Alberta’s mountain flowers
The mountains are alive with the sight of wildflowers
Harebell (Photo by NCC)
It was a cold and snowy winter across Alberta, but that frigid season appears to have finally ended and spring is just around the corner. When the snow is finally gone for good and plants begin to bloom again, one of my favourite ways to spend a weekend is heading into the mountains to admire the wonderful scenery.
While hiking around the mountains, you’ll encounter a variety of ecosystems. As you hike from lower elevations to higher elevations, the foothills transition into the montane, then the subalpine into the alpine. Each of these zones support different types of vegetation, including a bouquet of many colourful wildflowers.
If you head into the mountains this summer, here are a few of the most common flowers you might see:
Arnica flower (Photo by D Windrim)
This striking perennial wildflower blooms bright yellow from May to August between 900 and 3,000 metres in elevation.
It grows in wide-ranging conditions, tolerating wet and dry habitats in both open and forested areas.
The plant grows in clumps, typically measuring 20 to 30 centimetres in height.
This star-shaped flower is easy to spot thanks to its vibrant purple-blue hue. Harebells often bloom at the beginning of June and can grow between 10 to 40 centimetres tall by the end of September. The species survives in a wide range of habitats, so you might encounter this wildflower either on the slope of a mountain or in prairie grasslands.
Fireweed is one of the first plants to establish itself in newly burned areas of the boreal forest. (Photo by Alina C. Fisher)
Fireweed is often found in the lowlands of mountain ranges, along highways and in areas recovering from wildfires. Fireweed’s pink petals bloom in spires at the top of leafy stems from June to September. These flowers are aggressive colonizers but are native to Canada and attract numerous pollinators.
These showy wildflowers — including multiple species varying in colour — grow in unbranched stem clusters growing between 20 and 60 centimetres high between the months of June to August. When in bloom, the petals spread up and outwards like the fine hairs of a paintbrush. These flowers can be found growing in rocky soil in subalpine and alpine slopes.
White mountain heather (Photo by Mount Rainier National Park)
White mountain heather
These plants feature tiny white flowers grow in clusters at the tips of the branches off of low shrubs with dark green foliage. They grow on moist slopes above 1,500 metres in partially shaded areas. You can find these hiding on the side of the trail during your hikes from June to August.
What will you spot?
These are just a few of the many wildflower sightings you may see next time you're spending time in the Rocky Mountains. The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has a long history in the Canadian Rockies. We have directly conserved 273,000 acres (110,500 hectares) in Alberta and British Columbia and have assisted with the conservation of 523,000 acres (211,650 hectares), working with partner organizations and various levels of government.
Visitors are welcome at many conservation areas protected by NCC. These special, natural places provide excellent opportunities for hiking, birdwatching, nature photography and other compatible recreation activities.
Go to connect2nature.ca for information on visiting our properties in Alberta. We'd love to show you what we are able to accomplish, thanks to the generous support of our landowner partners and donors.
Jackie Bastianon was the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) 2018 communications intern for the Alberta Region. She is currently studying journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa and hopes to use her writing skills to compel people to care about the environment as much as she does. The Conservation Internship Program is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Summer Work Experience program.