We wake from our unintended nap, eager to continue on our hike. After a couple of miles, we finally reach the stream we’ve been hearing. The trail steadily gains in elevation as we move upstream, and we find ourselves breathing a bit harder. The plants here are more adapted to partial shade, and thrive in damp conditions.
The first flowers we notice are a scattering of Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon pulchellum). May’s rain has resulted in a profusion of their delicate blooms, and they grow in the saturated stream-side soil.
Of course, a Colorado wildflower hike wouldn’t be complete without the most famous of our beautiful blooms, the Colorado Columbine, Aquilegia caerulea. It’s hard to believe that these big and beautiful flowers are wild! Like the shooting stars, they prefer a damp and shady spot at lower elevations. Higher up, where it’s cooler, fields of columbines grow exuberantly in full sun.
As we move upstream, we encounter Thermopsis, aka Golden Banner. Its keeled flowers and pinnate (opposite) branching clearly place it in the pea family. It’s interesting comparing the plants we are seeing to ones I saw a month ago along the continental divide. See what I mean? A bit of research revealed that there are two species, T. diveracarpa (on the left) and T. montana (on the right, with the more erect flowers).
Where the spray of a miniature waterfall keeps the soil consistently wet, an unusual plant invites a closer look. Long, narrow, pointed leaves alternate up a crooked stem, with a row of tiny white bells hanging underneath. The plant is appropriately named Twisted Stalk (Streptopus fassetti). I’m convinced that fairies use the blossoms as hats!
Hurrying to catch up with the rest of the group (photographing the Twisted Stalk was tricky and time-consuming), we almost miss an unassuming white flower only a few inches high. Kneeling down for a closer look at the Long-leaved Starwort (Stellaria longifolia) reminds us that small is sometimes delightful:
Many of the flowers are host to a variety of insects and other creepy crawlies, so we stop to investigate those as well. The flat, yellow umbel crowning some Mountain Parsley (Cymopterus lemmoni) provides the perfect backdrop for a matching yellow crab spider to wait for its prey. I can’t help but think of the poem by Mary Howitt that starts, “‘Will you walk into my parlour?’ said the Spider to the Fly….” When an unsuspecting fly lands within range, we can see the folly of accepting that invitation.
A Common Ringlet flutters by and we stop to appreciate the butterflies. Patterned orange Commas and diminutive Blues are taking advantage of the muddy trail, a result of the unusually high water level in the stream. A swallowtail sashays by, wafting on the light breeze. Finally, a Mourning Cloak soars over our heads and drifts off up the trail, we follow.
Boulder raspberry (Rubus deliciosus), wild roses (Rosa woodsii), and waxflower (Jamesia americana) alternate pink and white along the trail, proving that wildflowers can grow on shrubs as well.
Thunderheads are massing to the west, and we’d better hightail it for home if we don’t want to get wet, or worse! As we climb out of the valley and retrace our steps across the steep, exposed mountainside, we notice a few plants we missed on the way in. Sometimes, seeing everything means one has to approach a place (or situation) from every side.
It’s hard to understand how we missed the bright yellow Many-flowered Puccoon. The plant may be small, but the flowers are eye-catching. Names like this me wonder—did some pioneer come across the trumpet-shaped flowers and think, “Gee, that looks just like a puccoon!”? (I looked it up when I got home and learned that puccoon comes from the Virginia Algonquian word poughkone.)
I’m glad not to miss the Chiming Bells (Mertensia sp.). Mertensia has always fascintated me because the blue flowers turn pink after they’ve been pollinated. That signals the bees that they’re wasting their time, and directs them to the flowers still in need of their services.
The wind is picking up, making it difficult to photograph the Fendler Meadow Rue (Thalictrum fendeleri). These unusual flowers lack petals, but more than make up for their absence with their long, hanging tassels of stamens.