Vail Daily column: Eagle County home to unique flower | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Eagle County home to unique flower

The Eagle Valley Land Trust is offering a free, guided hike on June 11 to explore the 478-acre West Avon Preserve conservation easement in search of Harrington's Penstemon, a rare flower found in Eagle County.
Special to the Daily |

For many, summertime in Colorado evokes images of vibrant vegetation and beautiful flowering plants carpeting our landscapes. One of the most rare and fascinating of these plants is Harrington’s Penstemon, or Penstemon harringtonii.

Have you ever spotted one? The public is invited to join Eagle Valley Land Trust for a free, guided hike on Saturday, June 11, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. to explore the 478-acre West Avon Preserve conservation easement in search of Harrington’s Penstemon.

Harrington’s Penstemon has 12 to 18 flowers per plant and is a mixture of hot pink, purple and light blue. It is most often found flowering in June and July in dry, sagebrush landscapes between 6,400-9,400 feet on all aspects.

For unknown reasons, Harrington’s Penstemon has not been found in any other place in the world except six counties in Colorado (Eagle, Garfield, Grand, Pitkin, Routt and Summit) and documented in only 74 locations, totaling an estimated 43,000 plants.

Of its 74 documented locations, 50 locations are found in Eagle County. It’s an incredibly rare flower, and we are very fortunate to have the most documented Harrington’s Penstemon right out our back doors.

Eagle Valley Land Trust holds seven conservation easements, totaling over 2,500 acres of potential Harrington’s Penstemon habitat, thus protecting this sensitive habitat forever. These elusive and beautiful flowers have been documented on four of those seven conservation easements. The local land trust is working to sustain this rare and beautiful flower for our future generations to enjoy.

UNDER CONSTANT THREAT

Unfortunately, Harrington’s Penstemon are under constant threat of disappearing. Habitat loss due to development is all too real; motorized and non-motorized recreation impacts the fragile soil; invasive, non-native weeds steal vital nutrients and already scarce water from these delicate flowers; picking these beautiful flowers for gardens and bouquets eliminates their reproductive capabilities; and climate change will inevitably have impacts on the flower.

So, why should you care to sustain this gem of Eagle County and Colorado?

Harrington’s Penstemon is unique to our state, and specifically the Rocky Mountain region. The variety of beautiful wildflowers is one of the things that makes the Colorado Rockies so spectacular. Protecting Harrington’s Penstemon means protecting plant diversity, which, in turn, protects bird and wildlife diversity.

Native animals have devolved to depend on specific native plants for food. Each species in a natural area has an important job to do. It is important to protect native plants and animals in order to protect the character of this beautiful place.

Experience it firsthand

The hike on June 11 will start and finish at the June Creek trailhead and is capped at 30 participants. You may reserve your place either by calling 970-748-7654 or emailing jfoulis@evlt.org.

Additionally, there are a variety of organizations in the county that offer guided wildflower hikes and identification classes throughout the summer such as the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and Walking Mountains Science Center.

If you are interested in protecting habitat for the plants and animals who call the Eagle Valley their home, then please support the Eagle Valley Land Trust and our mission to preserve forever our scenic vistas, open space, historic lands, waterways and wildlife habitats that represent the uniqueness of Eagle County and the Rocky Mountains for the enjoyment, education and benefit of all who experience this special place.

With your support, we can all work to protect the native plants of our Rocky Mountain summer.

Jessica Foulis is the stewardship manager at the Eagle Valley Land Trust. She has training and experience in Rocky Mountain forest ecology, management and protection. For more information, please visit evlt.org. Contact Jessica at jfoulis@evlt.org or 970-748-7654.