Friday, May 16, 2014

May's Flower Moon

Arrow-leaved Balsamroot on Wild Horse Island (c) John Ashley
Arrow-leaved Balsamroot this week on Wild Horse Island, in Flathead Lake
Different cultures use different names to describe their monthly full moons. A western-Montana-mountain-throwback culture might mumble something about May's "Cloudy Moon," (bottom) and mutter under their breath about June's "Cold Rain Moon." But no, some old farmers somewhere else named this month's full moon in the genteel image of, "Flower Moon," and that's the moniker that stuck.

Chief Mountain Pasqueflowers (c) John Ashley
Pasqueflowers near Chief Mountain
Not that our wildflowers mind all the moisture and the slowly-warming soil. May is the month that color returns, in modest blushes at first, to the warmer and drier grasslands and rolling hills in these parts.

Spring is a subtle beauty on the east side of the divide. Pale, purple Pasqueflower is one of our earliest blooms. They still cover the treeless hillsides around Duck Lake and Chief Mountain Road, and north and south of there as well. (As a bonus smile-maker, there are also a good number of little colts and fillies grazing among the wildflowers in that area.)

Draba oligosperma and Douglasia montana (c) John Ashley
Few-seeded Draba and pastel Rocky Mountain Douglasia
The hilly, windy two-lane between Saint Mary and Cutbank Creek is my favorite place to find spring Shooting Stars. They're absent right now - did I miss them? On west and south sides of those hills, pastel patches of Douglasia (right) more than make up for it. Smaller patches of Few-seeded Draba (of the mustard family) make for an eye-pleasing, complimentary color pallet.

Over on the west side, the Trillium (below) are finally up in the cedar shadows along the south side of Fish Creek. I counted several hundred of them this week, all white, as none of the blooms are old enough to start turning the mature crimson of their later days. I haven't crossed paths with many Glacier Lillies yet, probably because I haven't been up in the snow much, but we have seen a few scattered individuals in the damp forests around Thompson Lakes.

Glacier Park Trillium (c) John Ashley
Fresh Trillium flower near Fish Creek
Down on the dry, windblown slopes of Wild Horse Island, where thousands of Bitterroot grow, none of these pink and white state flowers have emerged yet. But you won't miss them because the same slopes are currently carpeted with countless bright yellow, sun-loving Arrow-leaved Balsamroot (top photo). Those on the south-facing slopes are just about peaked, while those covering the north-facing slopes are just now coming into their own. The next two weeks will be golden out there. This week's weather forecast? Rain and clouds, of course.

Maybe all of these wet days are worth it after all.

Swan Peak Moonrise (c) John Ashley
May's full "Flower Moon" rises through thick clouds above Swan Peak