Tag Archives: wildflowers

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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Common Broadleaf Cattail

Cattails, more specifically the broadleaf cattail, Typha latifolia, is the kind of plant that I recognize without any hesitation.  I don’t live around marshy areas and I don’t see these plants with any regularity, but when I do encounter them, I immediately think ‘cattails’.  I must have absorbed this knowledge as a child, perhaps because the seedhead looks like a big corny dog, which I loved as a kid until I puked one at an overheated Garth Brooks concert (sorry, other people in the crowd…).  But, though I may have more or less outgrown my appreciation for fried hot dogs and Okie singers, that didn’t keep me from looking at the grassy-leaved plants turning brown by Spring Creek and mentally saying, ‘look, cattails.’

I don’t really think this plant even resembles the tail of a cat at all, but that’s because I’ve never noticed the flower in June (see this illuminating post on Naturespeak).   This species can also be called common bulrush or great reedmace.  Utah State University has a website that explains the flowers and seeds:  “Yellowish male (staminate) flowers are located at the top of the inflorescence and greenish female (pistillate) flowers are located underneath….Flowers bloom in summer and after bloom the male flowers rapidly disperse, leaving a naked stalk tip. The pollinated female flowers turn brown as the seeds mature, forming the familiar cylindrical, sausage-like, cattail fruiting spike (to 9” long in this species).”

This plant is native to all states except Hawaii and can also be found throughout the world.  It typically grows in or near shallow water and can hybridize with other species.

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Posted by on September 15, 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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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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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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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!

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Posted by on August 29, 2012 in Nature


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Dwarf Mountain Groundsel

High up in the Snowy Range of Wyoming–and we’re talking around 11,000 feet here–the flora is still clinging to the idea of summer.  Take this dwarf mountain groundsel (or dwarf mountain ragwort), Senecio fremontii var. blitoides, that I found on a hike yesterday near the Gap Lakes.  This plant managed to avoid the apparent early arrival of autumn by sheltering under some warm, sunny rocks.  Most other examples of this species in more exposed areas were already dried and heading towards seedheads, as shown in the photo below. 


Also called dwarf mountain butterweed, Fremont’s groundsel or rock ragwort, this plant has thick, toothed leaves and grows in clusters on rocky spots above treeline.  It is named after the explorer John Fremont, (the first man of European descent to see Lake Tahoe in California) who collected several new species and thus has several plants named in his honor.  The photo at the bottom shows this wildflower in the full bloom of summer.

You can find this species on high slopes throughout the central Rockies (another subspecies, var. fremontii, grows farther to the west), but look fast–summer is running out!

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Posted by on August 27, 2012 in Nature


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