One early-blooming beauty is hard to find and endangered by collectors in the Colorado Rockies. If one has a keen eye and a little luck, he or she just might spot a Fairy Slipper or Calypso Orchid growing in shaded forests among leaf litter on the forest floor. This tiny exotic plant, Calypso bulbosa, is a member of the Orchid Family and has 3 slender pink petal-like sepals, 2 small petals, and one bulb-like petal that forms the slipper shape. A single leaf appears before the blossom appears and remains until the flower goes to seed. Plants grow from 2 to 8 inches tall, sometimes in small colonies. Fairy Slippers bloom in spring and early summer in montane regions. One should never pick or disturb the habitats of these beautiful plants.
Throughout the Rocky Mountain region one can spot showy yellow flowers along the roadsides and hillsides as the snow melts. The flowers are Goldenbanner or Golden Pea, a member of the Pea Family, Fabaceae. Its genus name, Thermopsis combines the Greek “thermos” for “Lupine” and “opsis” for similar; hence another common name “False Lupine” as the blossoms look much the same. The blossoms all have a large petal called a banner, 2 side petals called wings, and a bottom folded petal called a keel. When an insect lands on the keel, it opens the blossom to expose the inner parts of the flower to pollination.
Plants grow quickly after the snow melts and form large colonies under Aspen trees and add color to roadsides and hillsides. Blossoms form in loose clusters atop the stems and grow to three feet high. Leaves are divided into 3 parts, trifold, like clover, but are more oval-shaped. These plants can be seen from spring to early summer in the foothills to the montane regions.
Another early blooming member of the Pea Family is White Loco or Rocky Mountain Locoweed, Oxytropis sericea. Loco plants have numerous white flowers with purple-tipped keels in dense clusters atop leafless stems. Leaves are divided into silver-green colored leaflets. Loco is toxic to livestock and causes them to go crazy, “loco” if ingested. White Loco grows in gravelly soils, in shrublands, and in open meadows from late spring to late summer in the foothills to the subalpine regions.
Fairy Slipper, Goldenbanner, and White Loco are included in my handy pocket-sized book Rocky Mountain Wildflowers Field Guide that includes common, scientific and family names plus descriptions, flowering times, habitat, life zones and large, clear photographic images of over 225 Rocky Mountain Wildflowers. For more information or to purchase the book, visit www.highcountryartworks.com.