2019 has been an exceptional year for wildflowers in Alberta, both of the prairies and in the mountains. I think the cool, wet weather has delivered some favourable conditions. I really enjoy taking photos of wildflowers with my trusty old Tamron 90 mm macro lens, and I’ve had a lot of fun so far this year.
Alberta’s wildflower season starts in mid- to late April, when the crocuses (Pulsatilla) bloom.
Crocus flowers have six petals that vary in colour from bright purple to almost white. The small hairs on the stem and sepals look great in back-lit conditions.
Another early flower is the shooting star (Dodecatheon). In British Columbia this flower booms in early May, but in Alberta it likes to bloom in mid- to late June. I’m guessing they are probably different varieties.
It’s been a great year for woodlilies (Lilium Philadelphicum). These showy flowers are usually quite rare, but this year I’ve seen them in large masses in Kootenay Park, in Kananaskis, and even on Nose Hill, right in the middle of Calgary! Although they look similar, woodlilies are not the same as domesticated Asian tiger lilies. The woodlily is the provincial flower of Saskatchewan.
Speaking of provincial flowers, Alberta wild roses (Rosa acicularis) also did very well this year.
One of my favourite prairie wildflowers is the three-flowered avens (Geum Triflorum).
Its flowers are fairly inconspicuous, but its seedheads have a lot of character.
In June, Nose Hill was covered in lupins (Lupinus). There were fields of them.
Harebells (Campanula) begin to flower in July. They last very long, and it’s not uncommon to see them well into September, when the first frosts have knocked out most other flowering plants.
The last burst of prairie wildflowers occurs in July, when yarrow, aster, and goldenrod provide lots of colour.
Let’s go to the mountains now. At lower elevations, in the shade of coniferous trees, I found this wintergreen (Pyrola):
There are many species of orchids in the Canadian Rockies. One of the most common is the ladyslipper orchid (Calypso bulbosa).
I found this orchid growing in Kananaskis. I had never seen it before. I think this is a round-leaved orchid.
Yellow Lady’s Slipper orchids
Going up to higher elevations you’ll find Indian Paintbrushes (Castilleja). They come in a wide variety of colours including yellow, orange, whitish red, deep crimson red, and purplish-red.
This year, for the first time ever I found paintbrushes on Nose Hill, a prairie environment. They are much more common in the mountains.
Paintbrushes are common in clearings and open areas below treeline, and in alpine meadows above treeline.
Indian Paintbrushes are one of the species that define the alpine meadows of the Canadian Rockies, along with yellow arnica, white valerian, pale green anemone seedheads, and purple fleabane daisies.
This year’s display on Healy Pass (Banff) was particularly colourful.
A spruce grouse strolled through the flower meadows. Her two chicks were hidden deep in the foliage.
Inspired to see more, I made another trip to Banff and hiked up Mosquito Creek to Molar Pass, another place renowned for its alpine flower meadows. Although the flowers weren’t as dense as those at Healy Pass, the scenery was stunning.
These wildflower meadows peak in early August. By late August, snow and frost will wipe out this spectacular display. It’s a short season – short but sweet.