There seems to be a lot more flowers along some parts of our local roads and highways than perhaps last year. At least that is the way it appears to me. Even elsewhere some species have seemed to have appeared to be more abundant, more brilliant, more robust and even somewhat larger. Perhaps it has been those frequent rains we have had in late spring and early summer. Presently mock orange shrubs along the highway to Wynndel are just loaded with flowers. At their prime they can most effectively enhance the view of any passerby or traveler no matter what the mode — car, bike or shanks pony. (Of course, if it is by car, the driver should keep the eyes on the road!)
Mock orange, (Philadelphus lewisii, after Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition), which should still be around when you read this, unless it has shown up in your garden, is usually niched in clefts on dry rocky sidehills. This white-flowered “orange blossom” has a very subtle fragrance and in abundance lades the warm evening air with its perfume. It’s truly an orange blossom special! Another name used for this shrub, which is in the hydrangea family, is syringa.
The other showy shrub that appeared earlier in the season was saskatoon berry. Its white flowers stood out almost equally along our roads, as has the mock orange. This different shrub species is also known, especially south of the border, as serviceberry. It must be quite popular because it seems to have lots of names. In some areas it is also called juneberry and shadbush. The fruit isn’t too popular with most people because of its somewhat dry seedy quality, However, if there has been adequate moisture, the berries can be fairly juicy and somewhat flavourful. Given that, some ambitious opportunists still go for making jelly from the fruit. To some, the berries, when plump and purple, are very attractive to look at! In that state, I like them by the handful! People before our time here mixed them with pounded meat to make pemmican. (Let me know how that turns out.)
Preceding the flowering of saskatoon, a way back in spring, the first really showy roadside color appeared with bright yellow patches of glacier lily. This lily seems to thrive in shallow, moist soil on rock slopes and ledges on our local sidehills. It appears in other spots; however, it seems to produce a brilliance of colour on open moist slopes, especially above the road in spots along the old railroad bed of the Kootenay Valley Railway (Highway 21). It also appeared in early spring above the highway to Wynndel. Another burst of yellow came with the blooming of heart-leaved arnica.
Yesterday, I noticed that we now have another flowering shrub burst into bloom. It somewhat follows in the wake of mock orange. The flowering head of ocean spray is a thick cluster of small blooms somewhat in the shape of a pyramid. However, unlike mock orange and saskatoon, the flower head of ocean spray droops downward. I guess this reminded some people of the spray from an ocean wave, hence the name. Now in full flower, robust shrubs have many weeping clusters of very small, creamy white flowers. You won’t miss it, will you? If you have trouble recalling the name when you see it you won’t have to say, “There’s that bush in the newspaper that guy mentioned,” if you just remember Ocean Spray cranberry juice.
Now, lets come down off the hillsides and closer to the road.
Already open now along our roadsides, are chicory flowers. Where they are abundant, if the roadside hasn’t been mowed or sprayed, the mass of blue flowers can be quite impressive. As far as I recall, chicory plants are pretty much the only producers of blue flowers that appear in such abundance along roads, except, perhaps, blue flax. Like a few others, blue flax may have escaped from cultivation. Chicory, with its blue hue, to me, gives a cheery atmosphere to our sometimes otherwise drab roadsides. Also, sort of cheery is its other name, blue sailors — that is, in respect to color. In respect to disposition, blue sailors doesn’t seem to imply a cheery bunch.
A much less prominent flower you may, by a slim chance, view from a roadside, but only if you are walking or biking, is a little pink. There are many garden varieties of pinks, but there is a very small group called dianthus that is native. One plant I spotted had lodged itself in a small crevice in a low rock face where I had been plant snooping along the highway to Wynndel. It was showing off very striking pink flowers. It may have come from seed from wildflower mix seed a gardener had scattered in an area above the bluff. There are a couple of clusters along my driveway and, to get to appreciate the bright pink flowers, I have to mark them to keep from mowing them off. They were one of the first flowers found on the site.
In the process of plant snooping near this spot, I found, on the hint of a friend, another plant with striking purple and pink flowers. At the top of the stalk of about four feet were displayed a loose spike of the “fuzzy” looking blooms of viper’s bugloss. There were only three or four plants. I recall seeing just a few in that area 30 or so years ago. The flowers are colourful but the plant is not so striking with some people because of its “invasive” tendencies in other parts of the country. This little colony obviously isn’t spreading because I haven’t seen much of it anywhere else.
When you walk the local roads, you will likely observe, if you are looking, much more in the way of plants and flowers than what is mentioned here. That may provide you with a never-ending subject that will make your jaunts more interesting. However, if you, for some reason can’t walk or bike, take a regular (once every two weeks) stroll by car (with someone else driving). You may not find a Deptford pink but you will see much more and hopefully be able to enjoy the flowers in their seasons!
Ed McMackin is a biologist by profession but a naturalist and hiker by nature. He can be reached at 250-866-5747.