In Bloom: Wildflowers 101 |

In Bloom: Wildflowers 101

Harry Teague
American vetch. (Courtesy Karin Teague)

OK. If you are a regular reader of this column, hold on tight. In Bloom has been temporarily hijacked by Karin’s mnemonically-challenged husband. The other day as I was coming down the bottom of the Ute Trail, I stepped aside to let an alarmingly out-of-breath family of flatlanders pass by on their way up. A familiar sight on the Ute, I am not sure how and why they find their way to this particularly steep trail, but they seem to in amazing numbers.

Anyway, the adults in this group were arguing about whether the red columbines they were seeing were really columbines since columbines are, of course, blue and white. It started me thinking that here it was, the start of another wildflower season, and time for me to start learning the names of the flowers ” again. You would think that after more than 30 years of hiking in the Rockies, always in awe of the spectacular flowers along the way, and usually with someone who patiently explains their names ” that I could by now tell a vetch from a beardtongue. I suspect I am not alone.

So the idea came to me that this column could provide us, the florally impaired, with a very fundamental Ute Trail Crib Sheet to help us through this difficult early season period (tear it out, stick it on the fridge, tape it to your arm, impress your friends). We probably do not need to include the columbines, red, blue, or white. They’re our state flower. Even I can remember those. And the wild roses are easy to spot, they have thorns, but be sure to take time to smell them.

No problem with the larkspurs. If larks wore spurs, they would certainly look like these. The Utes will disavow any connection, but who can forget the vivid colors of an Indian paintbrush. There are three peas here ” lupine is blue (kind of rhymes), aspen peavine is white (like the tree), and American vetch is magenta (just remember that). Evocative names like Columbia virgin’s bower and false solomon’s seal are their own mnemonic device. And beardtongues really have little beards inside their petals, take a look.

Maybe we don’t need that crib sheet after all. Of course this is only a small portion of the more than 35 species Karin noticed on the same section of trail, but it does give us something better to think about than how many more switchbacks to go.

From the gondola plaza at the base of Aspen Mountain, take Durant Avenue east to Original Street, turn right then stay left as it turns into Ute Avenue and drive to the second gravel, pulloff parking area on the left. The trailhead is across the street, on the right.

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