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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!

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Posted by on September 17, 2012 in Nature

 

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Perennial Fringed Gentian (Twisted Gentian)

I just can’t stop with the gentians!  After my fun hike last weekend in the Never Summer Wilderness (with the black bear sighting and all of those pretty purple gentians), I returned to that part of Colorado today for another trek in the mountains.  This time, I traveled a bit farther south–on the eastern edge of Routt National Forest–with a climb of Farview Mountain that put me on the western edge of the Never Summer Wilderness with views into Rocky Mountain National Park.  And above treeline on that mountainside?  Perennial fringed gentian, Gentianopsis barbellata.

This wildflower is somewhat similar to Rocky Mountain fringed gentian (Gentianopsis thermalis), with the blueish purple coloring and the petal fringe.  But while G. thermalis is a dainty, lovely, spiralled flower that elegantly fills moist meadows or decorates the edges of mountain streambanks, G. barbellata is a wild and crazy thang of the drier, alpine slopes.  This species is also known as twisted gentian, and for once that’s a common name that sounds pretty accurate.

I have only encountered this species in north central Colorado, though the internet suggests that I might be able to find in in the Snowy Range here in SE Wyoming.  I’m not sure about trusting the USDA plants database for this one, though, because they do not have it as being present in Jackson or Grand Counties of CO, which are the two places I know I that I have found it!  I can’t imagine what other species this funky flower could be–it fulfills both the twisted and the fringed requirements–and if you look elsewhere, on an excellent website, the correct counties are shaded.  I will chalk it up to government a mistake or oversight and assume my ID is the right one!

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2012 in Nature

 

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Star Gentian

Here I go again with the gentians!  But it is the gentian time of year, and I find them all so pretty.  Star gentian, Swertia perennis, is small, dark, and often hidden in wet grasses, but look how lovely it is when you find it!

I have seen this bloom in various northern Colorado wilderness areas and high in Wyoming’s Snowy Range, but usually in very small numbers.  Last weekend in the Never Summer Wilderness of Colorado, I found boggy, high-elevation meadows full of this dark purple blossom, with many more buds waiting to emerge.

Like the autumn dwarf gentian, this flower can be easily overlooked, especially when the buds are closed, and like that species it can be referred to simply as ‘felwort’.  I think ‘star gentian’ is a much nicer and more descriptive name than ‘felwort’, but I am okay with using ‘alpine bog swertia’ if necessary.

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2012 in Nature

 

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Autumn Dwarf Gentian

Since we’re on such a roll with sightings of purple gentian species, let’s not stop now!  Gentianella amarella ssp. acuta, the autumn dwarf gentian, is also blooming in the area.  I spotted a cluster not too far down a trail from a streambed filled with Rocky Mountain fringed gentian in the Rawah Wilderness, Colorado.  When I passed them going uphill in the early morning, the flowers were closed up tightly, but the afternoon sun brought out pretty purple blossoms with some not-to-be-ignorned central fizziness.

I feel slightly alarmed relating the sight of ‘autumn’ gentian.  Autumn?  It’s still August!  I still hope to have summertime left to enjoy!  But these flowers actually do start blooming during summer, and the name simply indicates that the flowers often continue to blossom throughout September.  So, my sighting is not necessarily an indicator of an early winter!

Another, perhaps more accurate, common name for this species is little gentian, and Gentianella actually translates to that name. I have also seen it referred to as northern gentian or felwort, but, as we have seen with other common names, those can also refer to completely different species.

Autumn dwarf gentian has also shown itself to me on the higher slopes of the Snowy Range west of Laramie and near Kintla Lake on the west side of Glacier National Park, MT.  This species is usually in slightly moist areas, but it seems to prefer things a bit drier than Rocky Mountain fringed gentian.

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2012 in Nature

 

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Rocky Mountain Fringed Gentian

While I’m on the subject of lovely purple gentians, Rocky Mountain fringed gentian, Gentianopsis thermalis, is another gorgeous gentian species showing its fizzy face this time of year.  This gentian has petals that form pretty swirls.  I often come across this species in the wilderness areas of north-central Colorado.

According to wildflower.org, “This genus differs from Gentiana by the absence of pleats between the corolla lobes. This species is sometimes combined with the more northerly G. detonsa [the windmill fringed gentian of Canada] into one large, very variable, wide-ranging species. [Rocky Mountain fringed gentian] was named thermalis after the hot springs in Yellowstone National Park where it is the park flower.”  The U.S. Forest Service writes that Gentianopsis simply means ‘Gentiana-like’.

Also referred to as western fringed gentian or meadow fringed gentian, this flower likes very moist areas and can be most often found in boggy open spaces at subalpine elevations.  Lucky hikers may spot a meadow or snow-melt gully filled with these twisty purple blossoms.

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2012 in Nature

 

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Parry’s Gentian

The first special find I encountered on my return to Wyoming was a meadow in the national forest east of Laramie blooming with Parry’s gentian, Gentiana parryi.  This gentain is a lovely purple surprise, often hidden in the grass.  Easily overlooked when the buds are tightly closed, once the blossoms open, they are a visual treat.

Parry’s gentian can also be called bottle gentian or mountain gentian, but I have also seen those common names applied to other species. (Gentiana clausa and Gentiana andrewsii–neither of which are found in Wyoming can both be called bottle gentian).  Other, better common names for G. parryi are blue gentian, pleated gentian and puff gentian.  The old scientific name was Pneumonanthe parryi.

Most gentians seem to be August bloomers, showing up after the peak of wildflower variety has ended, but they can really be found anytime from July through September.

I think that Parry’s gentian looks remarkably similar to Rainier pleated gentian, Gentiana calycosa (also called mountain bog or explorer’s gentian — see the picture on the lower right), but according to the USDA plants database, G. parryi can be found in Colorado and SE Wyoming while G. calycosa blooms in NW Wyoming and states farther to the northwest.  Both are beautiful!

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2012 in Nature

 

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Showy Green Gentian (Monument Plant)

Showy green gentian, Frasera speicosa, is a very interesting plant with beautifully ornate blossoms on long green stalks.  This monument plant, like the agave century plant of the southwest, can live for decades before sending up a tall spike of flowers and dying from the effort.  Sometimes all the plants in an area bloom at once, creating quite a worthwhile scene.

 

 

The full, basal leaves are also attractive, forming pretty bushes in open meadows.  This species can also go by the names elkweed or deer’s ears and can be found throughout the west.

For a thorough and fascinating history of this plant see Southwest Colorado Wildflowers

The flowers are often greenish white, but sometimes they have purple accents that make them even more spectacular.  And the caterpillars think so, too.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2012 in Nature

 

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