In Bloom: Woodland secrets
July 24, 2008
BASALT ” Some wildflowers are so physically unique that they merit their own genus. That is, under our scientific system of binomial nomenclature, in which a plant or animal is identified first by its genus (or general) name and second by its species (or specific) name ” for example, “Homo sapiens” ” some genera (the plural of genus) have only one species. But only one such flower is named after the father of that binomial system, Carl Linnaeus, and unsurprisingly it is a gem.
Linnaea borealis, or the twinflower, found throughout the northern hemisphere, so enchanted Dr. Linnaeus that many of his portraits show him holding it. Once you see the twinflower, you’ll know why.
The trick is seeing it. First, the diminutive twinflower, which sports two delicate, pink bells hanging from a slender, forked stalk, stands just a couple of inches high, amidst a tangle of low, evergreen leaves, usually in dark woods. Second, it doesn’t grow many places in our area. The good news is, on a hike this week up the Fryingpan River Valley, I discovered the holy grail of twinflowers, beds of them, all in bloom or just about to bloom. So if the famed twinflower has thus far eluded you, Granite Lakes is the answer.
Thirty-one miles up the Pan from downtown Basalt, the almost totally wooded 6-mile hike up to Granite Lakes is a dream for those wildflower lovers like me who covet the small and unusual flowers found in our evergreen forests. Along with the twinflower (which you will find on your right literally one minute after passing the trailhead sign) are pink and green pyrolas (Pyrola rotundifolia and chlorantha), with their raindrop-like flowers dangling from their stems, and the wood nymph (Moneses uniflora), hiding its intricate reproductive parts under its single, white-petaled flower.
This hike also features just about every orchid we have in our region. Look for white and green bog orchids (Platanthera spp.) at stream crossings, and in the woods keep your eyes peeled for the tiny heart-leaved twayblade (Listera cordata). One orchid you won’t be able to miss is the strangely beautiful, brown spotted coralroot (Corallhorhiza maculata), along with its yellow albino version, which are growing in large stands throughout the woods. This orchid lacks chlororphyll (hence the absence of green) and relies on an underground fungus for its food.
This is one of those rare hikes where the flowers are actually best at the beginning of the hike. Don’t let this discourage you, though, from continuing on to the lakes, which are two of the sweetest and absolute best swimming lakes I know. Be forewarned, though ” you’ll wish you had brought your camping gear.