Green Mountain is where the Great Plains meet the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Hayden Green Mountain Park in Lakewood has wildflower-lined bike and hiking trails and open meadows filled with flowers. There are also spectacular views of Denver and the Rocky Mountains. Only twenty minutes from Denver, this large park has over 2,400 acres to explore. Last year in mid-June I took a Native Plant Master Course at the park. Our group learned common names, scientific names, family names, environmental relationships and uses for 40 to 50 plants.
Some of the stand out flowers from these field trips were Foothills Paintbrushes, Western Spiderwort, Blanketflowers, Prickly Poppies, Mariposa Lilies, and Yucca. Although most of these flowers bloom only in the Foothills, the Blanketflowers, Mariposa Lilies and other species of Indian Paintbrushes bloom later at higher altitudes as well.
Western Spiderwort, Tradescantia occidentalis, has intense blue flowers and three large petals. The plant’s common name, “Spider” refers to the legs like spider legs and its stringy sap like a spider web.
Prickly Poppy, Argemone polyanthemos, has showy white flowers with wrinkled paper-like petals around a center mound of yellow stamens. The plants can grow to over 3 feet tall and have lobed leaves with sharp spines.
Foothills Paintbrushes were abundant throughout the park. Castilleja integra is a semi-parasitic plant and derives nutrients from other host plants like sage and Blue Grama Grass. The red color blooms are actually bracts rather than petals. The flowers are inconspicuous greenish-yellow tubes that attract broad-tailed hummingbirds.
The attractive Mariposa Lily, Calochortus gunnisonii, has cup shaped blossoms that are pollinated by a wide variety of insects such as bees, flies, and beetles. Native Americans boiled the roots and ate them like potatoes. They also ground the roots into meal for making bread.
Another plant growing in Green Mountain park was a favorite with Native Americans. It is the Soapweed Yucca, yucca glauca. The needle-pointed leaves were used for cordage and the roots were used to make a soap-like substance. Even the flowers and seed pods were boiled and eaten.
For more information on the Colorado Native Plant Society, and its courses, visit www.conps.org. To learn more about Colorado native plants as well as non-native plants in the Rocky Mountains organized by color, find out about the book Rocky Mountain Wildflowers Field Guide at www.highcountryartworks.com. This award-winning book is pocket-sized for convenience, but has detailed information and photos of 270 wildflowers and includes most wildflowers found at Green Mountain Park.