Mt Ranier at dusk, by Floris van Breugel
Life Zones: Canadian – Montane
In the Zone
The great midsection of our Rocky Mountains is called the Montane Zone. The annual rainfall is double that in the Sonoran Plains. This precipitation difference has resulted in forests of Lodge-pole Pine, Quaking Aspen, Englemen Spruce and streams lined with willows, aspen and water birch. The principal adverse conditions against which flowers must struggle for existence are: 1) a fairly short growing season, squeezed between spring snow-melt and the fall freeze; and 2) more shade trees and competition from trees and shrubs, whose roots are deep.
The steep hillsides can often be quite rock-covered. Between those rocks, small patches of good soil form and under those rocks is a meaningful amount of moisture which persists for extra-long time before evaporating, even in the arid sun.
Very commonly found along the roadside and in other disturbed areas, this beautiful flower blooms throughout the summer.
This Scarlet Letter belongs to the same utilitarian cash crop family as Cotton. The family also has large and important, ornamental plant groups like Hollyhocks.
This is one of the most sought-after and breath-taking Montane flowers. It used to grow in abundance, then they almost disappeared, due to over harvesting. Picking the orange and red speckled flower kills the bulb. To survive (and thrive) the bulb needs rich soil and partial shade.
The Speckled Wood Lily, a variety of the fancier wood lily, sports a delicate white globe of flowers. It also has a deep bulb, making it delicate and tricky to transplant.
Basel leaves are close to the ground on 8 inch stems. Down-pointing stamens of the flower center and reflexed or turned-back petals give the flower its name. The light violet petals and the yellow ring around the stamen are hallmarks of the flower, a member of the Primrose family.
Another member of the Primrose family, Fireweed is tall and willowy. It is frequently the first plant to come back into the charred space after a forest fire. It’s colorful bloom gives new life to the blackened ground. Fireweed is one of the world’s most widely disseminated wild flowers, and it is found throughout most of North America, Europe and Asia.
Fireweed’s light and feathery seeds are scattered by the wind. In the Rockies it’s found mostly in the Montane, but I have seen it in Maine, Nova Scotia, Texas and California, growing near the ocean.
There are so many species of Lupine that it is difficult to name each one. They are found abundantly in the high meadows and can fill the areas with a mass of blue color in midsummer. Like other plants of the Pea Family they add nitrogen to the soil and thereby improve the land on which they grow.
Colorado’s state flower speaks for itself better than any words.
It is an outstanding member of the Buttercup family and ranges widely from the foothills of the Montane to Timberline. Next to the wild rose, we believe it to be the most widespread flower.
The most spectacular large white Columbine we saw were at Cedar Breaks National Park in Utah. They were over three inches across. And we spotted tiny cliff-hanging ones in Zion National Park, which were almost orange.
Rocky Mountain Beeplant
This plant covers whole fields with huge displays of orchid or purple. It is probably an exotic that has been brought into the region in recent years. The plant has an unfortunate malodorous scent that you smell when you crush the foliage, so it is sometimes called “skunk weed.” The flowers are an important source of honey and the seeds are eaten by a number of birds, particularly doves.
In the open meadows of the high Montane, these Gentian present a rather conspicuous sight, as they tower to heights of five feet. The flowers have four sepal and four petals. They also have nectar gland that attract many insects
Unlike their Green relatives the Mountain Gentian are dwarfs, staying low to the ground and coming up only when the threat of snow has long past. These beautiful blue flowers with yellow centers are found above Timberline in some of the least hospitable places in North America.
The Elder is a member of the Honeysuckle family. The clusters of small white flowers leave way to bright red berries and present a most attractive display. Most Elders, called Elderberries are eatable and consumed by birds and rodents. Some people gather the berries for wines and jellies.
The stalks of some Elders are pithy and easily hollowed out. Native Americans used the stalks for making flutes.
Monk’s Hood gets its name because the flower resembles a helmet or the hooded cloak of a monk. It is a hardy perennial that grows in lots of Life Zones. The purple flowers appear in late summer and bloom into fall, and rising stems are from two to four feet tall. It is also called Wolfsbane for its ability to ward off werewolves. All parts of the plant are poisonous. In medieval times, the plant was often used to poison enemies or unfaithful spouses.