Spring and Early Summer Flowers

Early summer is a fantastic time of year to get outside and go for a walk with your kids and explore the Rocky Mountains.  The mountains, which have been covered with snow for months, are now covered with green and wildflowers are starting to  bloom.  At this time of year there may still be snow at the higher elevations or in patches on the shady north facing slopes of mountains.  

Lower elevations and foothills are the best places to explore early in spring and summer because those areas are drier, are not yet as hot as they will become in the middle of summer, and are where you can see wildflowers for the first time this year.

Summer has begun for me when I go out in the mountains and see certain flowers.  These early bloomers are a truly welcome site.  It is like seeing some old friends that you haven’t seen for a long time, but as soon as you see them you are flooded with memories of all the good times you have spent together.  Here are some of the wildflowers that you may encounter on your adventures:

Lewis Flax

Color: Blueflowers blue flax

Height: 1 to 2 feet

Bloom time: May – August

Habitat: plains, and foothills

Light: full sun

Notes:  Each flower lasts only one day!  The flower opens in the morning, blooming during the day and the petals fall off by evening.  Each flower has five petals.  The flower grows at the top of a tall, frail looking stem.  It is native to the Rocky Mountains and grows from Alaska all the way down to California.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot

flowers arrowleaf balsamroot

Color: Yellow

Height: 1-3 feet

Bloom time: May, June, July

Habitat: grasslands, sagebrush, and pine forest

Light: full sun

Notes: Leaves are silver arrowhead shaped. Flowers are large and look like sunflowers. This flower smells like chocolate!

Fireweed

Color: Pinkflowers fireweed vertical

Height: 3-6 feet

Bloom time: June, July, Aug, Sept

Habitat: disturbed soils in cool areas, from lowlands to mountains, along highways and burned areas

Light: sun

Notes: Pink spires of flowers bloom at top of tall stems. Bees value it as a source of nectar. Attracts hummingbirds. People used to eat the young leaves like a salad.

Phlox

Color: Pink, lavender, or whitephlox small

Height: up to 5 inches tall

Bloom time: May, June, July, August

Habitat: widespread, shrubby slopes on foothills to above treeline

Light: sun

Notes:  There are many varieties of this flower, some of which grow in the mountains and many of which are grown in gardens as an ornamental.  People like this around their homes because in the spring it grows a mat of bright flowers.  This flower is usually pink or lavender, but can be white or blue.

Penstemons

Color: Blue, purple, or redflowers rocky mountain penstemon?

Height: 1-3 feet

Bloom time: May, June

Habitat: subalpine to valley sagebrush and conifer forest

Light: part shade

Notes: This has a few stems rising nearly straight up. This is an early spring bloomer. There are hundreds of different kinds of penstemons.  Some of the more common ones include the Rocky Mountain Penstemon (a purple flower – in picture above), and the Firecracker Penstemon (red flower).

Geraniums

Color: White, pink, purpleflowers geranium sticky horizontal

Height: 4-36 inches

Bloom time: June, July, Aug

Habitat: partial shade in woods

Light: part shade

Notes: Flowers are white to pink with five petals. The petals have purple veins, leading towards the center. The stems and leaves are covered with sticky hairs.  There are many different species of geraniums, including Sticky Geranium and Richardson’s Geranium.  Indians used leaves to stop nosebleeds by crushing the leaves into a powder and putting it into their nose.

Sticky Geranium has seed pods. When the pods are mature they burst open, sending the seeds flying up to 20 feet away!