Tucked neatly in between snow flurries these days there have been periods of sunshine, and Nature is proceeding with the inevitable journey toward Summer. The Buttercups which have been in bloom for a month on Buttercup Ridge have now spread to sunlit places along the valley floor
Sagebrush Buttercup Ranunculus glaberrimus
and among them are the tiny white flowers of Whitlow Grass.
Whitlow Grass, Draba verna
Near where these were blooming there was a section of an old abandoned barb-wire fence and it appeared to be a danger to the deer who crossed that hillside on their way to the river to drink. As I knelt down to cut the pieces of old rusted wire, this very early bloom of Woodland Star became visible, perhaps as a small reward for my effort.
This afternoon I hiked up to Buttercup Ridge to check on the buttercups. The two plants that had flower buds a week ago still looked just the same, but when I wandered a hundred feet or so further up the ridge, this one was in full bloom. Interestingly, the first blooms there in 2011 were also on February 5th.
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.
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!
After a week of snow and rain, the sky cleared a little today and I was surprised to see that the first Woodland Stars of the season are in bloom. The plants are small (only about two inches tall), but the blossoms are as pretty as always.
Sagebrush Buttercups have also spread out the range of their bloom .
After so many days and even weeks of cloudy gray skies, there was a little sun today. Our thermometer recorded a low reading of 13°F last night though and even with the sun it didn’t become a warm day. Still, the appearance of the sun warranted another visit to Buttercup ridge, and that resulted in a look at the first wildflower blossoms of 2012! Apparently even temperatures in the teens don’t discourage the hardy little Sagebrush Buttercups: four were in full bloom.
In a shady place on a cliff just down off the ridge top, Nature had arranged a different kind of display too, an icy one, as a reminder that winter hasn’t yet totally surrendered to spring:
Today was cloudy and cool, not snowing, not raining, not really cold, and not sunny, but I decided to visit Buttercup Ridge, a tiny ridge top where this area’s very first buttercups bloom each spring. And this one is ready, just waiting for the next sunny day:
I had visited there on February 4th, and then it had looked like this:
In addition to the Buttercups, in a small clear place amidst the snow that still blankets most of the ridge, I found that Nature has created a tiny arrangement of lichens and winter moss just for the pleasure of anyone who would take the time and make the effort to visit Her special little ridge.