Friday, August 6, 2021

Time to Take a Walk Through the Wildflowers

By Susan Carter, CSUE Tri River Area Horticulture and Natural Resource Agent

With drought through much of Western Colorado, and lower snow amounts in many areas, snow melt was earlier this year than normal.  We start our CSU Extension Native Plant Master courses at lower elevations in the Tri River Area and head higher, beginning in April and typically into August.  This year during the first two classes we noticed the plants were done!  Many shriveling from drought and others already going to seed.  So once we heard and saw that the wildflowers on the Grand Mesa were blooming, we moved that class earlier, and boy are we glad we did.

As I am writing this article, it is actually raining- YES! That will help the flowers.  Some of the flowers on the Grand Mesa seemed to be a super bloom or stellar bloom at that.  The five nerved sunflower was one of those that was amazing.  It is called five nerved as it has a mid-vein and four side veins.  The flowers always face to the east, so this is a good one if you get lost. 

Subalpine meadow. Photo by Susan Carter

If you are new to going out into nature, as many people are due to COVID-19, know the rules before you go. Pick up after your dogs, because it can hurt wildlife and takes the enjoyment out of looking at plants with a big pile of dog poo there. Try to stay on trails especially if the soils are fragile or the plants are rare.  We do go off trail in some instances to learn certain plants, but we try to avoid stepping on plants, and step on rocks when possible. Keep your dogs on a leash, this protects them and the wildlife. Don’t dig up or pick flowers.  Save them for others to enjoy, and so the plants can reproduce.  If we all pick or dig, it does end up having a big impact on the plants.  Just look up how Washington DC had to come up with a program to keep people from picking cherry blossoms, it was killing the trees. If you want to dig, visit the entity that the plants are growing on, for example BLM or USFS.  They have inexpensive permits for digging or collecting forestry products, and this allows them to record and realize if some areas are being overused so they can protect plant populations.  And keep your foraging to a minimum.  The wildlife needs it to get through the drought and winter. Visit

Brephidium exile, butterfly, on Aster
So back to the wildflowers, it is so fun to see all the colors and to see all the pollinators.  At higher elevations flies and bumblebees are the two main types of pollinators.  I learned something about fireweed this year.  The flower only lives two days.  The first day the male parts of the flowers mature, and the bumblebee likes to sleep on this flower overnight.  The second day the female parts mature, and guess what, the bumblebee just spread the pollen on the flower while he is there overnight.  Makes you wonder all the different ways that plants and pollinators help each other.  Some flowers, like the white flowered pea and evening primrose, turn a different color once they are pollinated.  The evening primrose can even be pretty as they go from white to pink or yellow to orange.  This tells the pollinators to move on.

While walking through the wildflowers, take time to look down.  We have so many small flowers that you might not notice.  An example would be Rock Androsacea, Easter daisies or the trailing daisy.  It is also good to appreciate that some plants like the Monument plant (also known as Elk weed because the elk like to eat it), only bloom once in their life time!  So there is much to appreciate while you are taking a walk through the wildflowers.  Tread Lightly.

Note Ladybug on Fleabane, Susan Carter photo

Rock Androsace, photo by Susan Carter

From All of us on the Grand Mesa, Take care and enjoy. 

No comments:

Post a Comment