Pretty yellow Arnica flowers are something you’ll see throughout K-Country. But identifying which Arnica you’re looking at could be interesting!
A perennial that isn’t
Second, there are at least 31 species in North America and Europe. At least 3 are common in K-Country, a half dozen more present (Arnica cordifolia, A. alpina, A. angustifolia, A. gracilis, A. lonchophylla, etc, etc), and… they interbreed. One reference manual we have says you need dissection and magnification to tell the subspecies apart. So while you could see Alpine Arnica, Heart Leaf Arnica, Long-leaved Arnica or Spear Leaf Arnica here, we cheat: We keep it simple and just call them all Arnica, then pretend we can identify the differences in leaf size and shape!
The various species bloom almost all the way through summer; we have seen them in bloom as early as May. We found very late blooming, narrow-leafed Arnica longifolia in flower at Black Prince and Chester Lake area in late September, pictured at right. Arnica’s big, showy yellow flowers are obvious and easily identified. While we like them best when the petals are flat, they naturally curl a bit.
Where to find them
Most Arnica species prefer to grow in forests rather than meadows, and some prefer damp evergreen forests, while others like drier aspen forests. If you find a shorter one in a high alpine meadow, typically above 2,100 m, with a fuzzier stem like those in the picture to the right, it’s probably the Alpine subspecies. Down lower, it’s most likely Heart Leaf, whose leaf actually is heart shaped.
A plant with medicinal uses
While Arnica can be poisonous if ingested, several North American Indigenous peoples used Arnica as a poultice for swelling and bruises, and you can, too. Several companies make Arnica gels and creams for relief of bruises and inflammation. The Arnica in those formulations is normally one of the types found in Europe.
See more of the beautiful flowers of K-Country here!