One of the special pleasures of living in Genesee is our open spaces and the beautiful wildflowers inhabiting them. Our wonderful trail system allows us to view and enjoy their diversity throughout the season. However, remember that plants grow by the inch and die by the foot so be careful where you step.
Early in the season you should be on the lookout for Spring Beauty, one of our earliest bloomers. It could show up as early as April some years. It’s found all over the foothills in pine forests, so check under the ponderosas around your house. Deer and elk graze on it and the leaves and corms (underground fleshy stems) were eaten by Native Americans. The Sand Lily also can be found blooming in early spring in full sun and well-drained soils. The Sand Lily bulb was eaten by Native Americans and is a favorite food of bears.
Some of the more common Genesee wildflowers are Golden Banner, Field Mouse-Ear, Wild Blue Flax and various Penstemon species, which generally bloom later in the spring. They all prefer full sun; however, the Wild Blue Flax and Field Mouse-Ear will tolerate a bit of shade. Look for them in the Genesee meadows.
Golden Banner and Dalmatian Toadflax are often confused, because of their yellow flower spike; however, it’s good to know the difference. Golden Banner is a native and in the pea family. Each individual flower should remind you of a sweet pea. The leaves are trifoliate, meaning they are divided into three parts. Since this is a legume it also fixes nitrogen from the air into the soil, but don’t eat it! Some species in this genus are toxic, which is probably why the deer and elk usually leave Golden Banner alone. Spend some time watching the bumblebees pollinate this flower. They are the only pollinator heavy enough to weigh down the keel to expose the pollen.
Dalmatian Toadflax is not native and should be pulled when found. It has very deep roots so it can be difficult to eradicate. Non-native species have a tendency to out compete our native plant species and decrease the native foods and shelters for our wildlife. Dalmatian Toadflax is in the figwort family. Each individual flower will resemble a snapdragon and the leaf is simple (not divided into parts).
A special treat is the discovery of the Shooting Stars on the Streamside Trail as they prefer cool, moist, shady places. And watch for the Mariposa or Gunnison Lily, often found on hillside meadows since it is more drought tolerant. The bulb of this lily was eaten by the Mormons and Native Americans.
Later in the summer you will see the gorgeous but bristly Prickly Poppy, and many members of the Aster family such as Liatris (Gayfeather), Gumweed and Tansy Aster. Gumweed might look like a weed to you, but it’s a native. Please don’t pull it! It’s a yellow daisy-like flower with a square stem. The flower buds are sticky, hence the name.
The deer and elk in the neighborhood make it difficult to grow wildflowers in your garden. Remember, the animals were here first and we interrupted their habits and habitats. There are some wildflowers that they seem to leave alone, at least most of the time. Try using Golden Banner, Field Mouse-Ear, Wild Blue Flax, Prickly Poppy and Fleabane near your house. I had Skullcap, in the mint family, show up as a volunteer in my garden and the animals haven’t eaten it yet. Skullcap spreads nicely but doesn’t become invasive like some mints. Golden Banner will spread, so put it where you want a lot of it.
There are too many wildflower species to mention in one article. If you have an interest in learning more about our native plants look into courses in the Jefferson County Native Plant Master program through CSU Extension or the Colorado Native Plant Society.
There are also many field guides and web sites that will help you identify our wildflowers:
- Meet the Natives by Walter Pesman
- Wildflowers of Red Rocks Park by Jan and Charles Turner
- Rocky Mountain Flora by James Ells
- Rocky Mountain Flower Finder by Janet L. Wingate