Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Wildflowers come to Colorado and travels to Alaska

Species Tulips in my front yard on April 11th

Thankfully, spring color has arrived here in the Colorado Front Range. LIke most gardeners and northern residents in general I always anxiously await the first colors of spring, and finally it is here! We have had a tiny fraction of the snow that we should this time of year, so things are still quite brown in wild areas. Spring is early because of the lack of snow, with some plants as much as two weeks earlier than last year.

The first flowers were weeds (dandelion and cross flower). Cross flower (Chorispora tenella) is an annual mustard that can

become quite weedy but has an unusual pretty violet color to its petals (most mustards are a well, mustard yellow). The first real wildflower, native to our local prairies was a new species for me, a beautiful white sand lily (Leucocrinum montanum), growing right on the ground.

It burst into flower this past week in dry rocky places in a local open space park (Devils' Backbone) in the foothills. Golden eagles were soaring above me at the same time! (they overwinter in the foothills here). Mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus montana) is putting out new leaves, and skunkbrush (Rhus triloba) is sending out new flowers in warm sunny spots, and sagebrush is sending out new basal leaves. So soon the prairie will have a tinge of green. Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) is sending out new leaves in riparian areas or draws, so maybe we will see new flowers in a few weeks.

Back in town irrigation has made for lush green grasses, and for a wide variety of trees and shrubs which are flowering or budding out now. As I reported a few weeks ago there were a few wind pollinated maples in full flower. These early ones (silver maple, sibirian elm, and red maple) are now mostly covered with

young developing fruits (samaras). You can see tinges of green on the Sibirian elms, but in fact there are no leaves. These are all just the young fruits glistening in the light. Lilacs and honeysuckles have been sending out new leaves, and have both reached the first leaf stage, but it will be a while before we see flowers.

Young Developing fruits (samaras) on Sibirian elm trees (Ulmus pumila), a common urban tree in the Intermountain West

Short "species" tulips and hyacinth bulbs are providing the most spectacular colors these days. It is no wonder that gardeners have savored these plants over the millenia, not only to they provide virtually limitless variety in the colors of their blooms, but they are amazingly tolerant of alternating snow, sun, and freezing nights in part due to their heritage which long ago was

rooted in high mountain environments in Turkey and nearby mountains in Central Asia. They are basically alpine flowers, that like many natives are well adapted to the late winter early spring season in these northern places as well as high mountain

environments. But here in Colorado not only do these plants have to deal with freezing temperatures but this year also drought conditions since we do not have moisture from melting snow. This seems to result in a less spectacular show of spring colors.

In my travels up to coastal Alaska last week I could see some green from grasses but still not much sign of flowers. Snow is still piled up in shady places. But I could see some red elderberry bushes (Sambucus racemes) with swolling buds, so maybe things will change in a few weeks. In Seattle a greenish tinge was covering alders, and cottonwoods as they started to bud out. Our cottonwoods have just come into bloom this past week.

Now we are into the full intensity of spring, I hope you find many new and interesting things while making budburst

observations this spring. Now is the time to make frequent observations since things are often changing day by day. Let us know what you find!

Paul Alaback

1 comment:

  1. Spring is my favorite season of the year, and I am lucky to live near the hills. I always enjoy the blossoming flowers, though I don't know the names of most of them.

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