Montana Public Radio

Montana Natural History Center

How Fir Trees Became Christmas Trees

Dec 17, 2018
Christmas tree in front of the cathedral of Cologne.
Flickr user CRE@!V!TY (CC-BY-NC-ND-2)

Fir trees, decorated and lighted, are such a fixture of American homes at Christmas that it's difficult for us to imagine that it was not always so. But on a time scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the beginning of life on earth, the Christmas tree tradition begins somewhere around 9.999999999.

Western Montana's Winter Inversions Explained

Dec 10, 2018
View of inversion over Missoula from Snowbowl
FLICKR USER, EVAN LOVELY (CC-BY-2.0)


Since my recent move to Missoula from the sunny state of Florida, I had experienced many unfamiliar weather conditions. Montana residents might be well accustomed to snow, black ice, negative temperatures, and the season known as winter, but these were still novelties to me.  

'Field Notes:' The Power Of The Western Red Cedar

Nov 26, 2018
A western red cedar (Thuja plicata) in Vancouver.
abdallahh (CC-BY-2)

The ides of November, a time of limbo between autumn and winter. It is my birthday. I take a walk in celebration of existence. The atmosphere is cool and gray, and the first layers of high-elevation snow have cast a renewed sense of dimension and personality upon the massive peaks above, their tips immersed in soft November clouds. I walk on tribal lands in the Mission Mountains, and cut off trail to saunter along the stream.

Are You Mis-Using These Common Tree Terms?

Sep 23, 2018
Some write of “conifers and deciduous trees” as if they are somehow different. But, of course, when describing trees the words coniferous and deciduous may be distinctions without a difference.
Josh Burnham (CC-BY-2.0)

As I split and stacked my winter firewood this fall in preparation for the long nights to come, trees in the surrounding forest were also preparing for winter. While I watched their leaves turning yellow along the flank of the Bitterroot Mountains, I found myself considering the confusing terms people use to describe those trees. In particular, folks tend to mix up perfectly good words in ways that leave me more befuddled than enlightened.

Ancient Giants: The Mysterious Beauty Of An Aspen Grove

Sep 9, 2018
Aspen grove
(PD)

The hot summer sun beats down on my back as I climb the trail to the ridge. Looking for a place to wait for my hiking companion, I find a grove of quaking aspen. Their distinctive white bark is beautiful and their leaves rustle at the hint of a breeze.

In August, 2010, my family and I watched from our backyard an unbelievable phenomenon: a single species of dragonfly, individually numbering in the thousands, flew steadily westward across our property on the edge of town for ten magical days. Occasionally they would perch briefly – each one facing west – on the neighbor’s wire fence before continuing on.

Fishing With The King: The Belted Kingfisher

Aug 6, 2018
A female belted Kingfisher with her catch.
Teddy Llovet (CC-BY-2)

While recently visiting the Rock Creek area to simply go fishing, I became distracted as I cast my red skwala into the clear, frigid stream. I was not distracted by the surrounding beauty of grasslands and different flora, or my ongoing love/hate relationship with fly-fishing, but rather the immense variety of sound echoing off the rock outcroppings surrounding the area.

'Field Notes:' The Fruits Of Fire

Jun 10, 2018
 A forested area 5 years after a fire.
NPS - Stephanie Metzler (PD)

Have you ever walked around in a recently burned forest? One of those areas where perhaps last summer you saw flames leaping out or smoke billowing? If not, I urge you to go out and take a look at this unique environment. I had never spent any time in a burned forest until a few years ago. I was immediately impressed with the beauty and abundant life I found in this transformed forest.

Bitterroot flowers Along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, Lolo, MT.
U.S. Forest Service (PD)

Enter the high country of Montana in late May or early June and you may see a striking pale pink flower. Few plants can rival the lovely bloom of the bitterroot, a low-growing perennial herb with a blossom that ranges from deep rose to almost white.

The bitterroot grows on the dry slopes of the Rockies, ranging from southern British Columbia and Alberta to the high-altitude deserts of New Mexico and Arizona.

A beaver swims through a forest pond.
Josh Burnham (CC-BY-2.0)

In the great stands of old cottonwood trees along prairie rivers, chemical skirmishes are taking place between beavers, cottonwoods, and a certain species of beetle. Beavers gnaw on the trees; the trees fight back with toxic compounds; and the beetles move in to feast on the toxins. But in this apparent conflict, all three species benefit.

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