Among the early flowers on Kootenay mountains are globe mallow (above)  and (descending from below) alpine buttercup

Among the early flowers on Kootenay mountains are globe mallow (above) and (descending from below) alpine buttercup

Out There: Early flowers bring beauty to Kootenay mountains

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What flowers appear first in the arctic-alpine depends partly on where the snow first disappears. Plants usually burst forth early on south facing slopes, while plants of the same species will come a little later on east and north slopes and in the shade of dwarf, scrubby evergreens. When first opening, flowers will be hugging the ground and be fully open even though the leaves haven’t yet appeared or unfurled.

Many of the early, high-elevation spring flowers are one and two inches from the ground’s surface, so to get acquainted with them, one has to get down on the knees. A little magnifying glass often enhances that experience.

Later, as flowers mature and eventually fade, leaves expand and flower stems lengthen, pushing the head up where seeds can be more broadly dispersed by wind.

Following are Sphinx Mountain’s “group of seven” seen on Sphinx Mountain in the sub-alpine and at around 8,000 feet in early July. Frequent, mountain spring showers have made many flowers appear brighter and larger.

Ed McMackin is a biologist by profession but a naturalist and hiker by nature. He can be reached at 250-866-5747.