By Robert Lucke
This is the time of year to go hunting for wildflowers. They make for wonderful photographs, paintings and just make a day better to walk through a bosky dell full of bright yellow bells.
In the Bear Paws it all starts with pussy willows. Those beautiful willows can get their soft tips as early as February but in a year that has stayed cold like this one has, there are still plenty left in the upper reaches of Bear Paw creeks.
Then come the true buttercups. Most people around here call the tall yellow bell type flowers buttercups. That is wrong. Buttercups are bright yellow, almost butter looking, they are low to the ground and come up by the thousands just after the snow has left meadows and hillsides alike. A good place to see true buttercups is the meadow in front of Eagle Rock in Beaver Creek Park.
Just after the buttercups get going well, on come the showy pasque flowers. They are locally referred to as crocus flowers although they are not a true crocus at all but indeed a member of the buttercup family. Their colors vary from a deep purple to a wonderful lavender blue. In old times, children used the dye from these flowers to color their Easter eggs. These large blossom flowers are a photographer's delight. They bloom right through the snow, impervious to spring storms. That makes for good photos. Crocuses are found all over the Bear Paw Mountains and well out into the adjacent prairies as well.
Then come the yellow bells and shooting stars. Locally yellow bells are called buttercups and shooting stars are called roosterheads. Yellow bells are tall with single to double to triple blooms on each stem. Shooting stars are a bright purple flower, tall too, with multiple blooms on a single stem. The perfume of shooting stars is addictive. It is strong enough so that a small stand of shooting stars can perfume a whole hillside this time of year. Shooting stars and yellow bells are usually found in mountain hillsides and meadows, sometime singly but more often than not, in a huge cluster that will cover a part of a mountainside.
After the display of roosterheads and yellow bells, a whole host of flowers come out throughout the late spring, summer and into the fall. However, none are as spectacular and welcome in this part of Montana than these early harbingers of spring.