MTPR

Learn About Montana Symbols On 'Pea Green Boat'

May 4, 2016

This week on "Pea Green Boat" we're talking about Montana's state symbols. If you're listening from anywhere in western Montana, chances are you can find many of these symbols on a short walk out your door. Check out these state symbols, and tune in to "Pea Green Boat" all week at 4:00 p.m. to learn more.

State Bird: Western meadowlark

Western meadowlark.
Credit Kevin Cole (CC-BY-2)

The meadowlark's melodic song is a joyful herald of spring each year. So is its color. See the bright yellow throat and breast crossed by a velvety black V? And that long beak catches insects like beetles and grasshoppers on the ground. Meadowlarks also dine on seeds. This bird of grassy habitats nests on the ground, too, in a nest hidden by a grassy dome. I'd better stay on the trail so I don't step on a nest!

State Tree: Ponderosa pine

Ponderosa pine, Montana's state tree.
Credit Clyde Frogg (CC-BY-3)

The majestic ponderosa pine is one state symbol that most Montanans probably see every day. Ponderosa pine is the most widely distributed pine in North America. There's a good chance you could see a ponderosa pine in your neighborhood.

The reddish, cinnamon colored bark of this stately pine looks like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle! Now look at the close up photo of the needles. You can almost see that the needles come in bundles of three. That helps you know it’s a P-pine. Other names are bull pine, yellow pine, jack pine, pitch pine. Ponderosas like dry sites in low forests and foothills. People say the bark smells like vanilla. Take a whiff of the bark the next time you see a ponderosa pine and tell us if you agree!

According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the seeds of ponderosa pine are choice food of red-winged blackbirds, chickadees, mourning doves, finches, evening grosbeaks, jays, Clark's nutcrackers, nuthatches, white throated sparrows, rufous-sided towhees, turkeys, chipmunks and squirrels.  The pine needles are important food of blue and spruce grouses.

State Flower: Bitterroot

Bitterroot, Montana's state flower.
Credit Walter Siegmund (CC-BY-SA-3)

Bitterroot rosettes.
Credit Courtesy Peter Lesica

Look for the bitterroot on well drained exposed sites in gravelly soils. This many petaled flower looks a lot like a cactus flower and blooms right next to the ground. The flower in the photo is light pink but colors can range from dark pink to white. Look at the contrast between the delicate bloom and the dry brown soil. Cool, huh? Can you tell which plant part is missing in the photo? Leaves! You can see the spidery leaves as early as January but they shrink and wither away by flowering time. My spirit gets a lift when I spot the leaves on a cold winter day.

Bitterroots were one of the most important foods for Flathead and Kootenai tribes. Bitterroots were so valuable as food, some reports say that a bag of bitterroots could be traded for horse.

State Grass: Bluebunch wheatgrass

Montana's state grass, bluebunch wheatgrass.
Credit Courtesy Loren St. John/USDA NRCS Plants databas

Bluebunch wheatgrass is spread far and wide across North America. It's often used to revegetate disturbed areas. Bluebunch wheatgrass is also drought tolerant, and as a result, can help suppress the spread of exotic weeds. A wide variety of wildlife and livestock depend on bluebunch wheatgrass for food. You can find bluebunch wheatgrass almost anywhere wild grasses grow in Montana.

State Mammal: Grizzly bear

Grizzly bears, Montana's state mammal.
Credit (PD)

Montana is one of the last grizzly bear strongholds, with growing populations in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. But even if you never see a real live grizzly bear, you'll see the symbol everywhere in the state. The grizzly is the mascot for the University of Montana, and has been adopted as a symbol for many businesses and organizations around Montana. Next time you're walking around town - any town in Montana - take note of how many times you see an image of a grizzly, or the word "grizzly" on signs or business windows.

What's your favorite state symbol? What Montana symbols do you see in your neck of the woods? Leave a comment to let us know.