Wow, this has been one heck of a year for the park. There is so much going on plant-wise that I can hardly keep up! Once again, I’ve whittled this post down to a few new or interesting plants. Put on your walking shoes, and let’s go!
(If you’re interested, you can see all of the posts for what’s been blooming in Monument Valley Park this year at :
Blooming in Monument Valley Park – All Posts)
This week, we’ll start at the parking lot where Fontanero Street ends at the park and walk about a mile loop, starting north.
Near Parking Lot
If you walk to the path by the parking lot, you’ll very quickly notice a small group of tall yellow flowers blooming on the west side of the trail under a pine. The leaf is rather large and toothed. This plant is an alien and is called Goldweed or Cowpen Daisy (Ximenesia encelioides). Not surprisingly, given the cowpen daisy name, it can sometimes be found in corrals.
Right near the base of the goldweeds, you’ll notice a plant that looks just a bit like a green poinsettia with seeds in the middle of the leaves. This is indeed called Wild Poinsettia (Poinsettia dentata), but it won’t get the red coloring that our favorite holiday plants do. If you look closely at the fruit, you can see that it has three distinct chambers.
A bit north on the east side of the trail is “the field” that we’ve been watching all season. It was mowed a few weeks ago, but since then, the Parks and Recreation maintenance folks have agreed to let it go unmown. You’ll notice our old friends making a bit of a comeback – the threadleaf yellowrays, a few spiderwort, plenty of “Mrs. Palmer’s curse” (Campanula rapunculoides) along the back edge. Lots of lovely grasses are getting their seedheads.
Along West Side of Playing Field
Keep working your way north along the playing field, and you’ll see that the threadleaf yellowrays are doing well along here too in addition to alfalfa, and some spiderwort. The dalmation toadflax that was blooming here has been removed. The park has plenty of plants that are on the Colorado noxious weeds list, so I was heartened to learn that they are doing their best to eradicate new ones.
From Playing Field to the End of the Loop
After you leave the playing field behind you, keep your eyes on the west side of the path. There are some TALL grasses here, but you may be lucky enough to see the top of a large wild asparagus plant (Asparagus officinalis) peeking up over the top of the grasses. Earlier this year, there probably were some edible young spears at the base, but they are gone now. If fact, you’ll notice the grasses have been sort of crushed over into almost a path to this plant. My guess is that some spear-hunters bushwhacked their way to the plant. (I did too and startled a harmless snake, so be careful stomping around out there!)
Look just north of the asparagus, and you’ll start to see many white flowers that look like garden phlox. There are many many of these from this point on to the end of the loop. Unfortunately, this is not a nice little garden phlox. Instead it is known as Bouncingbet (Saponaria officinalis), an invasive alien that is on the Colorado Noxious Weed List B. I’ve noticed one small patch of this in previous years in this area of the park, so I’m a bit concerned with the strides it has made this year.
Top of the Loop
When you get to the top of the loop, make a hard left turn so that you’ll be going down the middle trail (instead of heading over the trail above the creek). This area has several interesting plants. There are a few nice patches of showy milkweed, and as you are making your turn, you’ll notice a tall plant with purplish blue flowers on your left. As I got closer to them (I had to bushwhack a bit, being very careful of snakes), I was pleased to discover that they were native Blue Lettuce, a plant I’ve never seen before. They are 5-6 feet tall, and have blue flowers sort of like a blue dandelion head. If you snap a leaf off of one, you’ll see milky sap ooze from the would (just like regular prickly lettuce does).
The Fox Field
Walk south for a bit and right after the trail curves to the right a bit, check out the small colorful field on the west side of the trail. We’ve been watching this field all summer (it has a hard-to-find fox den near it, hence the name), and you’ll see there are still a few penstemon, evening primrose, and lots of alfalfa blooming here. One plant that has been blooming for a few weeks but that I haven’t highlighted is the Golden Aster (Heterotheca villosa). This is blooming in other places that you’ve walked by already, but this is a very nice patch of it. It’s a low, shrubby, plant with grayish green leaves, and bright yellow daisy-like flowers.
Keep walking south to finish the loop. You can head back up the hill to the parking lot, or if you have a bit more time, it’s worth turning right and heading under the bridge to the creekside area. There are still many Mexican hats, blanket flower, mullein, sweet clover, etc blooming in that area.
Text and photos contributed by Carey Harrington, Native-Plant-Master-in-Training.