Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Mondays in Steamboat Today.
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On a June 19 hike along the Elk River, I came across several of the most exquisite wildflowers found in our forests. To see them, you have to pay attention, because some of these are just an inch or two tall — but spectacular.
Among our finds on this hike were three Fairy Slipper orchids, or Calypso bulbosa, one of the very few orchids found in Routt County and a plant so rare it is classified as threatened or endangered and should not be picked or dug up for transplanting. In fact, it will not transplant well, anyway, because the corm, or bulb, relies on very specific soil fungi for its nutrients.
Featuring beautiful shades of pink and yellow with brown stripes, the Fairy Slipper is found in shady, moist areas. The beautiful flower sits atop a slender stem that has a single basal leaf that emerges when the plant flowers.
Also on our hike along the river, we came across a small patch of Dark-throat Shooting Stars, or dodecatheon pulchellum. Like the Fairy Slipper orchid, these flowers sit atop a slender stem surrounded by a few basal leaves at ground level. The flower is pink with a yellow tip and its shape reminds me of a tiny dart or a badminton shuttlecock. These usually are found along stream banks or in moist meadows.
The beautiful white, star-shaped flower of the Woodlandstar, or lithophragma parviflora, was found in profusion throughout the hike. Each of the five petals on this tiny, 3-inch-high) plant feature three lobes, which gives the plant its beautiful star shape. Although we have lots of Woodlandstars throughout the forests of Routt County, it is considered a rare and local wildflower of sagebrush and grassland foothills to lower, montane forests.
There were still some pretty Glacier lilies, or Erythronium grandiflorum, in bloom, too. This is a bright yellow delicate flower on a 6- to 15-inch stalk. Six tepals curl back to display purplish anthers.
The Glacier lily is found in a wide variety of environments, from sagebrush meadows to forests.
One of my favorite small, early-blooming flowers is Spring Beauty, or Claytonia lanceolata, a delicate, white and pink flower that blooms in alpine meadows from snow melt through mid-summer. This is an edible plant that the early settlers of our area called Indian potato.
The tubers, when dug up, look like tiny European potatoes. When eaten raw, they’re crispy like potatoes, but sweet.
Another of the small flowers that we enjoyed seeing on this hike was the Hood’s Phlox, or phlox hoodii. This is a very low, mat-forming flower featuring pretty, pale pink or white five-petaled flowers with a yellow center.
Large patches of these flowers were found along the drier parts of the trail away from water.
As you hike around our beautiful area, take time to stop and study the wildflowers — and be sure to stoop low to get a good look at the small exquisite beauties that often get overlooked.
Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the Routt County Cooperative Extension Office. Call 970-879-0825 with questions.