Montana Outdoors

January 28, 2013

January Visit to Buttercup Ridge

Filed under: Wildflowers, Winter — Tags: , , — montucky @ 10:57 pm

Fifteen miles or so up the road to the east of here there is a thin slice of Lolo National Forest land that borders the highway. It’s a steep, rocky, cliffy, brush-choked little column that leads up into the high country along the boundary of the Flathead Indian Reservation.

One January several years ago, for some reason that I can no longer remember, I made a foray up into the area and after about half a mile made a turn to the west up through a channel in the cliffs and arrived at a steep, narrow little ridge that overlooked the valley from about 300 feet above. From the signs left by the animals I could tell that it was a frequent haunt of Big Horn sheep. There was also a surprise; a single buttercup plant already showing a flower bud right in the middle of winter. I chose to call the place “Buttercup Ridge”.

Each January since then I have visited that little ridge and found buttercups with flower buds. (Depending on the weather, they will burst into bloom by around the middle of February.) Just before noon today I visited Buttercup Ridge again and with only a little searching found two plants with nicely formed buds.

The following photos will show each bud, followed by a larger scale photo of where it fits into the foliage on the ridge, hidden in the brown grass of last summer or in the shelter of an Antelope Bitterbush, then a much larger scale photo which includes the more distant background. I have no explanation of why they bloom in this tiny area a full two months before they bloom anywhere else around here.

Sagebrush Buttercup

Buttercup Ridge

Buttercup Ridge

Buttercup Ridge

Sagebrush Buttercup

Buttercup Ridge

Buttercup Ridge

Buttercup Ridge

Since these photos were taken the buttercups have been covered by about two inches of soft wet snow and there is more expected tonight and tomorrow. They will be OK: they are used to it!


  1. I’m guessing you had at least two other people with you. Shadows in your second to last photo?
    It’s amazing how these flowers can be so tough.And what a good eye you had to spot them!

    Comment by wordsfromanneli — January 28, 2013 @ 11:10 pm

    • Yes it’s amazing what these plants can go through. Sure different from the domestic “frost tender” varieties.

      I think the shadows came from a pine behind me. As I nearly always do, I hiked alone.

      Comment by montucky — January 28, 2013 @ 11:29 pm

  2. I think it’s probably the heat that the stones absorb keeping the plants warm enough to bud in winter. This is common around house foundations where even plants that aren’t winter hardy will live through the winter if they are planted on the sunny southern side.

    Comment by New Hampshire Gardener — January 29, 2013 @ 5:26 am

    • I’m sure that the one in the first photo gets some reflected heat from the rocks just above it, but the second has no rocks around it.

      Comment by montucky — January 29, 2013 @ 9:19 pm

  3. I’d be curious about the soil temperature. Perhaps there is some geothermal activity in the vicinity?

    Comment by jomegat — January 29, 2013 @ 7:04 am

    • Hard to say, but I know of no geothermal activity anywhere around there.

      Comment by montucky — January 29, 2013 @ 9:20 pm

  4. Isn’t it wonderful when you find these secret gardens to enjoy. Mother nature is indeed generous with her work. We just need to slow down enough to see it. Looking forward to seeing the blooms.

    Comment by anniespickns — January 29, 2013 @ 7:23 am

    • This is indeed a secret garden. I doubt that anyone else ever visits it, other than the sheep.

      Comment by montucky — January 29, 2013 @ 9:21 pm

  5. A nice trek even if the place wasn’t showy with flowers yet.

    Comment by Malcolm R. Campbell — January 29, 2013 @ 7:24 am

    • I like the little ridge and it’s always worth the effort to visit it. In summer it is pleasant to sit in the shade of a pine just on the edge of a cliff with a view over the river.

      Comment by montucky — January 29, 2013 @ 9:22 pm

  6. I was surprised there was no snow in these photos, but then you said it’s snowed since then. really neat how they bloom early in that one spot. looks like a nice place for a hike-minus the snow of course! :)

    Comment by skouba — January 29, 2013 @ 7:58 am

    • Up until last night we were in a very warm spell. It’s still warm for this time of year but we now have snow cover and there is supposed to be more coming tonight.

      Comment by montucky — January 29, 2013 @ 9:23 pm

  7. Making me anxious to see our flowers pop Terry….great shots !!

    Comment by Bernie Kasper — January 29, 2013 @ 8:04 am

    • Your flowers will arrive long before ours I think, other than a few buttercups.

      Comment by montucky — January 29, 2013 @ 9:24 pm

  8. This is a beautiful area, very near my annual camping trip to Spotted Bear near the Bob Marshal and Hungry Horse. You have some great images posted!

    Comment by namajam — January 29, 2013 @ 10:59 am

    • Thanks Nick! Yes, not too far at all. A friend and I are considering a week long trip into the Bob Marshall next August.

      Comment by montucky — January 29, 2013 @ 9:26 pm

  9. I think I remember reading about your visit there last year and being amazed at the buttercups ready to come out. It’s so good to know that they’re getting ready to greet the spring once again. It will be very welcome, when it comes!

    Comment by Jo Woolf — January 29, 2013 @ 11:20 am

    • It’s rather comforting to me to visit there about the same time each year and find these little plants getting ready for their summer season. Some stability in a world that has less and less of that every year.

      Comment by montucky — January 29, 2013 @ 9:27 pm

  10. Terry, I look forward to your buttercup photos! It won’t be long before we start seeing Mexican poppies here! It’s been a cold January here in AZ. Great photos!

    Comment by twoscamps — January 29, 2013 @ 11:28 am

    • I’d love to be there when the poppies start to bloom. We always spent time in the desert when they did, usually in the Wickenburg area somewhere.

      Comment by montucky — January 29, 2013 @ 9:28 pm

  11. I wouldn’t have expected any plant to be producing buds in Montana in the winter, so you must be happy to have something that’s not an evergreen looking green now.

    Comment by Steve Schwartzman — January 29, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

    • After about a week of warm days it’s surprising how much green is showing. I has been covered with white again now, but it will be OK until the next few days of sunshine.

      Comment by montucky — January 29, 2013 @ 9:29 pm

  12. Hmm…that’s really interesting. I’m inclined to agree with some of the other readers that there must be some kind of warmth generated in the soil in that area. Whatever it is, it’s neat to see that new growth in January!

    Comment by Mama's Empty Nest — January 29, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

    • I would like to know if there is geothermal activity there, but I would have no way to measure it. My thoughts have been more about the location, sheltered fairly well from the wind but in a place that gets every bit of the winter sun when it’s out. I know of no other place where flowers bud that early though.

      Comment by montucky — January 29, 2013 @ 9:34 pm

  13. Love your bit of spring before the snow. I hiked Madera Canyon this morning. No tender shoots of wildflowers to be seen, instead a fresh 4 inch snow cover. My, though, the sycamores are quite the gorgeous tree, covered in snow.

    Comment by Bo Mackison (@bo_mackison) — January 29, 2013 @ 8:16 pm

    • I would love to have seen the sycamores in snow! I have some good memories of camping in the snow on the north side of Mount Lemon on the road that comes out of Oracle and turns up past Peppersauce. All of the high desert is beautiful in the snow.

      Comment by montucky — January 29, 2013 @ 9:41 pm

  14. I believe you showed this area last year, too. What a strange mystery. Funny how the snow protects them.

    Comment by Candace — January 29, 2013 @ 10:07 pm

    • For quite a few years now I have visited there at the end of January and have always found them budding. Each time I am amazed by it.

      Comment by montucky — January 29, 2013 @ 10:25 pm

  15. Thanks for taking the photos this way – am going to show to my photographer friend who takes photos round here of plants.

    Comment by C.C. — January 31, 2013 @ 8:24 am

    • Thank you for the feedback. I think I should do more of this sort of thing.

      Comment by montucky — January 31, 2013 @ 9:06 pm

  16. Sometimes man can find “surprises” in the nature. Always man cannot solve its “oddities” using his own logic. It has happened here in our garden in January (not this year) after long warm period that some plants begun to grow buds. So the nature did not know if it was summer or winter. I am happy that You stroll around with “open eyes”, take wonderful photos and present them to us.

    Comment by Sartenada — February 1, 2013 @ 12:58 am

    • Yes, many surprises. Each one tells me that I know less about nature than I thought I did.

      Comment by montucky — February 1, 2013 @ 10:00 pm

  17. A testament to survival and evolution!

    Comment by WildBill — February 1, 2013 @ 7:31 am

    • Indeed! In our short lives we don’t have time to experience all of the variables for which the plants have evolved a strategy to survive.

      Comment by montucky — February 1, 2013 @ 10:02 pm

  18. Look forward to seeing the blooming buttercups :)

    Comment by Watching Seasons — February 1, 2013 @ 12:55 pm

    • Typically, the buds will open in about two weeks. I will have to go back then!

      Comment by montucky — February 1, 2013 @ 10:02 pm

  19. Quirky little flowers growing where, and blooming when they want to…. And that’s a beautiful area, too, Terry…could spend Forever out there….

    Comment by seekraz — February 1, 2013 @ 8:34 pm

    • Wouldn’t it be interesting to know exactly what conditions cause these to be so early?

      Comment by montucky — February 1, 2013 @ 10:04 pm

  20. Love the way you put everything into perspective here… Buttercup Ridge is a beautiful place!

    Comment by kcjewel — February 2, 2013 @ 9:36 pm

    • I’ve been thinking it might be a good idea to show the surroundings of some of the places where wildflowers grow.

      Comment by montucky — February 3, 2013 @ 12:16 am

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