Friday, May 30, 2014

Exploring The Kootenays

Part VI

Sunflower Hill and Vicinity

Every year, usually around mid May, a part of the Kimberley Nature Park shows off in a spectacular display of sunflowers, hence the name Sunflower Hill. As I first heard about it, I wondered, sunflowers in spring?

Arrowleaf Balsamroot, Balsamorhiza sagittata, belongs indeed to the sunflower family. Distributed all over western North America, preferably on hillsides, the Balsamroot delights the winter weary beholder with it's colorful display.

Although you see smaller patches of  Balsamroot all through the Kootenays, Sunflower Hill and the adjacent riverbank of the St. Mary River seem to be one it's favorite spots.

Taking the well marked short hike up to Sunflower Hill will not only offer Balsamroot and other wildflowers, but also an incredible panoramic view of the Rocky Mountains including Fisher Peak.

Best seen from a plateau below the actual summit

Please click on the image for a full view

On a recent evening walk here, I saw for the first time a sun dog made by the already set sun...

In the quest of finding even more Balsamroot I followed a tip of a friend and explored the area around St. Eugene. And stumbled upon this neat little church. 
Pre-built in Italy the original St. Eugene church is one of the very few remaining Victorian wooden churches in BC.

But back to the is not only nice to look at, it also plays an important ecological role.
With it's fleshy taproots running deep into the rocky soil it helps preventing erosion, 

grazing wildlife likes to eat this sunflower, possibly because of the high protein content of the plant. The blossoms are attractive to native pollinators and the seeds provide food for small mammals and birds.
Not only animals take advantage of Balsamroot, humans have long since used the plant as an herbal medicine. It contains antibacterial compounds and an extract of the resinous root finds an application as expectorant.

Dogs seem to like it, too...;-)
If you live around here and haven't taken a hike at Sunflower Hill yet, hurry up and go, by mid June the wildflower show will have faded and resigned to the summer heat.

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