Astragulus

Friends, the month of July is running out of days faster than I am running out of flowers to post.

Here, then, is a sampling of the flowers from the Astragulus genus. By sharing them as a group, I’m able to show you more of the floral abundance and variety, whilst avoiding any pretense of being able to sort out the difference species. Sources tell me there are dozens of species in Colorado, of which eight are pictured here. I’m going to call this a representative sample rather than a comprehensive survey.

The challenges of accurately sorting one from the other are summed up nicely on the Southwest Colorado Wildflowers site, where you can read more if you wish. Or you can simply enjoy these clips from our local show. The flowering is winding down now, as the plants concentrate on forming seed pods.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Weedy Looking Not-Weeds

The conventional definition of a weed is a plant s growing where it’s not wanted. By that subjective measure, any of the twenty-six wildflowers featured on this blog over the past few weeks might qualify as a weed if it’s in the “wrong” spot.

More often, I suspect, we think of weeds as non-native or invasive plants, as those that misbehave by arming themselves with stickers and spines, as disruptive to orderly plantings or crops, or as toxic hazards to children, pets, or livestock.

Let’s face it, though, there are some plants we’re inclined to dismiss as weeds because they’re simply gangly or odd-looking. They’re weeds because they look…well, weedy.

               

Scorpionweed isn’t a pretty plant, and it’s also burdened with a common name with distinctly unpleasant associations. Its flowers, while obviously floral on close inspection, are small, of insipid color, and arranged peculiarly (the Latin name for the genus is Phacelia, which translates as “bundle”). After getting over my initial “What the heck is THAT?!” response and checking its native bona fides in my field guides, I’ve become rather fond of scorpionweed, but perhaps that’s because I can reliably remember its name.

These other two native plants look weedy, but when they’re in bloom, as they are now…the flowers. Oh, those flowers.

Eveningstars (Mentzelia spp), as the name hints, open at night. I have not pinned down the species present here, but I’m pretty crazy about the flowers and have been actively collecting seeds to try to get more of them blooming near the house where I’m likely to encounter them on an evening walk.

Prickly poppy is a fierce plant, unless you are diving straight into the heart of those frilly extravagant flowers.

 

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Yellowdot Saxifrage

This flower-a-day project has encouraged me to look closer at familiar blooms, but I’ve also found new ones, which has been great fun.

I knew this plant, but not its flower. The foliage grows in mats of tightly clustered rosettes, the plump leaves so tiny the plant resembles moss–and, in fact, I’ve thought of it as moss when I’ve walked past it in the dark timber on the shaded north-facing slope below our house.

This is clearly a vascular (flowering) plant, and not a moss. I am reminded (yet again) to both look beyond superficial appearances, and to check my assumptions before getting too reliant on them.

Saxifraga bronchialis

The flowers are small, their details hard to see without some magnification. Thank you, macro lens.

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Yellow Owl-Clover

Charming little plants when in flower: like candles in the grass, with crayon-yellow flames.

Orthocarpus luteus

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Nodding Onion

To my considerable relief, the nod of the Nodding Onion is distinctive, and I can assert with some confidence that this is Allium cernuum.

And since I have not yet had occasion to use the word “umbel”–and who wouldn’t want to use the word?–I will add this note: an umbel is a form in which flower stalks radiate from a common point. The shape is often described as an inverted or upside-down umbrella, with the ribs pointing up, but thanks to the characteristic nod, the umbrella in this species is right-side-up.

Although, looking from overhead, the umbel might also be likened to a UFO.

 

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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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Yucca

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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Mountainspray

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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