Blue mist penstemons are abundant near Echo Lake

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By Sylvia Brockner

Just a week ago, a dear friend of mine took me for an outing to Echo Lake. What a real treat it was for me to get out and see the blooms along the way and to have brunch at the Echo Lake Lodge.

Wildflowers were in bloom along the road, especially the brilliant blue of the blue mist penstemon.

This is one of my favorite mountain wildflowers because it grows in great masses where there are exposed rocky ridges mostly from the foothills into the montane zones. It was past its prime because everything was early this year, but it was still in abundance at the higher elevations.

It is a deep brilliant blue with a good bit of purple in it, not to be confused with the bluebells that are pale blue and bloom much earlier. Its scientific name is Penstemon vivens, which refers to its green clumps of leaves.

There are many penstemons. This one grows in short – about 8 to 10 inches – clumps while others grow on tall spikes of two or three feet. It is often seen on the roads north of us.

At lower elevations, I notice the native shrubby cinquefoil, Pentaphylloides floribunda, along the foothills roadway. This plant is a hardy shrub with five-petaled yellow flowers. It has been worked with by horticulturalists for years until today, they have shrubs, which have the same name but grow in a more uniform rounded mound and are bigger and with more frequent blooms.

The name Pentaphylloides comes from the Greek and refers to five-parted leaves and is the only one in its genus.

In most ways, it is similar to some of the potentillas but still remains in its own genus, according to Weber, “as a matter of tradition.” The newer horticultural varieties seem to be doing well in the gardens at the shopping center at Bergen Park, so I would hardily recommend it for planting in your yard.

We were also hoping to see a Barrow’s goldeneye at Echo Lake because two or three years ago, Karel Buckley and I saw a female with young at the lake. There are two species of goldeneyes. The common goldeneye is much more common but not abundant in most of the Denver area. The Barrow’s goldeneye is not as often seen as the common. Both adult males are black-and-white birds.

They are best told apart by the crescent-shaped white patch between the bill and the eye in the Barrow’s. The bird is often found in more turbulent water, but nests near small mountain lakes.

The one we saw had young that were paddling with mama but could not fly, so they could not have traveled far. They must have nested near the lake.