Early Hikes & Flowers, West Kootenay

on May 04, 2010

About this time of year, when Whitewater Ski Hill near Nelson closes, both little and big people are hiking up snow free trails like Pulpit Rock and the early season flowers pave a wave of floral succession. Learn about two early season flowers that show off their petals as winter recedes.

Yellow Glacier Lily at Pulpit Rock, Nelson

While in the mountains, above 5000 ft, winter still has a strong grip holding back the growth and development of plants, this spring the snow in the lower elevation trails has been very sparse making early season hikes very accessible.  Early season flowers provide a great color contrast to the grey and green hues of the forested trails. 

Hikers are commenting how lovely lower elevation trails like Pulpit Rock, Pilot Bay Peninsula, Fry Creek Canyon and Wilson Falls are for exercise, views and floral displays.  To learn about ecological links between flora, fauna and terrain, take an interpretive walk or guided alpine hike near Nelson, Kaslo and New Denver, B.C. 

Since early April,  Erythronium grandiflorum, also known as the yellow glacier lily, has been out in full bloom decorating the edge of trails with their bright yellow petals.  The species name is a tribute to the relatively large flowers that peel backward at the top of the stalk allow the fertile male stamens to hang down, a great feature for insects that pollinate them! Yellow glacier lilies are commonly found in sub alpine and alpine moist meadows or forests and are one of my favourite flowers to discover. 

These small 20-30 cm tall perennials appear every year in similar places from an underground bulb.  Many a child and mom have popped those delicious edible fresh flower treats in their mouth or storied a few in a paper bag for a supper salad.  Bears too enjoy this first flower but depend on the edible bulb so please resist the temptation to pick them; this is an important food source.  Both bears and people have discovered heating them sweets the taste, hence when you see mats of them overturned in an alpine meadow, you might consider NOT waiting around.

Globeflower, Alpine Hikes

While glacier lilies are one of the first flowers to arrive in mid-elevation, in the higher alpine it is Trollius laxus, also know as globeflower who pokes through the ground. These flowers are from a different family and more resemble your common buttercup, except white.  Beware as this non-edible early season neighbour as it is not friendly to your child’s digestive track.  The genus name is tribute to the plants toxic and poisonous acrid substances. 

Globetrotters are excellent indicators of how long ago the snow receded, approximately 24-48hours after the cool ice pulls away the quickly flowering stalk appears.  These plants only exist in high elevation so currently they will be under many feet of snow but by late June you can begin to look for them.  Pick trails that are southerly facing like the ridge hike to Gimli Peak in Valhalla Provincial Park or en route in meadows to Kokanee Glacier Chalet. 

Globetrotters are sturdy tall perennials, some up to 40 cm that blossom a showy white buttercup shaped flower that protrudes proudly to the sun. An amazing trait of globetrotters is their ability to track the sun.  If you were patient enough to watch, and yes I’ve tried this on a lazy alpine day, you’d see the flower turn its stem to match the suns pattern from east to west!  Insects have long ago discovered this high alpine plant trick and have been found to rest within the warm temperatures within the cup. Great benefit for lounging insects and a win for a flower that needs to pollinate.

Many incredible stories exist about the relationships between flora, fauna, insects and terrain.  Visit our favorite trails for tips for hikes in May and June. Please post any comments of flowers you see or send us photos to upload for a photo gallery.

Enjoy the trails and please respect the plants that are the base of so many important ecological relationships…

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