In Bloom: Still spectacular
August 28, 2008
ASPEN ” Anyone who has been in the high country this week knows that a “farewell” to wildflowers at this point is, to say the least, premature.
Thanks to our record winter precipitation and pleasantly cool summer, lingering patches of snow are keeping protected areas up high wet with snowmelt, which is in turn keeping the water-loving wildflowers happily blooming into September. Alas, employers and school officials appear nonplused by this fact, requiring the author of “In Bloom” to wind up her column for the year.
What a pleasure, though, to wind up on such a high note. On a perfect Colorado day on Wednesday, the 100 or so species of wildflowers in bloom in the Willow and Buckskin basins were reminiscent of late July rather than late August. Classic mid-summer, purple flowers like rosy paintbrush (Castilleja rhexifolia), elephanthead (Pedicularis groenlandica), and subalpine daisies (Erigeron peregrinus) are still out in abundance, as are all 10 species of higher altitude, yellow senecios.
Near the borders of the remaining snowbanks, flowers that we often see in May like marsh marigolds (Caltha leptosepala) and alpine avens (Geum rossii) are just making their appearance, while several yards away, every species of late-summer gentian is in bloom. The result is a phantasmagoric blend of every kind and color of Rocky Mountain wildflower lining the trails of our still Ireland-green mountainsides. Having just returned from a two-week road trip through Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, I can confirm that the flowers here in little old Aspen are as or more abundant than anywhere in the Rocky Mountain West right now.
Also out in abundance were the pollinators ” butterflies, bees and flies were audibly enjoying the late-summer bounty, suggesting good odds of pollination. Whether the flowers will be able to set seed, though, before being buried in a foot of snow remains to be seen. Most alpine species bloom as early as possible in order to increase their chances of successfully reproducing in the short alpine summer.
However, this year’s prodigious snow and lingering spring prevented most species, other than those on dry, wind-swept ridges, from blooming as early as usual. Fortunately, since most alpine species are perennials (meaning they grow for three or more years), even if they don’t reproduce this year, they’ll be back to try again next summer, and the summers to follow ” all of which will undoubtedly, like this summer, be a little different than summers past, and therefore unfailingly interesting. Oh yes, and beautiful, too.