Beargrass Season at Blair Lake

Beargrass coming into bloom near the trailhead at Blair Meadows.

A rocky area at the edge of Mule Prairie with harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida), cliff penstemon (Penstemon rupicola), and Cascade fleabane (Erigeron cascadensis).

On June 25, I went up to Blair Lake. This was another place I hadn’t been to in peak season for quite some time, although I had been up there in late July last year (see Butterfly Day at Blair Lake). Unlike last year’s trip, there weren’t many different species of butterflies, but the flowers were gorgeous, and, for the first time here in years, I got to see the beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) in bloom! Beargrass is an odd species in that the populations seem to either bloom en masse or hardly at all. There are different thoughts about what kind of schedule it is on, but it has been blooming far more often than the “every 3 years” or “every 7 years” and other ideas I’ve heard. Coffin Mountain seems to have a mass beargrass bloom every year I make it there—although I often miss the actual flowering. Although there have been lots of big beargrass years in the last decade or so, Blair Lake doesn’t seem to be on the same schedule as other sites. I haven’t seen evidence of a big bloom year for many years. But this year, it is definitely worth visiting. There were places by the road and patches up at Mule Prairie and farther up the trail at Spring Prairie where there were a great many in bloom, but most are still budding up, so it should be impressive for the next couple of weeks at least. I don’t think anyone knows exactly what factors are required to create a big bloom year, but when there is one, it is well worth the trip to see this impressive sight (and smell, although the strong fragrance of thousands of inflorescences can be a bit overwhelming!).

One side of the first rock garden just a short distance off the trail had a great display of harsh paintbrush. The view of the lake and nearby Huckleberry Mountain is outstanding from there.

While I was eating lunch, a rufous hummingbird took a pause from nectaring on the paintbrush.

I was also joined for lunch by a friendly California tortoiseshell who seemed to think my shoes were tastier than all the beautiful wildflowers. Torties were the one butterfly that was abundant at Blair.

The only other butterflies in any quantity were greenish blues. Here 3 on the left are joined by a western tailed blue and a silvery blue puddling in a wet spot in the trail where it goes through the wet meadows.

The section of road by the trailhead was quite stunning with a mass of great polemonium (Polemonium carneum) and Menzies’ larkspur (Delphinium menziesii). One would hardly need to get out of the car to enjoy a fabulous show of wildflowers.

From Spring Prairie (another beargrass meadow a bit over 2 miles from the trailhead), there is a great view of High Cascade Peaks. To the southeast, you can see Diamond Peak.

2 Responses to “Beargrass Season at Blair Lake”

  • Dave Horton:

    Great photos and info. Anxious to read your subsequent posts.

  • Ricardo:

    In Montana we refer to Indian Paint Brush as Indian Paint Brush. Not referred to as Harsh Paintbrush. Other information and references were good and enjoyable.

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