Countdown to Spring 2016 – Vernal Equinox

Happy first day of spring!! Today might not actually be the first day of spring where you live, but, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, spring officially begins here in Colorado tonight at 10:30pm (MDT). Did you know that this is the earliest spring since 1896??!!

The final flower in our Countdown to Spring 2016 series is the Wild Iris (Iris missouriensis), aka Rocky Mountain iris or western blue flag. The gorgeous bluish-purple (and occasionally white) blooms of the Wild Iris can generally be found in large colonies in the meadows of Colorado’s foothills to montane zones.

Grass Creek

North Fork Trail – Big Thompson River

North Fork Trail – Big Thompson River

The roasted seeds of the Wild Iris are supposed to be an adequate substitute for coffee, but in general, this plant should not be ingested due to its toxicity. Historically, the Wild Iris has been used quite extensively in folk medicine, primarily to treat skin problems. The ground up roots of this plant have been used to make arrow poison.

Roxborough State Park

Grass Creek

That’s it for the Countdown to Spring 2016 series. I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

Countdown to Spring 2016 – T Minus 1

The Yellow Salsify (Tragopogon dubius), aka western goat’s-beard and wild oysterplant, is a pretty and quite common flower that can easily be mistaken for a jumbo dandelion. It is an introduced species in the U.S. and has spread to nearly all of the lower 48 states.

The roots of this plant are edible, although this is NOT the same salsify species whose roots are starting to show up regularly in farmer’s markets and health food store produce sections in the U.S.

Salsify, with its abundance of pollen, is a favorite among bees.

When finished flowering, the Yellow Salsify forms a seed head similar to that of the dandelion, but is much larger.

Countdown to Spring 2016 – T Minus 3

The gentian family is one of my favorites and Green Gentian (Frasera speciosa), aka Elkweed, Deer’s Ears, or Monument Plant, is one of the more unusual gentians.

Green Gentians grow in dry, open meadows on tall stalks that can reach up to to 8 feet tall. Up to 600 flowers can grow on a single stalk. Like the Old Man of the Mountain mentioned yesterday, Green Gentian is monocarpic, meaning that an individual Green Gentian plant blooms only once in its lifetime and then dies.

The roots of the Green Gentian are edible, but only in moderation.

Countdown to Spring 2016 – T Minus 4

The very large, east-facing flower heads of the Alpine Sunflower (hymenoxys grandiflora), aka Old Man of the Mountain, are quite conspicuous on the rocky, windswept tundra above treeline in the highest areas of Colorado’s alpine zone.

This plant grows for up to 15 years without flowering, flowers once, and then dies. This characteristic is called “monocarpic.”

Countdown to Spring 2016 – T Minus 6

The deep blue to purple blossoms of Monkshood (aconitum columbianum) are interesting and beautiful; however, all parts of this plant are quite deadly so be sure to admire them from afar. The tall, spindly plant, a member of the buttercup family, can be found rooted in wet areas in the montane to alpine zones of Colorado and several other western states.

Monkshood can also occasionally be found with creamy white flowers.

Countdown to Spring 2016 – T Minus 7

Butter and Eggs (linaria vulgaris), aka common or yellow toadflax, is a member of the plantain family and is similar in looks to the snapdragon. It is an introduced species in North America, and in Colorado, Butter and Eggs is deemed a noxious weed in need of eradication, as it tends to crowd out native flora.

The petals of Butter and Eggs flowers are rather “tight-lipped” and it takes a strong, determined bee to get at the pollen inside.

The Butter and Eggs plant has been used extensively in folk medicine. Among other uses, it can serve as a laxative and diuretic and the flowers can be used to prepare an ointment to treat various skin conditions.

Countdown to Spring 2016 – T Minus 9

Copper Mallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea), aka Copper Globemallow or Cowboy’s Delight, is one of the few orange wildflowers found in Colorado. Plants of the mallow family generally grow in higher, wetter areas, but the Copper Mallow finds its home in the dry, dusty plains and foothills zones.

Deer Canyon

The nickname “Cowboy’s Delight” comes from the fact that this plant grows in dry areas where free-ranging cattle might not otherwise find much to eat. Deer and pronghorn also graze on the Copper Mallow.

Bitterbrush Trail, Hall Ranch

The leaves and tender shoots of the Copper Mallow plant are edible and are supposedly quite nutritious. They can be used in salads or soups and tea made from the dried leaves can ease a sore throat. Native Americans had many other medicinal uses for the Copper Mallow. Click HERE to read more about this plant’s edible and medicinal uses.

Eagle Wind Trail, Rabbit Mountain

Countdown to Spring 2016 – T Minus 10

Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristata) is a showy member of the aster family. It can be found in Colorado’s plains to montane zones. Due to its long blooming season and resistance to drought, many varieties of Gaillardia are popular in Xeriscape gardens.

Lion Gulch

Eagle Wind Trail, Rabbit Mountain

Bee gathering pollen from a Blanket Flower
Caribou Ranch

The larvae of the Blanket Flower Moth (Schinia masoni) feed exclusively on Gaillardia aristata.

Blanket Flower Moth
Eagle Wind Trail, Rabbit Mountain

Countdown to Spring 2016 – T Minus 11

The pretty white and green blossoms of the Mountain Death Camas (Zigadenus elegans) belie the true nature of this plant. The Mountain Death Camas contains an alkaloid called zygadenine and, while consuming the plant probably won’t kill you (as the name might imply), it can make both humans and livestock very sick. The leaves and bulbs of young plants can easily be mistaken for wild onions, so be very sure of what you’re doing before foraging in the montane to alpine zones of Colorado’s mountains!

Golden Gate Canyon

McCullough Gulch

Goose Creek Trail, Lost Creek Wilderness

Close cousin Meadow Death Camas (Zigadenus venenosus), on the other hand, is HIGHLY poisonous and is rumored to be even more deadly than strychnine. The two plants are somewhat similar in looks, but the Meadow Death Camas has tightly clumped and slightly smaller flowers and is found at lower elevations in the plains and foothills of Colorado.

Roxborough State Park