What's Growin' On: Wildflowers in Colorado

“Just a wild rambling rose seeking mysteries untold
No regret for the path that I chose
When a flower grows wild, it can always survive
Wildflowers don't care where they grow”
–Dolly Parton

 

Nothing captures the essence of summer in Colorado quite like walking on a trail under a blue sky, surrounded by meadows of wildflowers. In addition to being beautiful, wildflowers play an important role in their home ecosystems. Their root systems, along with those of other native grasses and plants, extend deep into the soil, storing water and nutrients while sequestering (binding or absorbing) carbon that would otherwise be released into the air. These ecosystems have been described as an inverted forest, where a lot of growth is underground and invisible to us! 

And while it may be oh-so-tempting, experts discourage the picking of wildflowers. Why? you might ask. Well, as information gatherers, we are here to share! To start, most wildflowers don’t make great cut flowers–they’re fragile and adapted to their natural habitat, so they usually wilt soon after being picked. In addition, most dug up wildflowers don’t survive being transplanted. Ultimately, digging, picking, or even collecting the seeds of wildflowers reduces their ability to reproduce and their long-term survival in a particular location. 

The impacts of wildflower picking go far beyond the loss of the flowers themselves. Wildflowers support entire ecosystems for pollinators, birds, and small animals. So many of our pollinator and animal friends depend on seeds, nectar, and pollen for their food supply and life support system. A lot of pollinators have very small home ranges or depend on just one species of flower, and can’t survive once their habitat has been destroyed. And lastly, removing wildflowers from their natural homes prevents others from enjoying our natural heritage. 

So how can we responsibly enjoy the beauty of wildflowers? One option is to create and steward our own native plant ecosystems. Landscaping and gardening with native plants has many benefits, including the creation of habitat for many different animals; from pollinators to birds, to small mammals. Many folks are now planting native gardens that not only benefit our animal and insect neighbors, but also bring joy to the gardener. No yard? No worries! You don’t need your own big plot of land to plant wildflowers. All you need is a pot, a window box, or a small patch of space, such as a community garden.

If you’re interested in growing or supporting pollinator habitats here in Denver, there are available resources! One organization is Wild Ones Front Range Chapter, who helps folks learn how to implement environmentally friendly growing practices through growing native plants in residential and public landscapes. They are the experts on what to plant in Denver, and how to keep those plants thriving! What’s more, Wild Ones Front Range Chapter has generously donated many native plant and grass seeds to our DPL Seed Libraries. Please visit one of the Seed Library locations to learn more and take home seeds to get your native habitat started, or check out a free Colorado State Park pass with your library card! 

And while we don’t have time to cover every topic here, we want to acknowledge that there are many other warranted discussions when it comes to invasive species of flowers, ethical foraging, and Indigenous land rights–future blogs and library resource sharing coming soon! 

So, we plant-loving library folks warmly encourage you to grow native plants where you can, visit awe-inspiring landscapes to take in the beautiful views (and to take all the stunning photos your heart desires), and to share what you see and learn! After all, sharing your positive experiences builds community no matter where someone lives, and can inspire others to help protect the lands, animals, and plants that make our home here in the West so special. Happy wildflower viewing!

With gratitude,
DPL Seed Libraries

Resources:

DPL Seed Libraries

Colorado State Park Passes (available for checkout with a library card)

Gardening and Horticulture database (available with a library card)

CSU Master Gardener Extension

Wild Ones Front Range Chapter

Library Titles to Check Out:

Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountain Region by Sonya Anderson

Rocky Mountain WildflowersRocky Mountain Alpine Flowers, and The Best Front Range Wildflower Hikes by Marlene Borneman

Pocket Guide to the Wildflowers of North America by Catherine Herbert Howell

Grow Native : Bringing Natural Beauty to Your Garden by Lynn M. Steiner

Native Plants for High-Elevation Western Gardens by Janice Busco

and a couple of classic gems...

Wildflowers by Tom Petty

Trio by Dolly Parton

 

Written by heidi.e on May 18, 2022

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