Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Arrowleaf Balsamroot—Another Of The Flathead’s Spring Spectacles

Arrowleaf Balsam Sweeps Over Wildhorse

Arrowleaf Basalm Root Sweeps over Wild Horse Island

©Bert Gildart: May 6th, and right now, this week—and not much later—is the time to see fields of Arrowleaf Balsamroot running from hill to hill on Montana’s Wildhorse Island. In turn, this combination is surrounded by Flathead Lake, largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi River. Reaching the island requires a two-mile boat ride from Dayton, Montana, on the lake’s east side, which we usually accomplish using our Johnboat.

Wildhorse Island is one of the many features we describe in our book Explore! Glacier National Park and the Flathead Valley, and it can be purchased by e-mailing us or by contacting Falcon Guides. The link will take you to Falcon guides and to access our book, click the Book category, then the Exploring catetory. In our book we describe the beauty of Wildhorse Island focusing not only on the Arrowleaf Balsamroot, but also on the wild sheep, deer and incredible floral displays, such as the one now occurring.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot is one of the first flowers to rear its head in spring and does so in late April and early May. It blooms for several weeks and then fades, leaving behind only its arrow-shaped leaf.

I first became familiar with the species in graduate school at Montana State University, when I took a course in botany as an elective. As part of the curriculum, I had to submit a collection of plants properly labeled with both scientific and common names. As well I had to provide facts about the species.

That was long ago, but annual forays and a sustained interest have kept the information alive.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot was collected and described by Lewis and Clark as part of a directive from President Jefferson. In this case Captain William Clark collected the plant, and on April 14, 1804, explained in his journal entry how he came across it. As always, he employed his own unique spelling.

“I walked on shore with Shabono on the N. Side through a handsom bottom. Met several parties of women and boys in serch of herbs & roots to subsist on maney of them had parcels of the stems of the sun flower.”

Clark’s description was made in what would one day be Montana, but it concerned Indians to the south. However, local Indians also made use of the plant, but whether or not they paddled out to Wildhorse is not known. More than likely they relied on the profusion also found in other parts of the valley.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Arrowleaf Basalm

Indians collected Arrowleaf Balsmroot and then ate raw the tender inner portion of the young immature flower stems. They also ate the seeds and large roots, which are tough and woody and taste like balsam. To make them more palatable, the Flathead Indians would bake them several days in a fire pit. Indians also used the large coarse Balsamroot leaves for burns. They boiled the roots and applied the solution as a poultice to wounds, cuts and bruises. Indians also drank a tea from the roots for tuberculosis and whooping cough.

That’s the science of the plant, but what must not be overlooked is the plant’s beauty, which can be enjoyed for another week or so. Though we’ve kayaked to the island, generally on photo expeditions we take our Johnboat (if the waves aren’t too choppy) so that I can transport my heavy large-format camera with lenses that produce such incomparable detail and depth of field.

We leave before sunrise and land early enough to catch the sun’s first rays as they first peak over the Swan Mountain Range. Views from the island are panoramic and everywhere wonderful. To the north are the ranges forming Glacier National Park while to the west are the Salish Mountains.

And then, of course, you are surrounded by largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi, usually tranquil in the early morning. At your feet sweeps the spectacle of field after field of the gold-colored Arrowleaf Balsamroot; and it’s difficult to imagine a more beautiful setting.

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