Alpine flowers on Mt. Evans

I finally made it up to the tundra yesterday, not Trail Ridge Road this time, but Mt. Evans, outside of Denver.

Mt. Evans is nearly unique in the world in that it is a 14,130 foot mountain with a road essentially to the top (you have to park and walk the last thirty feet or so). It makes it an easy trip to get to my favorite biome — the alpine tundra.

I went up hoping, as always to see wildlife. But what I got an eyefull of was flowering plants.

Alpine garden

Summit Lake flowers — American bistort, alpine avens, and goldflower.

This view is of Summit Lake, actually a mile or so before the actual summit. Initially, I was going to just take a picture of the white American bistort in the foreground, but this was such a beautiful shot, I took it first.Goldflower (3)

Goldflower is in the sunflower family. It is one of the larger flowers in the tundra, standing several inches tall. About half of that is take up with the big flower disk.

fly on alpine avens

Fly pollinating Alpine Avens

One of the things that surprised me was the number of flies on the flowers. But then I found out that bees don’t make it up this high, and so flies are the main pollinators.

fly on American bistort

Fly on American bistort flowers.

I don’t get repulsed by much, but it is hard for me to have kind thoughts about flies in general. But if they are pollinating flowers, I guess I need to try to think better of them.

American bistort (3)

American bistort at 12,000 feet.

Bistorts are in the buckwheat family. This species is relatively large at several inches.

Alpine bistort

Alpine bistort.

Most alpine flowers, though are tiny, like this alpine bistort, standing about an inch tall. To get this shot, I had to lie down on my stomach, with my camera on the ground.

purple fringe 3

Purple fringe usually grows at lower altitudes, where it can stand upright.

Even if the plant normally grows upright, the frequent winds forces them low to the ground.

Alpine Indian Paintbrush maybe

Alpine Indian paintbrush? If so, it, too, normally grows upright.

I had a heck of a time figuring out some of these plants. I think this is alpine Indian paintbrush. If you know, let me know.

Mountain goat (2)

Mountain goat blowing her winter coat. Look at how thick it is!

At the very top of Mt. Evans, I finally found some mountain goats. Mountain goats are different from Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. They are goats (duh!), with very sharp horns and a hump at their shoulder.

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Bighorn rams in the Big Thompson Canyon battle it out.

Bighorn sheep, on the other hand, have thick horns that they use to batter each other with. They have no hump at their shoulders.

 

 

Spring Has Sprung, the Flower Show has Started.

Two years of plentiful moisture and a gently-warming spring means that the wild flowers OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAare exploding. Right now, in the foothills west of the Denver-Boulder area, wild American plums are producing a blizzard of fragrant white blossoms. In some places, it is like walking down a corridor lined with flowers.

Plums, like apples, cherries and raspberries, are in the rose family. Clues include five OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAshowy petals, and many stamens (the hair-like structures in the center) coming off a central ring. And like roses, these wild plums have a noticeable fragrance. In the fall, if the moisture continues, these plants will be loaded with plums.

But today, just enjoy the sights and scents.

Great Wildflower, Part 2

From our great spring crop of blooms, (https://coloradogeography.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/get-out/) this continues to be an outstanding season for wildflowers.

Every time we begin to dry out, we get a rainstorm that waters the plants. And the flowers just keep comin’.

According to the USDA Plants Profile webpage, http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=MOFI&photoID=mofi_004_ahp.tif you can find pink bergamot all over North America. This is a flower head, made up of many different flowers.

Monarda fistulosa

Pink bergamot, in the mint family. It is sometimes called bee balm.

Monarda fistulosa

Individual pink bergamot flowers.

 

Here’s a close-up of the bergamot flowers.

Many different tribes used the leaves and flowers of this plant as a seasoning, and as a cold and congestion remedy.

 

 

 

 

 

 This is a close-up of a bull thistle and a wild bee. Normally, I have little patience for bull thistle — it is a big, spiny, invasive plant. But this purple-pollen sprinkled bee may change my mind. If bull thistle can provide pollen for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, I will give it some respect. These pollinators need all the help they can get.

Bee in thistle-07_edited-1

Wild bee on a bull thistle head. Each purple fiber comes from a separate flower.

 

The Mariposa lilies are opening in the foothills right now. This is another plant that will continue opening at higher and higher altitudes as the summer progresses.

Mariposa lily-5

Gunnison’s mariposa lily.

 Purple prairie clover has striking orange anthers that catch your eye.

When I sent this to my Project Budburst coordinator, she said that it had never been recorded in the Mount Falcon Open Space before. It is a plains plant; finding becoming established in the foothills may indicate a warmer climate. This is one of the reasons we are monitoring plants in Project Budburst.

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Purple prairie clover.

Get Out!

Looking back to make sure that winter didn’t reach out and take hold of us one last time, I almost missed that spring has arrived.

And what a spring it promises to be! Last September’s torrential rains dumped up to twenty inches of rain in some areas along the Colorado Front Range. Before the rains caused flooding that killed four people, cut off towns, and destroyed homes, it sank deep into the soil, saturating it ten feet deep.

 

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Sand lily, a common early bloomer in the foothills.

Although we had drying winds this winter, we also had cool to cold temperatures and small, evenly spaced snowstorms that kept the soil from drying out and replenished what did evaporate. The soil is still wet deep down. The rains from September are still with us, and this time they’re going to work for us.

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Golden banner grows from foothills to alpine. If you go up in altitude a little every week, you can watch this plant bloom throughout the summer.

Saturated soil and ongoing rainstorms mean that Colorado’s as wet as we’ve been in decades. And water in Colorado means wildflowers. The plants have had all winter to absorb the moisture, plumping up before the sun calls them forth.

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Tiny flowers on wax current shrubs. Wax currents are common in the mountains and foothills.

So get out and see the wildflowers. Often small, but extra abundant this year, they’ll never be as gorgeous as they are this spring.

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Pasque flower are another plant that is found from foothills through alpine. At lower elevations they bloom around Easter. Higher up, they bloom later.