In Bloom: The wildflowers peak
Aspen Times Correspondent
Vail CO, Colorado
MARBLE, Colorado ” If you’ve been waiting for the perfect day to get out on a long hike, wait no longer ” the wildflowers are peaking.
Of course, “peaking” in the wildflower world is not the exact science that, say, determining peak runoff of a river is. For one thing, it depends on what elevation you’re talking about. Flowers in the lower Roaring Fork Valley peaked weeks ago. Above treeline, the flowers are starting to look tired, except in spots where the snow is just melting ” here they look fresh and abundant. But in the upper montane and subalpine zones, where our showiest flowers reside, the flowers are blooming in a big way.
A really big way, that is. On a hike two days ago up Yule Creek and Treasure Mountain in Marble, I was literally up to my eyeballs in some of the largest cow parsnip (Heracleum sphondylium), monkshood (Aconitum columbianum) and larkspur (Delphinium barbeyi) I’ve ever seen ” some plants reaching eight feet in height. Because they are several weeks late in arriving, it’s tempting to surmise they’ve been storing up on nutrients and moisture from our bounteous winter snowfall to put on their biggest show ever.
Also putting on a big show is Case’s fitweed (Corydalis caseana), a spectacular, six-foot tall plant bearing crowded racemes of white and purple flowers that in our region can only be found in Marble. (As an indication of how spectacular it is, the authoritative guide to Colorado wildflowers, William Weber’s Colorado Flora: Western Slope, features exactly one photograph of a wildflower ” Case’s fitweed, on the cover.) Make sure you run your hands through its ultra-fine, silky-smooth leaves. The feeling is totally unique and impossible to describe.
And while the big guns are dominating the valleys and aspen groves, in the spruce/fir forests, the small gems are still out in abundance. The delicate, magenta shooting star (Dodecatheon pulchellum), another flower that I only see in the Yule Creek Valley, can be found along the creek’s banks. Also keep an eye to the ground for the tiny, other-worldly saxifrages, the star-flowered mitrewort (Mitella stauropetala) and the common mitrewort (M. pentandra), which looks most like a series of satellites suspended on a tiny stalk.
So are the flowers actually peaking? If sheer numbers decide it, then the answer is yes ” I counted 150 species of flowers in bloom on this hike, my biggest total of the summer. This large number represents a convergence of (still) abundant flowers at both the lower and highest elevations, along with peak numbers of mid-elevation flowers. So if you want to hit peak, this is the week.