Bright and alright: Elk Valley wildflowers out in force for spring

Arrowleaf balsamroot, photographed near the Roots trail above Fernie, B.C. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)Arrowleaf balsamroot, photographed near the Roots trail above Fernie, B.C. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
An alpine paintbrush flower photographed in spring 2022 near Fernie, B.C. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)An alpine paintbrush flower photographed in spring 2022 near Fernie, B.C. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Strawberry flowers photographed near Fernie, B.C. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)Strawberry flowers photographed near Fernie, B.C. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

It’s not just the bears waking up – the regions vibrant native wildflowers are making an appearance as the spring weather takes hold in the Elk Valley.

Forget the dandelions and the forget-me-nots popping up (and getting mowed under) around town, up on the hillsides the native wildflowers are just getting started.

“There’s a whole different sequence of flowers that appear through the spring,” said local wildflower expert, Terry Nelson. “The first ones will come out, and then those will disappear and a whole new set will come into play and have their time on the scene. It’s all part of the master plan (for the flowers) to take their turn getting pollinated.”

Nelson is an avid gardener, and has previously written a book on trails and plants in the area that gives readers an introduction to the sort of plants and bright flowers hikers and bikers might see on their travels.

“One of the unique things in the mountains is there’s so many different aspects that have different plant arrangements. On Castle Mountain you’ll see Saskatoon berry bushes in flower (white), and there’s arrowleaf balsamroot (yell0w).

“And then there’s tall mountain bluebells when you start to get up into the rocks,” said Nelson, who explained that rocky areas saw completely different flowers growing due to the radiated warmth from the rocks that heat up in the sun.

Hikers and bikers need to take their time to spot some of the flowers hidden away on hillsides and in the forest – it’s not all showy flowers on exposed hillsides and immediately visible.

“There’s shrubby penstemon which you see if you sit on the first bench up at hypervent (trail). You almost have to get off the edge of the cliff to see those.”

Also up Castle Mountain you can find prairie crocus (purple) – one of the few areas where these flowers appear around Fernie.

Don’t forget to stop and enjoy the alpine paintbrush (red) flowers, and strawberry flowers (white).

The flowers out now are just a taste though – there’s plenty more to come, said Nelson, who explained that over on the other side of the valley near the park, there was a whole different set of flowers getting started.

“When I was up Gorby yesterday there was a bunch of plants emerging that hadn’t gone to flower yet. Things are out on Gorby that will be in flower soon – things like Queens cup (white) underneath the cedar trees. Mountain arnica (yell0w) was out up there but not in flower. Black elderberry bushes will come into flower (white) pretty quick – they have buds appearing, and they’re really showy.”

Nelson hikes a lot to take in the flowers and plant-life of the area, and said that those wanting to go explore don’t have to go far.

“For diversity, going up the Fairy Creek Falls trail I would say has the most diverse selection of native plants. It changes as you move from the drier parts where the forest was logged and up along the creek.”

Different flowers will be popping up soon – so don’t miss the current crop, and make sure you go again every once in a while to see a whole new set of colours all the way up through to the end of summer.

If you want to read Nelson’s book on trails and flowers, you can buy a copy from Polar Peek Books in Fernie. It includes tips on best places to see the flowers listed.

READ MORE: Elk Valley pedals into GoByBike week 2022



scott.tibballs@thefreepress.ca
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