Sunday, May 3, 2015

Visiting Northern Colorado--June Flowers at Carter Lake

fringed puccoon, Lithospermum incisum
Check out the flowers at Carter Lake this spring!

This blog post shows flowers from early June 2014--soon to be visible again!

 We drove to the south end of Carter Lake, southern Larimer County, Colorado, and took a casual walk in the campground. It was very quiet on a weekday morning.

From a distance you wouldn't think there was anything to see:

But walking along the paths revealed all kinds of flowers

spiderworts in the grass
Tradescantia occidentalis, spiderwort (dayflower family, Commelinaceae)  The flowers are blue to purple and open only in the morning.

penstemon, Penstemon
Penstemon. There are 10 species in Larimer County. My photo isn't good enough to identify the plant to species.  (Figwort family, Scrophulariaceae).

Rocky Mountain loco, Oxytropis sericea
Rocky Mountain loco, Oxytropis sericea (pea family, Fabaceae). Common in the plains, the name loco is from locoweed. As the name suggests, locoweeds are poisonous to livestock, made worse because animals like the taste of them.

wavyleaf thistle
Carter Lake, butterfly on wavyleaf thistle in foreground
Not all the thistles are weeds. Wavyleaf thistle (Cirsium undulatum) is a native very attractive to butterflies.
prickly pear cactus
prickly pear cactus, Opuntia sp.
The prickly pears expand on overgrazed pasture and also because they are spiny enough that humans often leave them alone when they might pull up a softer plant. But they are hardy natives with handsome flowers. The tiny spines, called glocids, are much more of a problem if you brush a prickly pear than the great barbed spines--but those can really hurt too. In Larimer County there are two species of prickly pear that are hard to tell apart. This is probably Opuntia polyacantha, but O. macrorhiza is very similar. (Larimer County hikers should be grateful for only 2 choices of prickly pear, New Mexico has at least 6 very similar prickly pear cacti See link. As nearby as Boulder County, there's a third very similar species, O. phaeacantha. )

fringed puccoon, Lithospermum incisum
A closer look at fringed puccoon, Lithospermum incisum (borage family, Boraginaceae). The puccoons are uncommon wildflowers that I like very much. The name is one of my favorite examples of "scientific names aren't necessarily harder to learn than common names" -- neither puccoon nor Lithospermum is a household word. The word puccoon was an Algonquian name for any plant that gave a dye. There is almost no information on Lithospermum incisum as a dye plant. The roots of its relatives produce red dyes, but I find only indirect information on L. incisum, but if one Lithospermum is a puccoon, others are called puccoon too. An alternate common name, if you aren't willing to learn puccoon, is narrowleaf stoneseed: the small rounded seeds are very hard.

blanket flower
blanket flower, Gaillardia aristata
Blanket flower, Gaillardia aristata (sunflower family, Asteraceae) is one of our native wildflowers that has become a widely planted garden flower. It always is a joy to come upon blanket flower.

evening primrose
eveing primrose, Oeonthera sp.
The evening primroses, Oenothera species (evening primrose family, Onagraceae), are a diverse group native to the Americas. They are not related to primroses, which are from Europe, or roses. There are at least ten species along the Colorado Front range, some quite rare. This is probably Oenothera flava.

The evening primrose photo reveals that I was there in the morning. The flowers open in the evening and wilt as the morning heats up. Late risers can admire them on overcast days.

soapweed yucca
soapweed yucca, Yucca glauca
This last plant is soapweed yucca, Yucca glauca (link soapweed yucca in this blog).  Note the funny pattern of flowers on the stalk. Something, probably a deer, ate the flowers out of the middle. You can see two green flower stalks to the right that were eaten down to stubs.

There were more species in flowering, this is a sampling.

Why are the flowers in my photos mostly yellow and blue and not red? Because many bees can't see red (it looks like black to them) and bees are important spring pollinators in the foothills. 

White flowers often are pollinated at night, because white is particularly visible in the dark. That is certainly true for yucca, which is pollinated by moths. I don't know about loco. Most evening primrose species attract moths that fly in the twilight or dark, but this evening primrose isn't white like many of its relatives. Perhaps it attracts bees and butterflies as well as moths.

My plant identifications were greatly assisted by the excellent new wildflower book for Larimer County's foothills (5,000-8,000' in elevation) from Larimer County Natural Resources:
Wildflowers and Other Plants of the Larimer County Foothills Region. 2014. Larimer County Natural Resources. As far as I know, the place to buy it Larimer County Parks headquarters, Carter Lake.

Check out the spring wildflowers of the Rocky Mountain foothills! 

Cannon, J. and M. 1994. Dye plants and dyeing. The Royal Botanic Garden, Kew. Print.
"Puccoon" 2007. Oxford English Dictionary online. Accessed 4/17/15.
Weber, W. A. and R. C. Wittmann. 1996. Colorado flora, eastern slope, 3rd edition. University Press of Colorado, Boulder.
Young, H. 2014. Wildflowers and other plants of the Larimer County foothills region. Larimer County Natural Resources, Loveland, CO. Print.

Question and comments welcome.

Kathy Keeler

1 comment:

  1. The lake look so good for stand up paddleboarding, I wonder if you already tried it? Its the newest water sports in Canada. Snowcoast Canada