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Unique Vegetation

Beargrass, a rare plant found in Waterton Park, blooms only every 7 years.

Waterton Lakes National Parks has a huge variety of plants. Waterton Park is a biosphere reserve, meaning it has been set aside by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) as a region which is unique in its ecology. 

Of the 45 vegetation types identified in Waterton's recent Ecological Land Classification, 16 are considered significant because they are rare (small area in park) or fragile and threatened. Notable are two grassland types and two types of aspen forest. These are threatened by non-native plant invasion, disturbance and heavy grazing pressure.

Waterton Lakes has over 1,400 forms of vegetation. In addition, amongst Waterton's more than 970 species of vascular plants, 179 species are rare in Alberta. Twenty-two of these plants are not found anywhere else in Alberta.

Two of Waterton Park's more unique plant-life are detailed below:


Waterton Lakes National Park has globally significant genetic diversity, best symbolized by its amazing variety of small ferns called moonworts. Waterton Park has 8 different moonworts. The Waterton moonwort (Botrychium x watertonese) is only found here and is considered the rarest plant in the park.


Tall beargrass flowers (see above photo) and their tufts of grassy leaves are Waterton Lakes National Park's showiest plant. With its unforgettable torchlike cluster of white flowers, each plant blooms roughly once every seven years. Although not a synchronized bloom, some years are better than most, with whole slopes covered with this mountain-lily. Waterton Lakes is the only Canadian National Park that protects this plant. It is the unofficial emblem of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

Aboriginal poeples used their long basal leaves to weave strong, watertight baskets. Beargrass' scientific name (Xerophyllum Tenax) means "the dry leaf that holds fast." Contrary to popular belief, bears don't have much to do with this plant, except perhaps as bedding material. Deer, elk and sheep nibble their blossoms, mountain goats eat their leaves, and chipmunks and birds snack on their seeds.


Waterton Lakes National Park Resource Guide, Waneeta Fisher, Parks Canada

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