Another Easter Flower

pulsatilla-vulgaris_1972Can you name a plant that has short stems and showy purple flowers at this time of year? Now add eye-catching seed heads, and the fact that it’s native to Colorado (and other cold-winter areas in both North America and Europe). This cultivated wildflower is Pasque Flower (or), named after its Easter time bloom.

Appearance
Besides the lilac wildflowers, other purple shades are available in cultivated strains, from a deep purple-red to, rarely, white. Gray-green leaves appear after the flower buds, and may be more or less finely divided. They’re covered with silvery fuzz, giving a soft appearance that makes you want to pet them.

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Locoweeds

oxytropis-lambertii_locoweed_kcs-co_lah_3438nefI was hiking on a nearby ranch last week when we came across some spectacular wildflowers. As I knelt to grab some photos, my plant expert companion remarked, “You know that’s locoweed. We should pull it out!”

What? Destroy these beauties? Why? I was about to receive an education.

Locoweed (or crazyweed) is the common name for two genera of western plants, Oxytropis (left) and Astragalus (also called milkvetch), both in the pea family, and both including some species that contain the toxin swainsonine. Swainsonine interferes with protein metabolism and causes nerve damage.

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More Than Birds

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I went on a short hike the other day, and I almost didn’t bring my binoculars.

This is a pretty radical statement for an ardent birder to make, so let me explain. Even though the hike took place on property belonging to Audubon, our purpose was to look for wildflowers, not birds, and to create the beginnings of a plant checklist that would be added to in the following years. Specifically, my job was to photograph what we found.

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California Gold

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California Poppy—Eschscholzia californica

With their vivid orange, saucer-shaped flowers, California poppies are familiar to anyone who has lived in the West. The showy blooms are set off by gray-green, fringed foliage that grows about six inches high. Named varieties may have double flowers, frilled petals, or come in a wide assortment of colors.

Although Colorado may lack the poppy-covered hillsides of the Golden State, these wildflowers are easy to grow here. They are not fussy about soil. Sow seeds directly into the sunny garden in early spring. Melting snow should provide plenty of moisture for germination. Watering during dry spells will keep these drought-tolerant plants blooming for several months. Although the tender plants won’t survive a Colorado winter, allowing them to self-sow will ensure plenty of flowers for next year.

California Poppies are perfect for naturalizing among native grasses or in a rock garden. Try growing them in a parking strip, or along a long driveway. They quickly fill in bare spots in a new landscape.