ELEMENTS: A Flowery Reception in Hells Canyon
Our Elements series is a close-up look at the natural world through the eyes of river guide Codye Reynolds. This time she takes us on a hillside hike in Hells Canyon along Idaho’s Snake River. Read on…
During a recent trip through Hells Canyon on the Snake River, our group camped at Johnson Bar. We went on a long, strenuous hike above the camp to an overlook on an unnamed ridge. Near the summit I found a royally large, bright and lovely arrowleaf balsamroot with skirts full of big-as-my-hand, arrow-shaped leaves. The balsamroot’s impressive size is always a surprise. And to make the arrowleaf more beautiful, she was flanked by her ladies in waiting, the delicate and prolific lupine.
Abundant Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata)
A member of the sunflower family and native to the Northwest, arrowleaf balsamroot is an easily recognizable and abundant flower. Spring in Idaho typically spreads blankets of this bold, sunny flower across the vast hills. As Hells Canyon had an early warm spell this season, many of the arrowleaves had already bloomed and faded before our rafting trip was scheduled. At this altitude, the warmth had not been as keen, and this particular flower was persisting in her yellow glory.
The broad, slightly coarse and furry leaves (arrow-shaped leaves are called sagittate) are desirable foliage for grazing ungulates (in this area, mostly deer and bighorn sheep.)
Shoshone and other Native tribes of the Northwest used the roots as an antiseptic to treat bites, sores, and small wounds. They also ground up the seeds into flour for cakes.
Idaho’s Iconic Lupine
Lupine is one of my favorite wildflowers. The distinctly slender, grayish-green, palmate (long, finger-like) leaflets and tall, proud, richly purple-blue stalks are an easily recognizable Idaho icon. To my knowledge, this lupine was just lupine, as there are over 200 species and subspecies with subtle differences beyond my limited wildflower identification skills.
The name lupine comes from the Latin lupinus which means “of or belonging to a wolf.” Its name also comes from its propensity to colonize and monopolize landscapes. It was once believed that lupine depleted the nutrients in soil, inhibiting growth of other species. In truth, it merely tolerates already poor quality soil. At the top of our hike above the Snake River’s Hells Canyon, Lupine was indeed the dominant flower. It graced the summit and over the grassy hill, deep into the canyon below. A few reddish-pink Indian paintbrushes also dotted the steep landscape.
Idaho wildflowers are always a treat, but this flowery reception was a welcomed reward for hours of hilly hiking.