^pWith all the rain we have received over the past couple of weeks the grasses, shrubs, forbs and trees have experienced a growth spurt. It is amazing to see needle-and-thread grass, green needle grass, and smooth brome over 4 feet tall. Some basin wild rye has reached 6 feet in height. In short, the pastures and plains look phenomenal for this time of year.
The pasture that I walk my dogs in at Fort Smith has an incredible array of healthy grasses. It tickles me to see the western wheatgrass making inroads in the patches of cheatgrass and Japanese brome. The bluebunch wheatgrass has reached heights of 2 to 2-1/2 feet. Though the grasses are impressive for their heights and vitality, the real show has been the early summer wildflowers.
One species that has become a blooming idiot is pale purple coneflower, aka echinecea. This lavender composite is reaching heights of a foot or so with the blossoms measuring about 2 inches in diameter. Most people know echinecea as an herbal cure for colds, but I like to appreciate the light brown cone surrounded by about a dozen pale lavender petals that are 1/8-inch wide and an inch or more long. Every once in awhile I find a coneflower that has a grasshopper or bumblebee on it that makes a visual feast.
Shrubby evening primrose is another denizen of the pasture. Though the shrub is only 6 to 8 inches high, it often has a dozen or more bright yellow blossoms.
The penstemons have been quite plentiful this year. In early June the white penstemons were very common in the pasture. The white trumpet-shaped flowers were about a half-inch long with about a dozen of them on a flower stalk.
On Saturday I found a blue penstemon blooming along the Tongue River near Acme. The pale blue plant had reached a height of 18 to 20 inches. The flowers were easily twice the size of the white penstemons I had seen earlier. Since all the blossoms were on one side of the flower stalk, I assumed that the plant was a one-sided penstemon. Anyway, that pale blue flower sure lit up the countryside.
Regular prairie coneflowers have been coming on strong in the pasture. Unlike the purple coneflower, which has a relatively flat domed cone, the prairie coneflower has about an inch-high cone surrounded by bright yellow petals that droop down.
Though it is a weed, yellow sweet clover is sure providing vast swaths of color across the plains. The drive from Sheridan to Fort Smith must have a patch of yellow sweet clover every mile of the trip. I am sure the honey bees are making gallons of honey from such huge patches of sweet clover.
One plant that dominates the banks of the Bighorn River in June is wild rose. It is not unusual to see wild rose blossoms for 20 yards or more. The pink petals range from pale to almost red in color. The fragrance of wild rose puts all the hybrid tea roses to shame.
Some of the floral displays are not nearly as extravagant as wild rose or yellow sweet clover. It’s a fairly low growing plant that sports bright orange blossoms. I learned it as cowboys’ delight. It grows in fairly open areas and although it doesn’t grab one’s attention, it sure is pretty. The flowers are about half the size of a dime but there may be 20 or more on a 6-inch tall plant.
Another plant that is just coming on is the purple prairie clover. It is a true native clover that is fairly low growing and somewhat prostrate. The inflorescence is cone shaped and contains a multitude of individual blossoms.
I am sure that I have missed a bunch of wildflowers that are currently blossoming, but what I did want to emphasize is that there is a wealth of floral beauty occurring right now. So if you have a chance, take a walk through your favorite chunk of prairie. I’ll bet you will be impressed with the multitude of flowers. Have an enjoyable walk.