Balsamroot, pictured here, can be found on Sunflower Hill in the Kimberley Nature Park, Eager Hill, Wycliffe Buttes, and many other areas across the Rocky Mountain Trench. (Paul Rodgers file)

Balsamroot, pictured here, can be found on Sunflower Hill in the Kimberley Nature Park, Eager Hill, Wycliffe Buttes, and many other areas across the Rocky Mountain Trench. (Paul Rodgers file)

Spring’s yearly spectacle of balsamroot

Ever year in May, balsamroot emerges for a brief showy period

The days are getting longer and warmer and as we head into May, many locals are taking to the trails to hike, mountain bike and get some fresh air.

Every year East Kootenay folks look forward to when balsamroot emerges from hibernation and begins to bloom. This typically happens within the first few weeks of May and is a fairly short-lived experience, especially with warm temperatures.

According to the Sierra Club of BC, Balsamroot is a relative of the sunflower. The plants grow from B.C. and Alberta to California in plains and valleys, and to elevations of 2,700 metres. Balsamroot can take up to ten years to establish as their taproots are large and constantly in search of water.

Similar to dandelions, when picked, balsamroot wilts quickly and will not hold up in water as a cut flower.

Balsamroot has long been used traditionally by Indigenous peoples. The Sierra Club explains that the entire plant has an important use from it’s high fibre content when eaten, to sap that can be used as a disinfectant.

Local Wildlife Biologist Ian Adams explained that the native plants require longevity to grow and the fact that they are so abundant in these areas is a good indicator that the ecosystems they grow in are doing fairly well.

Some of the most popular local areas that these sunflower cousins are often found include Eager Hill, Wycliffe Buttes and Sunflower Hill in the Kimberley Nature Park.

“Balsamroot grows in generally sunny areas, such as grassland and open forests in the Rocky Mountain Trench,” Adams said. “It’s known as an iceberg plant – the vast majority of the plant grows underground. Because these areas are quite dry, balsamroot has large taproots and they have to grow far down in search of water.”

This also protects the plants from fire. Even if a wildfire takes out the top of the plant, the roots are so vast that they will remain underground. However, it may take years for the plant to bloom again.

Adams pointed to another, fairly similar native plant – bitterroot. Bitterroot has leaves similar to succulents and by the time the plant blooms in June, the leaves are gone and what’s left is a pink and purple flower.

“Once the blooming period for bitterroot ends, it has to wait an entire year for another period of photosynthesis,” Adams explained. “It’s a very short period of time. It’s similar for balsamroot, by August, there’s not much of the plant left above ground.”

Fire may not be a huge threat to balsamroot, but invasive species are.

“One of the biggest threats to native wildflowers, like balsamroot, are invasive species. Invasive species are not palatable to wild ungulates or cattle so they threaten these grazing areas,” Adams explained, adding that balsamroot is food for livestock and ungulates.

He says that one of the biggest vectors for spreading invasive species includes mountain bikes.

“Mountain bikes are one of the main sources for spreading invasive species. When people go off the trails they pick up mud and seeds from plants like knapweed, for example. The worry is that they take their bike to another trail and spread that knapweed to other areas. It’s critical that people keep their bikes clean, and try to stick to the designated trails the best they can.”

He says that off road vehicles like ATV’s and dirt bikes are another concern, as they can easily spread invasive species. Keeping bikes, off-road vehicles and shoes clean is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of invasive species.

Adams says that the yearly spectacle of balsamroot is important for many reasons, including our mental health.

“The aesthetic value of these flowers is important, especially during times like this,” Adams said, referring to the pandemic. “We’re incredibly lucky to live where we do. For the last year, the ability to be able to get out and enjoy our trails and wild areas, without a whole lot of other people around is a blessing. I couldn’t imagine living in a large city centre at a time like this.

“Hopefully others share this sentiment and this raises people’s awareness of the importance of stewardship for these areas. Treating and maintaining these areas that we all love so much is crucial.”



corey.bullock@cranbrooktownsman.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Balsamroot, pictured here, can be found on Sunflower Hill in the Kimberley Nature Park, Eager Hill, Wycliffe Buttes, and many other areas across the Rocky Mountain Trench. (Paul Rodgers file)

Balsamroot, pictured here, can be found on Sunflower Hill in the Kimberley Nature Park, Eager Hill, Wycliffe Buttes, and many other areas across the Rocky Mountain Trench. (Paul Rodgers file)

Balsamroot (pictured) typically blooms at the beginning of May and only lasts for a short period of time. (Ian Adams file)

Balsamroot (pictured) typically blooms at the beginning of May and only lasts for a short period of time. (Ian Adams file)

Balsamroot has long been used traditionally by Indigenous peoples. The entire plant has an important use from it’s high fibre content when eaten, to sap that can be used as a disinfectant. (Ian Adams file)

Balsamroot has long been used traditionally by Indigenous peoples. The entire plant has an important use from it’s high fibre content when eaten, to sap that can be used as a disinfectant. (Ian Adams file)

Balsamroot is a relative of the sunflower. The plants grow from B.C. and Alberta to California in plains and valleys, and to elevations of 2,700 metres. Balsamroot can take up to ten years to establish as their taproots are large and constantly in search of water. (Ian Adams file)

Balsamroot is a relative of the sunflower. The plants grow from B.C. and Alberta to California in plains and valleys, and to elevations of 2,700 metres. Balsamroot can take up to ten years to establish as their taproots are large and constantly in search of water. (Ian Adams file)

Just Posted

Creston Town Hall. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
Ellen Tzakis resigns from Creston Town Council

Council is preparing to hold a by-election later this year

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a 'person of interest' in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
Man sought in suspicious Kootenay death found in Lake Country

Philip Toner is a person of interest in the death of Brenda Ware

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
65 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Overall, B.C. is seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases

School District 8 employees Shannon Tetz, Cheryl Rendek, and Janet Wall officially began their retirement with a COVID-friendly send-off outside of Prince Charles Secondary School. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
School District 8 employees Shannon Tetz, Cheryl Rendek, and Janet Wall officially began their retirement with a COVID-friendly send-off outside of Prince Charles Secondary School. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
Three women retire from School District 8 with COVID-friendly celebration

Shannon Tetz, Cheryl Rendek, and Janet Wall shared 87 years of service collectively

The Salmo Public Library’s director Taylor Caron with her award. Photo: Submitted
Salmo Public Library director wins provincial award

Taylor Caron has been recognized by her peers for innovation and advocacy

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
VIDEO: B.C. to provide 3 days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police “E” Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday April 13, 2018. Indigenous leaders are calling for an investigation into the conduct of Mounties on Vancouver Island after two police shootings of members of a small First Nations community in three months. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Indigenous leaders call for clarity, investigation into RCMP after B.C. shooting

The RCMP declined to comment on the requests by Indigenous leaders

Colleen Price, Vancouver Island University’s bachelor of science in nursing program chairperson, says she is impressed with how students have persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Next generation of B.C. nurses already showing resilience

University program head says learning had to be adjusted amidst pandemic

Two-year-old Kashius Weme rides at the Steve Smith Memorial Bike Park in Nanaimo on Tuesday, May 11. The youngster’s precocious bike-riding ability is already attracting cycle sponsors. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
2-year-old B.C. bike rider already attracting cycle sponsors

Nanaimo’s Kashius Weme has a knack for extreme cycle sports

Keith MacIntyre - BC Libertarian
Penticton’s Keith MacIntyre new leader of the B.C. Libertarian Party

The Penticton businessman was voted in by members of the party on May 8

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
‘It’s not the police’s responsibility to deal with mental health calls’: Vernon RCMP

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being, while better solutions are sought

Thompson Rivers University campus is in Kamloops, B.C. (KTW file photo)
Thompson Rivers the 1st B.C. university to supply free menstrual products

The university will offer the products this September

Fraser Health is using ‘targeted’ vaccination clinics in high-risk areas of the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 decrease continues, 515 new cases Tuesday

426 seriously ill people in hospital, up from 415 Monday

Most Read