Mariposa Lily

If Harebells are cute and Sugarbowl clematis is sweet, the word for this flower is elegant.

Calochortus gunnisonii

We’ve called these Sego lilies for two decades, but with this bloom-a-day-in-July project I’ve been cross-examining my assumptions while delving into a wider range of wildflower resources. Evidently, what we have here (in large numbers, right now) are Gunnison’s Mariposa Lily and not Sego Lily (C. nuttalli). The latter have a dark spot at the base of each of the three petals, and the hairs are arranged to form a crescent, rather than creating a contiguous band, as in these Mariposa Lilies.

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Shorthorn Spurge

Euphorbia brachycera

Although it resembles the pernicious invasive Leafy spurge, this little native is smaller and exhibits better manners. Some guides use the common name “Horned spurge,” but I think the “Shorthorn” version is more winsome.

Up here, the plants grow to seven or eight inches tall, and tend to be solitary rather than forming clusters. The lime-green foliage is a refreshing contrast to the sage-gray and khaki-green that tends to dominate our grasslands.

Leafy spurge (E. esula), in contrast, is a noxious weed in Colorado and other parts of the West. It’s a tall, fast-spreading non-native invasive, difficult to control on a number of fronts: the roots run deep, range wide, and sprout numerous small buds, any of which can form a new plant. Not only is seed production prolific (up to 130,000 seeds per plant), but the capsules explode when ripe, ejecting seeds up to fifteen feet. To top it off, the sap is a skin and eye irritant, and can affect the mouth and digestive tract in animals that might browse on it.


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If you’re looking for contrast, look to the yucca:  fat, buttery-looking flowers paired with sharp leaves that, believe me, will elicit a defensive yelp at the slightest inadvertent brush.

The yucca demand attention in other ways, too.

Their flowering has been fabulous, and I assumed I had plenty of time.

I admired the display on dozens of stems west of here, along the road in and out of our place. Looking into the pasture from my office, the grass was flecked with creamy spots, which I initially mistook for plastic bags blown in on the wind, but no: the yucca were blooming in places I hadn’t realized there were yucca plants growing.

I need to take a walk with the camera, I thought.

Finally, a few days ago, I went out to record the fabulous yucca bloom for this blog, I found most of the spires gone, most of the flowers spent.

The images tell one story, of abundance and the grace of living things in their place, doing what they’re adapted to do, serving motives I sometimes flatter myself I can comprehend.

But three weeks into my project of blogging the bloom, I’m abruptly confronted with the terminal frontier. It will all end, too soon. There are more flowers than days in July, and the bloom is moving faster than I can track.

So pretty. So, so sharp.

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A little evanescent froth for these dry mountains: the blooms on these shrubs are dramatic while they last, but they don’t last long.

Holodiscus dumosus: a bush that knows how to play with light.

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Lambert’s Locoweed

While Silky locoweed blooms early, with thick clusters of white and palest lavender flowers, this Oxytropis blooms later and louder, and with slightly more airy spacing between the flower spikes.

Oxytropis lambertii

You would think a color this ostentatious would clash with everything in sight, but Lambert’s locoweed manages to coordinate with a number of other hues.

It goes with orange…

…or yellow…

…and white…

…or lavender and silver.

It’s pretty with blue…

…and, of course, with green.


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Fendler’s Sandwort

If ever the word “spangle” is to be applied to a western wildflower, surely this is the one.

Multitudes of little white flowers on wiry stems spangle the grasslands (or, if you prefer the noun form of the word, that works too: little white flowers like spangles in the grass).

Eremogone fendleri

For many years I thought the petals had tiny lavender-pink dots on them, but but those are anthers, the pollen-bearing portion of the stamen. If you look close at the upper photo, you can see them hovering over the petals’ surface. Looking at the flowers through a macro lens helps, too, which is another benefit of this project.

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Sugarbowl Clematis

Clematis hirsutissima

Like the Harebells I featured last week, Sugarbowl are turning up in clusters, an unexpected abundance. I appreciated that this particular plant also shows off the seedheads, which are a delight in themselves.

The flowers make me smile whenever I see them, whether they’re in a bunch or just one.

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Slender-Tube Skyrocket

I shouldn’t have been surprised when I discovered, in researching this post, that the common names “Skyrocket” and “Gilia” refer to more than one species of plant. The genus name (as I’ve recently learned) is Ipomopsis. You’ll often see populations of Scarlet Gilia as red spikes jutting out of the bare dirt of road cuts in the southwest; those are likely I. aggregata.

With help from Susan Tweit, the Southwest Colorado Wildflowers website and the Colorado Native Plant Society Group on Facebook, I’m reasonably confident that the flowers pictured here are Ipomopsis tenuituba, or Slender-Tube Skyrocket, which tends to occur at higher elevations. The pollen-bearing anthers are tucked inside the tubes, which are long and slightly curved.

A few years ago, I found a white-flowered example of this plant growing along the road where I regularly walk. It was destined to be plowed out by the grader, so I gathered the seeds and put them someplace safe…the location of which I forgot.

I’ve been kicking myself for years for misplacing those seeds, but I think I finally figured out where I put them. The plant pictured above is blooming behind the retaining wall on the east side of the house, where we can admire the flowers from the kitchen window.



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Western Wallflower

Erysimum asperum

They’re typically single pompoms of yellow popping up around the grasslands, but the plants sometimes branch and find more elaborate forms. The one above is on a rich patch along the pasture fenceline, next to one of Jake’s poop piles (he’s very organized, likes to keep his sh*t together).

Western wallflower is the workhorse of early wildflowers: they always turn up. They might not grow tall when the weather’s been dry, but they grow.  Then, as the petals begin to drop, the long spikes of the seed pods take shape.

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Miner’s Candle

Cryptantha thyrsiflora

Although it looks softly inviting, this plant’s covering of fine hairs is more bristle than fuzz. If you yield to the temptation to touch one, you’ll only do so once, at least on purpose: the experience is closer to stinging nettle than velvety lamb’s ear.

For that reason, I’m not keen on them growing in my little yard area or along paths where I walk a lot, but I have a friendly tolerance of them elsewhere. There are obviously plenty of pollinators who know how to handle a close approach.

Off the wildflower topic, I’ve seen these very exotic looking black moths occasionally, and this photo provoked me to try to figure out what they’re called. It’s a Veined Ctenucha Moth.

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