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The Nature Nut

Rosamund Pojar
Sagebrush buttercup. (Jim Pojar photo)

Many (too many) years ago, I was teaching about identifying native plants (especially wildflowers) at the local college when a student brought in a plant with bright yellow bowl-shaped flowers for identification.

I knew what it was because I had seen it growing in profusion very early in the spring in the dry sagebrush country around Lytton – it was the beautiful sagebrush buttercup.

However, my first reaction was an excited, “Where did you find that?” as I never imagined it was growing in the Bulkley Valley. She told me she had found it on her property on the dry, rocky slopes above a canyon on the Bulkley River and said it was there every year.

Realizing that it pops up very early in the spring and then almost completely disappears after producing seed, we clued in that we just had not been out early enough in spring to come across it.

Sure enough, the following year we went out earlier and found it growing on the rocky, relatively dry, southwest-facing slopes with juniper trees on Call Lake Ridge. These southwest-facing slopes scattered throughout the valley provide great habitat for uncommon or regionally rare scrub-steppe ecosystems. They also have great views and hence some have become popular places to build homes.

I rescued the plant that the student brought in and planted it in my rock garden and lawn, and it has been coming into flower around April 24 every year since then.

It is such a beauty and well worth seeing.

Have you ever noticed that the flowers that bloom early in the spring are mostly white and yellow? Also, many are bowl-shaped, e.g., anemones and buttercups.

The reason is that many of the insects (such as beetles and flies) that hatch in the early spring lack the ability to perceive darker colours (blue, purple, and red) but can distinguish whites and yellows and so are attracted to them for food and then pollinate many of them.

Being bowl-shaped also means the flowers act like satellite dishes (parabolic reflectors). The bowl shape draws in the weak sun’s rays after a cool night and reflects the heat back onto the male and female parts located in the centre of the flower.

This helps to warm the flower’s sex organs up, so they mature ready for pollination.

Insects also take advantage of bowl-shaped flowers of any colour as a place to warm up after a cool night, especially in subalpine meadows.

Once the insects are warmed up, they start moving around and, in doing so, pollinate the flowers. This is a wonderful example of co-evolution–adaptation over time between two different species such that they end up benefiting each other.