Wildflower season is here!June 28, 2018
Trying to pick a favorite flower is like trying to eat just one potato chip. You just can’t do it! As a botanist, I get this question quite often and my answer tends to change depending on what is currently blooming. As we approach July, the mountains are beginning to explode with flowers and I’m happy to provide a list of my summer-time favorites.
Elkweed, Frasera speciosa
I love unassuming things. My favorite plants (and people) are the ones that seem ordinary and predictable and, upon closer inspection, turn out to be magnificent, complex beings. Elkweed is one of these highly underrated organisms. With a large, weedy-looking rosette of basal leaves and a tall stalk of greenish flowers, it is easy to overlook. If you get a bit closer, however, you will find that the flowers that seem to blend into the green of the stem are much more complex and colorful than you would expect! The blue speckles and complicated patterns are my absolute favorite. If I were an insect, I would use these petals to decorate the walls of my home. And just to keep us even more intrigued, Elkweed refuses to follow the typical rules of plant anatomy. Most species of flowering plants will have the same number of petals on each flower but Frasera speciosa is too original for that kind of monotony. Instead, this plant can have 3, 4, 5, and sometimes 6 petals. (See page 90 of Wildflowers of the Cottonwood Canyons)
Lewis’ Blue Flax, Linum lewisii
Most of us have probably heard of flax seed or linseed oil, but did you know that these products are produced from such a lovely plant? Lewis’ Blue Flax is usually a deep blue but the intensity of the color can vary and occasionally you can find one that is nearly white! One of the things that I love about this plant is how ephemeral its flowers are. Flax flowers don’t last very long and sometimes you can even witness them fall apart in the light breeze. I find their demise to be as beautiful as their beginning. The petals sometimes collect in a delicate pile at the base of the plant, only to be carried off by the wind in a rush of fluttering blue. (Page 178 of Wildflowers of the Cottonwood Canyons)
Whipple’s Penstemon, Penstemon whippleanus
Utah boasts an impressive number of penstemon species and I think I love them all equally. The reason I’ve chosen to highlight Whipple’s Penstemon is because of its relative uniqueness. Many of our native penstemons are difficult to distinguish from each other but Whipple’s Penstemon is much easier to spot! It blooms a bit later than many other penstemon species and has such a lovely flower that it is hard to miss. The long, thin, tubular corolla is usually a light lavender color but can also be pink to deep purple. The tips of the petals are more angular and the whole plant doesn’t usually get taller than two feet. I love how penstemons can vary in color and how this non-uniformity forces one to focus on other characteristics in order to get an accurate identification. (Page 203 of Wildflowers of the Cottonwood Canyons)
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