In bloom: Treasure hunt | AspenTimes.com

In bloom: Treasure hunt

Karin Teague

At the base of Treasure Mountain in Marble lies some of the whitest, purest marble on Earth. Just a short walk up Yule Creek from where the marble is being quarried is another white treasure, a flower you’ve never seen if you haven’t spent time in this area, and one you’ll not soon forget.

Starting at 9,000 feet, the Yule Creek Trail begins by winding up through giant blocks of marble and past the quarry ” take an extra five minutes to peer inside the awesome cavern. From here, it is another half-mile to a lush forest where the trail starts to meander. This is a perfect place to get lost and go on a flower hunt. Tiny, satellite-shaped mitreworts, yellow columbines, and even an occasional brilliant-magenta shooting star, rarely seen in our area, will reward the careful observer.

But first on the treasure hunter’s list is Case’s fitweed, a name unbecoming this elegant beauty. Standing up to 6-feet tall, Corydalis caseana, with its dozens of white to light-pink flowers packed tightly into spirals at the top of its stems, looks most like an albino version of subalpine larkspur. Actually, its distinctive four-petaled, spurred flowers and huge, intricate leaves place it in the Fumitory family, to which only one other flower in our region ” golden smoke ” belongs.

Thanks to a graduate student working out of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, much is known about this rare but locally abundant beauty. For example, have you ever wondered how long a flower stays in good condition? In the fitweed’s case, four days, at which time it starts to brown and four days later falls off (so get out and see them soon).

Which birds and bees do the pollinating? The long-tongued bumblebee, exclusively, although the fitweed is visited by other bumblebees, hummingbirds, and an occasional swallowtail. If all these guys are visiting but not pollinating, what exactly are they doing? Some are nibbling off the ends of the flowers’ spurs and “stealing” their nectar, which consists of 35 percent sugar and is produced at the rate of one milliliter per day.

Presumably these “nectar robbers,” like the short-tongued bumblebee, don’t have the necessary equipment to get at the nectar through the front of the flower, where they would serve their intended purpose of brushing against (or depositing previously brushed-against) pollen. Apparently these robbers hit more than 40 percent of the fitweed’s flowers ” hard to blame them once you’ve seen it.

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From the Marble turnoff from Highway 133, drive 6.1 miles to the stop sign, turn right and drive 3.3 miles up the smooth dirt road to the quarry parking area on your left.

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