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.)
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.
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.
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.
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?
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).
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.