Stop and smell the lupine


— Along with the snowpack melt, river flow and dry season, experts say wildflower season is about two weeks ahead of time.

Yampatika naturalist Karen Vail said most of the flowers are in high elevations. Rabbit Ears Pass, Buffalo Pass and the Flat Tops Wilderness Area are all good spots to see flowers this time of the year.

Vail, who gives tours of wildflowers in the county through Yampatika, outlines a few flowers to watch for:

Lupine & red paintbrush

These two wildflowers often coexist with each other and are extremely abundant in Routt County, Vail said.

Lupine has a tall, slim cluster of blue or pink flowers. Right now, it can be spotted in fields in the south valley, off most trails in the Routt National Forest and even in several yards. However, at this time of year they are more common at higher elevations, Vail said.

Red paintbrush has a red flower and is seen in the same places as lupine.

The reason the two plants usually grow near each other is because paintbrush needs another plant to successfully grow. It is a semi-parasite, meaning it needs a host, Vail said.

"One of their favorite hosts is the lupine," she said.

The paintbrush grows into the root of the lupine and pulls the energy out. The lupine is able to survive with the paintbrush, even though it is being tapped for energy.

Colorado Columbine

This is the state flower and is easy to spot.

"You definitely have to go up high to see these right now," Vail said.

The flower likes moist land and aspen groves and is easily spotted by its five blue sepals and five white petals. The flowers also have yellow stamens in their centers to complete the three-color scheme.

Trails at Rabbit Ears Pass and in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area will have lots of these flowers, Vail said.


The purplish-blue monkshood flowers are clustered on top of a stalk that can grow to be about 4 feet tall. They are very poisonous, so don't eat them, Vail said.

"If you see these, you know you are hitting a moist area," she said.

Monkshood flowers like it wet and can be found in moist meadows and near streams and rivers.

They get their name from the sepals of the flower, which fold over like a monk's hood. However, the stamens do peek out and if you look closely, Vail said you can see what is called called the monk's mustache.

Aspen sunflower

These bright yellow sunflowers always face the sun.

"So if you ever get lost in the wilderness, find an aspen sunflower because they will always point east," Vail said.

The flower derives its name because it is most common in aspen forests. However, they can be found in meadows, too.

Information was gathered from the book "Southern Rocky Mountain Wildflowers" by Leigh Robertson.


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