Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wild Flowers: Early Spring in Alberta

It happens in the spring when the green starts to pop through the snow and life started to come the the hills of south western Alberta. Every weekend I'd wander out and take pictures as color started to grow. My goal was to take as many pictures of difference species of wild flowers and identify them (geeky, I know but I don't care).

I can't decided if I want to do a whole big post or identify each flower individually. I guess I will start with the 3 early blooms of spring and see where that takes me.

The Prairie Crocus
As soon as the snow melts these are the first blooms you will see. A sure sign that spring is finally on the way. Large mauve flowers with bright yellow centers are always a welcome site because they tend to decorate the undisturbed land with much appreciated color. There is a legend about how the Prairie Crocus got its fur from the Blackfoot First Nations Tribe. The poisonous properties of the prairie crocus were used to advantage by First Nations Peoples. A poultice made from the plant was used as a counter-irritant to treat rheumatism or other muscular pains. Prairie crocus was also used to stop nosebleeds and draw out infection in cuts and boils. First Peoples knew the plant was dangerous if taken internally. The blooms open during the day and close at night.


Bearberry or Kinnikinnick
Another welcomed sign of green come from the easy to find Bearberry of Kinnikinnick. The tiny little soft pink bell shaped blooms usually arrive between May and June. Eventually they turn into little red berries which bears love (hence the name BearBerry). The berries stay on the branches almost year round and are loaded with carbohydrates which is vital to the survival of many animals in the forest. The name Kinnikinnick means "mixture" in Algonkian languages and is used to refer to any of several plants mixed with tobacco as extenders. Dry, ground leaves of bearberry were mixed with the reddish bark of red-osier dogwood and smoked as a tobacco substitute by First Nations People. The leaves were mixed with commercial tobacco once tobacco became available. Although the berries are too dry to eat alone, several northwest First Nations tribes mixed them with fat or boiled them in soups.

Golden Bean or Buffalo Bean
Generally this flower is called a Golden Bean but I grew up calling it Buffalo Bean. The name 'buffalo bean' shows us the First Nations Peoples' knowledge of phenology. They used its flowering time to indicate that buffalo bulls were ready for the spring hunt. Though a member of the pea family Golden bean contains poisonous alkaloids that may cause children to become very ill and is suspected of causing death in livestock. You can look but don't eat! Blooms arrive in May and last through June. An early blooming plant, with the dandelion it helps to keep fields and sunny slopes of roads and cut-banks predominantly yellow until buttercups and other flowers take over in June.

So, these are the heads of color we see first thing when air starts to turn warm, the days get a little longer and the country side starts it great thaw. As I post these pictures it is the middle of summer and they are bland compared to the jewels that are currently peppering the mountain and the hills. But at the time that the pictures were taken they seemed fresh and exciting in amongst the dull dry earth.

Information borrowed from Plant Watch Alberta

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Linda said...

I am looking for a picture and 'real' name for a small white flower we called 'snowdrops'when I was growing up in Southern Alberta. Any ideas? The small-fingernail sized white flowers have several petals, much like a child's drawing of a flower, and are so profuse on the greyish-green-shallow-banks of foliage that, at a distance, they may be mistaken for unmelted snow in hollows. They typically emerge so early in the season that seeing lingering snow is not unexpected.

amourissima said...

Hmmm... I'm not sure Linda. I'm sorry! Does anything in here look like the flower you are looking for?