The hillsides were deep in yellow flowers the morning I took a bike ride up the road past camp.
I dropped my bicycle by the road and prepared to capture the glory in the early sunlight.
As I was clicking away I suddenly saw my friend, Hamish, watching me from his perch on a hollow log.
He had one of his favorite flowers, a woodland star, to offer. I felt especially privileged to see him since gnomes don’t like sunlight and don’t often show themselves to people.
Hamish belongs to a group called Forest Gnomes. They stand about six inches high plus another three inches of hat.
I asked him if he would be willing to pose with a few flowers to establish a reference point. He was kind enough to agree and, since gnomes are taught from an early age about mushrooms and herbs; and how to distinguish between edible and poisonous plants, he was also willing to share a bit of information about the subjects of my photography.
These relatives of the sunflower are called arrowleaf balsamroot. Their long deep roots help them survive during dry weather. The leaves are edible and the seeds can be ground into flour. Mashed root can be used as a dressing for sores or insect bites.
My next subjects were the small broadleaf lupines growing nearby. They are very lovely but are full of alkaloids thus making them poisonous for most grazing animals.
This long legged plant is probably northern bluebell. There are many varieties of bluebell. Dried leaves of the northern bluebell can be used as a herbal tea but the leaves are a bit too hairy for salads.
Hamish is posing here with sticky geraniums. They belong to the same family as the domestic geranium. I have a variety like this growing in my garden but the flowers are blue.
Sticky geranium is a major food for elk and deer and is also eaten by bears and moose.
Hamish wouldn’t go near this one. These showy red flowers belong to the scarlet gilia plant which is also called, “polecat plant.” The leaves smell like skunk. The nasty smell and the flavor of the plant protect them from being eaten by most grazers.
This is a photo I took several weeks ago. This plant is called mule-ears. Except for the white flower they look very much like arrowleaf balsam root.
In fact some arrowleaf balsam root plants have white flowers.
Here is Hamish with three different shades of yellow balsam root. I learned that the easy way to tell the difference between the two plants is to remember their names. Arrowleaf balsamroot has arrowhead-shaped leaves.
But mule-ear leaves are long and wide like, well, like mule ears. Their roots are also considered edible. The roots were also used by Native Americans to make a poultice for relief of pains and bruises.
My book, “Wild Wildflowers of the West”by Kunucan and Brons agrees with most information I gained from my gnome friend.