Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Modest Mission Bells

Yellowbells Fritillaria pudica (c) John Ashley
A middle-aged yellowbell with alongside purple shooting stars
blooming this week in a ponderosa pine forest near Polson
Yellowbells or mission bells (Fritillaria pudica) are our modest little wildflowers who announce that spring is really here to stay. They show up well after the pasqueflowers but go to seed long before summer's heat arrives. The dainty yellow flowers always nod downward (pudica is Latin for "modest") and the plant only rises up 4-12" (10-30 cm) above the ground on grassy slopes and sunny, open ponderosa pine forests. The flowers start out bright yellow and slowly turn orange with age. Yellowbells were unfamiliar to Lewis and Clark, so they collected specimens in early May, 1806. Traditional Flathead Indians ate the root bulbs boiled, and the Blackfeet used the bulbs to make a soup. Bears eat the bulbs raw while deer prefer the dainty flowers and leaves.