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  • Writer's pictureRose BDW

Bloomin' Buttercups and Seasonal Indicators

When we think about the different ways we form relationships with plants, we sometimes don't think about the role they have in our lives for telling time. But what's one of the biggest signifiers of spring? Flowers bloom, birds sing, animals emerge from their winter slumber. Or we know it's officially Fall when deciduous trees drop their leaves to preserve energy for the winter.

All in all, plants have an important role as seasonal indicators for many people, the Salish included. While the traditional western calendar of 12 months was adopted, the Salish "year" is monitored by seasonal changes, environmental shifts and plant/animal behaviors.

I know we are all patiently awaiting for Spring to return as that means more sunshine, more greenery, and the return of our plant and animal relatives. The Salish timeline is marked by the migration of birds (early spring), the prominence of plants (early spring/summer), as well as the coming together for celebration (summer), gathering (fall) and storytelling (winter). It's important to recognize these seasonal indicators as valuable timestamps for the Salish and we are lucky to still witness many of these environmental events today. As the Salish have adapted, our 12 month calendar is marked by these indicators with March being Month of the Geese (k̓ʷsixʷ spq̓niʔ) and April Buttercup month (sčiyál̓mn spq̓niʔ). Our Seasonal Round (below) highlights age-old traditional knowledge of how the environment has shaped our sense of time passing and vice-versa. We know that many things have shifted and changed since colonization and modernization so it's important to realize that these indicators are not set in stone; migrations might have different timing, plants may show up early in the season or later than expected. It's important that as modern Salish people we are still paying close attention to the world around us like our ancestors did, so we can be attuned to the natural world.

Learn more about knowledge of Seasonal Indicators in Indigenous groups here (

That being said! As things are *maybe* warming up in Montana we are poised to keep our eyes out for Buttercups! The bright yellow signifiers of springtime. Even though April is the designated month of the Buttercup, they are one of Montana's earliest blooming wildflowers sometimes arriving in late February.

The Salish identified the Sagebrush Buttercup as the first indicator of spring and rightfully so, it's easy to identify in a winter landscape with its bright yellow color.

Sagebrush Buttercup

Ranunculus glaberrimus


Short flowering plant with stems from 5-15 cm with smooth elliptic or ovate basal leaves.

Flowers are singular with smooth yellow petals usually in groups of 5 with many stamens.

Habitats range from grasslands, steppe, open forest or rocky outcrops in plains, valleys, and montane regions.

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