BIGHORN MOUNTAINS — No matter which road you travel or which trail you hike, you’ll see them … local wildflowers coming into bloom.
May and June are generally considered the start of the wildflower season in our area. With the recent rain and cool temperatures, this year may prove to be exceptional for viewing wildflowers. Or it may not.
“You never know,” said Claire Leon, president of the Bighorn Native Plant Society and an observer of local wildflowers for more than 25 years. “You think it is going to be wonderful and it isn’t. So often there will be good areas, but they change every year. I think last year people thought there wouldn’t be anything up there because it was so dry, but if you found the right place, it was amazing.
“It varies so much from year to year,” she added. “One place will be a magic mountain one year and the next year there is practically nothing there. It depends on the year. The conditions have to be just right for us to have the optimum show, but there are always wildflowers.”
There are many common wildflowers that consistently put on a show this time of year, includingshooting stars, lupines, golden banners, balsamroot and phlox. Amy Erickson, a member of the Bighorn Native Plant Society and a botanist by training, said the climate and topography of the Sheridan area combines to create a diverse offering of wildflowers for viewing.
“I think variation in moisture as well as variation in altitudes,” she said about what contributes to the variety of wildflowers in our area. “There is a wide variety of diversity of wildflowers here. You have the prairies, the lower grasslands and then you move up in the Bighorns and even in the wilderness areas there is tundra-like habitat.”
“Right now the golden banner is very prolific,” Erickson said. “It is a yellow pea. It is kind of all over right now. And lupine is starting to flower pretty well and balsamroot. It is showy, kind of like a sunflower with big broad leaves.”
Leon said there are many common wildflowers that folks can become familiar with quickly and easily, but the Bighorns are also home to rare, more unique flowers. One of them is the stunning mountain lady’s slipper. The flower is actually a member of the orchid family and is found in other areas of the Rocky Mountains, but only one place in Wyoming.
“Because this is only found in the Bighorns and only on the east slope, that is something very special for this area,” Leon said.
Of course, as with almost any outdoors endeavor, there are rules of etiquette to protect the resource.
“Do as little damage as possible,” Leon said. “I think what does the most damage is the ATVs going off the trail. A few years ago I saw an area where there were a bunch of the mountain lady’s slippers and an ATV had gone right through the field and of course they can do a lot of damage.”
Erickson also cautioned against picking a bouquet of wildflowers to take home.
“When flowers are picked, of course, that takes away from the possible seed reproduction in that area and will reduce their population,” she said. “You want to enjoy them in their natural habitat. Enjoy them where they are. Take some pictures if you want to take something back with you. When you take the flower they can’t produce any seed.”
In order to help local residents with identification of local wildflowers, the Bighorn Native Plant Society offers several guided field trips during the spring and summer months. The next trip is tomorrow, June 9, at Penrose Park Trail in Story. The trip begins at the trailhead at the end of Penrose Lane at 9 a.m.
Another trip is planned for Saturday, July 13 on Pasture Park Trail near Buffalo. Field trip participants are asked to meet at the Shopko in Buffalo at 129 Harmony St. at 8:30 a.m.
No reservations are required for the guided trips, but participants should plan to bring weather-appropriate clothing, water and snacks, a camera (optional) and wear comfortable shoes.
Both Erickson and Leon said the trips are appropriate for people of all ages and while some of the hikes involve some steep ascents, the group travels slowly and makes frequent stops so the trips are not too physically demanding.
There are approximately 80 members of the plant society. Dues are just $5 per year and informational newsletters are mailed out twice a year with information on upcoming field trips and educational articles on featured plant species. To join the group or find out more information, contact Leon at email@example.com.