In Bloom: Forget not the Forget-me-nots
Special to The Aspen Times
Our newest Saturday column, “In Bloom,” will feature wildflowers that are prominent in the area at the time. Karin Teague, director of the Independence Pass Foundation, is a 25-year resident of the Roaring Fork Valley and devoted student of its wildflowers. To see more facts and photos of the flowers featured here and blooming in real time on Independence Pass, go to independencepass.org.
Turn off the news and put on your hiking shoes, the Alpine forget-me-nots are out.
The diminutive, brilliant blue Eritrichum nanum is showing at a high alpine ridge near you, for an extremely limited time and in dazzling numbers.
Lying just above ground to avoid desiccating winds and frigid temperatures, Alpine forget-me-not, like so many other miniature plants living above treeline, demands that we keep our eyes peeled and our gait slow (which at 12,000 feet feels pretty natural).
However, because it belongs to one of the few plant families, the Borage family, that displays true blue flowers, Forget-me-not stands out on the tundra, and inspires devotion like no other flower I know.
A close second might be its frequent neighbor, the dazzling, pink Moss campion, Silene acaulis. Thanks to studies performed in the 1950s at Rocky Mountain National Park, we know the following about Moss campion:
First, it occurs in almost all arctic and alpine habitats throughout the northern hemisphere, as far south as Arizona and as far north as Greenland at latitude 83 degrees, just 25 miles from the most northern growing plant in the world.
Second, Moss campion is a pioneer species whose cushion grows on disturbed, bare ground “fairly rapidly” — for an alpine plant, that is — as wide as 10 inches in diameter in 20 years. That being said, 20-inch cushions in Europe were found to be over 100 years old. Its quick start appears to peter out over time.
Week 1: Pluck the day, not flowers — Learn about Blue Flax, or Linum lewisii
Week 2: Forget not, the Forget-me-nots — Brilliant blue Eritrichum nanum and its frequent neighbor, the pink Moss campion, Silene acaulis
Week 3: Wildflower fireworks in full display — Trio of colors with Silky Phacelia, Phacelia sericea; Prairie Smoke, Geum triflorum; and Old Man of the Mountain, Hymenoxys grandiflora
IN BLOOM: A weekly summer column, “In Bloom” features wildflowers that are prominent in the Aspen area at the time. Karin Teague, director of the Independence Pass Foundation, is a 25-year resident of the Roaring Fork Valley and devoted student of its wildflowers. To see more facts and photos of the flowers featured and blooming in real time on Independence Pass, go to independencepass.org.
Finally, its roots go down 3 to 6 feet. Try to imagine that in our (very) Rocky Mountains.
Two excellent locations to see the alpine flowers now, which look healthier than in any summer in recent memory, are the summit of Independence Pass and the Hell Roaring Trail in the midvalley. Both allow for up-close viewing of our alpine jewels without having to stray from the trail.
At Independence, in addition to Forget-me-nots and Moss campion, the uncommon, neon-purple Hall’s penstemon, Penstemon halli, a Colorado endemic seen primarily along the Continental Divide, is in prime time.
Hell Roaring boasts an enormous abundance of bright-white Sweetflower rock jasmine, Androsace chamaejasme, growing side by side with Forget-me-nots in slope-covering, white-and-blue-checkered blankets.
What explains this summer’s abundance of alpine flowers? 2020’s above-average, albeit short-lived, snowpack, leaving the soil well saturated? A mild, sunny June? Last year’s huge and late-lingering snow, allowing the flowers to store up for 2020? A perception that we humans could use some extra cheer right now?
Whatever the cause, waste no time, as the alpine show won’t last long. Go high or go home!
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Local public health officials don’t think that large numbers of visitors to Aspen and Pitkin County this summer will result in sky-high numbers of COVID-19 cases like it did in the winter.