We are now in the full heat of summer and as the snow continues to melt from the mountaintops, the afternoons are characterized by ominous clouds and rainfall. The days are continuously getting warmer and everywhere you look, from the meadows, riverbanks, and even alpine areas, things seem to explode with color as the wildflowers bloom. Whether you are a novice flower fan or a wildflower aficionado, it is difficult to keep track of what plants are blooming where and when. Hopefully, this article will give you a cheat sheet about what wildflowers are where, giving you an opportunity to impress your friends and maybe even yourself with what you can recognize whether you are conquering mountaintops or just walking around town.
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Wildflowers are unquestionably one of the best parts of summer and our valley draws thousands every summer simply to view the plethora of wildflowers the valley hosts throughout the short, sunny, summer months. All too often, however, we see people returning from their hike with a bundle of freshly picked flowers. Be sure to marvel at the wildflower’s beauty in its own place and allow others to appreciate them as well by leaving them in the wild and ensuring that they can continue to perform their important ecological duties. Flowers aren’t just pretty, they allow plants to reproduce and provide food for all kinds of wildlife. The following is a short list of some common wildflowers that are blooming during July and some of the possible locations and ecological communities you might find them in!
Scarlet Gilia: Scarlet Gilia is a member of the phlox family and boasts bright red, tube shaped, hummingbird pollinated flowers that are common in a variety of habitats from montane meadows to desert canyons and subalpine fields of rock.
Monkshood: Monkshood, also commonly referred to as wolf’s bane, is a member of the Buttercup family and is a highly poisonous plant which contains an alkaloid pseudaconitine, which is a very deadly poison. Though poisonous, it is incredibly beautiful when admired from afar and blooms to a bright purple color with a “hood” growing up over the top of the flower. Monkshood prefers sites that are partially shaded and are common on cool, moist stream sides or in marshy areas.
Penstemon: Penstemon is a beautiful blue-purple flower in the Figwort family that appears almost as if it were water colored. Often, when looking at the flowers you can see both purple and blue streaks of color within one flower. It is common from foothills to subalpine elevations and found in meadows and along roadsides.
Alpine Forget-Me-Nots: Alpine forget-me-nots are tiny flowers in the Borage family that grow in a moss-like fashion on alpine rocks. They bring fantastic brightness to otherwise often barren mountaintops as they are a brilliant blue color with a dot of red in the middle.
Showy Fleabane Daisy: Showy fleabane daisy is a member of the Aster family which is blooming almost everywhere this time of year. It resembles aster but is a paler purple and grows up to 3 feet tall. It is common in elevations from 2,000-11,000 feet in open woodlands, meadows, and prairies.
If you are interested in learning more about other wildflowers in the area, stop by the Vail Nature Center for a wildflower walk every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 11:30-12:30pm!
Leah Mowery is a Naturalist at Walking Mountains Science Center. She is a senior at the University of Minnesota and studies Conservation Biology with minors in Sustainability Studies and Environmental Sciences.