Alpine environments have some of the same wildflowers as the lower subalpine or montane areas, yet many flowers grow only at higher elevations. A particularly great road for finding the small, brilliant flowers unique to the high mountains is the Beartooth Highway between Red Lodge and Cooke City, Montana. Here (at right) is a meadow at about 9000 feet (2750 m) elevation along the Beartooth Scenic Byway.
A member of the rose family (above left) grows in both very high and not-so-high places. Called the potentilla or cinquefoil, it is distinguished by its five yellow petals and leaflets with five or more teeth, from the French cinque for five. The long narrow leaves in the foreground of this picture belong to another plant.
The picture above right was taken along the Beartooth Highway, and the flower shows the typical growth of alpine plants—hugging the ground to stay out of wind and cold as best they can. Steve Gryc, a composer who has recorded Yellowstone geyser sounds, has identified this mystery flower for us. It’s a bluebell, probably Mertensia alpina, which grows at timberline or above. Another bluebell, Mertensia oblongifolia, grows at lower elevations.
CREDITS: All photos on this page are by Bruno Giletti.
IN THE GUIDEBOOK: You’ll find a guide to some common wildflowers of Yellowstone’s central plateaus, arranged by color, on pages 334–37, and of the mountain passes on pages 351–53 of the fourth edition of Yellowstone Treasures.
Revised September 10, 2013. Copyright Janet Chapple. All Rights Reserved.