Getting to Know Colorado Wildflowers

The weather outside right now isn't exactly inviting--first it rains, then it snows, then it rains again. It's a good day to be inside. But snow or no snow, we all know winter is finished, and all this moisture means the hillsides are about to be covered with wildflowers. Most Coloradans recognize famous one like the Rocky Mountain Columbine, but what about the lesser-known wildflowers? Have you met the Blue Toadflax? How about the Curvepod Fumewort? Little Pink Elephants? I haven't, I'm afraid, but I've decided this is the year I will. If you'd like to learn to recognize Colorado wildflowers, too, we have some great field guides here at Denver Public Library. Here are some good ones to start with:

Colorado's Best Wildflower Hikes / Pamela Irwin: This is a great series of books about the best hiking trails for seeing wildflowers. They're full of good trail descriptions and maps, nice photographs, and background information on some of the flowers you'll find out there (Fairy Slippers, for example, are also known as Calypso Orchids, and are named for the nymph who kidnapped Odysseus in the Odyssey).

Guide to Colorado Wildflowers / G.K. Guennel: This is a two-volume work with nice watercolor paintings of flowers as well as color photographs. Volume 1 covers the plains and foothills, and Volume 2 covers the mountains. Like many of the field guides listed here, they arrange flowers by color to make them easier to identify.

Rocky Mountain Flora / James Ells: Published by the Colorado Mountain Club, this color-coded guide is full of excellent color photos, and also covers non-flowering plants like ferns, as well as fungi. It also has a list of edible plants and poisonous plants (never eat a Death Camas).

Southern Rocky Mountain Wildflowers / Leigh Robertson: This is a nice, compact guide with clear photographs and background descriptions of flowers (the Rattlesnake Plantain, for example, is so-named because its leaves resemble rattlesnake skin).

Meet the Natives: A Field Guide to Rocky Mountain Wildflowers, Trees, and Shrubs: Bridging the Gap Between Trail and Garden / M. Walter Pesman: Published by the Denver Botanic Gardens, this guide has gone through many editions since it first appeared in 1942. It goes deeper into the botany of Colorado's native plants than other guides, and has tips for people interested in native plant gardening.

Botany in a Day / Thomas J. Elpel: If you want to go deeper into botany and learn to recognize families and orders of plants, this is a very popular guide with nice illustrations. The latest edition has color illustrations.


U.S. Forest Service: Wildflower Viewing Areas in Colorado: This is a nice guide to wildflower viewing spots on Colorado's national forests and grasslands. Include descriptions of each area, the flowers you'll find there, and the best seasons for viewing.

Colorado Native Plant Society: This website has links to a lot of great information about native plants.

Denver Botanic Gardens: Native Plant Collections

CSU Herbarium: Good website for a wide range of information on native plants.

Written by Ross on April 17, 2015


Frank on April 17, 2015


These are great Ross!! We killed off all our grass in the back yard a few years ago and have been trying to replant with native grasses and wildflowers. Will have to take a look a some of these books to figure out what we might be able to find at a garden store and plant in the back!

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