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The Native Plant Diversity Project





L to R Patrick White, Tedd Darnell, Callie Boyle, Krtiss Douglas

By Kriss Douglass

We can barely remember the jagged edges, the precipitous slopes of old mine dumps shedding rocks, and dust in every neighborhood, settling on streets and our front yards −  Butte’s profile from 30 years ago.  Today; her face is engineered-smooth slopes and bowls covered with green in early summer turning to golden waves of remediation by late summer.   We barely noticed when these gentle green slopes were divided by the Copper Trail switching and climbing from below Montana Tech to the Top of the World − the Corra Mine.  We barely noticed that the Big Butte is our playground no;, Butte-Silver Bow can administer and maintain the trails and plan to connect to the Copper Trail.   From neighborhood mine dumps, through clean-up and remediation to present early restoration, Butte is the Cinderella of Superfund.

The restoration phase is where native plant diversity comes into play.  Montana Tech is now five years into the native plant diversity project.  Reestablishing native plants will modify the slopes of green, waving grass into textured patches of shrubs and wildflowers.  These patches, which we call dispersal islands, will provide seed sources for diversifying the vegetation.  Butte will see the return of a sustainable web of life, from soil microorganisms to bugs and birds cycling through the seasons.

We have seeds of more than 120 species of wildflowers and shrubs, and a handful of trees and grasses.  The project collected early May-flowering douglasia−a native pink (flower of the primrose family), cloud-white cushion phlox, bright buttery groundsel, and a few erect kittentails −  and also collected from the rare pocket of bluebells and several species of blue beardtongue which burst across the ridges after the snow melt.

As early blooms fade and begin setting seed, lupine and yarrow, blue and white appear, as well as tiny spiky, white sandwort, and small, cushiony mock goldenweed with its bright yellow daisy-like flowers.  The flowering season exits after dogbane with its tiny pink and white flowers fades and goldenrod and late purple asters set seed.  At Montana Tech, the restoration team has established a ‘forb orchard,’ growing native plants in a protected environment to maximize our efforts of collecting seed.  These seeds are then grown in ‘forb sods’ which are used to plant instant wildflower patches on Butte’s remediated superfund sites.   Some of the seeds are grown in little tube-containers so we can easily customize wildflower and shrub species to a particular microsite.  Bitterbrush seedlings are planted on the rocky knobs, bearberry is planted under aspen stands.   Over the next several years, we will plant particular species in their optimal habitats.

Visitors are welcome.   Call if you or your group would like a tour of the greenhouse where the forb sods are ‘built’ during the winter and early spring.  In summer the forb orchard is a beautiful display of local wildflowers.  For more information call Kriss Douglass at 782-9060.


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