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Arrowleaf Balsamroot: Bringing Sunshine down to the Valleys

Arrowleaf Balsamroot: Bringing Sunshine down to the Valleys

I met Arrowleaf Balsamroot in the spring of 2014 for the first time. Having an affinity for sunflowers, I knew that I had found another kindred spirit. The bright yellow flowers brought the sunshine down from the sky and grew through the Big Mountain Sagebrush fields. If you have never traveled to Jackson, Wyoming and seen the sage flats in the alluvial fan brightened by these beauties, I highly recommend it. They illuminated the sparse land in a way that I will never forget.

As an early bloomer in the spring and summer, arrowleaf balsamroot plays an important role. First, the wildflower and its leaves become an important food source for many animals including, but not limited to deer, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and even livestock graze on them. Second, and more cosmetically, they bring color to a world just emerging from large snow landscapes.

This past spring, coming out of quarantine in Vail, Colorado, I saw arrowleaf balsamroot as one of the first flowers of the season. I had seen a few buttercups and the aspen catkins, but no larger flowers. Thus, these yellow beauties brought a smile to my face that I really needed mentally. After all the tough news, these bright yellow asters helped me immensely.

Just like the dandelion and big mountain sagebrush, arrowleaf balsamroot resides in the Asteraceae family taxonomically. Here are some more interesting facts to help you identify them next spring!

Cluster of yellow flowers and arrow shaped leaves.
1.5 sq ft Arrowleaf Balsamroot cluster.



General Characteristics

  • 8 to 28 inches tall
  • Often found in fields of Big Mountain Sagebrush
  • Blooms in early summer
  • Several stems from a single base
  • Woody taproot
  • Important source of food for Native Peoples
  • Deer, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and livestock graze on them
  • Native to western North America


  • Large leaves with a point on the end widening as they go back to the stem forming an arrow shape
  • Most leaves are basal and few stem leaves are alternate
  • Have dense felted hairs with smooth edges


  • Yellow and solitary with one per stem
  • Usually has 12-22 ray florets in the flowerhead


No hairs on 7-8mm long achenes

Arrowleaf Balsamroot & The Nature Journal

Two page nature journal spread depicting text, a sketch, and a photo of arrowleaf balsamroot.
Two Page Journal Spread of Arrowleaf Balsamroot.

As soon as I saw these beautiful asters, I smiled because I had seen them before. To me, they meant spring had really begun. There is a certain familiarity to finding some plants year after year, and Arrowleaf Balsamroot is one of those for me in the mountainous west.

Excited to draw a flower, I went a little big on this sketch. Because I started out with the ray forets, the flower petals built around it. Since I accidentally made it big, I added the arrow shaped leaf appearing from the bottom since most of its leaves are basal. Originally, I begin with pencil, then I trace over it with a Sakura Micron Pen 08. I drew this off of one of the photos I took and as such, the petals have blown in the wind and had something nibble on one.

Importantly, since I always find arrowleaf balsamroot in clusters that range from about one to two square feet, I wanted a photo to depict that. I printed a polaroid and managed to squeeze it in with the sketch over lapping it. This way, I had the detail portrayed in the sketch and how I usually find them in nature in the photo.

Since I could identify them immediately, I only had to pull out my trusted Plants of the Rocky Mountains guidebook and use the index to find the right page.

Make a note to look for them to bloom a little later than the buttercups in the Rocky Mountain West!

Sunday 1st of November 2020

I once saw one of these flowers get eaten from underneath itself. I’m not sure what kind of little critter it was but right before my eyes, the leafs started to shake and then. Poof! It was sucked underground.


Sunday 1st of November 2020

Wow! That's pretty neat. I wonder if it was a ground squirrel?

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