Saturday, September 28, 2013

Colorado Alpine Wildflowers -- Tiny yet Tenacious

Hiking through high mountain paths in Eagle and Summit  Counties in late summer is sublime. 

The clear blue Colorado sky overhead, brilliant sun and moderate temperatures are heavenly.

Gracing the edges of the trail,  droves of petite yet powerful wildflower blooms provide bursts of color sharpened by the clear air, bright gamma rays and cool night temps. 

The season is short but transcendent. 

Bill comments that one can only take so much beauty.  Soon we both run out of original descriptive superlatives and settle in for the climb.

It's the tiny growth contrasted against expansive views that makes one truly appreciate this awe-inspiring part of the world--and this country--for preserving these minute and vast  national treasures.

Many of the blossoms appear as garden perennials in other zones, but those which occur au naturelle in the alpine tundra are exceptional.

Mountain Aster

Take, for example, the mountain aster.  In the cultivated garden, Asters take a back seat to the showy mums.  But those "hardy" mums don't climb the mountain peaks.

In the wild the aster's delicate notched petals stand out softly along paths and bubbling streams.  They're everywhere underfoot, in shades of pale violet to yellow.

When hiking, pack in water--for the humans, not the plants.  Cellphones rarely work, except to photograph the vibrant spiky blooms of the fireweed (chamerenum augustifolium)    Not found in most cultivated yards, the fireweed is a hardy spreader that opens with a pyramid of pink blooms and closes with bristly red spikes. 

Fringed gentian (gentianopsis thermalis) and purple monkshood (aconitum columbianum) add deep blue violet hues to the landscape, reflecting the brilliant sky and standing out on the dusty trail.

Fringed Gentian


Western Paintbrush
The perennial favorite's the most diminutive--the tiny white star-shaped Edelweiss.  Barely visible underfoot, it's worth leaning down to take a look. Hum a few bars.

For a warmer tone, get nose to petal with the gentle yellow Western Paintbrush (Castilleja Occidentalis)

It takes a long spell for these miniatures to propagate and bloom. Extended winters, freezing temperatures and high winds make for a limited growing season. 

One bootprint can crush tiny petals, so stay the course.

Happy trails!

More Articles of Interest:

Rockery and Roll -- Xeriscape Gardening

Eat This Not That -- Toxic Plants for Dogs and Humans

Frogs on the Windowsill