Celebrating Garden Day with a hike in the grasslands

June 25

By Penny Dodd

Thirteen may be an unlucky number, but that number of people experienced only, the best on our June 18 walk in the Wild Rose Conservation Site. Fifteen kilometers southeast of Spring Coulee, this large property on the Milk River Ridge is being
managed to promote the health of its foothills rough fescue grass.

Cutleaf flea bane

Cut-leaf flea bane

In addition to the fescue, our guide (Lee Moltzahn, an agrologist with MULTISARS) identified other grasses and flowering plants. Common non-native grasses included Kentucky blue, smooth brome, timothy and orchard grass. Native grasses included
western wheat, green needle, June, spear grass, two species of fescue and others this writer can’t remember.

The plant lovers in our group were rewarded with a wealth of prairie flowers. Despite the dry winter and spring there were many lupine (both of the two most common perennial species), sticky purple geranium, gaillardia, yellow umbrella plant, yarrow, showy stickseed, blue-eyed grass, death camas, pale comandra, puccoon, at least two species of groundsel, blue phlox, a number of species of vetch and many others too numerous to name.

One flowering plant is worth a special mention: tufted hymenopappus, listed as one of Alberta’s rare plants. This plant, with leaves that look like California poppy, is found in Alberta only on dry sandy hillsides in the far south of the province.

In contrast to the plants that thrive on the dry hillsides were the shrubs—saskatoons, chokecherry, gooseberry, buckbrush and even willow—in the moist draws.

two photographersMany of the people on this walk were members of the Lethbridge Nature Society. In addition to their interests in the plant community, their enthusiasm for birds and other animals was rewarded with sightings of Ferruginous hawk, Swainson’s hawks, song sparrow, and unusual for a dry location, common yellowthroat.

We also saw a few mule deer, and hidden in the tall grass, a tiny fawn. Had the person at the head of our group not nearly stepped on it, we would never have seen it. The grass completely hid it, and within a few feet, even its hiding spot was
not detectable.

The weather was beautiful for our walk—not too warm with only the slightest breeze to keep away the mosquitoes. To make the day complete, on the brow of a hill we came across what appeared to be a tepee ring.

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