As buds start to pop and bees, butterflies and other pollinators perform their springtime duties, Kamloopsians may question when and where they can catch some of this season’s most beautiful flowers.
While a stroll downtown or in any one of our many neighbourhoods may lend well to viewing flowering plants like fruit trees, lilac bushes, tulips and peonies, Kamloops (Tk’emlúps) is home to a rare protected landscape that bursts with life throughout the spring, summer and even autumn – grasslands.
While grassland ecosystems account for just one per cent of B.C.’s total land mass, they’re home to over 30 per cent of its rare, at-risk and endangered plant and animal species.
In order to maintain and restore the ecological diversity of Kamloops grasslands, the Lac Du Bois Grasslands and the Dewdrop-Rosseau Creek Wildlife Management Area, located northwest of the city centre, have been protected since the 1980s and 1990s.
Kamloops grasslands are unique because of the close proximity between lower, middle and upper elevation grassland ecosystems, which include dry Ponderosa pine and Interior Douglas-fir forests found at higher elevations, the Government of British Columbia explains.
While you may find combinations of any one of the grassland ecosystems listed above while recreating elsewhere in B.C., you won’t find the transition between lower, middle and upper grasslands so close together anywhere else in western North America.
Jesse Ritcey, a horticulturist, avid grower of native plants, seed collector and program coordinator for the Kamloops Naturalist Club, spoke to The Wren about the importance of Kamloops grasslands ecosystems and the plants readers can look out for while hitting the trails.
“Springtime flowering plants in Kamloops are often grassland plants, and grasslands, in general, are an endangered ecosystem,” Ritcey says. However, he adds that grasslands are threatened by encroachment from development and recreational use — which in turn affects local ecosystems.
“Flowering plants are an essential food source for pollinators of all kinds,” Ritcey says. “We have quite a large number of native bees [in Kamloops]. There are also butterflies, types of beetles and even little flies, which are some of our earliest pollinators. That whole kind of biological level of life goes on to support birds and reptiles.”
“The entire ecosystem is really dependent on flowering plants.”
Flowering plants in Kamloops grasslands
Kamloopsians will likely spot a large number of flowering plants while recreating within any one of our grassland ecosystems throughout the spring, summer and even early fall.
While many flowering varieties of plants begin blooming in Kamloops grasslands as early as mid-April, there are still plenty of beautiful blooms to catch between now and the onset of chilly weather. To simplify things for our readers, we’ve highlighted a handful of species that typically began to bloom around this time of year.
For a wealth of information on more flowering plants of Kamloops not listed here, check out the Kamloops Naturalist Club’s ‘Flowering Plants of Kamloops Guide’ – a 400-page epic outlining native plants, non-native plants, areas where Kamloopsians can find the plants and the time of year the plants bloom.
The plant families outlined below were selected because they are more common and easy to find. While Kamloops’ grasslands are home to a variety of endangered species, Ritcey explains, even some botanists may have trouble uncovering them. That’s why we chose to forgo those varieties.
For varieties that require more expertise to identify, join the Kamloops Wildflower Project on Facebook. There you’ll find plenty of people who Ritcey says are always more than happy to help you identify species and talk rare plants.
The Sunflower Family
A large majority of the region’s flowering plants are within the Asteraceae family of plants, commonly referred to as the sunflower, aster, daisy or composite family. These plants are within one of the largest and most successful plant groups in the world and occupy almost all of the planet Earth (except for underwater habitats, of course).
Ritcey says Kamloopsians should watch out for the iconic Arrow-leaved Balsamroot, our native sunflower, which is a widespread and long-lasting perennial. Its show-stopping yellow flowers attract native pollinators, and its seeds make great food for birds and rodents.
The Bean Family
The second largest group of plants Kamloopsians will encounter are within the Fabaceae family, commonly known as the legume, pea or bean family. This large group of plants is extremely important within an agricultural context for the delicious variety of fruit they produce called legumes. While these plants have been domesticated and are now grown across the world commercially, they do still grow wild right here in B.C.
Kamloopsians should watch out for Field Milk-vetch, a soft green plant that tends to grow in patches and often leans on other vegetation for support because of its weak and somewhat flimsy stems. Field Milk-vetch produces purple pea-like flowers somewhat deeper in colour than that of Timber Milk-vetch, a similar species that produces white to yellowish blue flowers of a comparable nature.
Do not eat the pods that wild bean family plants produce. While there are species that have been eaten by Indigenous peoples historically, many plants are poisonous and have even been suspected to cause death when eaten by livestock.
The Rose Family
The third largest family of flowering grassland plants are within the Rosaceae family, also known as the rose family. Wild roses, which grow in both dry grasslands and moist forested regions of B.C., Alberta and the United States, are known for their thorny armour but some varieties also produce a wide array of edible fruits like the ever-so-delicious strawberry.
Kamloopsians may encounter the particularly hardy Prickly rose while recreating within our grassland ecosystems. Prickly rose plants are multi-stemmed bushy shrubs that are covered in fragrant rosy-pink flowers. Once the flowers die back, bright red rose hips appear, which are delicious and edible and can be collected to make jelly or tea.
Another common plant to look out for is red raspberry. While you might earn some scars while rooting around for the delicious morsels of fruit the plant produces, it’s worth the effort if you come across the prolific variety.
The Mustard Family
A less large but still common group of flowering plants are within the Brassicaceae family, commonly referred to as the mustards, the crucifers or the cabbage family. While these plants grow wild and often in herbaceous capacities, they are wildly important economically for the cruciferous veggies they produce, such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.
These plants are often characterized by their elongated stocks and small yellow or white flowers.
The Honeysuckle Family
One final family of plants to look out for while recreating within our grassland ecosystems is Caprifoliaceae, the Honeysuckle family. Honeysuckle is well known for its ornamental shrubs and vines that sometimes give off a strong, sweet and ‘jasmine-like’ aroma when in bloom. Readers may also have memories of sucking sweet nectar from the plant’s beautiful blooms in the summertime.
The nectar of European honeysuckle, which grows within our grassland ecosystems, is edible, although some parts of the plant are toxic. A good rule of thumb is to avoid eating wild honeysuckle just in case of confusion and instead stick to honeysuckle grown in gardens or at berry farms.
Less common plants Ritcey says to watch out for
While in conversation with The Wren, Ritcey described a few varieties of plants Kamloopsians are less likely to come across but are some of the native plant enthusiasts’ favourites.
One of which is Clustered broomrape, a plant with a weird name because of its parasitic qualities. Clustered broomrape sucks nutrients from the grasses and shrubs it shares the grassland ecosystem with.
“It’s easy to miss because it doesn’t have much in the way of leaves but has these little purple [or white or yellow] flowers,” Ritcey says. “You’ll find it amongst dead logs or growing out of dry ground if you’re out near Tranquille Creek Park.”
Another is Chocolate lily, a brownish-purple, bell-shaped flower streaked or spotted with yellow markings that Ritcey says you can find high up in the grasslands or even forested areas.
Do’s and don’ts when enjoying Kamloops grasslands
Ritcey encourages folks to get out and enjoy nearby grassland ecosystems but urges those who do to stay on the trails and not pick or cut any flowers that may be in bloom.
“Leave flowers on the plants and don’t pick them so that other people on the trail can enjoy them too,” he says. “[That way] pollinators can make use of the resources they need to inside of those blooms.”
Wandering off-trail could not only trample important plants but introduce invasive species and widen paths, he adds.
If looking to get involved with the Kamloops Naturalist Club, Ritcey suggests folks join club members at any one of their meetings or field trips. For more information, visit their website.
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