In Bloom: Wildflower fireworks in full display to celebrate Independence Day | AspenTimes.com
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In Bloom: Wildflower fireworks in full display to celebrate Independence Day

Karin Teague
Special to The Aspen Times

IN BLOOM

A weekly Saturday column in the summer, “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 here and blooming in real time on Independence Pass, go to independencepass.org.

Happy July 4th, everyone! Are you missing the fireworks? The parades? The freedom that this quintessential summer holiday is meant to celebrate?

With a small shift in perspective, all those things can be enjoyed, today, on a wildflower walk. And being Independence Day, it seems fitting to write about the flowers of Independence Pass.

First, there are floral fireworks aplenty right now, requiring only that we shift our gaze from sky to Earth. Take Silky Phacelia, Phacelia sericea, whose silvery, fern-like leaves and deep-purple flowers explode with gold-tipped projections (anthers) that light up the tundra: purple mountain’s majesty, indeed! Silky Phacelia is out in abundance just below or above tree line in places like Graham Gulch on the east side of the Pass or on Green Mountain on the west.

Another dazzler is Prairie Smoke, Geum triflorum, whose complex geometry combined with pink, velvety-softness is guaranteed to elicit ooh’s and aah’s. Even better, when it goes to seed it sends up a plume of smoke-like, silvery-pink hairs that look like something out of Dr. Seuss. It can be found in sunny, subalpine meadows like lower Lost Man and North Fork Lake Creek.

If parades are your thing, take a stroll among the grand marshals of the tundra, Old Man of the Mountain, Hymenoxys grandiflora. Old Man’s outsized, bright yellow flowers, always facing to the east, will cheer you as you walk by. It is blooming on dry, alpine slopes everywhere.

According to Dr. David Inouye, who for more than 40 years has studied alpine plants and their pollinators at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, just over the Elk Mountains in Gothic, Old Man is a monocarpic plant. That is, it grows without flowering for 12 to 15 years, storing up nutrients underground, then in the right year — and apparently 2020 is one of those years — Old Man flowers and dies. They deserve a parade.

As for freedom … many of us likely would agree that a walk in the brisk air and boundless beauty of the high mountains, going wherever the wind or wildflowers take us, allowing day-to-day cares to fall away with every step, constitutes the truest feeling of freedom we know.

While not the kind of freedom our founders fought to secure, in the years since many of us have come to feel that an essential component of our American freedom lies in the majestic landscapes that we are privileged to call our natural heritage, and that exceptional people before us had the foresight to keep wild, open, and free for us all, like no other country on Earth.

Reason to celebrate, indeed!

IN BLOOM: EXPLORING ASPEN-AREA WILDFLOWERS

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.


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