One of the signature plants of the Okanagan is the Arrow-leaved Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata). This beautiful member of the Sunflower family is hard to miss – in the early spring the yellow flowers produce a dramatic display on dry hillsides of the interior.
During our recent trip to the Okanagan we spent two nights in Princeton, a small town between Hope and Osoyoos on Highway 3. We often stop here because the birding is usually excellent and there are a number of places that are also interesting for botany. Once such place is August Lake on the Willies Ranch Road.
The Arrow-leaved Balsamroot was in full bloom on the dry open hillsides above August Lake and we spent some time enjoying the display of colour. The flowers are usually solitary composite heads with bright yellow ray flowers and a center cluster of yellow disk flowers. The bracts underneath are densely hairy. The leaves are large and arrowhead-shaped (hence the common name) and a greyish/green in colour.
According to Plants of Southern Interior British Columbia “all parts of this plant are edible and provided a very important food for Interior native people.” When the leaves are young they can be eaten raw or steamed. Leaves can also be smoked like tobacco. Arrow-leaved Balsamroot has a large, aromatic woody taproot which can be either roasted or steamed. And the small sunflower seeds produced by the plant were dried and then pounded to make flour.
We spent a couple of enjoyable hours exploring the hillside and open Ponderosa forest around August Lake. While the Arrow-leaved Balsamroot was definitely the most immediately noticeable flower in bloom there were a number of other smaller plants flowering as well. I’ll save them for a future post!
How to Get There:
Driving east from Princeton look for signage for the Princeton Golf Course on Darcy Mountain Road. Follow Darcy Mountain Road until it turns into Willies Ranch Road (good gravel). Follow it up until you see August Lake on the left side of the road. If you’re birding it’s worth checking out the small stands of Aspen on Willies Ranch Road as they often produce both Black-backed Woodpecker and Williamson’s Sapsucker.