Weed or Not?

By Beacon Staff

A new showy pink wildflower has sprouted along roadsides in the last couple weeks around Whitefish. Not just on any roadside, but where swaths of earthwork uprooted previous vegetation for highway projects.

The five-foot-tall plant has confused more than one driver along the Big Mountain Road and Highway 93 south of town. It resembles a noxious weed. But the Rocky Mountain Bee Plant is native, and it’s part of the reseeding mix used by the Montana Department of Transportation.

The bee plant—known also as a spider-flower or stinkweed–is a sun-loving annual that likes the gritty, arid, disturbed soils that usually border roads. It is indigenous to Eastern Washington, the Rocky Mountains, and into the Great Plains.

Last fall, the Montana DOT used the bee plant in a seed mix when it reseeded the roadsides around the new highway projects around Whitefish. The seed mix also included wheat grass, fescue, and yarrow, reports Kalispell Engineering Officer Breta Duncan. For reseeding, the department uses a seed drill and roller, “similar to what a farmer does in his field,” says Duncan.

The mid to late season bloomer is not an invasive plant, but one that Native Americans used. Despite its skunky smell, proper preparation removes the stench. The seeds were ground for bread, and parts were used to treat fevers, stomach disorders, and sore eyes. The young plants were also boiled to make black paint for decorating pottery.

Recognize the plant by its large pink four-petaled flowers that give way to three-inch-long hairy seed pods hanging down from the stalk. You can even plant bee plant seeds this fall in your garden and have it blooming next summer.