For me, the alpine flower display is truly one of the wonders of the natural world. Over a period of only a few snow-free months, dozens if not hundreds of species flower to produce mesmerizing – and extremely photogenic – carpets of colour.
But there’s one particular small yellow flower that has caught my eye. And I’m obsessed with it.
Erythronium grandiflorum is more commonly known as the (yellow) glacier lily. It blooms immediately as the snow melts and is gone by the time peak hiking season is underway, all evidence hidden beneath the colours of summer. As such, most hikers probably never get to even see it (including some of my hiking friends who are bemused at my obsession), and that’s a shame because when it blooms, it really blooms!
With a name like grandiflorum you might think it to be a large flower but you’d be mistaken: some are no bigger than my thumb! At their tallest, I’ve seen them reach about a foot in height, but mostly they top out at around 20 cm (8 inches) or so.
While the mid-season bloom is often a riot of colour, what I love about the glacier lily bloom is that entire meadows are turned a single colour, the most cheerful of bright yellows. It’s that sight that draws me to the mountains as the snow melts, hoping to catch a patch of ground getting its first view of the sky for many months and where glacier lilies may begin poking through. That summery yellow against a blue sky is perhaps one of the most uplifting colour combinations, enough to keep me going through a grey Vancouver winter.
As that grey winter is left behind and whatever spring has passed, I find myself trying to understand the snowpack across the Lower Mainland. Where is it thin? Where will the snow melt first? Are those good places for glacier lilies? It’s taken a few years of searching and reading to get to know where they grow best, and as May arrives I start planning hikes that will take us into glacier lily country.
As such it also signifies the beginning of the alpine hiking season, that time of year we’ve been holding out for over the winter, time to get into the high country and enjoy the sights and scents of summer.
But it’s so ephemeral. Within a few weeks of pushing up through the snow, the glacier lilies die back, leaving just their seed pods behind as evidence of their existence. Time for the next wave to shine.
One small flower, so many reasons to love it.