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When do the flowers bloom at CMH?

  
  
  
One of the most popular questions asked by our reservations staff, and our guides is "When do the flowers bloom."  It's an interesting question and the answer is a little bit different each year.  So I did two things: I looked back to last year's Current Conditions updates from the guides to get an idea of what we typically see when. And I also spoke to Lyle Grisedale, Heli-Hiking Guide in the Bugaboos who is working on a long-term project studying the affects of climate change on various species of plants.  Of course, all things in the natural world have their own cycle and it's dependant upon late-season snow and the depth of the winter snowpack, but here's a guidline based on the 2009 Heli-Hiking season: 
Canadian Rockies Wildflowers at Thunderwater Lakes, Bugaboo Region, BC, Canada
Early July: Western Anemone, Drumonds Anemone, Cinqfoil, Buttercups, Paintbrush, Roseroot, Arnica, Flebane, White and Pink Heather, Fireweed (pictured here in this image of Thunderwater Lakes, Bugaboo Region), Purple Leaved Willowherb, Mountain Avens, Glacier Lillies.
 
Mid-July: Moss Campion, Phacelia, Yellow Columbine and Triangular Leaved Ragwort.
 
Late-July / Early-August: Many flowers are at their peak at this time such as Paintbrush, Arnica, Pink and Yellow Monkey Flowers, hawkweed and miterwort. Meadows are typically in full bloom.
 
Mid-to-late-August: Flowers on south aspects are pretty much finished, but the north and east aspects are typically still in bloom.
 
Early-September: Larch trees starting to turn.  Crisp, cool nights and early mornings. Sometimes a dusting of snow. Very few flowers left, only in the lower elevation meadows and valleys. 
 
Then I checked in with Lyle.  He, along with two other guides in the Bugaboos have established some study plots of wildflowers and have been tracking the growth in each plot year over year.
 
JC: Lyle, what information are you hoping to gain from this project?
 
LG: We are interested to know how climate change will impact the plants that grow at treeline and above.  What we are looking for are plants that are moving upslope due to changes in the weather.

Our main concern are the plants at ridge top (2500 meters). They have no where to go and could be invaded by plants from lower elevations. The risk is a loss of biodiversity but on the positive side some of these plants may be able to adapt to being invaded or adapt to the changing temperature.

JC: How are you collecting the data?

LG: We have eight plots, four at 2000 meters and four at 2500 meters. The plots are oriented to the compass, north aspect, south aspect west aspect, and east aspect. Each time we are in the area of a plot we do a formal observation were we write down what plants are in the plot, and their stage of growth ie. Just starting, in prime bloom, past prime, gone to seed, dying or dead. These observations are recorded into a data base.

JC: And what early learnings have you had?

LG: I had being doing anecdotal observations for about 8 years, and then we established the plots in the Bugaboos about 3 years ago. To give you an example of plants moving, common fireweed was rarely found above 1600 meters, but recently I have seen it as high as 2200 meters.

We each find that every time we visit a plot it is a great opportunity to talk about climate with the guests. They are usually very interested in what we are doing and what the climate is doing.  Invariably, some great discussions follow!

What about you?  What changes do you see in your environment that may be attributed to climate change?

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