Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Green Gentians and Mid-summer Color

I've spent the last two weeks in Crested Butte for the Wildflower Festival and the midsummer madness that is Wildflower Season.  While I was up there my tablet decided to quit so I wasn't able to blog.  /the Festival was great.  I lead two wildflower hikes relating the geology to the wildflowers, and a couple other Wildflower Identification hikes.  Any time I get to spend that much time hiking through the woods and meadows, you spot all sorts of interesting things.  

One of my favorite flowers up there, and one that we occasionally see on Green Mountain, is the Green Gentian or Monument Plant.  It's unlike any other gentian, which are usually small purple flowers that bloom in late summer.  This one grows to 6' tall and is covered with four-leafed green blossoms.In mountain meadows you find them blooming fairly commonly, but it's not an easy life for these big showy plants.  

Green Gentians are monocarpic, meaning they flower once and die.  But this flowering happens at the end of a long life, since at high altitudes, or even at our moderate elevation of 6000'+, it takes a long time for the plants to become big enough to flower.  For most of its life, the Green Gentian appears as a bunch of shiny leaves low to the ground.  When it finally has enough strength accumulated, it's bursts forth, producing a shower of seeds to start the cycle over again.  Researchers at the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab (RMBL), in Gothic, Colorado, have watched the same plants as they re-leaf every spring--for over 40 years!  It's thought that many Green Gentians live 60 years before blooming.  Talk about patience!
Green Gentian (Frasera speciosa) waiting patiently
Green Gentian finally blooming!
Now, back to Green Mountain!  After being gone a couple weeks I wasn't sure what the mountain would look like, but it seems the cool (compared to the last few years) summer has kept things looking great.  This year I'mm seeing lots of Purple Prairie Clover, one of my favorites.  When I first saw it several years ago, there was one small patch in a rocky soil in a protected area.  I thought it must be out of its normal range since there was only that small area.  But in the last few years it's spread and this year can be found in many locations.  One of the best is at the top of the John O. Hayden Trail as you contour near the radio tower.  On that stretch the pink Sticky Geraniums, Purple Prairie Clover, Prairie Coneflower and Bush Sunflowers are abundant.  Soon the Liatris (Gayfeather) will add more purple spikes to the landscape.
Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea) with Golden Asters

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