Wildflowers of Rimrock to Riverside

May 23, 2022

By Emalee Gillis, Conservancy Volunteer

Arrowleaf balsamroot has antibacterial properties and is useful in healing salves.

For more than 10,000 years, indigenous people from the Spokane Tribe were stewards of the land now known as Rimrock to Riverside, a piece of land in northwest Spokane soon to be added to Palisades Park through the Spokane County Conservation Futures Program. The benefits of that stewardship were in evidence at a wildflower hike in the area organized by Inland Northwest Land Conservancy on May 14 and led by staff member Todd Dunfield, and Eastern Washington University plant biologist Becky Brown.

Participants in the hike could see large swaths of plants important to the Spokane people including arrowleaf balsamroot, nine leaf biscuitroot, and camas among others. While all these plants had uses for the tribe, they never harvested all of the plants in an area but would leave enough to propagate the next season.

The Spokane Tribe was one of many forces shaping which wildflowers appear today in Rimrock to Riverside. Mima mounds, rolling undulations in the land, appear in Rimrock and affect which wildflowers grow where. Pocket gophers disturb the top of the mounds and expose the seeds of wildflowers like blue-eyed Mary’s and miner’s lettuce.  In a square foot in the sides of the Mima mound, many different wildflower species grow including hairy Albert, particularly beautiful when the sunset lights up the thin hairs on its leaves.  Seasonal water pools can be found at the bottom of the mounds benefiting wildflowers like wild onions.

Miner’s lettuce is an early season edible plant that grows in the Inland Northwest.

Nature hosts a fragile ecosystem and threats to the wildflowers can be seen even on the Mima mounds at Rimrock. Invasive species like bulbous bluegrass and bird vetch currently scattered on the mounds can outcompete native plants.  Bird vetch, a legume, can increase the nitrogen composition of the soil which can favor invasive species over native wildflowers.

Development is another threat to the area. The land at Rimrock to Riverside was once platted for a housing development, but several organizations worked to preserve the land as open space. Inland Northwest Land Conservancy along with Friends of Palisades and Spokane County Conservation Futures Program has played a key role to preserve Rimrock to Riverside as a link between the Palisades and Riverside Park. One of the many benefits of this effort will be continued public access to the bright show of wildflowers that have festooned the area for thousands of years.