Common Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains

There are hundreds of different kinds of wildflowers in the Rocky Mountains.  This includes many common wildflowers such as Lupine and Columbine.  Different kinds of wildflowers grow at different elevations and aspects, similar to how different trees grow better and dominate at different elevations.

For wildflowers the elevation and aspect are important factors in influencing where they will grow, but perhaps more important is the amount of light they are exposed to.  Certain wildflowers grow better in areas that receive lots of direct sunlight such as open meadows while other wildflowers grow better in shady areas, such as under trees.   One of the common wildflowers that grows well in full sun is Blue Flax.  On the other hand Columbine is an example of one of the common wildflowers that grows better in shady areas.

Wildflowers begin blooming in the early spring and continue to bloom throughout the summer months into the fall with the peak generally coming mid-summer.  Some wildflowers bloom early in the summer, others later, and other bloom all summer long.  The reason wildflowers bloom at different times of year is to give them the best chance of getting pollinated.  Pollination is the first step in creating new plants.

Common Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains

Aster

aster, common wildflower rocky mountainsColor: Purple

Height: 1–3 feet

Bloom time: May–Oct

Habitat: Grassy meadows, rocky slopes

Light: Full sun/partial shade

Notes: The asters are the largest family of flowering plant in North America, and can be found all over the world. An old story says that burning the leaves of an aster will keep away evil spirits and snakes.  This is one of the most common wildflowers in the Rocky Mountains.

Blue Flax

blue flax, common wildflower rocky mountainsColor: Blue

Height: 1–2 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 and blooms during the day. Then the petals fall off by evening.

Bluebells

bluebells, common wildflower rocky mountainsColor: Blue

Height: 1–3 feet

Bloom time: June–August

Habitat: Stream banks, wet meadows, damp thickets

Light: Partial shade

Notes: Needs to be in a moist area. Looks like a group of bells together. The flowers hang upside down in small clusters.

Columbine

columbine, common wildflowers rocky mountainsColor: Purple, blue, white, red

Height: 1–2 feet

Bloom time: June–August

Habitat: moist woods, open mountain meadows

Light: shade

Notes: This is not only one of the common wildflowers, but is also one of the most exquisite and beloved wildflowers in the mountains. It grows best in Aspen groves. The Rocky Mountain Columbine is the Colorado state flower.

Creeping Oregon Grape

creeping oregon grape, common wildflowers rocky mountainsColor: Yellow

Height: 12–18 inches tall

Bloom time: May, June

Habitat: Dry soil, woods

Light: Partial shade, partial sun

Notes: Edges of leaves are sharp and prickly. This is a low-growing evergreen groundcover. In the middle of summer it grows blue berries that are very sour but edible.

Fireweed

fireweed, common wildflowers rocky mountainsColor: Pink

Height: 3–6 feet

Bloom time: June–September

Habitat: Disturbed soils in cool areas from lowlands to mountains, along highways

Light: Full sun

Notes: Pink spires of flowers bloom at top of tall stems. Bees and hummingbirds eat their nectar. People eat the young leaves in salads.

Geranium

geranium, common wildflowers rocky mountainsColor: White, pink, purple

Height: 4–36 inches

Bloom time: June–August

Habitat: In the woods

Light: Partial shade

Notes: Flowers are white to pink with five petals. The petals have purple veins. Native Americans used the leaves to stop nosebleeds by crushing the leaves into a powder and putting it into their nose.

Indian Paintbrush

indian paintbrush, common wildflower rocky mountainsColor: Pink/red

Height: 1–3 feet

Bloom time: March–September

Habitat: Open areas, alpine to subalpine woods and slopes, rocky soils

Light: Full sun/partial shade

Notes: The roots of this plant need to hook to roots of a host plant to survive. This means that this plant will always grow next to other plants.

Lupine

lupine, common wildflowers rocky mountainsColor: Blue, purple

Height: 1–3 feet

Bloom time: June–August

Habitat: Dry to moist valleys and mountains

Light: Full sun, partial shade, shade

Notes: Lupine (from the Latin word for “wolf ”) can be toxic. It can kill sheep and cows that eat it. It attracts hummingbirds and other birds.

Phlox

phlox, common wildflower rocky mountainsColor: Pink, lavender, or white

Height: Up to 5 inches

Bloom time: May–August

Habitat: Widespread—shrubby slopes on foothills to above the tree line

Light: Full sun

Notes: This flower is usually pink or lavender, but can be white or blue.  This is not only one of the common wildflowers, but it is also popular among gardeners to plant around their home as a flowering ground cover.

Yarrow

yarrow, common wildflowers rocky mountainsColor: White, pink

Height: Up to 24 inches

Bloom time: May–September

Habitat: Sunny areas everywhere

Light: Full sun

Notes: These flowers grow as a small cluster on a single stem. The leaves look almost like fern leaves and are narrow. The leaves are fragrant when crushed.

Yarrow leaves can stop bleeding. If you have a bloody nose, chew the leaves then put them up your nose to stop the blood!