Tag Archives: Colorado

Arctic Gentian

Okay, so I didn’t see arctic gentian today.  I was at work.  But I thought about it, doesn’t that count?  I reminisced about how many wonderful species of gentian I have seen this year and lamented the lousy fact that this year’s flower sightings have not included those of the gorgeous arctic gentian, Gentiana (sometimes Getianodes) algida.  The photo below was taken on September 16 of last year, so the time is right, but current circumstances are not lining up for a high-elevation gentian search.  Perhaps this year was just too dry for a good showing, or perhaps I just haven’t looked in the right places!

This very small plant, also called whitish gentian (in yet another boring, unromantic USDA name), is easy to overlook, but the white flowers with purple streaks and dots should not be missed.  This is a late summer alpine plant, and as visible in the photo of snow in Rocky Mountain National Park on September 16, 2011, it thrives in harsh, alpine climates in the central Rockies.

Some refer to this species as the “boo-hoo flower”, becuase it is one of the last wildflowers of the summer to bloom (as in, boo-hoo, the summer is almost over).  Some websites note seeing it in July this year, where I have only ever found it at the end of August or beginning of September.  I guess the wacky weather made me miss my chance this year!


Posted by on September 17, 2012 in Nature


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One of the last autumn wildflowers left standing is the tough cookie yarrow, Achillea millefolium.  I wish it were a cookie, because then I would eat it, yum yum.  As it is, I don’t put crazy plants in my mouth.

This plant is sometimes called common yarrow or western yarrow, but as there are several subspecies it may be difficult to determine between them.  One variety is still hanging on in my back yard, with its ferny leaves and numerous white (sometimes pinkish) ray flower with yellowish central disks.

This wildflower grows throughout the U.S. (it can be found in every state) in a wide range of environments and elevations from spring through fall.  In Wyoming, it can be found anywhere from 4,600 to 11,000 feet (according to the U.S. Forest Service).  Incidentally, the lowest point in Wyoming is the Belle Fourche River near the South Dakota border, at 3,101 feet, and the highest is Gannett Peak in the west at 13,809 feet.  So yarrow fills most of Wyoming nicely.

It’s good to have such a consistent friend, even if it does lack tasty snack potential.  You could use it as a poultice to staunch a bloody wound, though, so, bonus points there.

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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Nature


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Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted nuthatches, Sitta canadensis, are passing through town, making their presence known with their loud duck-turned-songbird noise. describes this call as a “nasal yank-yank-yank song”, but listen for yourself to deside whether ir sounds like a yank, a quack or a haaak.

These guys are related to the white-breasted nuthatches that spent the winter around my house and the pygmy nuthatches that I encountered in early spring, and are about in between those other two species in size.

Though I have been familiar with these guys for years, and feel confident in my identification more so than many other species (they have a red breast, as the name suggests, and a dark eye stripe), I have yet to be able to get a decent photo of them.  They are quick — always on the move and often upside down — are aren’t very interested in posing.

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Posted by on September 10, 2012 in Nature


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Subalpine Gumweed

Despite the late summer warmth, not much is left blooming around Laramie this time of year.  One exception is the subalpine gumweed, Grindelia subalpina, which is still looking quite robust in the wilder parts of town.

The name subapline gumweed is yet another example of stupid common names, because it grows all the way down to the plains, so the subalpine part isn’t very accurate!  Laramie, even at 7200 feet, doesn’t quite reach subalpine heights.  

Curlycup gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa, is another similar-looking species of gumweed that grows in the area (and throughout the U.S.).  Both species are native, favor dry areas, and bloom well into September.  The main way to tell G. subalpina from G. squarrosa is by the leaves.  The website Eastern Colorado Wildflowers states “Teeth on leaves of G. subalpina are spaced further apart, are pointed and point outwards from the margin. Teeth on G. squarrosa are close together, somewhat rounded and point toward the leaf tip.” adds, “Subalpine Gumweed’s base of the leaf tapers toward the point of attachment on the stalk, forming a petiole-like structure. Curlycup Gumweed leaves are stemless, oblong in shape & clasping the stem.”

Subalpine gumweed can also be called mountain gumweed, stickyhead or just plain gumweed.  By those names, you can probably tell that some part of this plant is viscous (the bracts are sticky with resinous glands).  G. subalpina can be found only in Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.

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Posted by on September 9, 2012 in Nature


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Plains Pricklypear

The local plains pricklypear, Opuntia polyacantha, looks like it might already be heading for winter dormancy.  The weather has still been quite warm and sunny around here, but perhaps the lack of moisture is even affecting the cacti (which one would think should be able to handle it).  This species, which grows in drier areas throughout the west, seems to be blending into the dry ground instead of being vibrant and cactus-y.  Look at the picture below to see how much different and prettier it looked in June!


Well, those gorgeous flowers may have had a little to do with the earlier beauty, but I am a great admirer of cacti.  When I first moved to Wyoming, I was quite surprised to find prickly pear growing on the prairie, having associated such plants only with the hot southwest.  This hardy species can live anywhere between 1000 and 8000 feet elevation, though, and all the way north into Canada.

Numerous animal species rely on this cactus for food and cover, and I am always impressed with any plant that can handle Wyoming’s winters.  But I just can’t help but prefer them in bloom!

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Posted by on September 4, 2012 in Nature


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Grouse Whortleberry

As the summer nears its end, various berries, currants and other fruits emerge, providing a feast for birds and other critters.  One such berry that I have been seeing lately is the grouse whortleberry, Vaccinium scoparium.  Also known as grouseberry, broom huckleberry or littleleaf huckleberry, this very small, mat-like shrub is an appealing addition to the undergrowth of subalpine forests throughout the west.  This species is one of the most abundant subalpine shrubs in the Rocky Mountains, but it is easily overlooked because of its diminutive stature.  I have yet to be able to get a photo of the pink bell flowers because they are so little and hidden!

The tiny leaves are cute, and the broom-like branches are recognizable even without leaves.  I often think of this species as a smaller common bearberry, but I think the only real comparison is that they are both pretty, appealing shrubs that I often see as groundcover on beautiful hikes.  Bearberry is evergreen, but grouseberry is a deciduous species whose leaves become yellow-tinged and drop.


This  species has — surprisingly — an edible berry in the huckleberry family, but the fruits are so tiny that it would take a huge amount of effort to make a meal!  Sometimes, on subalpine hikes when the berries are out and the day gets warm, the forest can take on a blueberry muffiny smell!

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Posted by on September 2, 2012 in Nature


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Denseflowered Dock

Sometimes on a hike I come across such dense vegetation that I stop and ask, “What is that?”  It happened with false hellebore and it happened with denseflowered dock, Rumex densiflorus.  These massive, thick leaves fill moist meadows, often along mountain streams, leading to the other common names of mountain or alpine dock.  From the lush green foliage, stalks of reddish pink flowers emerge, creating an otherworldly atmosphere.

There are numerous species of dock or wild sorrel in the mountain west, but this is the most robust.  Several, like Rumex hymenocsepalus, or Canaigre dock, are desert/prairie dwellers that don’t form such populated colonies.  Others, like western dock, Rumex aquaticus, have much smaller, more slender leaves that don’t lead to such a jungle-like atmosphere.

Now, at the end of August, denseflowered dock is approaching a withered stage, but back in June with baby blooms about to emerge, it was almost cute.   Check out this picture of the plant growing in the midst of the snowmelt stream.  For such a dry year, this species still did remarkably well!

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Posted by on August 30, 2012 in Nature


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