Who among us doesnt love the beautiful, awe-inspiring vista of an alpine meadow full of wildflowers? We are fortunate to have many such iconic wildflower displays on our San Juan Mountains public lands.
Not only are they beautiful to look at, alpine wildflowers are special, intriguing kinds of plants. They are able to survive in some of the most challenging conditions any plants ever have to face. Winters are long, bitter cold and windy with pockets of deep, slow-melting snow. The growing season is very short and chilly with high levels of potentially damaging ultraviolet radiation.
How do they manage to survive?
All life forms are adapted to the climate and conditions in which they live, and alpine wildflowers are no exception. For example, most are low-growing plants that take advantage of the more moderate microclimate near the ground surface. Many have small leaves that expose less plant surface to the low temperatures and desiccating wind. Others have fine hairs on leaves and stems to protect against heat loss and ultraviolet radiation. Many alpine wildflowers are shaped so that they function as solar collectors focusing heat and light on the plants reproductive organs.
The majority of alpine wildflowers are perennials that quickly regrow each year from existing root systems that store carbohydrates needed for early growth in the spring. But if alpine wildflowers primarily are perennial plants, why do they even need those seed-producing flowers we love? Producing flowers gives them a reproductive option when conditions are just right, and they can stay alive and continue to grow from their root systems when the conditions are not ideal.
Because of the awe-inspiring beauty we see, we may be tempted to take some of it home with us as a bouquet to put on our table. However, we need to visit our public lands with respect, stifle that urge and leave the brilliant color palette for others to enjoy. To help identify the beauty you see, G.K. Guennels book Colorado Wildflowers (Volume 2, Mountains) is a great one to use. It can be found, along with other wildflower guides, at the San Juan Public Lands Center in the Tech Center in Durango.
There are many places on the San Juan Public Lands where you can see spectacular wildflower displays: the meadow at the base of Engineer Mountain or along The Colorado Trail at Kennebec Pass, Taylor Lake and Indian Trail Ridge, for example.
The San Juan Mountains Association is offering a wildflower and butterfly hike for families July 16 at Durango Mountain Resort and nature hikes on Tuesdays and Thursdays at DMR from June 23 to Aug. 18. We hope youll join us. Our San Juan Public Lands are spectacular in any season, and summer wildflower season is no exception. Enjoy your hikes.
Larry Eads is vice president of the San Juan Mountains Association Board of Directors and a guide for the Durango Mountain Resort nature walks.