The Wildflowers Along the Alaska Highway (And a Funny Story About the Naming of the Yukon Territorial Flower)

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.  (A. A. Milne, author of Winnie-the-Pooh)

I’m not one to often make wagers, but here’s a wager I would likely win.

During the long stretches of driving along the Alaska Highway, when one stunning mountain view after another finally turns monotonous, when your cell phone shows exactly zero bars, and when you have run the gamut on the 1,001 verses of Row, Row, Row Your Boat, someone in your travel party will say something to the effect of, “Does anybody know what those pretty flowers are along the road?”

Trust me.  It will happen.

Happily, the Tourist Information centre in Whitehorse provided me with the fabulous booklet, Common Yukon Roadside Flowers, which helped me break up the inevitable tedium of the Alaska Highway.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see this booklet in any other Tourist Information centres, but I did find it online here.

Alaska Highway Wildflowers 1 - Narrow-Leaved Arnica

Alpine Arnica, from the Sunflower family. It is used for topical remedies for all kinds of things, including bruises and hair loss. But don’t eat it; it’ll make you sick and ruin your day.

But a discussion about Yukon flowers would not be complete without mentioning Martha Louise Black.  Although born in Chicago, Martha made her name in the Yukon, having traveled there during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898 (she was pregnant at the time).  She was supposed to go with her husband, but he opted to go to Hawaii instead, so Martha went to the Yukon with her brother.  In 1904, she married George Black, who later became the Commissioner of the Yukon.  The Black home is still standing in Dawson City, as is the Commissioner’s residence, in which the Blacks were the last permanent residents.

You may be thinking, “What does all this about Martha Black have to do with the promised funny story about the naming of the Yukon Territorial Flower?” Well, let me tell you.  In addition to Martha being a politician and the second woman elected to the House of Commons, she was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and an expert on the flora of the Yukon.  Indeed, she lectured and wrote extensively on Yukon flora.

When the decision to name the Territorial Flower came about, Fireweed, a common plant that grows in the Yukon after a forest fire, was the popular choice.  However, Martha Black thought the plant far too common to warrant such an elite status, so she adamantly pushed for the Prairie Crocus, which is less common and is the first flower to appear after the snow melts.  So the Prairie Crocus was made the official flower in 1954.

Unfortunately (Can you sense the drama building now?), Manitoba had already laid claim to the Pasqueflower, which is another name for the Prairie Crocus.  So a change had to be made.

Pas possible!!!  Non, c’est vrai!!!

But because Martha Black was so well respected, the Yukon government employed delay tactics until Martha died in 1957, after which the Fireweed was finally named the official flower of the Yukon.

Enjoy the photos below.  Even with the guidebook, I’ve probably misnamed a few.

Alaska Highway Wildflowers 2 - Arctic Lupine

Arctic Lupine, from the Pea family. Pretty, but definitely don’t eat them.


Alaska Highway Wildflowers 3 - Common Yarrow

Common Yarrow. Tea anyone? Also a good natural insect repellent.


Alaska Highway Wildflowers 4 - White Sweetclover

White Sweetclover (I think). A pretty, but nasty invasive species in which a single plant can produce 300,000 seeds that can survive for 80 years.


Alaska Highway Wildflowers 7 - Fireweed

Fireweed, Yukon’s official flower. Every part of the plant is edible, and you can make honey from the flowers.


Alaska Highway Wildflowers 5 - Arctic Lupine

Another species of Lupine. Yukon Lupine maybe?


Alaska Highway Wildflowers 6 - Horned Dandelion

I do believe this is a Dandelion. Common, yet so pretty.


1 comment… add one
  • Gini Nov 8, 2017

    Well, Dave, you got one or two of them right!

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