Thursday, June 25, 2015

Perfect time to smell the Daisies!

If you're planning to get a look at wildflowers on Green Mountain this summer, this is the time to do it. We're finally getting the payoff for all the rain in May. Many hillsides are bright with color. On the North side we're covered in Yellow Sweet Clover (Melilotus officinale)  which isn't great since it's an invasive plant, but the color's nice! The South Side has more Spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis) than I have ever seen, and they're big, healthy plants with their deep purple triangular flowers. 

You'll find some white Larkspur (Delphinium carolinium), which is taller than the purple Larkspur we had earlier in the Spring. These can stand 2-3' tall and may have small purple spots on them.

One of the cycles I've enjoyed watching this year is in a really simple group of daisies called the Fleabanes. They are in the Asteraceae (sunflower) Family and all are in the Erigeron species. They look nearly identical--small white daisies with yellow centers--but they have a few characteristics that distinguish them.

The earliest is Sprawling Fleabane, Erigeron tracyi, which is one of the earliest wildflowers. It has a very simple form, a stem that may reach 6" or so with one flower on the end. The leaves are nearly all basal. There may be a couple small ones near the base.
Sprawling Fleabane

As the Sprawling Fleabane start to fade in the heat, Spreading Fleabane (Erigeron divergens). starts to bloom. These have flower heads that are slightly larger, but the plant is definitely bushier, with lots of leaves on the stems.

Spreading Fleabane

If you go up on the trails right now, you'll see big patches of white Fleabane on the hillsides. These are Whiproot Fleabane (Erigeron flagellaris). These are the most interesting in the way they spread--they send out long stolons across the ground, which root to form new plants. Stolons are a type of stem that can form roots, and thus a new plant. This is why we see Fleabane in big patches this time of year.

Whiproot Fleabane
You may be wondering about the name Fleabane. The flowers were used to repel fleas, so it is the bane of fleas. Daisy refers to the bright gold disk in the center of the buds, which looks like the sun--or the "Day's Eye." Erigeron is from the Greek, meaning "old man, because of the gray wispy "hair" on top of the flower as the seeds ripen. 

Incidentally, the common names I give may vary depending on which guidebook you may be using. That's why I provide the genus and species name, too. Those should be more reliable, although they can change as DNA research turns up new twists in plant genealogy!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Evening Primrose on the Mountain

If you have a chance to see Green Mountain through the rain, you'll see wildflowers at their peak this weekend.  As I write this the rain seems to be letting up and the weekend is supposed to be drier so I hope you can get out and enjoy it.

I was at the Florida trailhead on Wednesday morning, and there were so many flowers blooming in that area that it was tempting to just hang out there. The trail to the south from the parking lot is a great place to see lots of variety without much walking. About 100 yards around the trail is a rocky spot that harbors Stemless Evening Primrose (Oenothera caespitosa). They seem to really like the cobbly rock on the hillside to the west and grow right out of the rock. If you're there after noon you may only find the fading flowers from the morning, as they change from bright white to pink. Another variety of Evening Primrose, Hooker's (Oenothera hookeri) blooms on the west side of the mountain. I've seen it near the Rooney trailhead and on Dinosaur Ridge, but never on the east side. As its flowers fade, they turn bright orange. Both of these flowers are easy to recognize by their four petals, and four anthers and prominent stamen in the center of the flower.

Stemless Evening Primrose

 Another variety of Evening Primrose, Hooker's (Oenothera hookeri) blooms on the west side of the mountain. I've seen it near the Rooney trailhead and on Dinosaur Ridge, but never on the east side. As its flowers fade, they turn bright orange. Both of these flowers are easy to recognize by their four petals, and the prominent anthers and four-parted stamen in the center of the flower.
Hooker's Evening Primrose
One last member of this family that is blooming now on Green Mountain is smaller and harder to notice. It's called Scarlet Gaura (Gaura coccinea).  It only stands about 6-8" tall and the scarlet color is muted--it looks mostly white. But it is an interesting little flower, sometimes called Beeplant, because of the pollinators it attracts. Look for it on the trailsides as you're hiking!

Scarlet Gaura

Friday, May 29, 2015

Jolly Green Gentians

It looks like we're finally out of our wet cycle and can start enjoying summer. I was able to get on a couple trails for the first time this year and found some great bloomers! As I mentioned last week, there's still a wide range of flowers out there from the earliest ones that are usually done by now to the late Spring flowers that we usually see this time of year.

I came down the Box o' Rox trail and found some Green Gentians, also known as Monument Plant or Elkweed. I don't see these on Green Mountain every year but they're a really interesting plant. They can live for over 60 years and only flower once. For the first 3-4 years they start developing roots without sending up any leaves. As they save up their strength, they produce a rosette of leaves, that is, a group of shiny long (10-12") leaves coming from a central spot. Finally, after years of growth, they have enough energy to produce a flower and it's a cool one. The stalk can be up to 7' tall. The plants I saw today are about 3' tall, but are still growing. The flowers are white and green and have four petals in a distinctive cross shape, with four green pointed sepals between the petals. Interesting plant--I'm really surprised to see it blooming so early.
Close-up of Green Gentian or Monument Plant

These are the Green Gentians along the Box o' Rox Trail on 5/29
Just above the tall middle flower you can see a rosette of leaves which will produce flowers in some future Springtime!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Everything's bustin' out

We finally have the May weather we've been looking for and as I look up at Green Mountain this morning it's all blue sky and green grass.  The wildflowers are spectacular right now and I'm hoping to get one more run across the top to check it out before leaving town for a few days. 

We had about 35 people show up for wildflower hikes yesterday. We had a great morning with interesting hikers and lots of variety on the trail. My group hiked from the main parking area west to the Utah Ave. parking and spotted over 30 different flowers. (I wasn't keeping count!) Thanks to everyone who came out!

This year really shows how one family can benefit from a weather pattern. We have lots of different peas (Fabaceae is the official name) blooming. The earliest are still out--yellow Golden Banner (Thermopsis rhombifolia) and purple Short's Milkvetch (Astragalus shortianus). Drummond's Milkvetch (Astragalus drummondii) is the white bushy flower that's all over the hillside. There's also Locoweed (Oxytropis lambertii), one of the most distinctive
of the peas, it's bright fuchsia flowers brightening the trail.

Lambert's Locoweed
The moisture we've had for the last couple weeks (>3" on our rain gauge) has really lengthened the season for the early flowers while the mid-Spring blooms are still coming out a little earlier than usual. 

Penstemons are reaching their peak, with the lavender One-sided Penstemon (Penstemon secundiflorus) in sunnier areas and the little Blue Mist Penstemon (P. virens) dominantly on the north side of the mountain.  

Paintbrush (Castilleja integra) and Bladderpods (Physaria montanum and vitulifera) and Cinquefoil (Drymocallis fissa) add their bright orange and gold to the scene.

Everyone's favorite--Paintbrush 
There are many less common flowers blooming that are fun to run across because of their rarity. I've seen a few Death Camas (Tolxicoscordion venenosum) on some northerly exposures.

Get out and take a closer look--you'll be surprised at what you can find!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Wildflower Hike

The weather has been horrendous for viewing wildflowers and as I write this morning the snow is heavy on the branches of the trees.  Between travel and weather I haven't had a good hike on the mountain in nearly two weeks. but things are looking up and as soon as the warmth returns we should have a spectacular wildflower season.

That brings up a great opportunity. Lakewood Open Space will be hosting wildflower hikes next Saturday morning--that's May 16th at 10:00 at the Florida trailhead off Alameda. If you'd like to pre-register for the hike, go to and click on "Program and Event Calendar" on the left side. You don't have to pre-register, but that will assure you of a spot and will help us plan.

Locoweed (Oxytropis lambertii)
I did get on the short trail segment between the Florida and Utah parking areas during a break in the rains and spotted at least 25 different wildflowers. The Penstemons and Locoweeds are really coming out now, but some of the early flowers are still blooming, a bit confused by the weather. That means you'll still see Golden Banner and Yellow Violets along the trail.

I'll hope to get out when the trails dry on Tuesday or Wednesday and give you an update.

Prairie Penstemon (Penstemon secundiflorus)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fragrant Blooms

The moisture the last two weeks, combined with some travels has made it tough to get out on the mountain, but there's a real treat for you if you do make it out now.  

Three varieties of flowering trees are in bloom on the mountain--Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), Wild Plum (Prunus americana), and Hawthorne (Crataegus erythropoda). They're full of white blossoms and make the best display of the year for sheer number of flowers.

All three are in the rose family so the individual blossoms look similar. Roses have five petals and many stamens in their native form (including the Wild Rose). Chokecherries have flowers arranged on a stalk (called a spike). Hawthorns have thorns. Of course you can tell them apart later in the year as the fruits ripen, too.
Chokecherry blossom

For the last couple weeks the Wild Plum trees (Prunus americana) have been blooming. If you pass them in full bloom, you'll be able to smell their sweet scent before you get to them. Take advantage of a great weekend and stop to smell the flowers!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

An early Welcome to Springtime

Welcome back to Springtime!  After a warm March, we're seeing wildflowers blooming earlier than ever on Green Mountain. We actually had a decent amount of winter moisture so that may be contributing to the early wildflower show. Normally at the first of April we're just getting started, but there are about 10 species of wildflowers that are blooming already.

Several members of the Pea family are out--Early Purple Vetch (Astragalus shortianus) and Ground Plum (Astragalus crassicarpus). Yellow Violets (Viola nuttallii) and Golden Banner (Thermopsis rhombifolia) cover the hillsides in many areas on the south side.

One of the most spectacular flowers on the mountain is the Mountain Ball Cactus (Pediocactus simpsonii). These small round cactus develop bright pink flowers early in the season and usually only for a couple weeks. There are several blooming on the south side of the mountain. I've never seen them near the parking lots at Florida or Utah, but head up the trails from there (esp Utah) and you'll find them at about 2/3 of the way to the top. There is a nice little cactus garden at one of the switchbacks, and you'll be pleased with the flowers you find!
Mountain Ball Cactus
This is a picture I've used before, but there are some great photo opps for you up the trail!