Western Montana’s Flora and Fauna

Into the Wild: Meet Missoula’s Wildlife

Wildlife in Missoula, MontanaThe spring and summer months in Missoula are perfect for getting outside and enjoying the splendid and abundant nature that surrounds us.  Whether you venture into the Blue Mountain Recreation Area just behind our Inn, the Lolo National Forest, or anywhere else near the rugged town of Missoula, you’re sure to find untold treasures, spectacular views, and plenty of wild creatures along the way.  In fact, the opportunities for wildlife watching in Missoula are unparalleled if you’re patient.  Venture into the wilderness, and you might just find bald eagles, osprey, bighorn sheep, badgers, mountain goats, deer, and so much more.  Our Bed and Breakfast is the perfect place to begin your journey, with 20 private acres of wildlife habitat, directly bordering a national forest.  Pack your binoculars and field guides, and book your room at our Missoula Bed and Breakfast today! Continue reading

Montana: Native Plants and Native People

Springtime is truly beautiful here at Blue Mountain Bed and Breakfast in Missoula, Montana.  The wildflowers bloom from late March through early July.  Their significance is linked to Montana’s Native people in a variety of ways.  The following six plants are basically found during the second wave of blooming here on the mountain (April-May).

ponderosa and balsamroot  5-23-03 090 smallBalsamroot leaf  P1010229 small










The following activity is a fun way for Montana students (or anyone) to learn more about Montana’s native plants and people.

Directions: Use the Photos, I.D. Clues and Fun Facts to help you identify each plant by name.

WORD BANK: To which photo and clues do I belong?  (Answers at the very bottom of the page, by number)

1.  Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza Sagittata)

2.  Arnica (Arnica Montana/Chamissonis)

3.  Chokecherry (Prunus Virginiana)

4.  “Indian” Paintbrush  (Castilleja linariaefolia)

5.  Western Pasqueflower (Anemone patens or nuttalliana)

6.  Wild Lupine  (Lupinus Angustifolius)


Let’s Begin…

A.  Can you name me? (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

4-18-03 016






I.D. Clues:

-I have 5-6 large bluish-purple petals, ferny leaves and am soft to the touch.

-I only have 1 flower per stem and am about a foot tall.

-I bloom after the buttercups and shooting stars, but before the Arnica, Lupine and Chokecherry.

-I come in eight different species here in the western U.S..

Fun Facts:

-I am South Dakota’s state flower and am often called by the name of prairie crocus.

-I contain alkaloids that can irritate your skin and digestive track.

-Native people have used me for various things.  The Blackfeet made a poultice out of me to cure wounds.

The Blackfeet honor me with the name Napi or Old Man (cultural hero, creator, sometimes trickster). (“Pasque Flower”)

-My name “Pasque” comes from an old French word for Easter.  In some places I bloom near Easter and was once used to color Easter eggs. (“Pasque Flower”)

-After I’m done flowering, I grow a silky “head of hair” which has given me the nickname “Old Man of the Mountain.”


B.  Can you name me? (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

Paintbrush flower  IMG_7217 small, crop







I.D. Clues:

-I am between 15-60 cm tall.

-I come in about 200 different species which means there are many shades and varieties of me.  Often it’s hard to tell each a part.

-I am called by many different common names.  Most describe my brilliant color in some way or hint at me being similar to a tool an artist might use.

-One of my names is shared with a colorful butterfly known as the Painted Lady.

-My other names include painted cup and prairie fire since I’m often a bright red, redish-orange or redish-pink color.

Fun Facts:

-You can find me from 1,000-3,00 feet in elevation- as far north as Alaska or as far south as the Andes mountains in South America.

-I am Wyoming’s state flower.

-I am pollinated by hovering insects and humming birds that don’t need a place to sit or land while feeding.

-My actual flowers are hidden by brightly colored bracts which are usually tender and sweet to eat.

-In Glacier Park, I am sometimes found sporting a pinkish-violet color.  Once in a while I’m even found dressed in white.

-My roots and green parts can be toxic so some Native people mixed my edible parts with other greens or ate parts of me in moderation.

-Some Native people used me as a source of dye.

-The Chippewa used me to treat rheumatism (joint and muscle pain).

– Several tribes, including the Blackfeet, made a rinse from me so they would have glossy hair.

-When I grow in soil that is high in selenium, I can be toxic.

-I’ve earned a name as a parasitic plant because I can steal the nutrients from the roots of other plants.  (Craighead, Craighead, and Davis 170)

-I like to live near lupine and sage brush because I can take on their alkaloid properties.  That way, I taste bitter to animals like deer.


C.  Can you name me? (1,2,3,4,5,6)

Balsamroot  5-23-03 120 small






I.D. Clues:

-I am a type of large, wild sunflower.

-I bloom in late spring to early summer and am found in the western states (Oregon, Montana, Colorado, etc.)

-I have a long stem that measures 20-60 cm tall.

-You often find me in sunny, open areas and often under ponderosa pine trees.

-My leaves are large and to some people look like a spear point.

Fun Facts:

-Every part of me can be eaten.  The Salish, Kootenai and Nez Perce people peeled my immature flower stems.  They then ate the tender inner portion like one would eat celery, raw. (Hart 37)

-My large, starchy roots are big and full of sticky sap.  Native people in the area crushed my roots, taking out the fibrous material and then used the rest.  The root was sometimes burned as incense.  If eaten raw, my roots can make a person feel nauseated.  The same thing is true if one drinks too much tea made from my roots.

-My large leaves were often used to wrap around Camas bulbs for cooking.  Leaf tea was used as a wash for poison ivy.

-Certain Native tribes would grind my seeds into a type of flour.  (Kershaw, MacKinnon, and Pojar 238)

-My roots or other parts were dried, steamed or baked in a roasting pit or cooked over an open fire.

-One name given to me by the Blackfeet was Ohm-ah-gahs (big turnip).  (Johnston 56)

-I’ve been used to make many oral as well as topical medicines for headaches, insect bites, wounds and other things.


D.  Can you name me? (1,2,3,4,5,6)

lupine  IMG_7214  small, crop








I.D. Clues:

-I grow wild, but am related to a tall garden flower that comes in many colors.

-I bloom from April to July depending on the location.

-Each of my leaves looks a bit like a Palm tree and is broken up into 5-9 finger-like segments.

-My flowers are pea shaped and about 1 cm long.

-My Latin name “lupus” means wolf.  People used to think I stole important minerals from soil. (They compared it to wolves that sometimes take livestock from a ranch for food.)  In truth, I put nitrogen into the soil and actually leave it richer than before.

-There are about 600 species or variations of me out there.  In the wild, I am usually found to have blue and purple hues.

Fun Facts:

-I’m an important food source for the larva of a rare type of blue butterfly.

-I’m known to be one of the top ten most important wild flowers for native bees.  Humming birds and marmots like me too.

-I am found in many states across the U.S. and can also be found in Canada.

-In certain quantities I am toxic to domestic animals and have been known to kill sheep.

-I am not toxic to white-tailed deer and certain other wildlife species. (“Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks :: Silky Lupine”)

-Some Native American tribes fed me to their horses and said it fattened them up, gave them energy and spirit.

-Several Native tribes used my leaves to brew tea.  After the tea cooled, it was given to a person who had an upset stomach.

-If a person eats too much of me, her or she can get sick.  In large quantities, a person will have convulsions, go into a coma and can die from me.


E.  Can you name me? (1,2,3,4,5,6)

arnica IMG_0322 small, crop








I.D. Clues:

-I am made up of a single stem and get to be 10-60 cm tall.

-My stems and my heart-shaped leaves feel slightly fuzzy.

-I am a type of sunflower, but smaller in size compared to most.

-I like to grow alongside others.  Together, we blanket small areas of fairly shady, moist, forest or meadow areas in yellow.

Fun Facts:

-In the Blackfeet language, I’m called Ota-kap-is-chis-kit-sima which means yellow flower.

-All of my plant parts are poisonous and I should not be eaten.  My flowers are the most potent part and cause a person’s body temperature to rise.

-Some people have used extracts of my flower for hair growth.

-My roots and flowers have been used by some to make washes, salves and poultices for the healing of sprains and swollen feet.

-No part of me should be applied to broken skin areas since I’m very toxic.  (Kershaw, MacKinnon, and Pojar 242)

-Mule deer like to eat me while they graze.

-You can find me blooming in late May or even into August depending on the locations.


F.  Can you name me? (1,2,3,4,5,6)

Chokechery  P1010244 small










I.D. Clues:

-I am considered to be a bush, shrub or tree of medium height but can get up to 25 ft. tall.

-My stocks are green, brown or redish-brown depending on the time of year.

-My leaves are light green in the spring and turn to a darker green in fall.

-I have strong, but sweet smelling off-white flowers that bloom in the spring (May-June).

-Each flowering clump is thick, elongated and made up of many small flowers.

-In late summer and in the fall, I grow berries that turn from red to almost black when they ripen.

-My single berries hold one seed, grow in strands and are about the size of a large huckleberry.

-My common name reflects the fact that my berries are bitter (they can make a person pucker, even when ripe.)

-My leaves and especially my single seed “cherry” pits are toxic to some animals if eaten raw.

-The Salish, Kootenai, Gros Ventre and Crow Indians made a tea from my bark for stomach ailments. (Hart 88)

Fun Facts:

-In late summer and fall, bears love to pull my branches to the ground and eat my berries.

-In Western Montana, I flower in May and early June- right after the white Serviceberry bushes, but a bit before the white, lovely smelling Syringa.

-I am in the rose family.  Like the berries from wild roses (rose hips), my berries are an important source of vitamin C.  My berries should be dried or boiled to rid them of their toxicity before being used to make food.

-I was dried and then pounded into a flour-like material, stored in cakes and later used in soups or added to pemmican by certain tribes.  Pemmican (a mixture of fruit, meat and fat) was an important food source during the winter months.

-Many Plains tribes used my berries to make a red dye.  My bark was used as a green dye and also soaked in water and used to treat coughs and sore throats.

-My forked sticks were used to carry hot rocks for the purpose of cooking.  The rocks were dropped into animal skin bags filled with water which would then boil.

-My sticks were also used to roast wild game.  My wood does not burn or break easily and adds spice to cooking meat.  Some tribes used my sticks in tipi and bow making.

Bitterroot Room 1  bitterroot3-804x426





You can check your wild flower naming accuracy below under Answers

If you enjoyed this activity, take a few photos of wild plants and come up with your own clues.  If you need some reference ideas, please look at the bottom of the page.

Rose Room 1 rose 1-804x426 smallEach of our rooms, here at Blue Mountain B&B, is named after an important plant in the area.  Click on the following link to learn more about our Missoula Bed and Breakfast.


PHOTO CREDIT:  Room photos taken by Marcus Berg @uniqueanglesphotography, all others by Blue Mountain Bed and Breakfast.

Questions or Comments:  Please email us: stay@bluemountainbb.com

Answers in order: (5, 4, 1, 6, 2, 3)


  Anderson, David. Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains Pocket Flower Guide to Popular Varieties. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Blank, D. Linnell. Montana Wildflowers. Helena, MT: Farcountry, 2005. 

Craighead, John Johnson, Frank C. Craighead, and Ray J. Davis. Rocky Mountain Wildflowers from Northern Arizona and New Mexico to British Columbia. Norwalk, CT: Easton, 1985. 

Foster, Steven, and Christopher Hobbs. A Field Guide to Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.

Gabel, Audrey, and Elaine Ebbert. Mushrooms and Other Fungi of The Black Hills And Surrounding Area. Spearfish: Black Hills State UP, n.d. Print.

Hart, Jeff. Montana–native Plants and Early Peoples. Helena: Montana Historical Society, 1992.

Johnston, A. Plants and the Blackfoot. Lethbridge, Alta.: Lethbridge Historical Society, 1987. Print.

Kershaw, Linda, A. MacKinnon, and Jim Pojar. Plants of the Rocky Mountains. Edmonton: Lone Pine Pub., 1998. 

Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1998. Print.

 “Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks :: Silky Lupine.” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks :: Silky Lupine. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2015.

“Pasque Flower.” – Medicinal Herb Info. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2015.

“Plant of the Week.” Arrowleaf Balsamroot. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2015.

Snell, Alma Hogan, and Lisa Castle. A Taste of Heritage: Crow Indian Recipes and Herbal Medicines. Lincoln, NE: U of Nebraska, 2006. 

Strickler, Dee. Forest Wildflowers: Showy Wildflowers of the Woods, Mountains, and Forests of the Northern Rocky Mountain States. Columbia Falls, MT: Flower, 1988.

Strickler, Dee. Prairie Wildflowers. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Robot Check. Web. 25 May 2015.

Tilford, Gregory L. Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West. Missoula, MT: Mountain Pub., 1997.

 Trees Of The Lolo National Forest. N.p.: US Forest Service, n.d.

Vanderberg, Frances. Salish Elder Storytelling. Travelers’ Rest, Lolo. 2012. Lecture.

White, Thain. Scarred Trees In Western Montana. Tech. no. 17. N.p.: Montana State U, 1954.

**The following sight was used to help create the above bibliography with ease!  http://www.easybib.com/cite/view







Wild Flower Hikes: Missoula’s First Flowers!

B&B decks  around the property 6-30-02 175 small“Festival” of the First Flowers and Montana’s State Wildflower ID Link

Celebrating Missoula’s early blooming beauties- the buttercups, yellow bells, shooting stars, pasque flowers and star flowers from March to May!  Not only do we celebrate the first flowers here at Blue Mountain Bed and Breakfast, but the Missoula community does its own celebrating.  There are wild flower classes and group hikes as well as the Forest/Flower Run for the Trees that help usher in the spring.  Run Wild Missoula is a non-profit organization that organizes many healthful activities so it’s a good idea to check out their long calendar of events.  May through December, there is always something going on.   The Missoula Marathon and Half Marathon in July is gaining notoriety and is now considered to be one of the best marathons in the country!


  MISSOULA’S FIRST FLOWERS:  Tips on how/when to photograph wild flowers & ID them on the MT Gov.Link.

pussy clusterI suppose the Pussy Willow (Salix discolor) might be considered as one of the first wildflowers even though it actually is a shrub.  Its lovely silvery soft buds help ring in the spring like a silver church bell.  Even though it is not a flowering ground plant, it does happen to be one of my favorites.  Because the buds grow along each stalk, it makes a beautiful first bouquet and adorns our home in celebration of various family birthdays.


Jays and birds 057 buttercup cropThere is nothing quite like the bright, yellow welcome that the Sagebrush Buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus) brings to our Montana mountains and valleys.  Solitary flowers, popping up out of the snow with petals like buttery popcorn.  In other areas, the tiny yellow heads mingle with the green of new moss in secret shady places. In truth, buttercups blanket the ground in a beauty that can only be appreciated after many long months of winter and snow.  Like the first butterflies of spring, their beauty makes our hearts flutter with a sense of renewal and joy!  My mother always placed a single golden flower on our dining room table in celebration of spring and in anticipation of more beauty to come.

Native people used the buttercup for medicinal purposes.  Buttercups can be found on the surrounding hillsides as early as February and a few can be found into May.  Once the buttercups are blooming, a rainbow of other floral colors continues to unfold throughout the spring.  The purple of pasque flowers, the delicate pink of the shooting stars, along with star flowers and yellow bells ring in the early spring months while the balsamroot, lupine, paintbrush and others soon follow.

*The Alpine Buttercup (Ranunculus eschscholtzii) blooms at a higher altitude than we find at the bed and breakfast.  It can be found blooming from June through August in certain locations.  We recommend visiting The Buttercup Cafe for a delicious treat as a way of warming up either before or after an early spring hike!

Yellow Bell  4-18-03 020 small, crop

*The Yellow Bell (Fritillaria pudica) is the color of sunshine.  It’s nickname is the mission bell which has a beautiful ring to it and reminds me of some of the areas earliest and most beautiful missions.  St. Mary’s down the Bitterroot, St. Ignatious, in the Mission Valley, and The Cataldo Mission in northwestern Idaho.  The yellow bell can be found lightly scattered throughout Pine forests, sage or Bunchgrass in April and May.   It has a long stem and intricate markings, much like the shooting star.  The Salish people gathered the tuber of this flower in early May which was washed and boiled and often mixed with the Bitterroot before eaten.


*The Star Flower/Prairie Star (Tellima parviflora) can easily be missed as it delicately hides among the grasses and other wildflowers from April to June.  Once spotted, it is like finding a little treasure.  The dainty flowers, also known as fringe cup, look like symmetrical snowflakes with just a hint of light pink sunset added to their color.

shooting stars  5-03 048 small, crop

*The Shooting Star (Dodecatheon pulchellum) blooms in late April through May here on the mountain.  In shady areas, you sometimes can find a few tucked away in August in certain forests.  As a young child, I remember our family climbing a hill in the Miller Creek area where hundreds of shooting stars bloomed.  With the encroachment of weeds and warmer weather, we now look elsewhere and enjoy the few beauties that decorate our hill.


4-18-03 016

*The Pasque Flower (Anemone occidentalis) is another fairly early bloomer.  It’s medium-sized purple petals welcome the spring in full beauty in May and June.










Missoula and the surrounding area offers a multitude of options for finding some of the first flowers.  Here are a few Wildflower Walk suggestions

I. View- Missoula Valley 1 smallHere at Blue Mountain Bed and Breakfast, we have many guide books as well as these LINKS to help you identify the flora of the area.  If you wish to take a day hike near the bed and breakfast, stop by for a quick tour!  We are more than happy to lend you a book and give you some hiking suggestions.  Upon your return, you can re-charge your batteries by enjoying a glass of sun tea in the shade while listening to our backyard waterfall.  If you would like to spend several days in the area, call us or book a reservation on-line.  It’s the perfect way to escape into nature and totally relax without having to drive miles to get somewhere!

*Our hillside is full of blooming, native plants; here are two resources for native seeds, including Milkweed, so you can grow them as well.

*Beautiful spring wildflower photos!

@ All photos taken by Blue Mountain Bed and Breakfast