Sleepy Squirrel

This sleepy little squirrel was lounging in my cottonwood tree yesterday, obviously enjoying the warm sunshine after Sunday’s sloppy wet snowstorm. I’m pretty sure that this was the first time I’ve ever seen a squirrel napping.

Did you know that over ONE-THIRD of all mammal species are rodents?!! I find that quite astonishing.

Countdown to Spring 2015 – Vernal Equinox

In celebration of the Vernal Equinox, today I will feature Colorado’s beautiful state flower, the Colorado Blue Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea), aka the Rocky Mountain Columbine. Last year was a banner year for the Columbine in Colorado’s Front Range and I was fortunate to see absolutely stunning displays of Columbines on three separate occasions.

Kenosha Pass Columbines

McCullough Gulch Columbines

Crater Lakes Columbines

The Crater Lakes Columbines were the best of the lot. As I mentioned in my blog post about that hike, I very unexpectedly came across a hillside along the lake that was just COVERED in Columbines. It was a stunningly beautiful and truly breathtaking sight to see. What made it even more interesting was the horde of Hummingbird Moths that were flitting from bloom to bloom, lapping up the yummy Columbine nectar.

Countdown to Spring 2015 – T Minus 1

Spotted Saxifrage (Saxifraga bronchialis ssp. austromontana) is one of my absolute favorite Rocky Mountain wildflowers. I’m generally partial to cute things and this little flower is just plain CUTE.

The habitat of the Spotted Saxifrage is typically in subalpine and alpine life zones but I’ve seen it in the montane zone as well.

Spotted Saxifrage, near Mount Evans

Spotted Saxifrage, near Mount Evans

The Latin word saxifraga means “rock breaker.” Depending on the description one is reading, this name refers either to the rocky habitat in which the plant often lives OR it indicates the plant’s alleged medicinal use for treatment of kidney stones.

Spotted Saxifrage, McCullough Gulch

Spotted Saxifrage, McCullough Gulch

The Spotted Saxifrage is a larval host and nectar source for a butterfly called the Astarte Fritillary.

Spotted Saxifrage, McCullough Gulch

Spotted Saxifrage, McCullough Gulch

Countdown to Spring 2015 – T Minus 2

Double Bladderpod (Physaria acutifolia), aka sharpleaf twinpod or Rydberg’s twinpod, was another new find for me last year, or perhaps just another often-seen-but-newly-identified one. Like the Yellow Alyssum featured earlier in this series, the four small petals of the Double Bladderpod give it away as a member of the Brassicaceae (mustard) family. The inflated seed pods (not shown) are the source of the “bladderpod” moniker. This plant can be found in open soil patches in the plains, foothills, and montane life zones of Colorado.

Double Bladder Pod, South Valley Park

Double Bladderpod, South Valley Park

“Physaria” is Greek for “bladder” and “Acutifolia” is Greek for “sharp-edged foliage.”

Countdown to Spring 2015 – T Minus 3

There are over 200 different species in the genus Castilleja, commonly known as Paintbrush, Indian Paintbrush, or Prairie Fire. They can be found in a multitude of colors; however, it is difficult to determine species based strictly on color because Castilleja is a prolific hybridizer.

Paintbrush, McCullough Gulch

Paintbrush, McCullough Gulch

Castilleja is a hemiparisitic plant, meaning it depends partly on the roots of grasses and forbs for its own nourishment.  This plant was named after Spanish botanist Domingo Castillejo.

Paintbrush, Crater Lakes, James Peak Wilderness

Paintbrush, Crater Lakes, James Peak Wilderness

Paintbrush, Kenosha Pass

Paintbrush, Kenosha Pass

Paintbrush, Crater Lakes, James Peak Wilderness

Paintbrush, Crater Lakes, James Peak Wilderness

Paintbrush, McCullough Gulch

Paintbrush, McCullough Gulch

Paintbrush, Kenosha Pass

Paintbrush, Kenosha Pass

Paintbrush, Crater Lakes, James Peak Wilderness

Paintbrush, Crater Lakes, James Peak Wilderness

Countdown to Spring 2015 – T Minus 4

The distinctive, fragrant blooms of the Sand Lily (Leucocrinum montanum), aka starlily, mountain lily, or Star of Bethlehem, are among the first to make a spring appearance in the foothill zone along Colorado’s Front Range.

Sand Lily, South Valley Park

Sand Lily, South Valley Park

The Sand Lily looks like it has six snow-white petals, but in reality, it has 3 petals that alternate with three sepals. When the petals and sepals of a plant’s inflorescence are indistinguishable from each other, they are collectively referred to as “tepals.”

Sand Lily, South Valley Park

Sand Lily, South Valley Park

Native American tribes used parts of the Sand Lily as both a food source and a treatment for sores.

Sand Lily, Gateway Mesa Open Space

Sand Lily, Gateway Mesa Open Space

Sand Lily, Gateway Mesa Open Space

Sand Lily, Gateway Mesa Open Space

Countdown to Spring 2015 – T Minus 5

Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium pulcherrimum) is a delicate, low-lying flower that can be found in Colorado’s montane and subalpine zones. It is most often found growing in the shade of spruce and fir trees. The flowers supposedly emit a skunk-like odor, although I have never noticed this particular characteristic.

Jacob's Ladder, Crater Lakes, James Peak Wilderness

Jacob’s Ladder, Crater Lakes, James Peak Wilderness

Countdown to Spring 2015 – T Minus 6

Yellow Alyssum (Alyssum alyssoides), aka pale madwort, is a member of the Brassicaceae (i.e. mustard) family. I know I’ve seen these flowers many, many times but was able to finally identify it only last year.

Yellow Alyssum, South Valley Park

Yellow Alyssum, South Valley Park

Yellow Alyssum is not native to the U.S. and, along with a few other mustard relatives, is generally considered to be a “troublesome weed” that threatens native grasses. Early physicians used this plant as a cure for hiccups, rabies, and madness.

Countdown to Spring 2015 – T Minus 7

Happy Friday and Happy It’s-Just-One-Week-Until-Spring!!!

I saw the Bunchberry plant (Cornus canadensis), a subshrub member of the dogwood family, for the first time ever during my Crater Lakes hike in the James Peak Wilderness last summer. It was a surprising find as I had been on that same trail the summer before and that patch of Bunchberry plants was nowhere to be seen.

The white part of the plant that looks like a flower actually consists of bracts. The flowers are the much smaller white blooms huddled in the center of the four large white bracts. Later in the season, these flowers develop into a cluster (or bunch, as it were) of edible bright red berry-like fruits called drupes.

I discovered something very interesting about this plant while I was researching it for this post: it has one of the fastest plant actions in the entire plant world. Pollen is released from the tiny Bunchberry flowers in a very explosive manner in a process that take about .05 milliseconds. Check out THIS VIDEO, shot at an astonishing 10,000 frames per second, to see a Bunchberry flower releasing its pollen.

Countdown to Spring 2015 – T Minus 8

Spring Beauty (Claytonia lanceolata) is a lovely little early-bloomer along Colorado’s Front Range. The information I’ve gathered says it is commonly found at upper elevations, but I’ve only ever seen it in the foothill zone, most often in the shade and among the fallen leaves of Gambel Oak trees.

Spring Beauty, South Valley Park

The leaves of this plant are edible and high in vitamin C and the corm (a thick, underground, tuber-like stem) can be baked, steamed, dried, or ground into a flour, earning it the nickname “Indian Potato.”

Spring Beauty, Gateway Mesa Open Space

Spring Beauty, Gateway Mesa Open Space

Spring Beauty, Gateway Mesa Open Space

Spring Beauty, Gateway Mesa Open Space

Spring Beauty, Gateway Mesa Open Space

Spring Beauty, Gateway Mesa Open Space

Spring Beauty’s closely-related cousin, Alpine Spring Beauty (Claytonia megarhiza) grows in abundance among the rocks of Colorado’s harsh alpine tundra areas, high above treeline. The plant survives in this unforgiving zone by sending down an incredibly  long taproot. (“Megarhiza” is Greek for “long roots”).

Alpine Spring Beauty, Mount Evans

Alpine Spring Beauty, Mount Evans