Mother Nature’s Alpine Garden Awakens
Super Bloom. A late lupine landslide. A columbine collection of epic proportions. These are just some of the phrases you may hear as the 2020 Colorado wildflower season gets underway in the high country. And that includes those beauties popping up all over Leadville Today. While Sumer 2020 may be remembered as the year everything seemed to be canceled, July will also be remembered as the month that put on a celestial show in the night skies as well as a blooming bouquet from Mother Nature’s garden.
You can start to see them in great numbers all along the Mineral Belt Trail (which is FULLY re-opened now after the construction project finished ahead of schedule) and in the high alpine meadows where the snowfields have finally retracted, allowing those often hard-to-find beauties like the purple fairy slipper orchids to show themselves. Many wildflower fans are wondering if this year’s show from Mother Nature’s will be above average like the snow levels from last winter. Most experts seem to agree that bloom-hunters will likely see more of those gorgeous gatherings of lupine, columbines, and trumpets in their favorite viewing spots. Although they also concur, the show might run a bit shorter than usual this season. So be sure to get out and enjoy your favorite alpine garden because it’s wildflower season!
You don’t need to go very far in Leadville Today to see all the colors and variety. A simple walk along the Mineral Belt Trail or the Nature Trail out at the Leadville National Fish Hatchery should provide plenty of good viewing. Another option is riding the special wildflower train rides on July 18 & 25, and August 1. But be advised that these special wildflower rides will sell -out, especially with limited capacity in place due to the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions ordered by Lake County Public Health officials. So make your reservations online today.
Wherever or however you do it make sure you take some time to stop and smell the (wild) roses because this is the peak season for Mother Nature’s high alpine garden! Here are some of the beauties currently in bloom.
The Columbine: These majestic beauties are Colorado’s state flower and known for their purple spurred petals. In fact, it’s the shape of those petals that give this flower its name. The word “Columbine” comes from the Latin for “dove,” due to the resemblance of the inverted flower to five doves clustered together.
The Lupine: This flowering plant is from the legume family, as in bean! Lupines are high in protein, dietary fibre, and antioxidants, very low in starch, and, like all legumes, are gluten-free. Lupines can be used to make a variety of foods both sweet and savory including everyday meals, traditional fermented foods, baked foods and sauces. The legume seeds of lupins, commonly called lupin beans, were popular with the Romans, who cultivated the plants throughout the Roman Empire; hence, common names like lupini in Romance languages.
The Purple Alpine Aster: Aster alpinus (Alpine Aster) is the only species of Aster that grows natively in North America; it is found in mountains. And here’s an interesting fact: The Hungarian Revolution of 1918, became known as the “Aster Revolution” due to protesters in Budapest wearing this flower.
The Fairy Slipper: This Calypso Orchid, also known as the Fairy Slipper or Venus’s slipper, is a perennial member of the orchid family. It has a small pinkish-purple flower accented with a white lip, darker purple spottings, and yellow beard. These little purple blooms can be a pleasant sporadic sight on hiking trails like the one along Busk Creek, out by Turquoise Lake. The plants live no more than five years, and they are classified as threatened or endangered. The Fairy Slipper relies on “pollination by deception,” as it attracts insects to anther-like yellow hairs, but produces no nectar that would nourish them. Insects quickly learn not to revisit it.
Indian Paintbrush: This plant got its name from a Native American legend. In the legend, a young Indian wanted to paint the sunset but became frustrated because he could not produce any colors that matched the beauty of a sunset. He asked the Great Spirit for help. The Great Spirit provided him with paintbrushes with the beautiful colors on them which he used to create his painting. When he was done, the young Indian left his used paintbrushes scattered around the landscape. These paintbrushes blossomed into plants and were thus named Indian Paintbrushes. American Indians also used this plant for various purposes including as a hair wash, to enhance their immune system, as a treatment for rheumatism, and to treat sexually transmitted diseases.
Fairy Trumpet: Also known as a Skyrocket, or Rocket flower. It blooms throughout the summer and is a favorite of hummingbirds and hawk moths. The petals are fused into a trumpet-shape with a long narrow tube and spreading lobes. Medicinally, this plant has been reported to be boiled up as a tea and heals everything from blood diseases to rheumatic joints. An infusion of the roots is also used as a laxative and in the treatment of high fevers, colds.
Leafy Cinquefoil: Also known as Biscuits, Five-fingers, and Flesh and Blood. Known as a real creeper, the stem runners of this perennial herb can often reach up to five feet in length. That said, the herb is a rather pretty and dainty species of plant. The name of the cinquefoil is after an Old French word that means “five-leaf.” The five leaflets of the cinquefoil was a symbol for the five senses of the human body and served as a motif for the Medieval man who had achieved mastery over the self. Have you ever noticed the cinquefoil’s five-fingered leaf symbol on a knight’s shield? The right to use this heraldic device could only be granted to knights who gained mastery over the self. The cinquefoil was also linked to many other powers in superstitious medieval times, for example, the herb was supposed to scare off witches. Herbalists through the ages have been familiar with the cinquefoil as a remedy to reduce a fever. It is also used as an herbal analgesic for alleviating the pain of a toothache and in a gargle for treating oral sores.
Yarrow: This aromatic perennial with its lovely, fern-like foliage is also called “thousand leaves,” because of its finely-divided leaves. Introduced to North America by early colonists, yarrow soon became a valued remedy used by many tribes of indigenous people. Human relationships with this healing plant reach back to ancient times. The fossilized pollen of yarrow has been found in Neanderthal burial caves from as far back as 60,000 years. Yarrow has also been associated with magic and divination and is considered by some folk herbalists as a sacred plant with special spiritual powers to offer protection. The herb was also believed to be useful in love potions. Yarrow accompanied soldiers into battle and was relied upon for its hemostatic action to treat wounds. Achilles, the Greek hero is said to have used yarrow in the Trojan War to staunch the blood flowing from the wounds of fallen comrades. And for all you follicly challenged, infusions of yarrow have been used as a hair rinse in attempts to prevent baldness.
So there you have it – those are just some of the alpine beauties you can see in bloom this time of year! Colorado’s alpine meadows are home to some of the country’s most vibrant and colorful collections of wildflowers. And in Lake County, you don’t have to go very far to see any and all of them!
CPW’s Wildflower Viewing COVID-19 Guidelines.
While most Coloradoans are taking advantage of the summer weather to get outdoors, there are still restrictions and orders in place when it comes to public health officials. And those also change fro county to county, so be advised of where you are viewing your Colorado wildflowers. For the latest on the local orders from the Lake County Public Health Agency, CLICK HERE. In addition, the following information was recently distributed by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Division. By all means, stop and smell the flowers, just make sure you are abiding by the guidelines in place for each space.
Wildflowers In Bloom in Leadville Today