18 July 2009

Life in Recovery: Wildflowers & Mine Dumps, Butte America

With Montana just 15 minutes away from Butte, along with all the cultural festivities, it's easy to forget that we are America's largest Superfund site. The tenacity of life is amazing, however, and year-by-year more vegetable and animal life colonizes the Butte hill. Much of it occurs because toxic mine waste has been removed or capped, but even a "control area" like the hill behind my home in Walkerville shows signs of recovery, as MollyTheDog & I discovered on our morning walk today.

At first glance, it's a wasteland littered with mine dumps:

Some of the mine tailings are highly phytotoxic and would pose a human health threat if residents were to build homes or allow their children to play on them:

Yet even in these most toxic of environments, plants are staking their claim (Wild Rose, Rosa sp):

On the south side of the hill, most of the Bitterroots (Lewisia rediviva) are spent, having spread their seed for generations to come:

But on the north side, which held snowdrifts into early June, some are still blooming:

Much of the land is dominated by a common introduced species, the nectar-rich but "noxious" Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea maculosa):

Folklore has it that Knapweed makes a toxin that discourages other plants, but this "wisdom" is not based on scientific fact. Many other species, like the non-native Butter
& Eggs (Linaria vulgaris) do just fine alongside Knapweed:

The same is true for many of our native species that are colonizing the hill, including several of the most common, such as Lupines (Lupinus sp):

Narrow Goldenrod (Solidago spathulata):

And Scotch Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia):

Somewhat less common colonizers include Sweetvetch (Hedysarum sp):

Small-flowered Penstemon (Penstemon procerus):

Northern Bedstraw (Galium boreale):

And Yarrow (Achillea millefolium):

Also present, in somewhat lesser abundance, are species such as Dusty Maiden (Chaenactis sp):

And False Dandelion (Agoseris glauca):

Hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent on a research project (directed by Richard Douglass at Montana Tech; funded by Montana's Natural Resource Damage Program) to develop "knapweed tolerant" species of flowering plants. While I respecte Douglass's work as a mouse biologist (no significant experience with plants), I believe this is a boondoggle! That money could be much better spent on removing the most toxic mine waste, or doing a better job of capping mine waste that is left in place. Over time, native wildflowers will do just fine in establishing themselves on sites seeded with a basic revegetation mix.

As a "conclusion," if you're hiking around Walkerville, you might want to take notice of signs:


Janie said...

I've seen that same sign in front of a farmhouse nearby! Not a place I'm likely to go visiting.
Good to see that the wildflowers and plants are coming back.
We have Russian knapweed at the edge of pastures around here. Wherever adequate water is supplied, other plants will compete. I, too, think the idea of knapweed being toxic to other plants is hogwash.
Thanks for the link to the horsewoman's blog. I'll be checking it out for equestrian advice.

Judy said...

I do love it when you have photos of the flowers, and name them!! Thank you!

troutbirder said...

Encouraging indeed. Our superfund site has been successfully restored. The sign reminds me of several properties filled with similar and worse on the road south of Big Timber into the Beartooth-Absarokas.

mountain.mama said...

That sign says it all! It's encouraging to see the flowers surviving.

Anonymous said...

Don't be too hard on Professor Douglas and Chris. Any money that comes to Tech is good. It'll be nice to see more flowers in Butte.

Unseen Rajasthan said...

Beautiful flowers and lovely location !! This is so beautiful..THanks for sharing the beauty..Unseen Rajasthan

Glennis said...

A surprising number of different plants in an adverse growing spot.
I like the sign!

CountryDreaming said...

Love to see the landscape blooming again! Both your enjoyable photography and knowledge of plant names is truly impressive. One question: Is the "false dandelion" also called "colt's foot," or am I thinking of something different?

secret agent woman said...

Seems like wildflowers can find a way to bloom anywhere.

~Sheepheads said...

We've got a few of those signs in Missoula, except for the part about the survivors!

EcoRover said...

I had to dig out an Eastern U.S. plant guide (from my Allegheny daze) to answer CD's Coltsfoot question--it's not a Western species. Turns out Tussilago farfara is, like Lion's Teeth (Dandelion), an introduced species and also with good herbal qualities. Here in the West, our "false dandelion" is native.

Eric K said...

great! and i love your daughter!