Wyoming outdoors: Spring wildflowers brighten countryside

2014-04-17T00:00:00Z Wyoming outdoors: Spring wildflowers brighten countrysideBy BOB KRUMM For The Gazette The Billings Gazette
April 17, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Though my domestic flower bed has quite a floral display of daffodils, crocuses and hyacinths, I have yet to notice any wildflowers gracing the hillsides. The domestic flowers are in beds tight to my house, so they have had plenty of warmth and reflected sunlight. But the wildflowers have been exposed to cold nights with heavy snows, so they are a little slower to sprout.

All early-season wildflowers are ground-hugging plants. This enables them to avoid killing cold temperatures in the spring since the ground will stay warmer than the air on a cold night. Of course, these plants have to get their growing and blossoming done before their taller plant neighbors overshadow them. Many of these short plants blossom and set seed before summer sets in so they avoid drought as well as being shaded.

When the Hood’s phlox finally blossoms, there will be carpets of snow-white flowers that will cover south-facing slopes. Hood’s phlox is one of the very first wildflowers to blossom and is probably already blooming in protected areas that have plenty of sun and little or no overshadowing vegetation. Hood’s phlox has a star-shaped flower with a deep yellow center. The plant is more like a moss with short needle-like leaves. The prostrate plant seldom reaches an inch in height, but if it is healthy it can sport a ton of blossoms.

Another early bloomer is biscuitroot. This member of the parsley family stays close to the ground but sends up a short flower stalk that might reach 2 to 3 inches in height and sport a typical carrot-type blossom, an umbel. The blossom is either yellow or white. The leaves can be finely divided and quite glossy — again much like a carrot — or fine and hairy.

According to a Utah plant website, “There are notes in the journals of Lewis and Clark relating that they were given cakes called ‘cous’ when they purchased food from the Shoshones. These cakes were made from the roots of the biscuitroot plants.”

In the moister areas of the pasture I like to walk is a waxy yellow bloomer called sagebrush buttercup. The blossom is only a quarter-of-an-inch across. The plant only stands about 3 inches high. Most buttercups are poisonous, so the sagebrush buttercup is one to view and leave alone.

One early bloomer that I often find growing close to Hood’s phlox is Nuttall’s violet. This violet only has a bit of that color in the throat of the flower, while the remainder of the flower is yellow. Unlike other violets, the leaves of Nuttall’s violet are lanceolate.

Perhaps the earliest blooming flower that I know is called Easter daisy. This plant grows flush to the surface. There is a rosette of fleshy leaves with the quarter-sized flower that sports white petals and a yellow disc — like a Shasta daisy growing at ground level. Easter daisies usually sprout on windswept ridges with very few other plants around. It strikes me as one of the toughest spring wildflowers growing in the region.

It seems that sand lilies are especially common around Fort Smith. There are fields of them on the plateau where Fort Smith is situated. While sand lilies aren’t among the first to blossom, they come in a close second. The plant only reaches 2 to 3 inches in height and has waxy white petals with bright yellow stamens. There are so many of them in the pasture I walk that it is difficult not to step on them while I am exercising the dogs. Though they are small, sand lilies have a beauty that larger lilies have a rough time matching.

Most all of the early blossoming flowers are either yellow or white in color. Bluebells are the exception. Prairie bluebells appear just after Hood’s phlox start to fade. The flower stalks have about six to 10 trumpet-shaped flowers that are powder blue in color.

Early spring flowers certainly aren’t very tall but they are quite beautiful with exquisite features. They make it worthwhile for a person to get out and take a stroll across the prairie this Easter weekend. You might find that these miniatures have beauty that rival Easter lilies. Check them out.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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