Living on the Earth: Learning the Flowers

The Crestone Eagle • May, 2022

by David Lee

I like the quote by Gary Snyder in his poem, “For the Children”:

stay together

learn the flowers

go light

As we move into the seasons of wildflowers during the month of May, this article is less a celebration of our wildflowers and more a resource for learning about them. Those flowers begin turning up about now in Crestone and the Baca and along the creeks coming out of the Sangres, and that pageant unfolds during the summer and into early autumn. It seems obvious that we should learn the flowers, as we have moved to this beautiful area. I have prepared a short video of our flowers, synchronized to nature sounds and music, to whet your appetite.

How to learn about our wildflowers? Here are some resources to help. First, where to look? Flowers may be found everywhere, but the individual species are found in the different habitats of our surroundings. Lower down, in the pinyon-juniper woodlands and the shrub and grasslands beyond them, flowers most years are scarce and require close attention to the ground. Along the trails up the creeks, particularly North Crestone, South Crestone and Cottonwood, flowers are more frequent. The trails pass near and a bit away from the creeks and different flowers will be associated with degrees of moisture. Up higher, in the subalpine forests, a greater diversity of flowers will thrive, particularly on the edges of open meadows. If you are no longer able to hike to those higher elevations (including above the tree line and into the tundra), you can drive up high on forest service roads around the valley. I recommend the roads to Summitville and Blowout Pass south of Del Norte (Crestone Eagle, August 2021*); the short road to Lobo Overlook near Wolf Creek Pass; Forest Service roads above Bonanza (particularly to Mosquito Lake) and Antora Meadows (Crestone Eagle, August 2020); and the good gravel road to Marshall Pass—just north of the Valley. The remaining wet areas of the valley, particularly in the Baca Grande Wildlife Reserve, present a different bunch of flowers. Like the plains iris.

The Plains iris (Iris missouriensis) is an elegant wildflower growing in wet areas of the valley as in the Baca Grande National Wildlife Refuge, and even in that damp lot across the street from the Eagle office in Crestone, in late May and into June. Photo by David Lee.

We have three printed lists of flowers in or near our community. These are available to the reader by accessing and downloading them from that Eagle website. Jim Erdman, a former resident, produced a handy list of Plants of the Baca Grande Subdivision. Tim Hogan, of the University of Colorado Herbarium, assembled a list of plants of the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, mainly of plants growing above 9,000’ elevation. Pamela Regensberg completed a floristic survey of the Baca Grande National Wildlife Preserve, part of a Master thesis at Colorado State. These vary in technical detail, but all provide names that can be looked up elsewhere. There is also a list of the flowers that appear in the video mentioned at the beginning of the article.