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Survival of the Fittest

Art by Colleen Campbell

Words by Nicky Pacas with help from Dieter Regett of Jasper Discovery Tours

Each year, after the harsh and inhospitable winter climate begins to soften into spring, the wildflowers (arguably the most resilient survivors of mountain weather) emerge alongside snowy and jagged trails, adding pops of colour to a grey landscape. As summer draws nearer, each major vegetative zone of the Canadian Rockies —Montane, Subalpine, and Alpine—plays host to a wide range of flora. In this issue, we’ve given you an illustrated guide to six varietals that bloom or change from the early spring until the end of September, each one playing an important role in its ecosystem.

Share your photos of these species in their natural habitat and use the hashtag #WhereRockiesWild for a chance to be featured in an upcoming issue.


CUTLEAF ANEMONE; PRAIRIE CROCUS

 

Pulsatilla patens

A harbinger of early spring, the Prairie Crocus often begins to emerge from the ground before the snow has melted.

Blooming Period: as early as March, but often seen from late-April through June

Location: Blooms in the Montane Zone; find the Prairie Crocus in the Saskatchewan River Crossing area, on the north shore of Johnson Lake, on the Bow Valley Parkway, and on the trails starting from 5th Bridge.


GLACIER LILY

Erythronium grandiflorium

Another harbinger of spring, the Glacier Lily grows at the edges of melting snow drifts.

Blooming Period: Late-April through June

Location: Find Glacier Lilies in the Alpine Zone at Bow Summit, Sunshine Meadows, and at Parker Ridge.


PAINTBRUSH

Castilleja species

The flowers on a Paintbrush can vary significantly in colour; from red to orange, light pink to white, even purple.

Blooming Period: April-September

Location: Blooms across all mountain zones. Find Paintbrushes on the Opal Hills Loop in Jasper (look for the trail kiosk in the upper parking lot at Maligne Lake), the Flower Loop/Overlander Trail, and at Sunshine Meadows.


TWINFLOWER

Linnaea borealis

A sweet-scented and trumpet-like flower.

Blooming Period: June and July

Location: Find Twinflowers in the Subalpine Zone locations of Stewart Canyon (follow the Lake Minnewanka shoreline to the Stewart Canyon trailhead kiosk), Bourgeau Lake Trail (approx. 13km west of the Mount Norquay interchange), the lower falls of Johnston Canyon, and many trails around Lake Louise.


WESTERN WOOD LILY

Lilium philadelphicum

Generally a solitary plant, the Western Wood Lily is a strikingly beautiful flower. Because of its beauty, it is often picked by admirers, resulting in its disappearance from some areas.

Blooming Period: June and July

Location: the Wood Lily blooms in the Montane Zone and is often found in grasslands and woodlands. Look for lilies on the north shore of Johnson Lake, on the Bow Valley Parkway, and on the Montane Traverse Trail.


LARCH TREE

Larix

Although Larches are conifers, they lose their needles in the fall. Before the needles fall, however, they turn from a bright green to a brilliant yellow, adding one last burst of colour to the landscape before winter’s arrival.

Notable Change: the needles often change colour in mid to late September

Location: Look for larches in the Subalpine Zones of Larch Valley, Chester Lake/Chester Creek, and Healy Pass (leave from Sunshine Village, behind the main gondola station)


For a list of tours and guides who can help you access some of the locations mentioned here (in addition to many others), see pages 73 and 144 of our online magazine.

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