive (and expensive) Superfund remedy (clean up) and restoration work. Other times, as with the hills around my home in Walkerville (an old town on the hill above Butte), it is "natural" recovery, as grasses, forbs, sagebrush and other shrubs, and trees reclaim the landscape.

Some plants are native and compete handily with the invasive Russian Knapweed that covers much of the land. Among my favorites is the aptly named and very beautiful Fuzzytongue Penstemon (Penstemon eriantherus):

Though highly toxic, Crazyweed flowers are equally elegant (Oxtropis campestris or O. sericea):

Silverleaf Phacelia (Phacelia hastata) is among the hardiest of our colonizing plants, growing even on otherwise barren mine waste:

It's nickname, "Scorpionweed," belies the flowers' appearance:

Longleaf Phlox (Phlox longifolia) is also remarkably hardy, sprouting from disturbed soil:

At a distance, even walking past and looking down at your feet, Mountain Sorel (Rumex paucifolius) doesn't look like much. But get down close, and the tiny red flowers will brighten your world:

Along roadsides, Wild Blue Flax (Linum perenne) has become common the past few years:

Some exotic (i.e. introduced) species are more welcome than others. Though the fruit is small and many years does not set at all, a fair number of wild apple trees brighten up the Butte Hill:

The leaves of the Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva), our state flower, are dying back:

And the plants are pumping their energy from the fleshy root to flower buds:

Many years, our Bitterroots are not in full bloom until early July. By the looks of the buds this year, however, we might see the flowers earlier this year. Stay posted!


Deedee said...

Okay, you must also be a professional photog...or you SHOULD be! Incredible pictures, Eco.

troutbirder said...

There is something so attractive about seeing all these exotic flowers (i.e. unfamiliar). It creates an overwhelming urge to head west.

Kirsten said...

Thanks for posting this. I was just telling a friend a few days ago that since I have moved from Arizona I haven't learned any of the wildflowers here. I built up a big wildflower index in my mind for southern Arizona just by looking up anything I saw, and now this summer it's time to get started on Montana!

Judy said...

What beautiful flowers!! Thanks for sharing!!