This week my husband and I drove into Buckskin Gulch in the Mosquito Range of South Park, Colorado. The mountains were still covered with winter’s snows but along the roadside and in the meadows, wildflowers were beginning to add color to the landscape. Sky Pilot, Alpine Sandwort, Alp Lily, Chickweed, Old Man of the Mountain, Alpine Phlox and Wallflower were some of the notable flowers growing among the grasses, rocks and around the Bristlecone Pines at 11,500 feet.
Bristlecone and Wallflowers
The Wallflowers especially were putting on a show. Bright yellow clumps were springing up everywhere, but what really caught our eye was their strong lemon yellow color contrasted against the base of an ancient Bristlecone pine. Wallflower, Erysimum capitatum, has blossoms with 4 rounded petals and its slender stem is from 8 to 20 inches high. The leaves are grayish green and linear and are mostly around the base of the plant. This member of the Mustard Family, Brassicaceae, although usually bright yellow, can vary in color from yellow to orange and even maroon or purple.
Old-Man-of-the-Mountain with Democrat Mountain
Another stand out on our trip was the Alpine Sunflower or Old-Man-of-the-Mountain, Hymenoxys grandiflora. Many of the blossoms were just starting to emerge from their wooly buds. These distinctive low-growing plants (up to 12 inches tall) have large, showy flowerheads up to 4 inches across. Notched ray flowers surround domed disks. Leaves, stems, and bracts of the plant are all very woolly or hairy. Alpine Sunflowers belong to the Sunflower Family, Asteraceae, and are also known as Compass Flowers because the plants nearly always face east.
All of the flowers mentioned in this article are included in Rocky Mountain Wildflowers Field Guide published this year by my husband and me. This handy 4” x 6” book fits easily in a pocket or backpack and has over 225 wildflowers with photos and concise descriptions. The book is available online at www.highcountryartworks.com for $11.95 and shipping is free