Tag Archives: white

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


Tags: , , , ,


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.

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Nature


Tags: , , , ,

Sickletop Lousewort

It’s a huge challenge for me to try to identify plants when flowers are nowhere in sight.  Blossoms are usually my best chance on figuring out a species, but sometimes plant shape and leaf arrangement can help.  Though the sickletop lousewort, Pedicularis racemosa, is no longer in bloom, the pointy, serrated leaves in a nicely stacked pattern–often with purplish accents–are quite distinctive, leading to one of its common names:  leafy lousewort.

The twisted blooms of this flower are sometimes called parrot’s beak or ram’s horn.  Rocky Mountain versions are variety alba, because of their white color.  Pacific Northwest types are more pink (var. racemosa).

See my elephantshead post for a discussion of the ugly appellation ‘lousewort’.  This plant is a bit weird-looking, but it grows on you!

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 29, 2012 in Nature


Tags: , , ,

Cushion Phlox

Today, on a hike high up in the Snowy Range, reds and golds were prevalent, and wildflowers were few and far between.  There were a few harebells here and there, and some fireweed blooming its last hurrah on the very tip of the spike.  Moss campion and alpine sandwort were hanging on in sheltered spots, but in six miles of hiking, I only saw one small little alpine phlox bloom.  Cushion phlox, Phlox pulvinata, is one of the early arrivals of the short growing season of high altitudes, so it was cool to find one last blossom of the year.  That’s it on the left, and the photo below shows how lonely it was!

This cushion or alpine phlox is sometimes called Siberian phlox or Phlox sibirica, but the USDA shows that name as referring to a separate species only found in Alaska.  And, unlike the hood’s phlox that I found at lower elevations in the spring, Phlox pulvinata grows only high up in the mountains, usually above timberline.

This is another hardy species that can survive in pretty brutal climates.  According to the U.S. National Park Service:   “Most of its biomass is located underground in a deep taproot that stores nutrients over the winter and anchors it in the erodible soils. These nutrients are mobilized in the spring to allow the plant to grow and flower quickly as soon as conditions are favorable and before the soils dry out.”

The cushions can become completely covered with white to purple blossoms that can be very striking at their prime.

Flowery Rocky Mountain phlox, Phlox multiflora, can also be found in the mountains in this area, and I have to admit that I’m not certain of the difference.  One website said that P. pulvinata grows in cushions, while P. multiflora forms mats, but to me it seems that it might occasionally prove difficult to distinguish between a cushion and a small mat!  These all look like cushions to me, but I may be mistaken.  Since there are almost 70 species of phlox, it might be warrented to simply stop the identification at the genus!

I guess I’ll have to wait until next year to see these sort of lush blooms again!

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 26, 2012 in Nature


Tags: , , , ,

Alpine Sandwort

On the high, treeless mountaintops of Wyoming and Colorado, another tiny, sturdy flower is still blooming in the harsh August sun.  The cushions of alpine sandwort, Minuartia obtusiloba, can be found in similar environments to the moss campion that I wrote about yesterday.  This cute, white flower can emerge from June to September, but only on the rocky slopes above treeline.



Also called twinflower sandwort or stitchwort, this species used to be known as Lidia or Areneria obtusiloba.  It should not be confused with the Nuttall’s brittle sandwort, Minuartia nuttalli, shown in the picture on the right, which also grows high in the Rocky Mountains, but is slightly bigger and more star-like.  Both of these species can grow on rocky areas that look impossible to sustain life.  Nature finds a way!


Posted by on August 21, 2012 in Nature


Tags: , , , ,

False Hellebore

Colorado false hellebore, Veratrum tenuipetalum, is a lush, moisture-loving plant that can, according to the USDA plants database, only be found in Colorado and southern Wyoming.  This Colorado species is quite similar to the California false hellebore, Veratrum californium, and there is some debate over whether these are just different varieties rather than separate species.  False hellebores are most recognizable by their enormous, long leaves, but the flowers can be quite pretty and distinctive when they are blooming.

I have encountered V. tenuipetalum in the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness of north-central Colorado, but I also found false hellebores on my recent road trip farther west.  Veratrum californium var. californium was blooming at Lassen Volcanic National Park, California, while the Cascade false hellebore, Veratrum californium var. caudatum, was adorning the banks of the Metolius River in Oregon.  All of these false hellebores can grow quite tall, but Cascade false hellebore was crazy, with its blooms snaking around in all directions to catch the sunlight.

I recently saw green false hellebore, Veratrum viride, on a hike in eastern Glacier National Park, Montana.  Even when the entire landscape is green, those thick leaves stand out.

Sometimes called corn lilies or skunk cabbages, Veratrum species are not related to corn or lilies, skunk cabbages or even hellebores for that matter.  The leaves do resemble those found in cornfields, but the similarities are only superficial.  Beware common names!

1 Comment

Posted by on August 16, 2012 in Nature


Tags: , , , , ,

Fringed Grass of Parnassus

Fringed grass of parnassus, Parnassia fimbriata var. fimbriata, is a lovely, delicate white flower with fizzy accents.  Like star gentian and elephanthead lousewort, this is another species that likes damp areas.  I have found it hidden in the grass of marshy, subalpine meadows, like in the picture below from the Never Summer Wilderness of Colorado.  I have also seen it streamside in the Tetons of Wyoming and among rocks near snowmelt runoff in Glacier National Park, Montana.

Sometimes referred to as a bog star, the name grass of parnassus comes from the supposed discovery of a similar species on Mt. Parnassus in Greece.  Despite the name, this is not a grass, but a wildflower.  Again, watch out for those misleading common names!  But, you have to admit, saying “grass of parnassus” is a little bit fun.

The stems of these flowers are mostly leafless, emerging from rounded to folded heart-shaped basal leaves that are often hidden in other foliage.


These flowers aren’t exactly rare, but I usually only come across them about once a year, so a sighting is always notable.

I find this species quite pretty, with the funky center and attractive colors.  But my favorite part of this pretty blossom is most definitely the petal fringe!

1 Comment

Posted by on August 15, 2012 in Nature


Tags: , , , ,