Vail Curious Nature column: Wildflower bonanza continues in the mountains
We are now in the full heat of summer, and as the snow continues to melt from the mountaintops, ominous clouds and rainfall characterize the afternoons. The days are continuously getting warmer, and everywhere you look, from the meadows to riverbanks and even alpine areas, things seem to explode with color as the wildflowers bloom.
Whether you are a novice flower fan or a wildflower aficionado, it is difficult to keep track of which plants are blooming where and when. Hopefully, this article will give you a cheat sheet about wildflowers and an opportunity to impress your friends and maybe even yourself with what you can recognize, whether you are conquering mountaintops or just walking around town.
Wildflowers are unquestionably one of the best parts of summer, and our valley draws thousands every summer simply to view the plethora of wildflowers throughout the short, sunny, summer months. All too often, however, we see people returning from their hikes with a bundle of freshly picked flowers.
Be sure to marvel at a wildflower’s beauty in its own place and allow others to appreciate it as well by leaving it in the wild and ensuring that it can continue to perform its important ecological duties. Flowers aren’t just pretty; they allow plants to reproduce and provide food for all kinds of wildlife. The following is a short list of some common wildflowers that are blooming during July and some of the possible locations and ecological communities where you might find them.
• Scarlet Gilia: Scarlet gilia is a member of the phlox family and boasts bright-red, tube-shaped, hummingbird-pollinated flowers that are common in a variety of habitats, from montane meadows to desert canyons and subalpine fields of rock.
• Monkshood: Monkshood, also commonly referred to as wolf’s bane, is a member of the buttercup family and is a highly poisonous plant that contains the alkaloid pseudaconitine, which is very deadly. Though poisonous, it is incredibly beautiful when admired from afar and blooms to a bright purple color with a “hood” growing up over the top of the flower. Monkshood prefers sites that are partially shaded and are common on cool, moist streamsides or in marshy areas.
• Penstemon: Penstemon is a beautiful blue-purple flower in the Figwort family that appears almost as if it were water colored. Often, when looking at the flowers, you can see both purple and blue streaks of color within one flower. It is common from foothills to subalpine elevations and found in meadows and along roadsides.
• Alpine forget-me-nots: Alpine forget-me-nots are tiny flowers in the Borage family that grow in a moss-like fashion on alpine rocks. They bring fantastic brightness to otherwise often barren mountaintops, as they are a brilliant blue color with a dot of red in the middle.
• Showy fleabane daisy: Showy fleabane daisy is a member of the Aster family, which is blooming almost everywhere this time of year. It resembles aster but is a paler purple and grows up to 3 feet tall. It is common in elevations from 2,000 to 11,000 feet in open woodlands, meadows and prairies.
If you are interested in learning more about other wildflowers in the area, stop by the Vail Nature Center for a wildflower walk every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Leah Mowery is a naturalist and sustainability intern with Walking Mountains Science Center.
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