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Wildflowers dot the landscape, but only for a while

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By Sylvia Brockner

The wildflowers have been spectacular this year. I can’t quite get used to the peak bloom being in June, for I am accustomed to the peak of spring bloom being in May, for that is when the broad-leafed deciduous forests of western New York are carpeted in bloom. I had forgotten that the peak of bloom is in June in Colorado. What a glorious month it has been. Not only is it green from all the rain we now have had, but now all that verdant green is splattered with the color of various wildflowers.

Just driving in Evergreen, I have seen new flowers on every trip. Yellow seems to dominate at this point, with golden banner, yellow wallflower and salsify taking over any place the dandelions haven’t already usurped. Blue-mist penstemon is turning many a roadside bank into a blue patchwork quilt. Both the common blue violet and the sweet-scented white violets are in bloom. Red-berried elder, boulder raspberry, wax flower and yucca add a splash of white. Nelson’s larkspur is deep purple, and the mountain wild iris is turning wet meadows as blue as the Colorado sky.

One special June wildflower is the native wild flax. It is of the purest shade of blue. I always try to let mine go to seed, so I will have more in my yard every year, although it is listed in most books as being a perennial, as opposed to the European flax, which is an annual. The European flax is grown near Boulder as a crop, and the two plants are very similar. The cultivated flax is grown for flax seed and flaxseed oil and is also the source of fibers that have been woven into linen for centuries.

The trait that makes blue flax so appealing to me is that it has thin, wiry stems with fairly large flowers at the tip. Therefore, even the gentlest of breezes causes the stems to sway and dance. It never seems still but appears to be alive and greeting the day with a dance and a new flower every morning. Its basal leaves form a nice clump of green in the garden, sometimes even into the winter if it’s not too cold, and it gives the plant an early start in the spring. The European flax has been put on the noxious weed list because it is a problem in the Boulder area. However, only the native flax is found locally, and our native flax should not be pulled.

Another plant that is in full bloom along our roadsides now is the plains yucca, yucca glauca. It has a big spike of bloom and seedpods rising out of the center of a clump of spiky leaves. Yucca leaves were used by Native Americans for their fibers, and some of them were used to make a form of soap.

Yucca is known for its relationship with the yucca moth. The moth cannot enter the flower tube to fertilize the flower, so it makes a ball of pollen that it stuffs into the base of the pistil through a cut it has made in the sidewall of the ovary. Thus, she fertilizes the yucca flower, which then produces many seeds. The eggs she has laid in the flower hatch into caterpillars, which eat some of the seeds but still leave enough to grow into more yucca plants, and the caterpillars eat enough to metamorphose into more yucca moths so more yucca plants can be fertilized. It is a prime example of mutualism, where two living things help each other in order that they both may survive.

Scarlet gilia, or trumpet flower, is also in bloom today. Its brilliant scarlet color catches your eye along U.S. 285 and south of that highway. North of Boulder, fairy trumpet has white blooms, and in between the flowers are pink, because these two plants hybridize. This is the most fantastic time of year for seeing wildflowers; the season is short, so enjoy it while you may.