My life has a superb cast but I can't figure out the plot.
~ Ashleigh Brilliant

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wildflower Wednesday

The flowers of late winter and early spring
occupy places in our hearts well out of proportion to their size.
~Gertrude S. Wister

Some of our first arrivals, these beautiful-but-tough early bloomers show up while there is still snow on the ground (and in the forecast!)

Common Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla patens)
aka Wild Crocus, Prairie Crocus, Prairie Anemone, Windflower...

The Pasqueflower typically blooms around Easter (hence the name), though this year it bloomed about a month late, and in great profusion. (Patens is Latin for "spreading," and they certainly have been!) :-) Because it grows at subalpine elevations (between 4000 and 9000') and blooms so early, its (usually) purple blossoms often create a lovely contrast against the snow...

I think it pisses God off
if you walk past the color purple in a field somewhere
and don't notice it.
~Alice Walker, The Color Purple

Pasqueflowers with Holly-Grape (Mahonia repens)
aka Oregon Grape, Mountain Holly, Creeping Barberry
(Repens means "creeping")...

Shootingstars (Dodecatheon pauciflorum)...

This is one of my favorite wildflowers, and one of the first signs of spring for me. I love the name Shootingstar, which describes it better than its scientific name (Dodecatheon pauciflorum comes from two Greek words meaning "twelve gods" and "few-flowered.") These rugged little buggers have been found growing at nearly 12,000' elevation, and around here they survive being buried under heavy spring snows. Don't let their delicate beauty fool you!

Phlox, Shootingstars, and a pine cone :-) ...

Phlox (Phlox multiflora) is one most flower gardeners are familiar with. The many varieties of cultivated phlox found in flower beds were produced from wild species, of which there are 45 native to North America and China (about half of them in the Rockies).

The wee yellow flowers just visible in the above photo are...

Sagebrush Buttercups (Ranunculus glaberrimus)...

Ranunculus means "little frog," glaberrimus means "smoothest." Another name for this early buttercup is "Crowfoot." As a group (of which there are about 300 species, 40 of them in the Rockies), buttercups are toxic, but the Sagebrush Buttercup is an important spring food for the blue grouse.

False Lupine (Thermopsis montana)
aka Golden Pea, Goldenbeans, Buffalo Pea...

Between snows, early spring here is a riot of bright yellow thanks to the False Lupine (a member of the legume family) that blankets the ground and lasts well into June. It's showy and hardy, but poisonous.

Yellow Fritillary (Fritillaria pudica)
aka Yellowbell...

Another of my favorite wildflowers, the Yellow Fritillary (of which there are only three species) reminds me of a little desk lamp with a pretty stained glass shade. :-) I just regret that my best photo of one came out blurry. By the time I got my new, better-focusing camera, these dainty little blossoms were long gone. They show up early, but their stay in their bright yellow spring attire is very brief (they turn a dull red not very long after blooming). Their fleeting visit, along with their always downward-cast faces, no doubt inspired their Latin name; pudica means "bashful." :-) Not all yellow early spring wildflowers are poisonous - the Yellow Fritillary is edible. The green seed pods are reportedly delicious eaten raw or cooked, and the fleshy, starchy corm (the part from which the plant grows) is said to taste like potatoes when eaten raw, like rice when eaten cooked. Not that I'd know - I wouldn't want to munch on such a brave, pretty and bashful wildflower! :-)


A couple of notes...

I read the beautiful book Planthropology by Ken Druse during the winter, and highly recommend it to everyone, but especially to those of you interested in (or completely besotted by) flowers, plants, gardening, plant photography, natural history or plant biology. His photography is breathtaking, and you can see examples of it and of his beautiful gardens on his web site. Probably it was mental laziness, but I've always ignored learning the scientific names of plants in favor of their common nicknames. But Mr. Druse strongly encourages learning their botanical names, and explains some of the more common, descriptive Latin (or "Latinized") words used. He convinced me, so now I'm learning some basic taxonomy - family, genus and species names - of my favorite wildflowers, which is why I'm including their genus and species names in italics in these posts. (My tattered 1963 edition of A Field Guide to Rocky Mountain Wildflowers has been very helpful!)

And speaking of these Wednesday Wildflower posts, this will be the last one for a while. I'm not sure when I'll be able to resume them, but will as soon as time allows. I have quite a few left to share!


  1. All those flowers are so pretty. I love the pasque flowers...crocus are one of my favs...and I agree with the color purple quote. We saw some pasque mops last summer when we were hiking...they were little mop-top flowers reminiscent of Dr. Seuss. I wonder if they are related?

    The shooting stars are exquisite, while the Oregon grape is plain but elegant, and the yellow varieties are all so cheery.

    My favorite pic is the one with the pine cone...I may just have to print that out and put in on my wall...if you don't mind of course.

    I really want to be versed in plant ID and taxonomy too. Looks like you've made great progress in that area. Thanks for the reminder to get cracking on that!

    Happy Wildflower Wednesday!

  2. Pasque-like mop-top flowers reminiscent of Dr. Seuss? You've got me intrigued - did you happen to take a photo? The only purple mop-top flower I can think of that we have around here is the Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). ;-) They look Dr. Suessy, come to think of it! (And their aroma is intoxicating!)

    Of course I don't mind if you print out the pine cone photo and hang it on your wall! I'm flattered you like it that much! I'd be happy to email you the original, you might get a clearer (or at least bigger) image that way. Let me know!

    I haven't really made much progress in Project Taxonomy yet, but hopefully more of the botany names will stick to my brain like cockleburs as I keep working on it! :-) It's great that you're wanting to learn it too!

  3. If you have time, you can see the mop-top flowers in this post on my blog. You'll also see some great views taken from a Mt Rainier trail and some pics of my not-so-mop-toppy husband. The flowers are towards the bottom of the's mostly just pics...not text heavy. I think you might like some of the pics...I will print out the pine cone photo...also, I think that the underside close-up of the pasqueflowers is printworthy too. I set it as my desktop background (again, I hope you don't mind...I give you full credit) and it makes a really nice one.

  4. Rose, thanks again for pointing me to your mop-top flowers (they are indeed Dr. Seussy and very unique and fun!), your beautiful Mt. Rainier hike photos, and the picture of your "not-so-mop-toppy husband!" LOL! (How Snapdragonish of you to come up with that!) ;-)

    I'm tickled you liked those two photos so much, and of course I don't mind! Thanks for telling me how much you're enjoying them!

  5. Dearest Tex-
    Love your new wildflower pictures. I like the purple ones from underneath where you can also see the sky. That's my favorite. I also really love the Wister rings so true. I can remember my grandmother saying to my mother "the crocus are up"....and thinking crocus sounded like such an awful thing (like wheat germ) and thinking-and who cares? Now I get it. The ol' age and wisdom thing catching up to me.

    I am not going to read any book on flowers and learn their "taxodermy" names.....or whatever they're called. I am going to read other things that are not science related. As I wrote recently I am aware and okay with the fact that I am a scientific idiot. I don't like science (or politics either) and I'm fine ignoring most of it...I can play West African djembe better than most white girls with ancestoral ties to the Mayflower however.

    I was wondering if you were using your new camera for these photos or if these were caught earlier. Me hopes you are closer to summer than early spring wild crocus pretenders by now.

    I am always amazed by all the quotes you seemingly have "at hand". Do you remember all of these? You must have a photographic memory....lucky girl. No wonder you're so smart!!

    Looking forward to seeing more pics when you have them.


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  • THE HUMANE GARDENER ~ Nancy Lawson
  • THE WORLD WITHOUT US ~ Alan Weisman

There is still strong in our society the belief
that animals and the natural world have value
only insofar as they can be converted into revenue.
That nature is a commodity.
And that the American dream is one of unlimited consumption.
There are many of us, on the other hand,
who believe that animals and the natural world
have value by virtue of being alive.
That Nature is a community to which we belong
and to which we owe our lives.
And that the deeper American dream is one of unlimited compassion.

~John Robbins, "The Food Revolution"

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