Mother Nature procrastinates on summer’s splendor
Published August 23, 2019
Does it feel like summer went by in a blink? This year, summer travel and busy schedules are not the only things to blame. A late, wet spring brought summer to Silverthorne a bit later this year than in years past.
The good news? It’s not too late to catch a glimpse of Colorado’s boldest and brightest wildflowers. The Silverthorne Pulse sat down with longtime local and wildflower guru, Pat Taylor, to get a few pro tips.
Silverthorne Pulse (SP): Are there still good wildflowers to be spotted in Summit County?
Pat Taylor (PT): Absolutely! All the snow from this past winter and spring means everything was delayed, wildflower-wise. We’re still seeing beautiful flowers up high at 11,000-12,000 feet
SP: Which species in particular are peaking right now? And what is still to come?
PT: As of mid-August, Columbine and Paintbrush were still beautiful at 10,000-11,000 feet. Blue and purple Gentians will be appearing shortly. We typically see early season, mid season and late season blooms as the summer progresses. Right now, I am still seeing some early and mid-season flowers like Narcissus Anenome and various shades of Paintbrush, with end of season flowers beginning to show in places.
Also, look for a plant we call the Elephant Head, which is in bloom now. Each magenta bloom on the stem looks like the head of an elephant, including ears, and trunk. An upper petal in each bloom resembles the elephant’s forehead and trunk. The large ears and lower lip are formed from three other petals. Occasionally you will see this in white.
SP: When do wildflowers usually peak? How is this year different?
PT: During a “typical” summer, wildflowers peak around July 15. This year, I would say that peak is on or around August 15. We still haven’t seen all of the flowers yet, but I hope to see them soon!
Because of all the moisture, wildflowers have also been more abundant than normal and this year is a banner year for mushrooms. We’re receiving reports of flower species that we don’t typically see, or that we haven’t spotted in years. Someone reported spotting Blue-Eyed Grass this year, which I haven’t seen in a decade.
SP: What are some of the best hikes around Silverthorne for wildflower spotting?
PT: Going on the Angler Mountain Trail or the Ptarmigan Trail. Acorn Creek is also a great option. A great early season hike is Arctic Placer up to the Mesa Cortina Trail.
SP: What are your tips for novice hikers and wildflower seekers?
PT: If you want to do your research before hitting the trails, there are lots of great wildflower books including some at the Forest Service office in Silverthorne.
Often, people will bring a photo to me and ask me to identify a flower. It helps to know at what altitude it was found, and on what side of the mountain the photo was taken. You can also count the petals and determine the leaf shape (simple, serrated, sawtoothed) in addition to the color to help with identification.
SP: What about peak aspen season this fall?
PT: For autumn, we really can’t predict what will happen. One clue the flowers offer us is in the form of the Arctic Gentian. Once that blooms, it means six weeks until the first snow (supposedly). In some years, I’ve spotted it in July but this year, I have yet to see it.
SP: How much time do I have left to enjoy these summer flowers?
PT: That really depends on what the weather does over the next few weeks. As the nights get colder, things will change at high elevation. The high country landscape will look more red-brown than it does now, and that will be a sign that wildflower season is coming to an end. But again, there are still flowers that haven’t bloomed, so now is the time to come up and enjoy!