Plants at the Wildflower Garden
at the Grand Mesa Visitors Center
Populus tremuloides - Quaking Aspen
Everyone who goes into the mountains in Colorado is familiar with this tree. In fact, special days are organized by nearby communities to view their special golden color (and sometimes orange or red) in the fall. The smooth white bark enhances their beauty and is often irresistible to people who want to carve their initials in it. They are a major food source for beavers and also provide their building materials. They are one of the first trees to colonize an area after a fire. Each individual aspen tree in a grove is actually a member of a clone as trees usually reproduce this way rather than by seeds. They tend to set seed only when they are under stress.
The name, tremuloides, refers to the trembling or quaking of its leaves in the wind due to the fact that the leaf blade is perpendicular to the flattened leaf stem.Ribes montigenum, R. cereum - Mountain Gooseberry, Wax Currant
Gooseberries and currants can usually be separated from each other by the fact that gooseberries have spines or prickles (there is one in California that has horrendous spines even on its fruits!) and currants are spineless. The family has only the single genus, Ribes. The Mountain Gooseberry is the more common of the two in our area, generally found in higher elevations than the currant and a somewhat smaller shrub, 1-3 feet. It has hairy leaves and the fruits are bright red, somewhat bitter to the taste. The flowers are a rust-color. Montigenum means 'of the mountains'.
The leaves of the Wax Currant are nearly hairless to somewhat sticky. The fruits are also red or black but are good to eat. The flowers are white and waxy. From Latin, 'cereus', waxen. The word 'gooseberry' comes from the French 'gros berie' or 'large berry'.Lonicera involucrata - Twinberry
A common shrub, 4-8 feet, found along mountain streams in moist soils, from foothills to tree line, Alberta to New Mexico. The flowers are pale yellow and tubular. The flowers and fruits are found in pairs - hence the name 'Twinberry'. The shiny black berries are contained in red to purplish bracts at the base (from Latin 'involucrum', a wrapper, envelope). However, the shiny fruits are inedible and may even be somewhat poisonous.Allium cernuum - Nodding Onion
The leaves are grass-like with a strong onion smell when crushed. The pink to purple flowers are in flat-topped clusters, nodding. Found in moist and dry sites, plains to montane. The bulbs are edible and once widely eaten. Common from Alberta to New Mexico. Bears coming out of hibernation are especially fond of them.
Allium is the Greek word for 'garlic'.Smilacina stellata, S. racemosa - False Solomon's Seal
These plants resemble the true Solomon's Seal of the eastern U.S. (Polygonatum sp.) in having white, star-shaped flowers in long clusters. The fruits are dark blue or mottled-brown berries. They are found in wooded to open areas, foothills to subalpine, Alberta to Colorado. Both Polygonatum and Smilacina are named after a European species whose root scars were thought to resemble the seal of King Solomon. S. racemosa has larger leaves which have wavy, rather than straight edges. From Latin 'stella', a star and 'racemus', a stalk of a cluster.Zygadenus elegans - Death Camas, Wand Lily
The flowers are greenish-white with heart-shaped glands near the center of the flower. Found in mountain meadows to subalpine, Alaska to New Mexico. The plants contain a poisonous alkaloid, zygadenine. Just two bulbs, raw or cooked, could be fatal. The plants could be confused with wild onion, but Zygadenus has no onion odor.
Zygadenus is from Greek, 'zygos' (a yoke), referring to the paired glands in the center of the flower. The species name from Latin is 'elegans' (elegant).Eriogonum umbellatum - Sulphur Flower, Buckwheat
A mat of low, woolly leaves, often extensive, with short, leafless stems topped with flat-topped clusters (umbels) of many small flowers. Flower color ranges from pink to light to bright yellow. Found on dry slopes, plains to alpine, Alberta to Colorado. Common. It is the sepals that provide the color. Autumn colors can be from rust and orange to yellow. Eriogonum is from the Greek 'erion' (wool).Oxyria digyna - Mountain Sorrel
These plants have beautiful kidney-shaped leaves with rusty red flower clusters resembling our common dock but much smaller. Found in rocky sites, montane to alpine, Alaska to New Mexico. The leaves have a sharp flavor and can be added to salads and sandwiches. From Latin 'oxyria' (acid, sour). 'Sorrel' is of Germanic origin and also means sour.Cerastium arvense - Field Chickweed
Small flowers, white with deep notches in the petals, making them two-lobed. Found in dry, rocky sites, plains to alpine, Yukon to New Mexico. Common. From Latin 'arvense' (belonging to a field).Aquilegia caerulea - Colorado Columbine, Blue Columbine
Flowers light blue to purple with white. Long-knobbed spurs extend behind the flowers. The leaves are divided twice into threes on slender stalks. Found in moist and open spots, foothills to alpine, Idaho and Montana to New Mexico.
The shape of the flowers is said to resemble five doves (Latin 'columba', a dove) drinking from a dish. The long spurs are said to resemble the talons of an eagle (Latin 'aquila', eagle). Many people prefer the interpretation of 'aqua' (water) and 'legere' (to collect), probably referring to the nectar that is found in the base of the spurs. This nectar is especially attractive to hummingbirds and bumblebees.Some short-tongued bees chew a hole in the tip of the petal spur and steal the nectar, thus cheating the flower of pollination. It is illegal to pick or collect these, as they are our state flower. In fact, it is best not to pick or collect any wildflower but better to simply leave it in its place for others to enjoy.Clematis hirsutissimus - Sugarbowl
Bushy plant with fuzzy, very divided leaves. The purple flowers are nodding, hairy and with thick petals. Found on dry slopes, Montana to New Mexico. From Latin 'hirtus' (hairy). Hirsutissimus would be especially hairy. Clematis is the Greek name for a climbing plant, as many of this genus twine.Delphinium nelsonii - Larkspur
These flowers are said to resemble the shape of a leaping dolphin, 'delphinus' in Latin, because of the spur on the back of the petals. The flowers are deep purple. Found in foothill and montane areas from Alberta to Colorado. All Larkspurs contain alkaloids that are extremely poisonous to cattle, though not to sheep.Sedum lanceolata - Stonecrop
Ours have narrow, succulent leaves with a tip at the end, hence the name lanceolata, from Latin 'lancea' (spear). The flowers are bright yellow, star-shaped. Found in dry open areas, plains to alpine, Yukon to New Mexico. Common. The genus name comes from Latin 'sedum', meaning 'to sit' because they are so low to the ground.Frageria virginiana - Strawberry
Like our garden strawberry but smaller. Fruits small but very tasty. Found in open sites from the Yukon to New Mexico. Wild strawberries are the parents of most of our commercial strawberries. From Latin 'fragum', a strawberry plant.Geum triflorum - Pink Plumes
Flowers vase-shaped, dusty pink, nodding, in clusters of three. Fruits have long feathery bristles which give the plant its common name. The feathery plumes carry the seeds on the wind. Found from Alberta to New Mexico. It is sometimes called Prairie Smoke because a field of these will have a smoky appearance when seen from a distance.Potentilla fruticosa - Shrubby Cinquefoil
A small shrub. Leaves with 5-7 lobes. Flowers have a simple, rose-like shape, bright yellow. Common from Alaska to New Mexico. This is the species our common garden Potentilla is derived from.
Cinquefoil is from the French for five leaflets. Potentilla is derived from Latin 'potens' meaning 'powerful one', a reference to its many healing properties. Fruticosa is from Latin 'frutex' (bush).Lupinus bakeri - Lupine
Flowers are pea-like, blue and white. Leaves are palmately compound, different from other members of the pea family which are usually pinnately divided. Lupines are one of our most common wildflowers, blooming from low elevations to subalpine all over the Rocky Mountain region. L. texensis is the famous Bluebonnet of Texas and is its state flower.
Lupines are named after the wolf 'lupus' in Latin because they were once thought to rob the soil of nutrients. In fact, the opposite is true. They can survive in poor soil because of the nitrogen-fixing bacteria on their roots, so they actually add nutrients.Linum lewisii - Blue Flax
Slender plant with small leaves and sky-blue, saucer-shaped flowers, each of which lasts for only one day. Found in dry open areas, plains to subalpine, Alaska to New Mexico. The species name is in honor of Captain Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
The stems are very fibrous and Native Americans used them for cordage. The related European species (L. usitatissimum - meaning 'useful') is used to make linseed oil and linen. The common name comes from the German 'flachs' meaning 'to braid or weave'. Linum is Latin for flax.Geranium richardsonii - Richardson's Geranium
Leaves deeply lobed and hairy. Flowers white with five round petals. Fruits have a long beak similar to the beak of a crane. (A related species is called 'cranesbill'). As the fruit dries, the five parts curl upwards to fling the seeds into the air. It is found in moist and shaded spots throughout the Rocky Mountains. 'Geranos' means crane in Greek.Viola nuttallii - Yellow Montane Violet
Violets have five unequal petals. The lower petal contains the nectar and usually has 'guide lines' to direct insects into the nectar pouch to ensure pollination. The leaves and flowers are good sources of vitamins A and C and can be eaten raw in salads, made into tea or candied. These plants are found in dry sites throughout the Rocky Mountains.Epilobium angustifolium - Fireweed
A tall plant with lance-shaped leaves, turning bright red in the fall. Plants are often found in colonies. Flowers are rose-pink, in long showy clusters. Very common on Grand Mesa, blooming in August. Seeds have tufts of white hairs visible through September. Found in open areas, foothills to subalpine, Alaska to New Mexico. It is an important colonizer of burned areas (hence its common name), spreading rapidly. Popular for its tea (high in vitamins A and C) and honey. It is the official floral emblem of the Yukon.
Epilobium is from the Greek 'epi' (upon) and 'lobos' (pod). The corollas borne on the end of the long ovary, as is typical for all members of this family.Pseudocymopteris montanus - Mountain Parsley
The most common member of the Parsley Family in our area, blooming in July. Found in drier soils in montane meadows to subalpine. Flowers yellow in flat-topped heads called umbels. (Think umbrellas). Leaves are very finely divided like those of carrots and parsley. From the Greek 'pseudo' (false). Cymopteris is another genus in the same family.Arctostaphylos uva-ursi - Kinnikinnik
Mat-forming evergreen shrub with glossy leaves. Flowers are urn-shaped,pink to white, hanging from the branches in clusters. Fruits bright red. Found foothills to alpine, Alaska to New Mexico.
The genus and species names are both from Greek, 'arcto' (bear) and 'staphylos' (bunch of grapes) and 'uva' (grape) and 'ursus' (bear). 'Ursi' (of the bear). Bears are very fond of the fruits which seem rather dry and tasteless to us. The common name, Kinnikinnik, is an Algonquin Indian name for a mixture of these dried leaves and bark that they used for tobacco. The berries were also mixed with serviceberries and animal fat to make pemmican.Ipomopsis (Gilia) aggregata - Scarlet Gilia
Biennial. Leaves in basal rosettes the first year, sending up a flower stalk the second year. Flowers scarlet and trumpet-shaped with five sharply pointed lobes. Found in dry, open areas from southern British Columbia to New Mexico. They are pollinated by hummingbirds which inadvertently transfer the pollen on their heads. Called Ipomopsis because it has a superficial resemblance to Ipomoea, the morning glory. It was originally called Gilia after an Italian astronomer. And aggregata because it grows in large groups where its seeds fall.Phlox condensata - Alpine Phlox
Low, compact cushion plants sometimes looking like small patches of white snow, although occasionally the flowers can be blue or pinkish. Found on dry, open slopes in the Rocky Mountains, Montana to Colorado. Phlox is Greek for 'flame' as some species have brilliant pink or red flowers.Phacelia sericia - Purple Fringe, Silky Phacelia
Leaves are feathery and hairy, flowers purple with long yellow stamens extending out of the flower tube. In bottle-brush-like flower heads, they are sometimes called Scorpion Weed because the young flowering stem is coiled before it blooms like the tail of a scorpion. Found in dry, open areas from Alberta to Colorado.
The genus name is from the Greek 'phakelos' (cluster). Serica is from Latin 'sericum' (a silken garment), which refers to the fine silky hairs on the leaves and stems.Agastache urticifolia - Giant Hyssop, Horsemint
Large herb, 3-4 feet tall with coarse, toothed leaves with a minty smell when crushed. Flowers are purplish, in spike-like clusters with four long stamens extending outwards. The stems are square as are all members of the Mint Family. Found in moist sites, foothills to subalpine, Montana to Colorado.
From the Greek 'agastos' (admirable) plus 'stachys' (an herb with a spike like horehound). The species name from Latin 'urtica' (nettle) and 'folium' (leaf) - having leaves like a nettle.Monardella odoratissima - Bee Balm, Pennyroyal
Plant about a foot tall with square stems and purple flowers in a terminal flower head. Flowers are 2-lipped with two exerted stamens. Found in open meadows and along roadsides from low elevations to subalpine. It is often used for tea or in seasoning.
Monarda was a 16th century Spanish botanist. The species name from Latin 'odorus' (fragrant) - odoratissima (very fragrant).Castelleja miniata, C. rhexifolia, C. sulphurea - Paintbrush
Perennial herbs, 8-12 inches tall. Flowers in heads on top of the stems. The color is due to the bracts which hide the true flowers. Paintbrushes are very common from deserts to foothills to alpine areas and from Alaska to New Mexico. They frequently hybridize and it can be hard to distinguish which is which. We have three in our garden here, C. miniata (red), C. rhexifolia (rose) and C. sulphurea (yellow), but there may be variations. C. rhexifolia is more often found in boggy areas than the other two.
The genus name comes from Castilleja, a Spanish botanist in the 1700's,who probably studied the plants in our southwest. Miniata from the Greek 'minys' (small) and 'sulphurea' from the Latin meaning yellow. The common name comes from the fact that the plants all look as if they had been dipped in paint.Penstemon mensarum, P. rydbergii, P. strictus, P. whippleanus - Penstemon, Beardtongue
Penstemons are a very large genus, found especially in the western United States. They all have spikes of tubular flowers with two lips above and three below. They are named for their five stamens. The fifth is sterile and often hairy, causing the flowers to also be called 'Beardtongues'. Penstemon is from the Greek 'pente' (five) and 'stemon'(stamen). They are found in dry slopes all over the Rocky Mountain West as well as in desert areas.
We have at least four on Grand Mesa, P. whippleanus has large, usually purple (to creamy-white with purple-stripes) glandular hairy flowers. P. rydbergii has its very dark blue flowers in whorled heads, clustered around the stems. It is found only in open meadows around 10,000 feet. P. mensarum and P. strictus could be confused, but P. strictus is found in lower elevations and its anthers are covered with long white hairs. It is the most common and widespread. P. mensarum was discovered on the Grand Mesa and is often called the Grand Mesa Penstemon. Its stamens are hairless. It is quite common in upper drainages and along roadsides. 'Mensarum' (of the Mesa), 'strictus' (straight, erect).Pedicularis racemosa - Parrot's Beak
Perennial herb with often reddish, toothed leaves. Flowers white, two-lipped, with the upper lip rising to a down-curved beak, resembling the beak of a parrot. Found in dry, open sites in coniferous forests from Alberta to New Mexico.
Pedicularis is from Latin 'pedis' (a louse). It was originally thought that animals that ate these plants became infested with lice. However, animals only eat these plants when there is nothing else to eat and they are already in poor condition and therefore more vulnerable to lice. Similar plants, and sometimes this one, are often called 'louseworts'.Galium boreale - Bedstraw
Slender perennial herb with leaves in whorls, covered with tiny, hooked bristles. They have square stems, though they are not in the Mint Family. The tiny flowers are in dense terminal clusters. Widespread in open or wooded sites, foothills to subalpine, Alaska to New Mexico. The common name comes from the fact that it was once used as bed ticking as it was said to repel fleas and it doesn't mat easily due to the bristles on the leaves. The seeds can make a coffee substitute, since they are in the same family as commercial coffee, Rubiaceae.
Galium from the Greek 'gala' (milk). It has been used to curdle milk. The species name, boreale, from Latin, 'borealis' (northern).Campanula rotundifolia - Harebell
Small slender herb with small linear leaves. Flowers purplish-blue, bell-shaped with five pointed lobes, nodding. Widespread, moist to dry,plains to subalpine, Yukon to New Mexico. The genus name comes from Latin 'campanula' (bell). Although the official species name, rotundifolia, means 'round leaf', all of ours have slender linear leaves. This is known as the Bluebell of Scotland, where its leaves vary from rounded (basal leaves) to linear.Achillea lanulosa (or millefolium) - Yarrow
Perennial herb with fern-like leaves and small white flowers in flat-topped heads. Very widespread. Found in very dry to moist sites, plains to alpine, Alaska to New Mexico. It is also commonly grown in home gardens where it comes in a wide range of colors from white to yellow to red. Named after Achilles who is historically known as the first person to use its blood clotting ability to staunch the wounds of his soldiers.
Latin 'lanula' (tiny lock of wool) for its hairy leaves and millefolium from French 'mille' ( thousand) and 'feuille' ( leaf) referring to the finely dissected leaves.Antennaria rosea - Pussytoes
Low, mat-forming herb with soft white to pink flower heads on 6 inch long stems above the tight mat of leaves. Common in well drained sites,foothills to alpine, Alaska to Colorado.
Genus name is from Latin 'antenna' (a feeler, antenna) for the pappus hairs of the male flowers.Arnica cordifolia, A. latifolia - Heart-leaf Arnica, Broad-leaf Arnica
Both Arnicas are perennial herbs, somewhat hairy with solitary yellow sunflower-like flower heads rising 6 to 8 inches above the opposite leaves. The center of the flower is always yellow, unlike many other sunflowers. Found in open woods, montane to subalpine, Yukon to southernRockies.
In A. cordifolia the leaves are heart-shaped. Latin 'cor' (heart) and in A. latifolia they are not heart-shaped, with either no petioles or else very short ones. Latin 'latus' (side). The name Arnica comes from the Greek 'arnakis' (lambskin) from the hairy texture of the leaves.Dugaldia (Helenium) hoopesii - Sneezeweed
Very showy sunflower-type flower with droopy ray petal-like flowers. About 18 inches tall and very common in open meadows and along roadsides in late summer. Found from upper foothills to low subalpine areas from Wyoming to New Mexico. Abundant in western Colorado but rare on the eastern slope. Named after two early botanists, Dugald Stewart and Josiah Hoopes, although probably neither one of them knew this plant.Erigeron elatior, E. speciosus - Pink-headed Fleabane Daisy, Showy Fleabane Daisy
Fleabane Daisies are very common plants with daisy flowers. They are often confused with asters, but asters have fewer ray flowers (petals) and the bracts under the flower heads are arranged like shingles on a roof, while those of daisies are in two even rows and there are many more ray flowers. Pink-headed Fleabane Daisy is found in wetter areas than showy Fleabane Daisy and is taller. Elatior is from Latin 'elatus' (elevating).
E. speciosus flowers are purple, found in moist, open sites in montane to tree line, Alberta to New Mexico. The species name is from Latin 'speciosus' meaning striking or brilliant. The genus name is the Greek name for a plant. It means 'eri' (early) and 'geron' (an old man), referring to the white, fluffy seed heads. Fleabane is an early name as it was formerly used as a flea repellant.Helianthella quinquenervis - Little Sunflower
Tall, up to 4 feet, erect stems with usually just one yellow sunflower head, although there may be a few smaller ones below it. Common in midsummer in our meadows. In dry to moist sites, montane to subalpine, Montana to New Mexico.
Helianthella means 'Little Sunflower' from Greek 'helios' (sun). Quinquenervis refers to the five dominant veins in the leaves.Senecio triangularis - Groundsel
Lush-looking plant, often in clumps. Flowers are yellow with many heads in branched, flat-topped clusters. Flowers have a single series of bracts under the flower head. The leaves are coarse and arrow-shaped. Found in moist to wet, open or shaded sites, mainly montane to subalpine, Yukon to New Mexico.
Senecio is from Latin 'senex' (an old man) referring to the fluffy white seed heads. The species name refers to the triangular leaves.Solidago spathulata - Goldenrod
Perennial herb with red stems and dense, narrow, elongated, yellow flower clusters. Blooms in late summer to fall. Found on rocky slopes, montane to subalpine, Alaska to New Mexico. Its tea can relieve intestinal gas and cramps. It does not cause hay fever as its heavy pollen is carried by insects, not by the wind. It is ragweed that causes hay fever.
Solidago from Latin 'solido' (to make whole) plus 'ago' (to make) referring to its medicinal properties. Spathulata, Latin 'spatha' (a spatula) referring to the shape of the leaves.Viguiera multiflora - Golden-eye, Sunspots
Slender herb with opposite, hairy, slightly toothed leaves. Flower yellow, sunflower-like, in small, open clusters. Found in dry, open sites, upper foothills to subalpine from Montana to New Mexico. Blooms in late summer.
Comments should be addressed to
Dr. Curtis E. Swift, Area Extension Agent, Horticulture
Colorado State University Extension
2775 US Hwy 50, Grand Junction, CO. 81503