Wildflowers are abundant in the Eagle Valley, whether hiking on Vail Mountain or one of the many trails throughout Eagle County you can’t miss them. Check out the guide below so you know what Wildflowers you’re looking at when you hike! Did you know we offer guided backcountry hikes where you can learn about the wildflowers and so much more? Click here to view the hiking schedule.
Current Bloom Updates
August 25, 2016 | Star Gentain
Star Gentains can be seen blooming this time of year much like other members of the Gentain family (including the towering stalks of the Green Gentain!). They are generally found from the sub-alpine area up, towards tree-line and are commonly overlooked as they bloom among grasses and other groundcover. Gentain comes from Gentius, a king of Illyria, who found it to cure malaria in his troops.
August 11, 2016 | Sky Pilot
Sky Pilots are members of the same family as Jacobs Ladder, and in our area seeing them bloom mean you’ve done your climbing for the day! Only found in alpine environments, these showy purple flowers are a pleasant sight along curious scree fields up Fancy Pass or circling the halo route beneath Mt. of the Holy Cross.
July 28, 2016 | Parry's Primrose
Contrary to the name, this beautiful bloom is not in the Rose family! The name “prim” comes from the Latin primus because it is believed to be one of the first blooms visible. Check them out along the “most beautiful 200 yards in Colorado,” a section along the Missouri Lakes trail, or in the wet meadows near Pitkin, Booth, or Deluge Lake.
July 21, 2016 | Paintbrush
All shades of the Paintbrush are in bloom! From yellow in the alpine, to rosy and scarlet towards the foothills, these members of the figwort family blanket the landscape. The best blooms are near other figworts, like the Little Elephant Heads, along Shrine Ridge and be sure to check out the display in the cirque below Uneva Peak.
July 14, 2016 | Pink Elephant Heads
This aptly named flower can be found in wet environments usually nearby alpine lakes. Check them out at Lost Lake north of Vail or all over the Missouri and Fancy Lake trails. Pink Elephant Heads are in the same family as the paintbrush and their species in Latin, groenlandica, means “Of Greenland,” where they were first observed.
July 12, 2016 | Mariposa
Mariposa Lilies are back! These beautiful flowers only bloom for a limited amount of time so now is your chance to see one of the most famous flowers around! You’ll spot them after the incline out of the valley on all East Vail trails. Check back daily to see the pink and purple blooms appear too!
June 30, 2016 | Columbine
They’re back. Our state flower, the Colorado Columbine has finally made an appearance in the valley bottoms and we should be seeing it in the alpine scree fields soon! Look for Colorado Columbine in shady areas, likely in aspen groves, throughout Maloit Park in Minturn and all over Big Meadow just above Cordillera. The Colorado Columbine is protected by law so please appreciate its beauty on the trail and by capturing pictures. Be a steward and make sure you leave them untrammeled for the next visitor to witness their grand blooms!
June 23, 2016 | Harebell and Sulphur Buckwheat
The yellow, rosy, and sometimes pale blonde florets of the Sulphur Buckwheat can be seen blooming along the first two miles of the East Vail trails (Bighorn, Booth, Pitkin, Gore, and Deluge). It shares the same habitat with the Common Harebell. This purple flower gets its name from the long slender stem resembling a piece of hair. Both of these flowers were used by native peoples for ceremonial uses and it has even been said that a man would trade a horse for a small sample of Sulphur Buckwheat.
June 16, 2016 | Wild Strawberry
The white, five-petaled flowers, poking through the grass in sunny and exposed areas are pre-cursors to some of the most delicious wild food found in Eagle Valley. Look for the red stolons (runners that look like exposed roots) and the serrated 3 leaves to identify this fantastic forage. Wild strawberries are the parent plant for 90% of cultivated strawberries, and the wild fruits taste as if an entire package of cultivated strawberries was concentrated into each individual tiny fruit. Make a note of where you’re seeing the flowers and check back in August for the fruit!
June 9, 2016 | Red Columbine & Fairyslippers
Another two-fer during the early season only makes sense as the rain keeps the forests moist and the early season flowers continue their impressive blooms.
Red Columbine, in the same genus as our state flower the Colorado Columbine, can be seen blooming around 8,000 feet in dry, shaded areas. Red columbine generally bloom earlier and at lower elevations than Colorado Columbine, but like our state flower, almost all parts of the plant are poisonous. Look for it on the McKenzie Gulch trail in Eagle or along Cross Creek just south of Minturn.
Fairyslippers are one of the few orchids we see along the trails in Eagle County. These solitary little beauties are easily damaged by trampling and picking so appreciate their blooms from a distance! These can be seen blooming along the Stag Gulch trail and Cross Creek but they take an inquisitive eye to catch! Look for them in moist, shaded areas generally near a body of water.
June 2, 2016 | Larkspur, Spring Beauties & Arrow-Leaved Blasamroot
Welcome to the 2016 Walking Mountains Science Center bloom update where we will be highlighting beautiful flora of the Eagle Valley every Thursday throughout the wildflower season. As the snow continues to melt at higher elevations, many lower locations and south facing slopes are already witnessing early summer wildflowers. While generally this update will focus on one species, because this is a kickoff event and numerous blooms already abound throughout our valley, today we will note three of the blooms that can be easily seen this weekend!
Larkspur, Delphinium sp, is currently blooming in lower elevations that also receive plenty of sun. This beautiful purple bloom is recognizable by the long slender spur, or sepal, that draws back longer than any of the flowers’ petals. Check them out at the Vail Nature Center meadows or on the Buck Creek Trail about a mile from the trailhead.
Spring Beauties are blooming around the last remaining snowfields or areas that have just recently melted off. Note the 5-petaled white flowers with faint pink lines running down the center of the petal. These are abundant on Vail Mountain where the slopes have freshly melted.
Arrow-Leaved Balsamroot, one of the first of the sunflower family to bloom, can be seen blooming on rocky, dry, or exposed areas. These bright yellow flowers are known to many to welcome the onset of summer and Native Americans and early settlers relied on these flowers for food as almost the entire plant can be edible. Check them out 1.5 miles up the Stag Gulch Trail near Cordillera.
Check back every Thursday for a new bloom update or submit your pictures and questions to Peter Suneson, Community Outreach Coordinator, for help identifying curious flora. For more blooming info, contact Peter Suneson, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bluebells- Mertensia sp.
Locally known as the caviar of the woods, due to the fishy taste of the leaves, bluebells can be found in moist to wet areas from the foothills to alpine areas. It is generally smaller than the Eastern species Virginia Bluebell, bluebells in the Central Rockies bloom from May through June and into July if conditions permits from the foothills (5,000ft) to alpine (11,000+ft) environments. Bluebells can also be referred to as Tall Lungwort or Chiming Bells. The leaves from bluebells can be used as a potherb but are generally too hairy for use in salads.
Columbine- Aquilegia sp.
The commonly recognizable Blue Colorado Columbine is the state flower of Colorado and can be found in scree (rock) fields growing from the foothills to the subalpine zone (10,000ft). The Yellow and Red Columbine are usually found at lower elevations and generally bloom earlier than the Colorado Columbine although both bloom between June and August. The nectar in the slender spurs of these flowers can only be reached by hummingbirds or long-tongued moths. The Columbine name comes from the Latin Columbina, or dove-like, because the five-petaled flowers were believed to resemble 5 doves drinking from the blossoms! Most parts of the Columbine are poisonous and can cause stomach irritation if ingested!
Fireweed- Epilbium angustifolium
This easily recognizable flower blooms in the late summer and rapidly colonizes disturbed areas such as those that recently saw fire activity. Look for it along roadcuts on Vail Mountain and anywhere recent construction may have occurred. The pink blooms are a favorite of honey bees and Fireweed honey is a high-end product you can find in local markets. Legend has it that fireweed was the first plant to rebound in London after the bombing campaigns during World War II. Many teachers and students lament the blooms because it is said that once the blooms make their way all the way to the tip of the stalk, it is time for school to start!
Geranium- Geranium sp.
One of the more common species to be found in the valley, Geranium plants can be identified by the deeply lobed leaves (sometimes resembling oak leaves), and small, 3-5cm wide, flowers blooming between May and August. Found in drier areas, Geranium roots have been used for centuries as a coagulant to stop bleeding or to treat dry and chapped lips. The genus Geranium¸ is derived from the Greek, geranos, or stork because the long and slender seed pods are thought to resemble stork’s bills.
Heart-Leaved Arnica- Arnica cordifolia
Easily mistaken for a sunflower, Arnica can be identified by the bright yellow blooms between June and August and opposite leaves that resemble hearts. All Arnica’s (and there are many species throughout the world) are poisonous when ingested yet the roots and leaves have been used for generations to make salves to relieve minor aches and pains. Extracts of the flowers were once even believed to make hair grow! Look for them from the foothills to the alpine zone in regions where they’ll receive plenty of sun.
Scarlet Gilia- Ipomopsis aggregata
These red blooms can be seen from June to August on leafless slender stems and are also known as fairy trumpet or skyrocket. Scarlet Gilia are pollinated by humming birds. Their beaks become covered in pollen while eating nectar from the flowering tubes. Generally found in drier environments, Scarlet Gilia have a very skunky odor when crushed and can be used as a bug repellent. Mule deer common to the area love to snack on these flowers so keep your eyes open!
Larkspur- Delphinium sp.
The namesake of the popular Vail restaurant, Larkspur can be found from the montane to alpine environments and is identified by the deep blue to purple blooms with an upper petal extended back resembling a spur blooming between May and August. Contrary to the delicious food served in Vail, Larkspur are very poisonous and teas and alcohols have been derived from their seeds to kill lice and cure scabies. Powdered petals were once used in religious ceremonies by Native Americans as a sacrifice to the south because their color was sacred to tribes living in southern regions and are also known in the Eastern parts of the country only by the genus name, Delphinium.
Lupine- Lupinus sp.
A member of the pea family, and also referred to as bluebonnets in Southern States, lupine are one of the most common wildflowers to see from the valley floor up to subalpine environments. Blooming from May to August, cultivated species of lupine can also be found throughout the village flower baskets. Although in the fall the seed pods closely resemble edible pea pods, the entire plant is considered poisonous and should not be eaten! Recognize lupine by the “banner and keel” flowering formation common to all members of the pea family such as vetch, clover, locoweed.
Mariposa Lily- Calochorius apiculatus
One of the rarer yet more beautiful wildflowers in the valley, Mariposa Lilies bloom throughout the summer at lower elevations. Mariposa, or butterfly in Spanish, Lily’s can be identified by the large 3 petaled blooms. Native Americans boiled the roots and bulbs to make sweet porridges and were even used by early settlers when food was scarce. Some species of Mariposa bloom in pinks and purples although the bright white flower is most common.
Paintbrush- Castilleja sp.
Paintbrush flowers come in many different colors and sizes depending on location and elevation. Look for the yellow blooms in alpine environments and the pinks, oranges, and scarlets from the foothills to subalpine. Paintbrush are believed to have co-evolved with hummingbirds because the blooms are scentless and the sweet nectar can only be reached deep within the flower by hummingbirds or long-tongued moths. Paintbrush also have a special relationship with the native Big Sagebrush that are common in the area. A special fungus found only on the root systems of the sage is necessary for aiding the paintbrush to bloom. It is also important to note that the colorful blooms of the paintbrush are not petals, but are called bracts that hide the true flower of the paintbrush within.
Penstemon- Penstemon sp.
Identifiable by their 5 petaled blooms, penstemon always have 2 petals on the upper part of the blossom and 3 below, resembling a pentagon. The three species native to the valley bloom in shades of blue, purple, and pink in May through August and generally can be found from the foothills to alpine areas. Leaves and stems from Penstemon can be used, in moderation, to make teas and there are many cultivated varieties that are bought and sold at local nurseries. Because it is a common garden plant, identifying individual species can be difficult due to genetic cross breeding. Always remember 2 petals on top 3 on the bottom!