Wildflowers are like movie stars—usually beautiful and each with varying roles to play. Some play important parts with lasting effects. Some use others to advance themselves noxiously. Others are perennially naughty. Like Hollywood, the Front Range offers a bit of everything. And August offers a chance to experience an explosion of wildflowers equal to a Netflix queue. Here are a few wildflower performers you’ll likely see.
Musk Thistle: Keanu Reeves
Don’t let this purple six footer’s initial charm fool you. It’s a weed. Once you get past the flower itself, you’ll find stiff, prickly leaves. It creeps into pastures, roadsides and Shakespeare, often crowding out the role of other more deserving flowers. Livestock won’t eat it. And just one flower produces up to 20,000 seeds.
Goldenrod: Helen Mirren
These robust, bright-yellow perennials live as far east as Massachusetts and as far northwest as British Columbia. The genus Solidago means to make whole because of the many medicinal roles it plays, from fighting kidney stones, digestive problems and colds to relief from eczema and arthritis. And it won’t cause your nose to run and your eyes to itch; that’s ragweed. But it does combat the seeding of weeds like Keanu.
Dotted Gayfeather: Meryl Streep
Aka, Blazing Star, this lavender flower packs attractive but serious qualities into dense flowered spikes shooting straight up from a thick stem. They feed sheep, deer and antelope. And they have been used medicinally for sore throats, snake bites and bladder problems.
Oxeye Daisy: Lindsay Lohan
A pretty perennial that might be mistaken for its more sophisticated, innocent cousins, this white flower resides on Colorado’s “B” list of noxious weeds. It looks great in gardens and Malibu parties but it’s a train wreck waiting to derail the growth of other native flowers. The Oxeye’s acrid smell—like stale sweat—attracts pollinating flies. Often found invading pasturelands, meadows and roadsides.
Perennial Sweet Pea: Jennifer Aniston
The comely, fragrant and some say “old-fashioned” Sweet Pea is full of nutrients and can remain viable for long periods. While it attracts bees, butterflies and birds, it also beckons snails and slugs who consume leaves and devour seedlings. The Sweat Pea’s bonny appearance belies its true nature as a pesky weed. Look for it in the meadows of Chautauqua.
Blue Gentian: Katharine Hepburn
A graceful, deep-blue flower with strong maroon stems found in moist, open or wooded sites along the Front Range. It attracts hummingbirds and butterflies as pollinators and ants as residents. Gentian root extracts are found in the old and still produced Moxie Cola as well as some European aperitifs like the French Suze.
+ Get out and look at flowers wherever you are.
+ Don’t worry about species; get familiar with general groupings first.
+ Bring along someone who can point out different flowers.
+ For plant education, conservation and organized wildflower hikes, try
the Colorado Native Plant Society. conps.com.
+ Pick up a book like Guide to Colorado Wildflowers (Vol. 1), by G.K. Guennel. Or try out National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflower—Western Region.
[To Go] For August wildflower viewing, check out Marshall Mesa in South Boulder. From Superior, go west on Marshall Drive and look for the trailhead on the south side. Other trailheads found off Hwy 93. bouldercolorado.gov