Rocks & Flowers

Garth_Lenz-update-7443.jpgRed and green rocks and a rainbow of wildflowers... other than the grizzly bear, little exemplifies the wild Flathead Valley more than the flowers and geology that create the bear’s habitat. Visitors to the Flathead are greeted with a spectacular medley of textures and colours throughout the spring, summer and fall seasons.

The colourful rocks represent the oldest sedimentary formations in the Rocky Mountains. The rocks were laid down in shallow seas almost a billion and a half years ago and they now crown mountains. Trails and creeks pass over and cascade down these ancient seabeds. The glistening green and red rocks make these “the most colourful mountains in Canada” in the words of legendary outdoor writer Andy Russell. Made from mud and silt washed down from even earlier mountains and coloured by iron, the rocks preserve ripples and mud cracks made by gentle waves from eons ago. In addition, Flathead rocks contain fossils of the oldest life forms on earth &mdash stromatolites &mdash that are circular algal mats now preserved in stone.

Wildflowers now live atop these rocks in shallow beds of topsoil. Some call them “gardens,” and the grizzly bear the gardener. One of the most prolific species of flower, the glacier lily, (Erythronium grandiflorum), sports a flower of brilliant recurved yellow petals, the root of which is the primary spring food of grizzlies that dig for it with their long claws. The names of other flowers, like fireweed, paintbrush, spring beauty, beard’s tongue, western meadow rue, starry Solomon seal, and bear grass conjure up mental images of a flowered paradise. The unusual beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax), a lily, sprouts a waist high stem from a tuft of waxy leaves and blooms profusely every seven years, turning whole hillsides into torch parades of creamy white, 20 cm long blossoms.

This convergence creates a richness and diversity of life unmatched anywhere in the Rocky Mountains.

Fast Facts

  • Flathead Area: 234,000 Hectares (ha)
  • Favorite edible plant: the huckleberry (Vaccinium globulare)
  • Scientific name for green and red rocks: Green and red argillite
  • Age of argillite: up to 1.4 billion years old, the oldest sedimentary rocks in the Rocky Mountains.


“The Flathead has as many or more plant species as Banff and Jasper National Parks combined, with a lot of local species that we don’t have elsewhere in Canada.” - Peter Achuff, Species Assessment Biologist, Parks Canada, Waterton Lakes National Park. 

“The sedimentary rocks of the Flathead stand out as the oldest in Canadian Rockies, some 1.4 billion years old, and some of the most unusual in the entire world. They really should be protected as a scientific and world resource.” - Ben Gadd, Verdant Pass Ltd., Jasper, Alberta