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13 Wildflowers in Montana (with Photos)

With a fascinating variety of ecosystems spanning the vast state of Montana, it’s no surprise that the Treasure State offers a vast array of colorful, unique wildflowers. Environmental conditions ranging from woodland, alpine, steppe/shrubland, grassland, and wetland ecosystems support the widespread flourishing of wildflowers in Montana from April to early October.

The diversity of Montana’s topography and ecosystems also provides the type of climate flexibility that encourages wildflower growth even in the most isolated badlands and mountain ranges existing in western Montana.

13 Types of Wildflowers in Montana

The official wildflower of Montana is Bitterroot. The first bitterroot plant collected for cataloging and research was taken from Montana in 1806 by Meriwether Lewis as part of the famous Lewis & Clark expedition. The area where the plant was taken from is called Bitterroot Valley today.

This wildflower grows well in sagebrush habitats, as well as oak woodland and pine forests. Interestingly the leaves and rose-colored flowers tend to appear separately. Flowers spring up after the leaves have withered away, giving the appearance of a lone flower blooming straight out of the dirt.

Native American tribes often gathered this plant for trade or food. The root has a bitter taste (hence the name) and was often mixed with berries or meat to make the flavor more palatable. 

1. Spreading Globeflower

Spreading globeflower
Spreading globeflower | image by brewbooks via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific name: Trollius laxus

Commonly seen by hikers in the mountain ranges of central and western Montana, the spreading globeflower is recognized by its lobed leaves, cream-colored or yellowish-green petals, and the ability to thrive in transitional zones between ecosystems. The spreading globeflower can reach a height of 20 inches in favorable conditions.


2. Beargrass

Beargrass
Beargrass | image by USDA NRCS Montana via Flickr

Scientific name: Xerophyllum tenax

The Beargrass isn’t grass but does belong to a member of the grass family. Native to Montana, beargrass does resemble grass due to its blade-like leaves sprouting near the bottom of the stem.

Growing four to five feet in height, this wildflower bears delicate but densely packed clusters of blooms at the top of the stem when mature. Beargrass gets its name from the fact that bears build their dens using the leaves. However, bears do not eat beargrass. Wild goats, deer, elk, and sheep eat beargrass.


3. Alaskan Rein Orchid

alaskan rein orchid
Alaskan Rein-orchid | image by Jason Hollinger via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Piperia unalascensis

A little-known detail about wildflowers in Montana is that orchids grow wild in spring and summer. If you plan to take a hiking trip to northwestern and Western Montana, it’s likely you will come across the Alaskan rein orchid.

Reaching up to 28 inches tall, this beauty sprouts small, yellowish, or greenish blossoms along the stem that, naturally, resemble tiny orchids. Look for the Alaskan rein orchard in shady or dry areas. These wildflowers are also considered nocturnal since they discharge a musky, semi-sweet fragrance only after dark.


4. Mountain Sandwort

Mountain sandwort
Mountain sandwort | image by A. Drauglis via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific name: Arenaria montana

The mountain sandwort grows six inches vertically but over a foot horizontally. This creeping, ground-hugging wildflower develops showy, five-pointed white flowers. The leaves are hairy but the hairs will not irritate your skin.

Look for mountain sandwort blooming in late April to early May, where sandy loam or well-drained soils cover the ground. The mountain sandwort has an unusually shallow root system that makes it resistant to minor droughts.

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5. Trapper’s Tea

trappers tea
Trappers-tea | image by Thayne Tuason via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientific name: Rhododendron neoglandulosum (previously Ledum glandulosum)

An evergreen shrub reaching between 15 and 30 inches tall, trapper’s tea blossoms with white flowers comprised of five, rounded, broad petals. Its leaves are egg-shaped, dark to lighter green in color, and about one inch long.

The underside of the leaves is more gray than green and covered in short hairs. Fruits develop from aging flowers but are not consumed by animals.

Although trapper’s tea leaves, stems, and fruits contain small amounts of a toxin called ledol, Native Americans used to steep this wildflower’s dried or fresh leaves to make a fragrant tea. Trapper’s tea is found in moist, wooded, or open areas in western and central Montana.


6. Prairie Crocus

Prairie crocus
Prairie crocus | image by rana.way via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Scientific name: Pulsatilla nuttalliana

A wildflower herb with purple to deep blue bell-shaped flowers and hairy leaves, the prairie crocus can be found in the grasslands, steppes, and mountainous valleys of southern Montana. A few of the prairie crocus’ leaves emerge at the base of the plant early in spring.

However, most of the leaves will unfurl after the flowers have bloomed. Purple, egg-shaped fruit produces a dark red juice that can be used to stain arts and crafts projects, Easter eggs, or unfinished wood.


7. Cursed Crow’s Foot

cursed crowfoot
Cursed Crowfoot | image by Aiwok via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Ranunculus sceleratus

Wildflower lovers will find the cursed crow’s foot blooming around lakes, streams, and Montana wetlands in the warm sunlight of late spring. Its shiny, lemon-colored flowers have distinctly green centers encircled by yellow stamens. A member of the buttercup family, in some regions it is also known as a “cursed buttercup”.

At maturity, the cursed crow’s foot flower center enlarges into an elliptical seed head. Leaves sprouting on the stem are lobed, while leaves higher up on the stem are roughly kidney-shaped.


8. Colorado Blue Columbine

Colorado columbine
Colorado columbine | image by Larry Lamsa via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Aquilegia coerulea

Perhaps one of the more beautiful wildflowers in Montana is the Colorado blue columbine, a two to four-foot-tall flower that thrives at elevations of 6,900 to 12,100 feet. Surrounded by snow-white sepals, the Colorado columbine’s showy blue, violet, or bluish-violet petals naturally attract a variety of pollinators throughout the summer.

Look for the Colorado blue columbine in southwestern Montana’s subalpine ecosystems. Despite it growing naturally at higher elevations, it is often planted in ornamental gardens.


9. Red Baneberry

Red baneberry
Red baneberry | image by Joshua Mayer via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific name: Actaea rubra

Preferring partly shaded, wooded areas throughout Montana, the red baneberry bears featherlike, white flowers on reddish-green stems sprouting bright green leaves. By mid-summer, the red baneberry’s flowers have matured into shiny red berries.

If you see red baneberry while hiking in Montana and wonder why those delicious-looking berries haven’t been devoured by birds and bears, it’s because the berries are extremely toxic if consumed.


10. Beebalm

Beebalm
Beebalm | image by Michele Dorsey Walfred via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Monarda

Growing one to three feet high and blooming between June and August in Montana, beebalm’s pink and lavender flowers are uniquely tubular and highly visible among the plant’s grayish-green leaves. You’ll find beebalm spreading over woodlands and grasslands, and adding color to roadside ditches and nearby fields.

Currently, Montana is investigating the potential for planting beebalm in various regions of the state to facilitate crop pollination and to increase the bee population.

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11. Spreading Dogbane

Spreading dogbane
Spreading dogbane | image by photogramma1 via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific name: Apocynum androsaemifolium

A quick-growing wildflower commonly found in Montana’s woodlands, meadows, and mountain valleys, the spreading dogbane is aptly named. Its pink, bell-shaped, aromatic flowers are poisonous to dogs and humans if consumed.

The interior of the flower has stripes that are a deeper pink color than the exterior of the flower. Spreading dogbane is an important pollinator and offers plenty of nectar during the summer for pollinators.


12. Few-flowered Shootingstar

few flowered shootingstar
Few-flower Shootingstar | image by Patrick Alexander via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific name: Primula pauciflora

Wildflower watchers often look for the shooting star growing in the vicinity of glacier lilies. Brilliantly reddish-pink or magenta in color, the shooting star’s flowers emerge in clusters of four or five. It has the appearance of a flower turned inside-out, making the petals appear to be bursting behind the flower like a shooting star.

Its oval leaves are deep green, finely serrated, and between two and nine inches long. Few-flowered shooting stars prefer waterfalls, wet meadows, and the banks of creeks and streams.


13. Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Arrowleaf balsamroot
Arrowleaf balsamroot | image by GlacierNPS via Flickr

Scientific name: Balsamorhiza sagittata

An early spring wildflower in Montana, the arrowleaf balsamroot flourishes in all regions of the state but does especially thrive in grasslands and other low-elevation ecosystems. Belonging to the sunflower family, the arrowleaf balsamroot even responds to sunlight like sunflowers by bending its flowerhead towards the sun. In proper conditions, this bright yellow wildflower can spread like a carpet over grasslands and hillsides.


Where to Find Wildflowers in Montana

One of the best places to look for wildflowers is Glacier National Park, located near the U.S.-Canadian border in northwest Montana. Glacier National Park offers 700 miles of trails, waterfalls, lakes, open grasslands, and numerous mountains where you’ll see Alaskan rein orchids, beargrass, and dozens of other native wildflowers.

The Custer-Gallatin National Forest spreads along Montana’s southern border and shares some of its ecosystems with the northwestern region of Wyoming. Since this U.S. National Forest is in the lower half of Montana, the warmer, wetter climate supports a different variety of wildflowers than Glacier National Park.

In addition to the prairie crocus and beebalm, you’ll likely encounter purple clematis and Montana’s state flower, the pink bitterroot.