A Virtual Wildflower Hike

Penstemon sp.

Penstemon sp.

The soggy May we endured may have been dismal and frustrating, but now we’re reaping the rewards of all that rain. As the sun has come out and the weather has warmed, we’ve been gifted with an abundance of wildflowers. This is the perfect time of year for a wildflower walk. Let’s take a hike up the mountain and see what we can find.

The trail starts out along a dry, sunny, exposed slope. Milk-vetches, in the genus Astragalus, grow among the gravel. This confusing group of plants can easily overwhelm a budding botanist, with 53 Colorado species east of the continental divide. Identification by key is nearly impossible, unless you have the plant, flower, and mature seed pod in hand, all at the same time. I hope I have this one labeled correctly, but a milk-vetch by any name is just as charming. (Maybe I’ll tackle Astragalus taxonomy after I’ve learned to identify flycatchers, sparrows, and immature gulls.)

Astragalus purshii_Woolly-pod Milkvetch_MarshallPass-CO_LAH_1479

Astragalus purshii, Woolly-pod Milkvetch

Penstemon_Emerald Valley-EPC-CO_LAH_3162

Penstemon

Penstemons are everywhere as well. A few are easily recognized: One-sided Penstemon looks just like you’d expect, with all the flowers on one side of the stem, and there’s only one scarlet-red species on this side of the mountains, P. barbatus. However, naming the rest requires you to decide, for instance, if the anther pubescence is sparsely long-villous to lanate, or if the staminode is scarcely or shallowly notched. As a result, I’ve despaired of ever learning all their names, and have taken to just labeling them all “Penstemon sp.”

The route becomes a bit more shaded, and grass grows along the trail. Wild geraniums are plentiful. The one with the pink flowers is Geranium caespitosum, Parry Geranium, while the white flowers belong to G. richardsonii.

Geranium caespitosum_Parry Geranium_Emerald Valley-EPC-CO_LAH_3305

Geranium caespitosum, Parry Geranium

Geranium richardsonii_Emerald Valley-EPC-CO_LAH_3407

Geranium richardsonii, Richardson’s Geranium

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corydalis aurea_Golden Smoke_Emerald Valley-EPC-CO_LAH_3078

Corydalis aurea

Interspersed with the geraniums are bright yellow flowers. I lie down on the ground to get photos of low-growing Corydalis aurea, a flower with the whimsical common names of Golden Smoke or Scrambled Eggs. Sticking to the food theme, there are also buttercups—Potentilla fissa, or Leafy Cinquefoil (below, left). Similar flowers grow on near-by shrubs, aptly named Shrubby Cinquefoil. Seeing these bushes thrive on the hot and dry trailside, it’s easy to understand why they’re so popular as landscape plants along the Front Range.

Potentilla fructosa, Shrubby Cinquefoil

Potentilla fructosa, Shrubby Cinquefoil

Potentilla fissa, Leafy Cinquefoil

Potentilla fissa, Leafy Cinquefoil

It’s  time to stop for lunch. Exploring the sunny meadow where we picnic, we can’t help by notice the scattered clumps of paintbrush. Then we spy a patch of Pink Pussytoes growing nearby. The flowers really do look like toes on a cat’s paw, gray and fuzzy with a hint of pink at the base.

Castilleja linariifolia?, Paintbrush

Castilleja linariifolia?, Paintbrush

Antennaria rosea, Pink Pussytoes

Antennaria rosea, Pink Pussytoes

Next to the pussytoes, we find Mouse-ear Chickweed (Cerastium strictum). It’s a confusing name for a pretty little white flower—neither the leaves nor the petals look a bit like a mouse’s ears. Besides, is the plant supposed to be like a mouse or a baby chicken?

Cerastium strictum, Mouse-ear Chickweed

Cerastium strictum, Mouse-ear Chickweed

Bright yellow daisies are popping up in the taller grass. There are a bewildering number of yellow daisy-like wildflowers, but with their brown centers, these are easily recognized as Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta).

Rudbeckia hirta, Black-eyed Susan

Rudbeckia hirta, Black-eyed Susan

Sisyrinchium montanum, Blue-eyed Grass

Sisyrinchium montanum, Blue-eyed Grass

The meadow’s color scheme is completed by accents of blue—blue-eyed grass, (Sisyrinchium montanum). Not a true grass, this pretty flower is in the iris family.

The sun is warm, and it feels good to sit down, close our eyes, and listen to the drone of the bees going from flower to flower.

Let’s take a break, and we’ll continue next week.

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