Boise, Idaho is a beautiful city for many reasons. One feature that makes it particularly attractive are the foothills that flank the city from the southeast to the northwest. The foothills are a transition zone to the mountains that lie to the northeast. Large sections of the foothills have been converted to housing, but much of the area remains as wide open space. There are around 150 miles of trails winding through the foothills that can be accessed from the Boise area. These trails are used frequently by hikers, mountain bikers, dog walkers, bird watchers, trail runners, and horseback riders. The foothills, along with so many other nearby attractions, explains why Boise is such an excellent city for those who love outdoor recreation.
I feel embarrassed to say that I had not yet made it into the foothills this year until about a couple weeks ago. I had intended to go for more frequent hikes this year, but life has been in the way. What I was especially curious to see was how the plant life in the foothills changes throughout the year. Because Boise is located in a high desert and receives very little precipitation (especially during the summer months), many of the local wildflowers show themselves in the spring when there is moisture in the soil, after which they wither up and go dormant for the rest of the year.
But there is still lots to see in June. However, it should be noted that when you are hiking in the foothills you must develop an appreciation for weeds, as many of the plants you will see are not native to this area and, in many cases, are in much greater abundance than the plants that are. Species brought in from Europe and Asia have become well established in the Boise Foothills, significantly altering the area’s ecology. One of the major changes has been wildfire frequency. Before weeds like cheatgrass – an annual, shallow-rooted grass imported from Europe – became so prolific in the area, fires were rare, slow moving, and isolated. The continuous, quick burning fuel source provided by dead cheatgrass heightens the risk of more frequent, faster moving, widespread fires, especially in the hot, dry summer months. This threatens plant species that are not adapted to frequent fires.
But this post isn’t about the ecology of the foothills. We can save that for another time. For now, I just wanted to share some of the plants I saw – both native and non-native – on my short walk through a very tiny corner of the Boise Foothills earlier this month.
The trail that I hiked is one of several trails in an area of the Boise Foothills called Hulls Gulch Reserve.
Bachelor’s buttons (Centaurea cyanus) are native to Europe. They are a common cultivated flower and have escaped from yards into the foothills. They are quite attractive and popular among pollinators. Their flowers and stems are edible, so perhaps we should all take to eating them.
Silverleaf phacelia (Phacelia hastata) – a foothills native and a pollinator favorite.
Pale evening primrose (Oenothera pallida) – a foothills native pollinated by nocturnal moths.
Medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae) is an invasive annual grass from Eurasia. It has an ecological impact similar to cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum).
The fruits of nineleaf biscuitroot (Lomatium triternatum), a native spring wildflower in the carrot family (Apiaceae).
Fruits forming on antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), one of several shrubs native to the Boise Foothills.
Rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa), a native shrub that flowers in late summer.
Lichens on the branches of basin big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata subsp. tridentata), another common native shrub.
Tall tumblemustard (Sisymbrium altissimum) – an introduced species and one of many tumbleweed species in the western states.
A little spider atop flowers of western yarrow (Achilea millefolium var. occidentalis), a foothills native.
Learn more about the Boise Foothills here and here.
Where have you been hiking lately?