Mountain Maple (Acer glabrum) Maple Family: Aceraceae Habitat: Tall shrub draws, forest and woodland Description: A large shrub or small tree with gray bark. Its young twigs are smooth and dark red; its winter buds are bright red. The leaves are palmately 3 to 5 lobed, sharply toothed. Its small, chartreuse-colored flowers are fragrant. Always grow as several trunks in a clump. Fruits are twin-winged. General: Leaves turn vivid red in autumn. Montana Indians used the wood for arrow shafts. Deer, elk, moose and mountain sheep browse the sweet foliage and twigs. The young shoots and leaves and the seeds are edible.
Western Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) Rose Family: Rosaceae Habitat: Tall shrub draws Description: Is a shrub or small tree, up to 20 feet tall. Flowers are white with five rounded petals and five sepals, and appear before the leaves. They are borne in multiple clusters at the ends of branches and appear in early spring. The leaves are round toothed above the middle. The dark blue to purple berries ripen generally in July. Bark reddish- brown, grayish when older, branchlets hairy. General: Native people considered this plant an important berry crop, plentiful enough to store for winter use. Lewis and Clark mentioned that some Serviceberry loaves weighed as much as 10 or 15 pounds. Its stems were also used for arrow shafts. Bear, grouse, and other species eat the berries.
Silver Sagebrush (Artemisia cana) Composite Family: Compositae Habitat: Grassland and shrubland Description: Silver-gray to yellowish shrub 1-3 feet tall. Has turpentine-like odor. Stems branch freely to form rounded bushes, older stems have dark brown, fibrous bark. Leaves silky- haired, long, narrow, with pointed tips. Flower heads yellowish in narrow, leafy clusters 5-12 inches long. The leafy appearance of the upper stem tends to obscure the small flowers. General: Silver Sagebrush is the most common large sage found on Mount Helena. It is well adapted to fire and resprouts from surviving buds found on horizontal stems below the surface.
Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus) Composite Family: Compositae Habitat: Dry slopes in the valleys, foothills and montane forests Description: A shrub usually from 1-3 feet tall. Twigs covered with dense, white, feltlike hair. Leaves narrow less than 2.5 inches long. Flowers are rayless heads with 5 yellow disk flowers per head. General: There are six specimens of rabbitbrush in the Lewis and Clark Herbarium – more than any other species. An original label in Lewis’ hand reads “No. 32, specimens of aromatic plants on which the antelope feeds.” During the rubber shortage of World War II, scientists became interested in the latex and found that a high-quality rubber could be produced, but not in high quantities needed at that time, nevertheless, the name rubber rabbitbrush stuck.
Common Juniper (Juniperus communis) Cypress Family: Cupressaceae Habitat: Forest and woodland Description: Low spreading shrub, never more than 2-3 feet in height, often spreading up to 6 feet. The sharp-pointed leaves are green with a white line on the upper surface. The round berries are blue when ripe. General: A circumpolar species, found over the whole northern hemisphere. It is commonly used in landscaping.
Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) Cypress Family: Cupressaceae Habitat: Forest and woodland Description: Is a tree or shrub, sometimes reaching 50 feet in height, and much branched at the base. The leaves are scale-like, somewhat glandular and arranged in twos. The fleshy, bluish cones are about a quarter inch in diameter, and mature the second year. General: As incense, juniper ranks as one of the most important in Montana. Indians placed these leaves on fire to produce a sacred, purifying smoke in many religious ceremonies. Juniper provided native people with a vast storehouse of cures for common ailments such as colds, fevers, and pneumonia. Its wood was considered to make an excellent bow.
Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii) Hydrangea Family: Hydrangeaceae Habitat: Tall shrub draws Description: This is an erect shrub, up to 9 feet tall and densely branched. On older stems the reddish-brown bark cracks open at a right angle to the stem and eventually falls away in small pieces, revealing the gray bark underneath. The leaves are in pairs, opposite each other on the stems. Each flower has 4 petals, many stamens, 4 styles, and a sweet, orange blossom aroma. The fruit is a hard capsule that remains on the shrub through the winter. General: Is the state flower of Idaho, where it is often called Syringa. In 1814, it was named in honor of Meriwether Lewis, from specimens that Lewis collected in 1806.
Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) Rose Family: Rosaceae Habitat: Prefers damp ground and fairly rich soil. Often found in exposed locations. Description: Heavy crooked shrubs to small trees. Abundance of dark green leaves and drooping pencils of flowers or berries. Rough, grayish-brown bark. Leaves sharply pointed and finely saw- toothed. White flowers with dense, cylindrical clusters near ends of the limbs. Dark berries in masses. General: Berries are very puckery to the taste. Some Native Americans blend them with meat to make an important food called pemmican. The bruised bark gives off a pungent smell.
Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) Rose Family: Rosaceae Habitat: Dry slopes in the valleys, foothills and montane forests Description: Shrub with a spreading structure of stiff, awkward branches. The wedge-shaped leaves are green on the upper surface and appear gray-green beneath. The leaves are so tiny that the outline of the limbs is quite distinctive. Flowers are yellow and fragrant. The shrub flowers early, while the leaves are just starting to emerge. General: Although it is bitter, this shrub provides an extremely important food source for deer, especially in winter. Bitterbrush also goes by the common names antelope brush or antelope bitterbrush. Lewis and Clark collected this plant on July 6, 1806 in western Montana.
Skunk-bush Sumac (Rhus trilobata) Sumac Family: Anacardiaceae Habitat: Tall shrub draws Description: A much-branched dense, rounded shrub, 2-5 feet high. Leaves compound with 3 leaflets, middle leaflet largest. Tiny yellow-green flowers appear before leaves in crowded catkin-like clusters and are followed by flattened velvety, red or orange berries. Light brown bark. General: This shrub is also called “Lemonade Bush.” Its berries have an acid flavor and have been used to make a substitute for lemonade. Given its name because of its strong odor. Also known as Three-leaf Sumac.
Golden Current (Ribes aureum) Gooseberry Family: Grossulariaceae Habitat: Tall shrub draws Description: Shrub of medium height, up to 6 feet with yellow, spicy-fragrant, tubular flowers. Short petals often tipped with red, leaves wedge-shaped and 3-lobed. Stems smooth without spines. Fruit a small, round, black or red-brown berry. General: This shrub is browsed by game animals, and the berries furnish food for small mammals and birds.
Wax Current (Ribes cereum) Gooseberry Family: Grossulariaceae Habitat: Tall shrub draws Description: Low, rather sticky-hairy shrub from 2-5 feet tall. Leaves small, round or oval in outline and ordinarily quite hairy and sticky to the touch. Flowers white and sometimes tinged with pink. The flowers are tubular and occur in small clusters of two or three from short, stubby side branches. Fruit orange-red, edible but rather bitter. General: Also known as Western Red Currant. As a rule of thumb, gooseberry bushes bear thorns and currants go unarmed.
Wild Rose (Rosa arkansana or Rosa woodsii) Rose Family: Roseaceae Habitat: Grassland, shrubland, tall shrub draws Description: Shrubs with prickly or bristly, usually upright stems. Flowers are pink but may fade to white, or petals may be streaked with darker pink and are in a cluster of 2-3 blooms. Wild Rose flowers are much flatter when open than those of the Wood’s Rose, which are distinctly saucer-shaped and usually a deeper pink. Leaves are medium green, pinnately compound, with 9-11 leaflets that are smooth and shiny. The fleshy “apple-like” fruit is called the rosehip. General: Wood’s Rose is the state flower of North Dakota. Roses have been used for food and medicine. The hips are high in vitamin C and make a good syrup or jelly. The flowers and leaves make a tea.
Gray Horsebrush (Tetradymia canescens) Composite Family: Compositae Habitat: Grassland and shrubland Description: Thickly branched shrub up to 2 feet tall with white, felty foliage. Leaves are long, narrow, or with broad tips, densely white, felt- covered, bunched at stem joints. Flowers are yellow, about 4 to a head, surrounded by four or five bracts at the flower base. Heads are in compact somewhat flat-topped clusters at the ends of stems. Seed-like fruits are smooth or thinly hairy, each with tuft of grayish bristles at tip. General: Also called Spineless Horsebrush. All parts of the plant are poisonous.
Bluebunch Wheatgrass (Elymus spicata) Grass Family: Gramineae Habitat: South facing slopes and other dry areas in forest regions Description: A native, cool-season, drought-tolerant, perennial bunchgrass. This grass grows in large, erect bunches from 2 to 3 feet tall. It has numerous, rather lax, flat leaves situated along the length of the stems. The seed heads are narrow, 3 to 6 inches long. The spikelets are solitary at the points of a zigzag rachis. Each spikelet is 3 to 6 flowered, with the seeds tipped by a characteristic, rough, divergent awn. There are 4 to 12 seed heads per plant. It has an extensive, deep, fibrous root system. General: Bluebunch wheatgrass was designated the official state grass of Montana in It provides good forage for elk and deer.
Idaho Fescue (Festuca idahoensis) Grass Family: Gramineae Habitat: Open woods, rocky slopes of the mountains and foothills Description: Idaho fescue is a cool- season, densely tufted, perennial bunchgrass. The characteristic bluish- green leaves are tightly inrolled and rough to the touch. The narrow panicle is 3 to 8 inches long, with branches ascending or appressed, somewhat spreading during pollination. The spikelets are five- to seven-flowered, with awns up to ¼ inch long. This species is shade tolerant, and often functions as an understory plant; however, it also occurs on exposed sites as a dominant plant. General: Idaho fescue is considered a key indicator of the condition and trend of native forage stands. First noted by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, June 10, 1806, on the Weippe Prairie, Idaho.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) Composite Family: Compositae Habitat: Grassland, shrubland, cliff and rock outcrops, tall shrub draws, forests and woodlands Description: A flat-topped to somewhat rounded blossom, typifies yarrow. Ordinarily white or sooty-colored, the flowers occasionally show pink or even yellow shades. This plant averages 1 to 3 feet in height. The leaves have a fern-like appearance. Soft, woolly hairs coat the foliage. General: Yarrow is a “medicinal wonder.” It has been used to stop bleeding from wounds and cuts, as a poultice on burns, boils and open sores, to treat fevers and colds, and alleviate toothaches. Many call this plant “Chipmunk’s Tail” because the leaves bear a resemblance to the tail of a chipmunk.
Small-leaf Pussytoes (Antennaria parvifolia) Composite Family: Compositae Habitat: Dry forest openings, plains Description: From a small, grayish basal rosette rises an erect, sparsely- leaved flower stalk with cluster of small, rayless, whitish flower heads. Leaves are long, equally hairy on both sides: those in rosettes lanceolate but are obviously broader near the top, those on the flower stalk are much narrower. The fruit is seed-like, with 5 white bristles at top. General: The clusters of small, soft, whitish to pink flower heads resemble a cat’s paw. Pussytoes seedlings are quick to volunteer in open areas. This is a suitable ground cover for sunny, barren areas.
Holboell’s Rockcress (Arabis holboellii) Mustard Family: Cruciferae Habitat: Dry slopes and foothills into the lower mountains Description: This plant is biennial or perennial from a tough, persistent base bearing slender taproots. There are usually only one to three stems. Plants are covered with short, appressed hairs. Individual plants can be up to three feet tall, but are usually less than 20 inches tall. Ten to 50 light purplish-to-pink flowers about ¼-inch long are crowded along the upper half of the stem. At maturity, flowers form narrow pods (siliques) about two inches long that bend downwards. Each pod holds several dozen tiny seeds. General: All rockcresses are edible, with the typical sharp flavor of the mustard family. The tender leaves and flowers are usually added to salads and sandwiches for flavor.
Fringed Sagewort (Artemisia frigida) Composite Family: Compositae Habitat: Grassland and shrubland Description: An aromatic herb, the silver- gray, finely cut foliage is the most noticeable feature of this plant. Grows in tufts 4-8 inches tall. Small, yellow, nodding flower heads bloom in August. The many-divided, soft and silky leaves are clustered near the ground. General: Native people called this plant “Women’s Sage.” Women would make a tea to correct menstrual irregularity. The early settlers used this plant to make a bitter tea which was believed to be a tonic and a remedy for mountain fever (typhoid). Plants have a pungent sage odor and were also used as a smudge for protection from mosquitoes.
Prairie Sagewort (Artemisia ludoviciana) Composite Family: Compositae Habitat: Grasslands and shrubland Description: Most often noticed for its silvery-white to greenish foliage and stems that are covered with a dense mat of woolly hairs. Leaves, usually linear, bear a spike with clusters of small, yellow disk flowers in late summer. General: Native people called this plant “Man Sage.” It was used in religious ceremonies. They believed this plant had the power to drive away bad spirits. The species name, ludoviciana, means “of Louisiana” but refers to the vast Louisiana Territory rather than to the state.
Pasqueflower (Anemone patens) Buttercup Family: Ranunculaceae Habitat: Grassland and shrubland Description: Flowers are pale blue or mauve, occasionally white or light yellow. The sepals, five to seven, are colored and petals are absent. Leaves are gray-green, basal, stalked, and much divided. They appear after the flowers fade. The fruit is a large group of feathery achenes on a lengthened flower stalk. General: Was used as medicine by many tribes. Blackfeet women boiled the plant and drank tea to speed delivery in childbirth. The Blackfeet also bound the crushed pasqueflower leaves on some injuries as a counterirritant.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) Composite Family: Compositae Habitat: Dry, low elevation forest and open grassland in deep sandy soil Description: A clump of large, velvety, olive-green leaves with a pale green, woolly look to both sides of arrowhead-shaped leaves. A dozen or so large, yellow, sunflower-like flowers on leafless stems. Often forms dense, spectacular populations. General: One of the most colorful plants of the sagebrush ecosystem. In spring, the many species of Balsamroot brighten the landscape with yellow. Native people ate the rich, oily seeds, and the deep-growing roots were eaten raw or were toasted.
Wyoming Kittentails (Besseya wyomingensis) Figwort Family: Scrophulariaceae Habitat: Grassland, shrubland, forest and woodland Description: This plant lacks petals, but the dense cylindrical flower heads bristle with dark red stamens. A perennial, 3-10 inches tall, the leaves are gray-hairy and often reddish- tinged, the lance-shaped basal leaves ½ to 1 inch long, the stem leaves smaller. General: The genus Besseya was named in honor of Charles Edwin Bessey, an eminent botanist from the University of Nebraska.
Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) Campanula Family: Campanulaceae Habitat: Grassland and shrubland Description: This plant has numerous blue or somewhat lavender, bell- shaped (5 lobed) and nodding flowers on thread-like stems. This plant ranges from 4-12 inches tall, with narrow leaves. Grows in clumps. General: Harebell is the true Scottish “Bluebell.”
Yellow Paintbrush (Castilleja lutescens) Figwort Family: Scrophulariaceae Habitat: Dry slopes and open coniferous forests in the grasslands of the steppe and montane zones Description: A perennial forb with clustered stems that are erect, stout, and often branched above. They are 1 – 2 ft tall, sometimes purplish and have leaves that are linear. Although the flowers are rather small and non-showy, they are associated with numerous colorful bract- like leaves that function as an attractant. General: An interesting adaptation of paintbrushes is that they are able to parasitize the roots of associated plants, especially sagebrush. From the host plant, the paintbrush derives both water and organic materials, thus increasing its tolerance to dry conditions and its ecological range.
Field Chickweed (Cerastium arvense) Pink Family: Caryophyllaceae Habitat: Grassland, shrubland, and tall shrub draws Description: Flowers snowy-white, almost ½ inch across, with 5 deeply cleft petals and five sepals. Plants are up to 12 inches tall. Stems tend to spread or lean. Leaves are narrow, small, velvety and gray-green in color. This plant is often found in large patches. General: Also known as Mouse-ear Chickweed. It is often the most abundant white flower on open fields and dry meadows in spring and early summer.
Wavyleaf Thistle (Cirsium undulatum) Composite Family: Compositae Habitat: Dry, open sites in plains, foothills, and montane forests Description: Has large, showy, rose- purple flower heads that may be over 2 inches wide and 1.5 inches tall. Leaves and stems are whitish gray because of a covering of woolly hairs. Sharp yellow spines project from the leaves and sides of the flower heads and wavy leaf margins. General: The thick roots were cooked by several tribes of North America. Thistledown is relished by birds for food and nest linings. This plant should not be confused with the noxious Canada thistle.
Miner’s Candle (Cryptantha celosioides) Borage Family: Boraginaceae Habitat: Dry slopes and foothills into the lower mountains Description: A spike of white, open- faced flowers, crowds the upper portion of a stem, hence the common name. The basal leaves broaden at the tip into spatula or oar shapes. A few smaller, narrow leaves attach along the stem. Dense white hairs, straight and somewhat stiff to silky, cover the leaves, stems and sepals. General: Plants usually flower 1-2 years and then die. There are no known economic uses of this plant.
Little Larkspur (Delphinium bicolor) Buttercup Family: Ranunculaceae Habitat: Grassland, shrubland, forest and woodland Description: Flowers have dark blue as the prominent color due to five petal-like sepals. The four petals are blue to creamy white and somewhat hairy. The four petals are much smaller than the sepals. The flowers are spurred. The flower stalks are long and hairy. Leaves are palmately compound and deeply parted into slender leaflets. General: Is also known as Montana Larkspur and Low Larkspur.
Slimpod Shooting Star (Dodecatheon conjugens) Primrose Family: Primulaceae Habitat: Grasslands, montane to near treeline Description: A perennial forb. Leaves are all basal. Flowers are magenta to lavender, swept backwards and united at the base by two yellow rings. Dark stamens and style cling together to form a spear-like point. General: Flowers are said to smell like root beer. Such an unusual flower requires a special technique for pollination. A bumblebee grasps the yellow band while hanging upside down. It then gives a quick buzz of its wings that shakes pollen out of the flower’s anthers and onto its abdomen. When the bee visits the next shooting star, the thin stigma protruding from the tube is placed perfectly to receive the pollen.
Cut-leaved Fleabane (Erigeron compositus) Composite Family: Compositae Habitat: Grassland, shrubland, forest, and woodland Description: This is a little tufted plant with stems 2-6 inches tall. Rays are usually white but may be bluish or purple. Leaves mostly basal, once or twice 3-parted into narrow, blunt lobes. The very small stem leaves are entire. General: A very large genus that is confused with asters. Erigerons usually bloom in spring and early summer, asters in late summer and fall. Many Erigerons have only one head to each stem, and most have fewer than five (most asters have several to many heads).
Howard’s Alpine Forget-me-not (Eritrichium howardii) Borage Family: Boraginaceae Habitat: Cliff and rock outcrops Description: A cushion plant with fragrant, brilliantly blue, yellow-eyed flowers. Its stems rise from compact rosettes of tiny, silver-hairy leaves. General: A member of the Borage family, this lovely plant likes limestone hills and ridges east of the Continental Divide. The name Eritrichium comes from the Greek, and means “woolly.”
Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) Rose Family: Rosaceae Habitat: Openings and open forest to timberline Description: Perennial, low-growing herb. Thin leaves with 3 leaflets and small white flowers with 5-7 petals. Fruit is a small, red strawberry. Delicious! General: Native Americans used strawberry leaves for tea and to make anti-diarrhea medicines. The berries are only eaten fresh since they are too juicy to dry like other berries.
Yellowbell (Fritillaria pudicua) Lily Family: Liliaceae Habitat: Grassland, shrubland, forest and woodland Description: A single, golden-yellow, bell-shaped flower hangs downward or sidewise from a bent stalk. It begins blooming in March and the flower soon fades to red or purple. The slender, blunt-tipped leaves, often two or three in number, measure from 2-4 inches in length. Plants are 3-8 inches in height. General: The bulb-like underground corms were a minor portion of the native people’s vegetable diet in Montana. Wild animals such as bears, gophers, and ground squirrels avidly dig for these corms. The fruity pods are also edible.
Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum) Rose Family: Rosaceae Habitat: Grassland, shrubland, forest and woodland Description: Has finely dissected leaves and nodding flowers, usually 3 on a stalk, the whole inflorescence is rose-colored. The calyx lobes overlap to form a sort of urn, from which whitish or pale yellow petals protrude slightly. The fruit becomes puffs of long, feathery plumes that are carried on the wind. General: In the Rose family. Also known as “Three-flowered Avens” and “Old Man’s Whiskers.” The latter name due to the feathery plumes of the fruit.
Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva) Purslane Family: Portulacaceae Habitat: Dry open foothills, montane and subalpine sites Description: Low perennial herb, inconspicuous until the beautiful flower appears in early summer. Each flower has numerous petals, stamens, and styles. The petals vary from nearly white to deep rose. The succulent leaves are small, club-shaped, and inconspicuous. General: The fleshiness of bitterroot reflects a water-storing adaptation, which parallels that of cacti and other desert succulents. The roots can survive extreme dehydration. A staple food for many Native American tribes. A 50 lb. bag of roots was considered enough to sustain a person through winter. This plant was an important trade item; a bag of bitterroot could be traded for a good horse. This is Montana’s state flower.
Gromwell (Lithospermum ruderale) Borage Family: Boraginaceae Habitat: Dry slopes, plains and shrub-steppe, up to mid-elevation in the mountains Description: A perennial forb with several ascending stems. Its stems and prominently ribbed leaves appear grayish-green from their coating of fine hairs. The nutlets (seeds) are bony hard. Leaves are narrowly lance- shaped. Flowers are light yellow. General: The generic term, Lithospermum, comes from two Greek words meaning “stone” and “seed.” Our plant’s species name, ruderale, means “waste-place” or “dump” in Latin. Native Americans gave the name “puccoon” to a related plant that grows in the eastern United States. Captain John Smith wrote about this plant in 1612: “Pocones is a small roote that groweth in the mountains, which being dryed and beate in powder turneth red” and used by Indians to paint their skin. The roots of the Columbia puccoon contain a yellow dye that was used by Native Americans in that region.
Nine-leaf Lomatium (Lomatium triternatum) Parsley Family: Umbelliferae Habitat: Grassland, shrubland, tall shrub draws, cliff and rock outcrops Description: Pale yellow flowers are arranged in compound umbels. The compound leaves are often in sets of 3 leaflets each and are very narrow. Flowering stalk and leaves are covered with fine hair. General: The Blackfeet made a tea from the roots of this plant and the rose, to relieve sore throats and coughs. Long distance runners would chew the fruit to avoid side aches.
Leafy Musineon (Musineon divaricatum) Parsely Family: Umbelliferae Habitat: Grassland, shrubland, cliff and rocky outcrops Description: Flowers are powdery- yellow with five petals and sepals, and are supported by linear bractlets. The flowers are borne in a compound umbel. Leaves are basal, doubly pinnate. Leaflets are oblong, bright green and smooth. Growth habit is erect, but low-growing and spreading. Flower heads are not usually more than 4 inches tall and the leaflets are beneath them. General: Leafy Musineon is in the Parsley family that contains many edible plants, but also some deadly poisonous ones.
Prickly Pear (Opuntia polyacantha) Cactus Family: Cactaceae Habitat: On arid plains, canyons, benches and foothills on gentle slopes Description: Fleshy forb, 4-12 inches tall. A shallow, extensive lateral root system forms rounded clumps and spreads into mats. Stems are fleshy, strongly flattened, and jointed into obovate segments. Straight spines up to 2 inches long cover the stem (only slightly barbed). Leaves are fleshy with tawny bristles. Flowers appear waxy, yellow (often reddish tinged). Fruit is pear- shaped berry (brown or tan). Plant gets its common name from the prickly fruit. General: Antelope and mountain sheep graze the pods. Seeds and fruit are eaten by rabbits, ground squirrels, wood rats, chipmunks and mice. Native Americans ate the pods raw, dried and used them in stews or soups and boiled in a tea as a remedy for diarrhea.
Hood’s Phlox (Phlox hoodii) Phlox Family: Palemoniaceae Habitat: Grassland, shrub land, forest, and woodland Description: Early flowering dense cushion plant. The 5-petaled flowers are white to pale violet. Flowers grow directly attached to the short main stems of the plant and form whitish patches on the ground. Leaves are gray-green in color and are awl-shaped. General: Also known as Carpet Phlox and Moss Phlox. Growth habit is short and tufted, not much more than an inch above the ground. After the flowers fade, the leaves and stem form an inconspicuous part of the ground cover. The plant is named for Robert Hood, midshipman on Sir John Franklin’s expedition of
Early Cinquefoil (Potentilla concinna) Rose Family: Rosaceae Habitat: Grassland and shrubland Description: This is a low, silvery plant with 5 leaflets. The leaflets are green above, white below. The flowers have 5 separate, heart-shaped petals, which are yellow and have an orange spot at the base. The 5 sepals are united into a calyx that resembles a 5-pointed star. Five extra, narrower bractlets alternate with the main calyx lobes to give the calyx a 10-lobed appearance. General: The old common name for this genus, Cinquefoil, which in French means 5-leaf, was originally applied to a European species that has 5 leaflets. Among the large number of American species, most have more than 5 leaflets, so the name is inappropriate for the genus as a whole.
Sagebrush Buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus) Buttercup Family: Ranunculaceae Habitat: Grassland and shrubland Description: The waxy, shiny yellow cups have 5, or as many as 8, petals. Many yellow stamens encircle a mound of greenish-yellow pistils in the center of the blossom. Five shorter sepals beneath the petals bear a purplish tinge. The round or oval, fleshy leaf blades may be either simple or 3-lobed and both kinds often occur on the same plant. General: A small pocket at the base of each petal holds nectar for bees and other pollinating insects.
Scarlet Globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea) Mallow Family: Malvaceae Habitat: Dry, often disturbed open plains, foothills, and montane sites Description: Low-spreading perennial herb, grayish with dense, star-shaped hairs. Leaves alternate cut into 3-5 wedge-shaped segments arranged like fingers on a hand. Flowers are orange to brick red. General: Roots of this plant were chewed and then laid on sores and wounds to aid healing and stop bleeding. Whole plants were used to make a sweet-tasting tea.
Birchleaf Spiraea (Spiraea betulifolia) Rose Family: Rosaceae Habitat: Dry, open, mountain forests. Bunchgrass and Ponderosa Pine ecosystems mostly east of the Continental Divide. Description: Under 2 feet tall with slender stems. Leaves are rounded like a birch leaf and coarsely toothed along upper two thirds. Dense, flat- topped crown of small, white flowers occasionally tinged pink. Commonly found with Douglas-fir and Lodgepole Pine. General: Birchleaf Spiraea is also called Meadowsweet and is used by herbalists to relieve pain and reduce fever and inflammation.
Yellow Prairie Violet (Viola nuttallii) Violet Family: Violaceae Habitat: Grassland and shrubland Description: Small, bright yellow, 5- petaled flowers. The petals may be veined with purple or the upper ones tinged with red on the back. Leaves are lance-shaped. Plants are 4-8 inches tall. General: This plant is also called Nuttall’s Violet, named for Thomas Nuttall, a naturalist of the early 19 th century. His interests were in both birds and plants. He was professor of botany at Harvard and collected plants in the western U.S.
Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis) Pine Family: Pinaceae Habitat: Forest and woodland Description: The bark is light gray on young trunks and branches, but much darker on old trunks. The needles are dark green, usually 5 in a cluster, and more bluish than those of the Ponderosa Pine. The cylindrical cones are often very pitchy. Each scale is rounded, with a pale border. General: Limber Pine got its Latin name from its flexible branches. At timberline and other windy sites, they become gnarled and twisted. The trunk may separate into several main, upward-reaching branches. They become mature at about 300 years.
Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa) Pine Family: Pinaceae Habitat: Valley bottoms to mountain slopes in dry, well-drained soils Description: Its straight trunk is topped by a large mass of heavy branches with tufts of bushy needles. Has the longest needles of any evergreen in our area: 6-9 inches in bunches of 3. The bark is flaky, terra cotta red bark, and furrowed like jigsaw pieces. Its cones are roundish, shiny, and light brown. General: Common in low, forested portions of Montana between 1,500- 3,000 feet elevation. Isolated occurrences in dry, gravely places west of the Cascades. Ponderosa Pine has a flammable chemical in its needles. Quick ground fires do not harm the tree but do destroy competing vegetation.
Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) Pine Family: Pinaceae Habitat: From extremely dry, low elevation sites to moist montane sites Description: Large, evergreen tree with thick, ridged and rough brown bark. Needles spirally arranged with one groove on upper surface and two white bands of stomata on lower surface. Cones hang down green at flowering, turning reddish brown to gray, with bracts prominently three-forked (look for the “mice” hiding in the cone – the bracts are their hind feet and tails). General: Under natural conditions, Douglas- fir establishes primarily after forest fires. The trees have very thick bark that allows them to withstand moderate surface fires. The soft inner bark was used for survival food. Young twigs and needles can be used as a substitute for coffee or tea. Fragrant Douglas-fir boughs were often used for bedding. The pliable roots have been used to weave baskets. Rotted wood from old logs was burned slowly to smoke hides, and the bark was used in tanning.