With over 2,900 plant species in the state, Montana boasts a whole lot of exciting flora. Whether you’re trekking through fields of wildflowers in Glacier, taking in the whole scene, or you’re hunting through bogs just to find that one species of rare orchid on your list, you can appreciate what these unbelievable plants of Montana have to offer.
The state flower of Montana holds a storied history that melds the natural and cultural. A valued food source for several native tribes throughout history, this showy, low-lying flower is tricky to spot if you’re not out in the full sun of midday, since its pink and white pedals furl up tight when the sun sinks.
With opposite behavior to the bitterroot, Mentzelia decapetala’s flowers open in the evening after the sun sinks behind the hillside. This showy night bloomer likes dry, rocky soil, growing where other plants can’t. As prime food for nocturnal pollinators like moths, you’ll find this flower out on early August evenings through south and central Montana.
When most people think of orchids, tropical rainforests and humid, warm canopies come to mind. But Montana has its fair share of these elusive species too. One of the most famous is the lady’s slipper. Their white, cup-shaped flowers look ready for Cinderella to slip her foot into, but you’ll be lucky to spot one. Keep an eye out in open forests, especially in the mountains, but habitat varies.
Also called elkweed, monument plant, deer ears and showy frasera, this impressive plant has a lifespan of 20 to 80 years. And in that time, it will only flower once. You know you’re lucky when you see one in bloom. Stalks can be low to the ground or up to eight feet tall, clustered tight with delicate green-white flowers.
Western Larch, also known as Tamaracks, are one of the few species of deciduous conifer. So even though they have needles like Douglas fir and pine trees, they aren’t evergreen. You can catch the color show in northwest Montana’s autumn, when whole hillsides turn from green to blazing yellow when the needles turn color and drop to the ground. In the spring, this fire-resistant species sends out new needles in a fresh minty color, a sign of warmer weather to come.
As the state tree, Ponderosa Pines stand tall and proud across nearly all of the state. Look for needles in bunches of two or three, with bark that looks like puzzle pieces of grey, black and orange. Described as the “king of the forest,” this giant can reach over 200 feet tall, though 125 feet is more typical for a mature tree. When you find a ponderosa, step right up and take a deep whiff from its bark. The smell of its sap varies between vanilla and butterscotch, the perfect perfume for a forest walk.
This wild plant’s less charismatic name is lousewort, so we understand why most people just use the appropriate elephant’s head moniker instead. A row of flowers along its stem sprout up from fern-like leaves. Each flower distinctly resembles the head of an elephant. Look for its pronounced beak, which looks like a trunk, in wet meadows across north and southwestern Montana.
When botanical adventure calls, find a home base at a Highline Adventures property, and get out there. Wherever your excursions take you, return to comfort and rest in an eco-friendly accommodation in Bozeman, Gardiner, West Glacier or Columbia Falls.