We stepped into a sea. It was brilliantly blue in the morning sun and reflected sharp yellow dots. Patches of white broke the blue. We walked across this sea and went uphill. The bright blue came Myosotis alpestre, an alpine forget-me-not; the yellow from Geum rossii, the alpine aven; the white from assorted flowers, such as bistorts and sandworts. The lush alpine meadow of Little Bald Mountain, in the Bighorn Mountains, was like a walk through water.
We were there to look for Mertensia oreophila, the mountain bluebell, which is known only
from the Bighorn Mountains. It was
named several decades ago from collections made on Little Bald Mountain, which
makes it the type locality. When
we try to understand the concepts that earlier botanists had of the plants they
named, it can be important not only to examine herbarium specimens gathered
from various locations but also to the explore the diversity of the population
in the type locality. One or
perhaps a few specimens collected in a single gathering at one location serve
as the “type” on which a plant’s scientific name is based. That gathering represented by the type
may or may not represent well the variation characteristic of the population at
the type locality. We walked
across the alpine meadow of Little Bald Mountain, a type locality, to survey,
albeit informally, the diversity of mountain bluebell.
The air was so calm when we began to walk that the bistorts,
despite their long, spindly inflorescence stalks, stood still. It was cool, too, and I wore my anorak
as we walked up the slope. The rut
of an old track ran up the mountain slope. It was mentioned in an ecological study of this area
conducted a couple of decades ago.
That ecological study also noted a population of mountain bluebells near
a rock outcrop on the flank of the mountain, and that landmark directed my
The slope of the mountain was so gentle that we stopped only
twice to rest and catch extra breaths.
Around the rock outcrop, the meadow was disrupted and patches of exposed
soil could be seen around the stones.
The soil of the outcrop, displaying the effects of weathering of the
rocks, was more reddish than that on the rest of the slope. It was in the patches of exposed soil
that we found the mountain bluebell. I kneeled to examine them and then crawled around the meadow to make
When we had finished examining the bluebells, Adrian asked, “Do
you want to go to the top?”
“Yes,” I said, “I think it’s good to go to the tops of
mountains when you can. I think
about the time when I will no longer be able to walk to mountain tops. We should take advantage of easy strolls
We continued upward, walking over the false summit and on to the broad
flat top of Little Bald Mountain. More
mountain bluebells populated the summit, and I lay on the mountain top to get a
close look at them.
* * *
Photographs: Mertensia oreophila, meadow of Little Bald Mountain (photograph by A. Aumen), LH on summit of Little Bald Mountain (photograph by A. Aumen).