The rain is back! To celebrate, we’ll look at a new area in the park today. Many of the flowers in this area are not blooming elsewhere in the park. (You’ll be happy to hear that the Colorado Springs Parks and Rec Maintenance Manager has agreed to meet with me to see the areas that we’ve been following, so that he can tell his crew to not mow them! Thanks Kurt!)
For a wrap-up of other areas and what’s been blooming, check out:
Natives Blooming in Monument Valley Park – All Posts
Warning – Wear shoes you don’t mind getting a bit muddy!
Park at the small lot where Fontanero ends at the park, and walk west, down the hill. Instead of turning right at the dumpster, continue straight so that you’ll pass under the bridge.
On your way towards the bridge, you’ll notice a plant blooming on the right that looks like, well, rusty on top. This is Curly Dock (Rumex crispus). This non-native (a.k.a. alien) has large leaves that are wavy along the edges and the rusty stalks on top are the “fruit” or seeds; the flowers were green.
Continue under the bridge (this is the part that will get your shoes the muddiest), and once on the other side, look right then left. Beautiful! There are more native yellow Mexican hats (Ratibida columnifera) that I’ve seen in a long time! This area was closed and disturbed for a lengthy drainage construction project a few years ago, and I suspect the Mexican hats were in a seed mix used for reclamation after the project.
Start heading south (turn left), and you’ll see another native flower that was probably in the mix, Indian blanket (Gaillardia aristata). There are not as many of them, but the red in the flowers really makes them stand out.
You’ll quickly see that this area is bursting with blooming plants. Many of you will recognize the blue flax that is finishing up, but you may be interested to learn about the Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) since it is blooming elsewhere in the park and you’ll start to see it around town. It is an alien biennial that is on the Colorado Noxious Weed List C. It sends up a tall stalk with tiny yellow flowers on it its second year. In it’s first year, it is only a low growing, large, felty-leaved rosette.
If you heard an “Oh my gosh!” come up from the creek about 10 a.m. this past Tuesday, that was me when I discovered the white version of the native scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata) growing on the east side of the trail near some mulleins. There is only one, but it really stands out. This is the same plant you’ll see in hot magenta pink growing in many areas around the state. A close look at an individual flower will tell you how it got one of its common names, fairy trumpet.
Continue walking south, and you’ll see another beautiful (but noxious) weed on the west side of the path, the blue flowering common chicory (Cichorium intybus). This usually will close up in the afternoon, so it’s worth going in the morning to see the pure blue flowers. This one is on the Colorado Noxious Weed List C as well (meaning it will probably never be under control). Apparently its roots are used as a coffee substitute, but I don’t know that my favorite coffee drinkers would go for that!
Walk just a bit farther south, looking for a few dots of hot pink on the west side of the trail. There is a small musk thistle (sometimes also called elk thistle) (Carduus nutans) near the creek. This is one of our most beautiful thistles, getting large deep magenta flowerheads. As they age, you’ll see goldfinches resting on them, pulling the down from the finished flowerhead for their nests. Sigh…this beauty is an alien too and is on the Colorado Noxious Weed List B.
Turn around and head back towards the point where you came under the bridge. As you’re walking, look along the east side of the path and you’ll see a few patches of showy milkweed. This native has a pink nearly baseball-sized flower clusters. The bees and ladybugs were all over these when I was looking at them. This plant can grow to 6 feet tall and is blooming in other places in the park too (near the far north end of the regular trails). This is one of the host plants for the monarch butterfly, so keep your eyes open!
Instead of heading under the bridge, continue north for a few more interesting plants. (Try not to be distracted by the thousands of mexican hats!) On the east side of the trail, you’ll quickly come upon a few patches of spiky purple blooming plants. Many people think these are penstemon at first, but they are not. A closer look will show 5 fused (joined) petals, usually bending back a bit. This is locally known as “Mrs. Palmer’s curse” due to a legend that General Palmer’s wife brought this plant with her from the east coast. It has become quite invasive, and many of us have it in our gardens. (A word to the wise, you’ll never eradicate it by pulling it; you must resort to something like Round Up.) Other times it is just called bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides). This alien spreads by deep underground rhizomes and will quickly crowd out other plants in your garden.
A little further, and you may notice one of our other thistles, the Canada thistle (Breea arvensis) or (Cirsium arvense). This thistle has much smaller flowerheads and isn’t quite as bright in color as the musk thistle. This is an alien thistle that was introduced from Europe, and it’s on our Colorado Noxious Weed List B. It spreads by underground rhizomes, making it very difficult to eradicate.
Feel free to continue walking and enjoying all the beautiful plants, or head back under the bridge and up the hill back to the parking lot.
Text and photos contributed by Carey Harrington, Colorado Master Gardener and Native-Plant-Master-in-Training.