Wildflowers! Mountainsides Alive with Color!
Mother Nature’s Alpine Garden Awakens
The whispers about wildflowers are starting. However this year, it doesn’t appear to be the usual buzz about the blooms, but rather the lack of them in some areas and faintness in color noted in some local gardens.
“My columbines don’t seem to be very purple this year. They are much lighter in color. It’s weird,” said one native gardener during a recent alpine discussion. Of course, there’s no scientific evidence gathered from the 2021 season, yet. But as conversations are being shared across Colorado, it’s a good time for Leadville soil-tillers to weigh in. How does your garden grow? Join the conversation on Facebook.
As for the visitors and newbies to Leadville Today, while the smoke and haze of western wildfires continue to dominate the generally bluebird Colorado skies, Mother Nature’s floor show is a blooming bouquet, so cast your eyes along the path. Here’s a rundown of what you might find in LeadvilleToday.
It’s peak wildflowers season all along the Mineral Belt Trail and in the high alpine meadows where the snowfields have finally retracted, allowing those often hard-to-find beauties like the purple fairy slipper orchids to show themselves. You don’t need to go very far in Leadville Today to see all the colors and variety. A simple walk along the Nature Trail out at the Leadville National Fish Hatchery should provide plenty of good viewing. Another option is riding the special wildflower train rides on July 17 & 24. Be advised that these special wildflower rides will sell out, so make your reservations online today.
Wherever or however you do it make sure you take some time to stop and smell the (wild) roses because this is the peak season for Mother Nature’s high alpine garden! Here are some of the beauties currently in bloom.
The Columbine: These majestic beauties are Colorado’s state flower and known for their purple-spurred petals. In fact, it’s the shape of those petals that give this flower its name. The word “Columbine” comes from the Latin for “dove,” due to the resemblance of the inverted flower to five doves clustered together.
The Lupine: This flowering plant is from the legume family, as in bean! Lupines are high in protein, dietary fibre, and antioxidants, very low in starch, and, like all legumes, are gluten-free. Lupines can be used to make a variety of foods both sweet and savory including everyday meals, traditional fermented foods, baked foods and sauces. The legume seeds of lupins, commonly called lupin beans, were popular with the Romans, who cultivated the plants throughout the Roman Empire; hence, common names like lupini in Romance languages.
The Purple Alpine Aster: Aster alpinus (Alpine Aster) is the only species of Aster that grows natively in North America; it is found in mountains. And here’s an interesting fact: The Hungarian Revolution of 1918, became known as the “Aster Revolution” due to protesters in Budapest wearing this flower.
The Fairy Slipper: This Calypso Orchid, also known as the Fairy Slipper or Venus’s slipper, is a perennial member of the orchid family. It has a small pinkish-purple flower accented with a white lip, darker purple spottings, and a yellow beard. These little purple blooms can be a pleasant sporadic sight on hiking trails like the one along Busk Creek, out by Turquoise Lake. The plants live no more than five years, and they are classified as threatened or endangered. The Fairy Slipper relies on “pollination by deception,” as it attracts insects to anther-like yellow hairs, but produces no nectar that would nourish them. Insects quickly learn not to revisit it.
Indian Paintbrush: This plant got its name from a Native American legend. In the legend, a young Indian wanted to paint the sunset but became frustrated because he could not produce any colors that matched the beauty of a sunset. He asked the Great Spirit for help. The Great Spirit provided him with paintbrushes with beautiful colors on them which he used to create his painting. When he was done, the young Indian left his used paintbrushes scattered around the landscape. These paintbrushes blossomed into plants and were thus named Indian Paintbrushes. American Indians also used this plant for various purposes including as a hair wash, to enhance their immune system, as a treatment for rheumatism, and to treat sexually transmitted diseases.
Fairy Trumpet: Also known as a Skyrocket, or Rocket flower. It blooms throughout the summer and is a favorite of hummingbirds and hawk moths. The petals are fused into a trumpet shape with a long narrow tube and spreading lobes. Medicinally, this plant has been reported to be boiled up as a tea and heals everything from blood diseases to rheumatic joints. An infusion of the roots is also used as a laxative and in the treatment of high fevers, colds.
Leafy Cinquefoil: Also known as Biscuits, Five-fingers, and Flesh and Blood. Known as a real creeper, the stem runners of this perennial herb can often reach up to five feet in length. That said, the herb is a rather pretty and dainty species of plant. The name of the cinquefoil is after an Old French word that means “five-leaf.” The five leaflets of the cinquefoil was a symbol for the five senses of the human body and served as a motif for the Medieval man who had achieved mastery over the self. Have you ever noticed the cinquefoil’s five-fingered leaf symbol on a knight’s shield? The right to use this heraldic device could only be granted to knights who gained mastery over the self. The cinquefoil was also linked to many other powers in superstitious medieval times, for example, the herb was supposed to scare off witches. Herbalists through the ages have been familiar with the cinquefoil as a remedy to reduce a fever. It is also used as an herbal analgesic for alleviating the pain of a toothache and in a gargle for treating oral sores.
Yarrow: This aromatic perennial with its lovely, fern-like foliage is also called “thousand leaves,” because of its finely-divided leaves. Introduced to North America by early colonists, yarrow soon became a valued remedy used by many tribes of indigenous people. Human relationships with this healing plant reach back to ancient times. The fossilized pollen of yarrow has been found in Neanderthal burial caves from as far back as 60,000 years. Yarrow has also been associated with magic and divination and is considered by some folk herbalists as a sacred plant with special spiritual powers to offer protection. The herb was also believed to be useful in love potions. Yarrow accompanied soldiers into battle and was relied upon for its hemostatic action to treat wounds. Achilles, the Greek hero is said to have used yarrow in the Trojan War to staunch the blood flowing from the wounds of fallen comrades. And for all you follicly challenged, infusions of yarrow have been used as a hair rinse in attempts to prevent baldness.
So there you have it – those are just some of the alpine beauties you can see in bloom this time of year! Colorado’s alpine meadows are home to some of the country’s most vibrant and colorful collections of wildflowers. And in Lake County, you don’t have to go very far to see any and all of them!
With most Americans staying closer to home for their summer vacations, it’s a great time in Leadville Today to stop and smell the flowers!