The most beautiful profusion of wildflowers I have seen this spring so far was all along the Soda Creek Trail up on the road to Buffalo Pass last week. If you want a great early season wildflower walk, this is a good one.
The hike started out in a woodsy area loaded with Colorado Blue Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea). There were hundreds of these beautiful blue and white flowers all along the first half-mile of trail. Our state flower, the columbine, features five white petals surrounded by five blue petals. It was discovered in 1820 on Pike’s Peak and was named our state flower in 1899.
Also along the first 2 miles (before we were stymied by the rushing, high waters of the creek) were the beautiful pink Richardson’s Geraniums (Geranium richardsonii). This flower has five, rounded dark pink to light pink petals, about an inch across, with darker veins directing insects down to the anthers where they can gather pollen. These plants range from 4 to 36 inches in height.
Larkspur and Lupine also were in profusion along this trail, adding more hues of blue and purple to the palette. Larkspur is a member of the Delphinium family and features small dark blue blooms all along the upper end of its stalk. The common Lupine (Lupins argenteus) is a relative to the decorative lupine plant seen in many Routt County gardens. It features tall spikes loaded with small pea-like flowers and one of the prettiest leaf structures of our wildflower plants that are palmate or star-shaped. Both of these pretty plants are toxic to livestock and are undesirable for pastures and meadows where horses or cattle graze.
Adding a touch of red to the view were the pretty patches of Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata). There are about 200 species of Paintbrush often identified by their color that ranges from a soft pink to orange to bright red. The part of the plant that we admire for its color isn’t actually a flower but really the leaves of the plant. The actual flower is a pretty nondescript greenish-yellow fused tube nestled inside the showy leaves. Another red plant along this trail is the brilliant orange-red Gilia (Gilia aggregata), but most of these were faded to a soft pink last week.
The beautiful white star-shaped flower of the Woodlandstar (Lithophragma parviflora) was found along the side of the trail, but you have to look down toward the ground as this is a tiny plant with a flower that is only about 1/4 inch across. Each of the five petals on this tiny (3-inch high) plant feature three lobes that give it the beautiful star-shape. While 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.
Buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum ) — a great ground cover plant for your garden — was blooming in profusion, as well. The pale chartreuse colored umbrella-like flower shoots up on a single stem from the dense green and purplish mat of leaves that covers the ground. This plant is an important food source for butterflies, and the sage grouse in my yard love to eat it up, leaving just a flowerless stem.
Shrubs also were blooming in profusion along this trail, including our popular Serviceberry and Chokecherry trees as well as the cottony flowers on a large field of Spirea. Berries were starting to form on some of the Serviceberry while others still had fresh flowers at the tips of the branches.
Finally, a favorite of most, the Wood’s Rose (Rosa woodsii) was coming into bloom all along the trail. This simple dark pink to light pink rose flower is simply stunning set against the dark green leaves of this 2- to 10-foot tall shrub. It’s another important food source for our wildlife that enjoy the pips that form once the flower is spent.
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 CSU Extension Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.