Sunday, January 13, 2008

Wintery Wildflowers

Alpine plants are a breed apart. I believe they make a special impression on every visitor, and they certainly did on me. Here are a few favorites I got to see again last summer. These are familiar-looking wildflowers, as tall as 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) and perhaps not unusual in the Rocky Mountain flora except that, in the alpine, they are the tallest plants present. Elsewhere they might be overshadowed by more robust cousins; here they shine. (For more on the alpine, see adjacent posts.)

Alpine Avens (Geum rossii, Acomastylis rossii)
Ubiquitous yellow flowers give the tundra at Summit Lake its claim to "meadow" status. Beautiful members of the Rose Family. Photo July 5, 2007.

Chiming Bells (Mertensia viridis, Mertensia lanceolata)
This member of the Borage Family in the alpine is closely related to taller species from the foothills to the subalpine. Photo early July 5, 2007.

Skypilot (Polemonium viscosum)
Unique to the alpine, this species also has relatives at lower elevations. Phlox Family. Photo August 1, 2007.

Queen's Crown (Sedum rhodanthemum, Clementsia rhodantha)
Rosy clusters of Queen's Crown, or Rosy Crown, occur in the subalpine and alpine, as does the deeper-colored King's Crown. Stonecrop Family. Photo August 1, 2007.

Snowball Saxifrage (Saxifraga rhomboidea, Micranthes rhomboidea)
This little beauty occurs from the foothills to the tundra. A distinctive basal rosette of diamond-shaped, or rhomboid, leaves provides the species name and makes it recognizable in any season. Saxifrage Family. Photo August 1, 2007.

All of these are normal-looking plants, the giants of the tundra. For miniatures, see Life on a Cushion, next post.

Marsh Marigold (Caltha leptosepala, Psychrophila leptosepala)
Any wet spot on the tundra or other high-elevation meadow is home to the Marsh Marigold. (Easterners have a related and very similar yellow species.) On the tundra, low or protected spots where snow lingers are apt habitats for these delightful flowers. Buttercup or Hellebore Family. Photo July 5, 2007.

Why two scientific names? Revisions to the Colorado Flora in recent years have put some of these into less familiar genera, given second; folks outside Colorado may have better luck looking up the first name.

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