Montana Outdoors

June 2, 2007

Wildflowers of Munson Creek, lower elevation

One of the many places I have chosen to explore this summer is the 13,902 acre Teepee-Spring Creek roadless area near my home in Western Montana. Last Wednesday I enjoyed a ten hour hike through the East side of it along Munson Creek which begins its life just below the summit of Big Hole Peak and flows nearly due South before entering into the Clark Fork River.

The hike began just off Montana Highway 200 at the mouth of Munson Creek at an elevation of 2,400 feet, continued for 6 miles to the 6,900 foot top of Big Hole Peak and then back down again. (I’ll not do that again! Next trip I’ll stay for one night at the top before heading back!)

The lavish display of wildflowers in the spring is awesome, but nowhere more so than in the wilderness areas. I have posted photos of several dozen different wildflowers over the past month, and they all had representatives along Munson Creek. Included here are new photos of some of those, but also some of flowers I have not seen elsewhere. The following were found in about the first 3 miles, up to about 4,000 feet and, as usual for me, there are a few I can’t identify.

Feathery False Lily of the Valley
Maianthemum racemosum

Feathery False Lily of the Valley

Displaying a strikingly similar type of leaf as the False Lily is this one which must be a close relative, but it has a different blossom design.

Unknown white wildflower

This one was nearly overlooked. At a casual glance, it looks something like a dried stem of grass about six inches tall. Closer inspection shows that stem is really blossoms of about 1/8 inch diameter, all in one long straight line. No clusters for this little guy!

Unknown white wildflower

Here is the first Violet that I’ve seen so far, and there were many of these along the creek where they were well shaded by the tall cedars. Nice little flecks of yellow to contrast with the green.


I have no idea what this little blue flower is, but it certainly has a pleasing color scheme! I saw only this one plant.

Unknown blue wildflower

I had photographed the Clematis earlier, on a mountain about 20 miles away, but I can’t resist showing these blooms which appear to be flying.


In my next post will be photos of the blossoms of the higher elevations.


  1. Once again these are fabulous! I love that little ladder of blossoms very nice! I’m not sure about some of these species but maybe?….

    Starry False Solomon’s Seal? For the one that looks related to the false lily? (they are in the same family if it’s the one????)

    Fringecups Tellima grandiflora? for your little ladder of white flowers? I’m not positive on this one.. I was looking around to identify a few of mine and thought it looked “close.”

    I had a hard time with that violet! It never caught light like I expected it too. You mentioned you have a hard time with white but not here at all! (my curse is yellows!) You did a fabulous job – I love how different your photo of your clematis looks in this photo vs. the last one! Your composition is really looking wonderful! I love how you caught the light of the petals.. no one can appreciate this until they try to take the photo! (That blue is gorgeous!)


    Comment by aullori — June 4, 2007 @ 1:04 am

  2. Awesome photos, as always. I have to ask: have you considered writing a book, like a field guide to local wildflowers? I think it’d be a breeze for you.


    Comment by wolf — June 4, 2007 @ 8:10 am

  3. aullori,

    I think you’re right on the Starry False Solomon’s Seal. I’m still not sure on the little ladder. Next time I see one I’ll catch the leaves too. I can’t seem to remember to do that.
    It’s a challenge catching the light, isn’t it? On this trip the light variation was almost overwhelming, with deep shade in places, bright sun in others, beams of sun through the trees, filtered sun… I’m sure you see much of that in Washington too.
    I’m communicating better with this camera now, but still not perfect. The most difficult for me is getting it to understand where I want it to focus, especially on the tiny whites. It wants to ignore them and look for a dense leaf to focus on. Maybe I should just give up on the tiny blossoms and concentrate on taking pictures of elephants!
    Also, I’m still not very happy with Flickr’s treatment of the photos. I think they become distorted when they’re re-sized because when I look at the original sizes on Flickr, they appear quite clear. Or maybe I’m just looking closer now and am more critical.
    The clematis always makes my imagination run wild. I view them as little bluebirds flying along among all the other plants, maybe because with their vine strategy they always seem to appear mixed in with the leaves of a different plant.


    Comment by montucky — June 4, 2007 @ 8:16 am

  4. Thanks wolf,

    Yes, I’ve thought about it, but although I truly love the flowers, I’m not enough of a naturalist to correctly identify them. It would be a pretty steep learning curve for me, although maybe something for a winter project. Also I haven’t a clue if there would be a market for something like that, and I suspect the production cost for a book with a lot of pictures might be prohibitive. There are quite a few books out there for those who know what they’re doing, but I lack the science necessary to follow them much.


    Comment by montucky — June 4, 2007 @ 9:30 am

  5. “It wants to ignore them and look for a dense leaf to focus on.”

    I can completely relate with that comment. I do know that I visit your flickr site often too – to get a better picture of the “originals.” Plus it’s a vision to see all of your photos in one place. You really capture these guys beautifully.

    In my personal (albeit narrow-minded sometimes) opinion – I consider the identifying part really secondary to just showing off what nature is doing – it is just amazing! Most of the time I feel like an arm chair biologist (and not really a good one at that! :o)


    Comment by aullori — June 4, 2007 @ 1:01 pm

  6. how can you hike for ten hours??

    I love the third picture. I am sure many of us would have passed right by it. Thanks for noticing it and sharing it w/ us


    Comment by skouba — June 4, 2007 @ 1:36 pm

  7. aullori,

    Many of your comments in the past have been very helpful to me is learning how to take flower pictures. You’ve made several lights come on. We seem to have a team going on!
    I’m with you on the identifying part. It’s a good thing to do, but I also am so enamored by the beauty of what nature’s doing that I’d rather capture it than define it.
    The camera lens has been a real education tool for me. It shows things that I have never seen before and in ways I’d never imagine.


    Comment by montucky — June 4, 2007 @ 2:04 pm

  8. skouba,

    I’ve been doing conditioning hikes since the first of the year; nearly 600 miles so far. I was pleased during this hike that I felt no fatigue. My legs were about dead from the pitch of the trail and the sheer amount of altitude change, but the endurance was still there. You can’t imagine how good that made me feel!

    I almost ignored that tiny flower but decided just for the heck of it to magnify it with the lens and see what it looked like. I’m glad I did, because I think it’s a beautiful little thing. It certainly has its own unique strategy for attracting the pollinators!


    Comment by montucky — June 4, 2007 @ 2:19 pm

  9. Great post, Montucky!

    Flower ID can be hugely frustrating indeed, and the lack of comprehensive guidebooks doesn’t help matters! For that matter, the constant changing of genuses, and lack of standardization of common names don’t help either!

    As you quite correctly note, taking a photo of the whole plant, in addition to close-ups of the flower, is often critical. I’m also guilty of failing to do this, only to get home and look things up only to find that it’s the arrangement of the basal leaves that is the key.

    It’s hard to tell from your first photo, but it’s either Smilacina racemosa (formerly Maianthemum racemosa) or possibly Maianthemum dilatatum if its leaves are more heart-shaped and are petioled (have a short stem between the main stem and the leaf itself). I’d guess S. racemosa.

    The second one is almost certainly Smilacina stellata AKA Star Solomon’s Seal or Slim Solomon.

    The third looks to be in genus Mitella, but I wouldn’t care to guess beyond that, not knowing what grows in W. Montana. The Mitella I’ve seen are beautiful, delicate, tiny flowers, similar to yours, but more green/yellow’ish.

    4th is likely a Stream Violet, especially since you saw it in a shady area by a stream 🙂

    No idea on the 5th, but it’s pretty anyhow!

    Great photos, and an enjoyable read.


    Comment by Adam R. Paul — June 5, 2007 @ 7:58 pm

  10. Thanks, Adam!

    You’re far ahead of me in knowledge of plants. I plan to do some digging into it this winter when I can’t get into the high country anyway, and spend the summer days finding and photographing for later analysis.

    Today I made a short trek into another area just to see if it was accessible yet and ended up with more than thirty more photos including some of 4 flowers I have never seen (or noticed) before. Within the next couple weeks I’ll spend a couple nights in there and who knows what there’ll be!


    Comment by montucky — June 5, 2007 @ 9:08 pm

  11. That sounds like a good plan – save the thorny IDs for a rainy day 🙂

    On second thought, I thinik your third photo may be Fringecups (Tellima grandiflora), rather than a Mitella. Just a thought to further confuse things 🙂


    Comment by Adam R. Paul — June 11, 2007 @ 9:17 am

  12. I’ll look up more on Fringecups. Thanks. I also saw lots of these in another area at high elevations, altho I didn’t take any photos of them.


    Comment by montucky — June 11, 2007 @ 7:43 pm

  13. I grew up on the ranch that Munson Creek flows through to the Clarks Fork River. Use to fish it for trout every week. Use to climb to the Big Hole Lookout (Dont know if it is still there). This is my home… real home. Fantastic article. Thank you for doing it.

    Denis Munson


    Comment by Denis W. Munson — December 7, 2007 @ 10:22 am

    • Denis

      I am trying to find a copy of your book, but there is a waiting list on Amazon. Do you know of any other options?


      Comment by Lauralea — August 20, 2009 @ 7:20 pm

  14. Denis,

    You grew up in a beautiful place! The old lookout is still there but hasn’t been used for many years now, except by the pack rats. It’s in surprisingly good shape though. I visit it every year.
    I made a short visit to the lower end of Munson Creek last month. Near the trail head (just above the highway) a very old apple tree still stands: it may have been there back when you were there. It had apples on it and I tried one: it was delicious! I wrote four other posts (with photos) about the Munson Creek area too. They are:


    Comment by montucky — December 7, 2007 @ 10:48 am

  15. Thank you so very much. I am honored you returned my message. You are so talented. I wrote a book about my childhood on the Munson Ranch there and often refer to the creek. It is on Type in Denis Munson on the books section. Thanks again. Denis W. Munson


    Comment by Denis W. Munson — February 13, 2008 @ 1:59 pm

  16. Thanks for the info on your book, Denis. I will check that out!


    Comment by montucky — February 13, 2008 @ 8:21 pm

  17. Adam,
    May I have permission to use your sharp photo of the slim Solomon’s seal in our little newsletter for our volunteer group at San Pedro Valley Park in Pacifica, California? You may be surprized that we have some of the same flowers, but indeed, we do.
    Thanks, Adam
    the “Friends of SPVP” newsletter editor,
    Carolyn Pankow


    Comment by Carolyn Pankow — April 10, 2008 @ 6:39 pm

  18. Carolyn,

    Yes, you have my permission to use the photo. I’m glad to be of help!


    Comment by montucky — April 10, 2008 @ 9:22 pm

  19. Great pictures!

    I’m quite familiar with the fringe cup (Tellimia), and it’s not the same as the flower you have pictured on your third photo. Do a google image search for Mitella stauropetala…What do you think? Possibly? It’s gorgeous for sure!

    The last flower is a jacob’s ladder (Polemonium). Aren’t they gorgeous!? And sometimes they have a light scent to them, so next time you see them, make sure you stop and smell. 🙂


    Comment by Alli — April 15, 2008 @ 1:05 pm

  20. Thanks for the visit, Alli! I did find an excellent photo of Mitella stauropetala and that’s it for sure. Thanks!


    Comment by montucky — April 15, 2008 @ 4:33 pm

  21. I can see right now I’m going to have a good time snooping through your blog postings. Your mountains are phenomenal to begin with, so different from our beloved Blue Ridge Mountain Range, here, in Virginia. I’m glad I ran across your blog, so far I am enjoying my journey. I know I’m commenting on flowers here, but it was your mountains that initially captured my attention. I like flowers just fine, too. I’m sure I’m in for a real treat as time allows. Thanks for sharing. 😉


    Comment by orples — October 31, 2014 @ 8:05 pm

    • I’m very pleased that you have enjoyed seeing some of this part of Montana, Marcy. I have loved these mountains all of my life and lately have been able to spend more time out in them, mostly on old pack trails that were created in the early 1900’s to access many of the peaks for fire lookouts. Nearly all of those old lookout cabins are gone now, but the trails remain and they are maintained by the Forest Service for hikers and horsepersons to use and enjoy. I consider them to be national treasures, and access to some of the last remaining places in which one can enjoy seeing the world as it has always been, altered only slightly by those in our species. I hope we will have the foresight and soul necessary to protect them for the generations that will succeed us.


      Comment by montucky — October 31, 2014 @ 8:42 pm

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