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Sometime in mid May one of the promises of the spring equinox begins to show on the shores of Flathead Lake as cherry blossoms begin coloring the land.

ay “the Flathead” and sweet cherries come to mind. Bing, Ranier, Lambert, Royal Ann…their delicate white blossoms in May signify spring as much as its leafy green branches laden with ruby red fruit do summer. Once the harvest is under way, the rustic cherry stands, each with their colorful hand painted signs claiming to have the freshest and tastiest produce, open up all along Highway 35, forming a continuous farmers market from Polson to Bigfork. The microclimate of this part of the valley is conducive to the cherries’ growth.  More moderate weather than the rest of Montana and few rapid temperature changes protect

– Susie Graetz photo and prose

the crop as spring comes to the state, killing frosts are common, but along the lakeshore, the water heats slowly and retards the arrival of spring, thus ensuring the cherry blossoms will not bud too early and be claimed by frost. Warmer water in the fall, after summer heating, shelters the trees from an early freeze that would destroy them before they go dormant for the winter. As long as this equilibrium holds, the trees stay healthy. Throw the cycle off with a lengthy January warming spell and then an abrupt return to winter, such as occurred in January 1988, and the trees die. A continually cold winter is the best insurance policy for a successful crop.

Crown of the Continent  

University of Montana's Crown of the Continent