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Wondrous Wildflowers

With all of the time and effort we spend on our gardens, we sometimes forget that Mother Nature is the best gardener of all.

Here is an illustrated guide to her creations, some of which thrive in urban gardens, too.

Illustrations by Hilary Forsyth, courtesy Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks

Wildflowers unfailingly appear year after year on Boulder County trails. These hardy survivors endure drought, freezes, hail, heat, grazing and other traumas to please us each spring, summer and fall with their specialized blooms. The following guide to these bewitching beauties is courtesy Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks.

Oregon Grape


Mahonia repens

Oregon grape prevents erosion on steep hillsides. These tiny flowers can be very fragrant, so stop and sniff.

Found on: Flagstaff Trail

Pasque FlowerWildflowers21


Pulsatilla patens ssp. multifida

The fuzzy hairs on pasque flowers keep them warm, allowing them to bloom very early in spring.

Found on: McClintock and Gregory Canyon trails

Sand LilyWildflowers23

February to April

Leucocrinum montanum

Sand lilies bloom early in spring, and all but the underground part of the plant dies soon afterward.

Found on: Eagle and Red Rocks trails

Blue FlaxWildflowers6

February to April

Adenolinum lewisii

Flax has been used for fiber since ancient times. Linen is made from flax stems cured in water.

Found on: Red Rocks, Marshall Mesa and Bluebell Mesa trails

Spring BeautyWildflowers24

February to April

Claytonia rosea

Look at the delicate pink lines on the flower petals. Like runways, these guide insects to nectar.

Found on: Bluebell-Baird Trail

Golden BannerWildflowers10


Thermopsis montana

Golden banner is toxic to humans and many animals, but caterpillars feed safely on it.

Found on: Chautauqua and Lower Towhee trails

Mountain BluebellsWildflowers18


Mertensia lanceolata

Although their name implies it, mountain bluebells aren’t just blue. Look for other colors in the buds.

Found on: Skunk Canyon Trail

Wild GeraniumWildflowers27


Geranium caespitosum

Geranium comes from the Greek word “geranos,” or crane. This plant is often called cranesbill because of the shape of the seedpods.

Found on: Mesa Trail



Padus virginiana ssp. melanocarpa

Bears, coyotes, foxes, birds, butterflies, bees, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits and deer all depend on chokecherries for food. Look for tent caterpillars in the branches.

Found on: South Mesa Trail

Heart-leaved ArnicaWildflowers12


Arnica cordifolia

If you find one arnica plant, you’ll probably find several. Like aspen, arnica spreads underground to form colonies of many connected plants. Arnica has been used medicinally for hundreds of years. Do the leaves look heart-shaped to you?

Found on: E.M. Greenman Trail

Wild IrisWildflowers28


Iris missouriensis

Paiute and Shoshone Indians found wild iris to be a cure for toothache. However, like many other medicinal plants, wild iris can be poisonous.

Found on: Big Bluestem and Mesa trails



Achillea lanulosa

The Greek hero Achilles purportedly used yarrow to heal soldiers’ wounds. Its scientific name honors him. The leaves are very aromatic; smell your fingers after rubbing them.

Found on: Numerous dry meadow and grassland trails



Delphinium nuttallianum

Larkspur flowers have been used to kill lice. Native Americans and white settlers made a louse-killing shampoo by mixing the seeds and flowers with soap.

Found on: Towhee and Homestead trails



Lupinus argenteus

Lupines enrich the soil. Bacteria on the roots take nitrogen from the air and change it into a form other plants can use, then release it into the soil.

Found on: Bluebell Mesa, Eagle and Chautauqua trails



Yucca glauca

Native Americans discovered many uses for yucca. The leaves can be woven into sandals, mats and baskets; fibers in the leaves can be used as thread or twisted into rope; and the roots and stems make a soapy lather when pounded into water.

Found on: Hogback Ridge and Red Rocks trails

One-sided PenstemonWildflowers19


Penstemon secundiflorus

Gardeners have discovered penstemon seeds grow better when stored for a few years before planting. Exposing the seeds to cold and moisture helps, too.

Found on: Mesa Trail

Death CamasWildflowers9


Toxicoscordion venenosum

If eaten, this plant can poison people and livestock. All parts of the plant, including the bulb, contain the poison. Death camas is easily confused with wild onion, with devastating results.

Found on: Big Bluestem and Gregory Canyon trails

Prickly PearWildflowers22


Opuntia macrorhiza

Prickly pear spines are actually modified leaves. Leaves let water in the plant escape into the air, while spines keep water trapped inside, allowing cacti to live in very dry places.

Found on: Red Rocks and Hogback Ridge trails

Leafy CinquefoilWildflowers14

May to June

Drymocallis fissa

Cinquefoil’s  flowers attract caterpillars and butterflies. The leaves typically have apleasantly fuzzy feel.

Found on: Mesa Trail

Colorado ColumbineWildflowers8

May to June

Aquilegia coerulea

This is Colorado’s state flower. The long spurs in the back are filled with nectar.

Found on: Upper Chautauqua Trail

Mariposa LilyWildflowers16


Calochortus gunnisonii

In 1848, white settlers in Utah faced starvation after crickets, drought and frost destroyed their crops. The Ute Indians came to their aid by teaching them how to use this plant for food. Today it is Utah’s state flower.

Found on: Chautauqua Meadow trails

Blanket FlowerWildflowers4


Gaillardia aristata

The red heads and yellow bodies of gaillardia moths allow them to blend in while feeding on blanket flower’s nectar, protecting them from predators.

Found on: Big Bluestem and Marshall Mesa trails



Campanula rotundifolia

The long-blooming harebell grows all over the Northern Hemisphere, and is the “bluebell of Scotland.”

Found on: Mesa Trail



Monarda fistulosa var. menthaefolia

You may have tasted bergamot before—the leaves of European bergamot give Earl Grey tea its special flavor.

Found on: Mesa Trail

Monument PlantWildflowers17

June to July

Frasera speciosa

Seeing a blooming monument plant is a cause for celebration! These plants grow for up to 60 years, bloom once and then die.

Found on: Enchanted Mesa Trail

Alpine PenstemonWildflowers1


Penstemon glaber

Penstemon is also called “beardtongue” because of the yellow hairs inside the flower. Pollen brushes off of visiting butterflies and bees and becomes trapped on the hairs.

Found on: Flagstaff trails

Western WallflowerWildflowers26

June to July

Erysimum asperum

Wallflowers are often very fragrant, and have a variety of petal colors on a single plant. Mustard comes from the crushed seeds of plants closely related to wallflowers.

Found on: Tenderfoot Trail


June to July

Amerosedum lanceolatum

Stonecrop can live in very dry places where other plants can’t, because its succulent leaves and stems store water. In severe drought, stonecrop becomes dormant until rain returns.

Found on: Rangeview and Hogback Ridge trails


July to August

Aster spp.

Asters are a sure sign of fall, and the end of the wildflower season. Each “flower” is actually made up of many tiny flowers.

Found on: Green Mountain West Ridge Trail

Blazing Star

July to August

Liatris punctata

Blackfeet Indians named this plant “crow-root,” because they saw ravens and crows eating it in the fall.

Found on: Marshall Mesa and Skunk Canyon trails

For more info on local flora, fauna, trails and related topics, visit the City of Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks website at ci.boulder.co.us/openspace.

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