Subalpine Meadow: Idaho Fescue/Threadleaf Sedge

(7) Subalpine Meadow: Idaho Fescue/Threadleaf Sedge
Cushion Plant Community
(Festuca idahoensis/Carex filifolia)

Getting There»

PLANT LIST for Subalpine Meadow: Idaho Fescue/Threadleaf Sedge Cushion Plant Community»

Cushion communities plant composition. (photo, S. Durney) Cushion communities plant composition. (photo, S. Durney)
Cushion communities are dominated by cushion plants that are mat forming and of short stature like Phlox and Minuartia. When looking at these communities from afar they appear bare, but with a closer look at ground level you begin to see the high plant diversity below your feet. Flowering plants that you may see include: common yarrow, nodding onion, pasque flowers, wyoming kittentails, shooting stars, Howard’s alpine forget-me-not, mat buckwheat and sword townsendia. Sedges, like Carex, are also prevalent in a cushion community or subalpine meadow.

The cushion plant meadow that we recommend occurs between the peaks of Red Pryor and Big Pryor on the west side of the Pryor Mountains. As you walk along the community the ground is slightly bouncy below each step because the top four inches of the soil horizon consists of organic matter, much of it still not completely decomposed. We observed forty-seven plant species in our sampling area. Mat buckwheat is a species of concern in the state.
We found signs of rabbits and cattle in the community but we noted minimal soil or ground disturbance.

Sword townsendia <i>(Townsendia spathulata)</i>, a potential species of concern, found in the subalpine meadow cushion community. (photo, S. Durney) Sword townsendia (Townsendia spathulata), a potential species of concern, found in the subalpine meadow cushion community. (photo, S. Durney)
Since this community is higher in elevation it is best to wait till late spring early summer to visit when all the snow has melted. This site is accessible by hiking from Pryor Mountain Road. (See directions for “Getting There above.) It is also possible to drive to this site with a high clearance and four-wheel drive vehicle, but it is a long hard drive. Please stay on the two-track road to avoid disturbing native habitat. We did notice that, unfortunately, motor vehicles were impacting habitat by avoid large mudholes in wet areas.
Big Pryor plateau and Beartooth mountains. (photo, S. Durney) Big Pryor plateau and Beartooth mountains. (photo, S. Durney)

Return to the main Botanical Guide to Special Places in the Pryors.

Refer the printable Botanical Guide version of the Pryor Mountain Map Set.

There are two ways to get to the Subalpine Meadow Cushion Plant Community (#7).

GPS Coordinates: N 45.1475°, W 108.4666°. Elevation: about 8,500 feet.

Hiking: A great hike!

Download and print the hiking guide to the Crater Ice Cave / Big Pryor Mountain Trail, and the Pryor Mountain Road Driving Directions.

The access road is drivable by any moderate clearance vehicle including many highway vehicles when dry. 4WD is not needed when the road is dry. The 6 miles across the Crow Reservation require slow and careful driving with highway vehicles, and can be impassible even with 4WD when wet.

Follow the Pryor Mountain Road driving directions for 29.7 miles to Tie Flat. Then follow the Crater Ice Cave / Big Pryor Mountain hiking guide.

The 1.7 mile hike (1,600 feet elevation gain) goes from Tie Flat to the highest point in the Pryors with an awesome view.

The “official” cushion plant community site is 0.9 miles south of the top of Big Pryor Mountain. But the entire area is similar subalpine meadow on the Big Pryor plateau. There is no need to walk to the “official” spot. But the walking is easy if you chose to.


Refer to the Pryor Mountain Map set and notes. You should also get a copy of the Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) from the Forest Service.

This option requires a rugged, high clearance 4WD vehicle and a long rough drive.

From Warren MT follow Helt Rd to Red Pryor Mountain Road (12.4 miles from Warren). (See map.) Then the road gets very rough.

Follow Red Pryor Mountain Road to the FS/BLM boundary fence. The road becomes FS 2091A. Then in sequence follow 2091G then 2091, to 2088. It is about 0.9 miles on 2088 to the “official” site #7, and another 0.9 miles to the top of Big Pryor Mtn.

We recommend the hike instead!

Hood’s Phlox (Phlox hoodii)

Common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum)
Pasque Flower or Prairie-crocus (Anemone patens)
Low Pussy-Toes (Antennaria dimorpha)
Fringed Sage (Artemisia frigida)
Milkvetch sp. (Astragalus sp.)
Wyoming Kittentail (Besseya wyomingensis)
American Thorowax Bupleurum americanum
Field Chickweed (Cerastium arvense)
Naked-stem or Meadow Hawksbeard (Crepis runcinata)
Bonneville or Slimpod Shooting Star (Dodecatheon conjugens)
Few-Seed Whitlow-grass (Draba oligosperma)
Woods Whitlow-grass (Draba nemorosa)
Spreading Fleabane (Erigeron divergens)
Mat Buckwheat (Eriogonum caespitosum)
Yellow Wild Buckwheat (Eriogonum flavum)
Howard’s Alpine Forget-Me-Not (Eritrichium howardii)
Green Gentian or Giant Frasera (Frasera speciosa)
Prarie Gentian (Gentiana affinis)
Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum )
Spiked Ipomopsis or Spicate Gilia (Ipomopsis spicata)
Cous Biscuitroot (Lomatium cous)
Sagebrush or Oblong-leaf Bluebells (Mertensia oblongifolia)
Diamondleaf Saxifrage (Micranthes rhomboidea)
Nuttall’s Sandwort (Minuartia nuttallii)
Alpine or Arctic Sandwort (Minuartia obtusiloba)
Wild Parsley or Spreadstem musineon (Musineon divaricatum)
White Locoweed or Silky Crazyweed (Oxytropis sericea)
Fern-leaved Lousewort (Pedicularis cystopteridifolia)
Curved Bladderpod (Physaria curvipes)
American Bistort (Polygonum bistortoides)
Sheep Cinquefoil (Potentilla ovina)
Stemless Four-nerve-daisy or Stemless Hymenoxys (Tetraneuris acaulis)
Sword Townsend-daisy (Townsendia spathulata)
Hairy or Edible Valerian (Valeriana edulis)

Bluebunch Wheatgrass (Agropyron spicatum)
California or Mountain Brome (Bromus carinatus)
Thread-leaved Sedge (Carex filifolia)
Rock or Curly Sedge (Carex rupestris)
Idaho Fescue (Festuca idahoensis)
Prairie Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha)
Sandberg’s Bluegrass (Poa secunda)
Dense Spikemoss or Compact Selaginella (Selaginella densa)