Saturday, June 21, 2014

Snapshots from a Foothill's Shangri-La: a little disseration on "Discovery"*...

Calypso bulbosa in a mat of twinflower
Who ever tires of calypso? In ancient  Greek, the word meant "I hide", but in Modern Greek,
ανακαλύψω means "I discover"--a wonderful thing (I'll bet you didn't know that). If you read this blog in its entirety, you do will "ana-calypso" a few things about me...For instance, I have always wondered how Jamaican music commandeered the nymph who seduced Odysseus? And how did she become an orchid? The first question: of course, Wikipedia informs us that it's a garbling of the "Efik"  "ka isu" which means 'go on!' and Ibibio "kaa iso" 'continue, go on'. Who knew that a little circumboreal orchid could become synonymous with "Continue" in two rather obscure Carib languages? But what of the nymph? Wikipedia is mute. Calypso bore Odysseus a child--another discovery!

Looking for this was the purpose of this excursion...Harold Taylor (immediate past president of the Denver Orchid society) told me he knew a close-at-hand location for it when I spoke to the club last winter. I casually said "I'd like to see that location" at the time, and my request was not lost on Harold. (More about him at the end).

Draba streptocarpa I believe...
Actually...we saw this Draba first. I've often seen this species in the Montane zone at around 8000'--most of our drabas are restricted to Alpine tundra above 12,000' elevation. One cannot be 100% sure without examining the siliques (which are not yet formed on the still fresh flowers) but this looks suspiciously like a lax, gargantuan form of Draba streptocarpa, which is so common on our tundra. Another discovery...

Cystopteris fragilis
Speaking of "common", our commonest fern is undoubtedly the fragile fern: well named on many a count--but especially since this fragile entity has been split to pieces by botanists in recent decades. I don't have a clue what species the might have split our's into (maybe we have more than one?)..

Senecio integerrimus var.integerrimus

I don't recall ever seeing this Senecio this low before (having trouble calling it Packera: no doubt having eaten one two many burgers at Alferd G. Packer grill in the U.M.C. Colorado insider joke--sorry). Incredibly, USDA does not show this as occuring in Clear Creek or Gilpin County (this location is on the border of both: do I get two county records?)...

Viburnum edule
I have not seen our only native viburnum many places: it is abundant in this special little valley--although the leaves on this specimen (as on many plants hereabouts) are scarred from the frequent hailstorms that have peppered us this year. How many Denverites realize that the ubiquitous snowball viburnum of our older neighborhood gardens (you hardly ever see it planted in new neighborhoods--why is that?) has a closely related cousin growing wild nearby? More is the pity on several counts. I'm full of questions.

By the way, USDA does not show this as growing in either Clear Creek or Gilpin county. Do we get a star?

Viburnum edule
An overall shot of this delightful and underappreciated plant. Come to think of it, viburnums are really underplanted in Denver generally.We need far more of the fragrant ones especially!

Sambucus racemosa Elder
I never tire of elders. Good thing, since I've become one! The black lace cultivar seems to be endemic to plantsmen's gardens in Denver. I better get one. And, yes, USDA does show this as growing in Clear Creek and Gilpin counties...but not Jefferson County! The scope for finding county records in Colorado is positively astronomic...on the East Coast you can get a record like this published in a scholarly journal!

Actaea rubra
I was startled to see how big the baneberry was at this spot: it looks surprisingly like one of the bigger eastern Cimicifuga (I know, I know--they've been lumped). I'm tempted to go back in August and see if it has red berries or white. If it has a dry capsule I'll be even more thrilled! But I'm not expecting that. And no...USDA does not list this for EITHER Clear Creek or Jefferson county! HA! This is fun isn't it?

Viola renifolia
The digital Atlas of the USDA likewise does not show this wonderful boreal violet as growing in either county this location straddles. Click on the link if you don't believe me: county records galore! More hail-damaged leaves, btw.

A bevy of Violets...

Sasparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)
Not quite ginseng, but dear to me anyway! The USDA database does show this in Jefferson County--but I think this location is actually Clear Creek county--tada! Another record? Rather local and special for us in Colorado (I've only seen it in a half dozen or so foothill canyons) this is practically a weed in much of the east. Just three weeks ago I saw this everywhere around Halifax (and all over Nova Scotia) at exactly the same stage of bronzy growth, and I wondered on several occasions--"does our local form color up like that?" gratifying to find out so quickly that it does! How many people do you know who fret over the spring coloration of Sasparilla? Well now you know one.

Antennaria parvifolia (?)
My ex-wife once told me a story of how annoyed she got when she was on a field trip in California with Ledyard Stebbins, who kept announcing the ploidy level of Antennarias as their car was whizzing by them...I wonder if that great geneticist could identify them by species as handily? Or can one only determine their chromosome counts from a distance (this story has haunted me for decades--another insight into my gnarly mind). P.S. Ledyard wasn't the only man who annoyed her. I wish I can have gone on a field trip with Dr. Stebbins. (Always wanted to use the past pluperfect subjunctive).

Harold marveling at the woods!

The woods are lovely dark and deep...(but unlike the poem, not snowy, and not at night!)

Physocarpus monogynus
We grew this for decades in the Rock Alpine Garden: I think it's not there any more...I wonder if we a have it anywhere at DBG? You will be relieved to know the USDA does list this for both Jefferson and Clear Creek counties...but not Gilpin County (we were awfully CLOSE to Gilpin county..)

Saxifraga bronchialis at base of mysterious slope.
You will be relieved to know that this delightful saxifrage IS recorded by USDA as growing in all three counties in question. Whew!

Heuchera bracteata
I'm surprised the coralbells weren't blooming. Or in this case, I should call them the chartreuse-bells!

Saxifraga bronchialis ssp. austromontana
Just a week or so away from the dotted saxifrage opening its flowers! Saxifrages are always magical for us rock gardeners...

Mysterious lichen...
Maybe Roger Rosenstetter can help me figure this one out? Could be a county record!

Pyrola minor
A week or so from seeing the shinleaf flowering. And yes, it is missing from Jeffco and Gilpin--but I'm pretty sure we were in Clear Creek county where it is known already. Drats!

Antennaria microphylla
Now combined with microphylla, I rather preferred the descriptive "A. rosea" And yes, known from all three counties in question. The botanists have been doing there work with this taxon!

Arnica mollis
Vast colonies of this in the shady woods. I took several pictures: each so different in mood! Strangely absent from Jefferson County on the USDA map...

Second moody shot of Arnica..

Another pussytoes
Colorado is rich in pussytoes...I must spend more time studying them!

Viola biflora
Always a great treat to come upon this rarity, which I have seen in Kazakhstan as well! Can we REALLY be the only state in the lower 48 where it grows? An can it have been found in Jefferson county and not Clear Creek, as the USDA avers? We're raking them in here!

One patch of oak fern...HUGE!
I think Harold was a bit taken aback that I showed so much enthusiasm for finding the oak fern in the canyon here: I've found this in just a few spots on the Western slope--and never dreamed there would be such lavish colonies so close to home. I've seen this all over  the world including China and Europe (most recently in Nova Scotia where it was not rare) but these had to be the most robust specimens I've ever seen--it looked far more like its Midwestern cousin Dryopteris robertianum (not known from Colorado) than our more characteristically modest oak ferns: wonder if Ledyard could check the ploidy on these for us! I find the separation of our taxon (Gymnocarpium disjunctum (Rupr.) Ching ) from the more widespread G. dryopteris to be questionable: they sure look identical to my eyes!

Gymnocarpium disjunctum (Rupr.) Ching

Gymnocarpium dryopteris

Can you tell I love this plant? I realize that it's the height of arrogance (or folly) to put follow my rather prosaic (if colorful) one with Ansel Adams' astonishing image...but I thought you'd enjoy to see the contrast. It is thought provoking to look back and forth between the two images. Guess what? It's missing from Clear Creek county on the USDA map: wooo hooo!

Copy of Ansel Adams' photo of the same...
I took this off a Christie's catalogue where the original print of this sold for over $11 K! and you're getting this for free! SUCH a bargain. I have a poster of this hanging in my son's room I have marveled at for years. As has my clever son (who put it in there). My girlfriend's father and Dick Bartlett both studied with Ansel Adams--small world we live in. Why, my dear friends, do we insist on filling it with guns, pollution and so on and so forth? Let's get back to plants, please!

Thermopsis and Erigeron compositus
Notice that these cutleaf daisies are rayed--rayless ones coming up soon (these grew about 30 feet from the rayless ones)..

Thermopsis divaricarpa
One of those plants one only enjoys seeing in nature (it would swamp the garden in no time flat). I've quit looking up the counties--armchair botany is too easy (like shooting fish in a barrel)...

Jamesia americana
This may be the homeliest Hydrandea relative, but no true-blooded Coloradoan can resist it. I saw a splendid specimen growing and blooming in Michael Barbour's amazing garden two days ago. Wish I'd photographed it in retrospect. The relatively small, waxy flowers are intensely fragrant (I don't think most hydrangeas are fragrant, are they?). And the fall color is out of this world!

Erigeron compositus var. discoidea
Rayless daisies are almost oxymoronic--but I have a little bit of fondness for this one. There were rayed forms not far away--ain't nature mysterious? I love the way it's perched on top of a rock.

Potentilla (Drymofissa)
One of the easiest and most long lived of native potentillas to grow in gardens (I have grown this one for decades), it is always a pleasure to see an old friend in nature. Here is a picture of it below growing contentedly in the  Rock Alpine Garden where it has grown since the 1980's (a toughie if there ever was one).

Harold Taylor among his penstemons

I am rather pleased with this picture of Harold--who guided me to this new spot barely 20 minutes from Denver so full of treasures. He has just retired from his last career--he has had several after graduating with a Ph.D. in Mathematics--and each and every one of them was fascinating to hear about on our too brief a field trip (he taught at Colorado School of Mines and Coors Brewery to name just two highlights). He showed me his greenhouse full of orchids, and I was given a piece of a particularly choice and rare one to bring back to Nick Snakenberg for DBG's collections (so my half day field trip wasn't just a junket as my colleagues no doubt thought! It was functional!)...

Penstemon brandegei
I am sad that my new friend is moving later this summer to Canyon City--although I do go by there most years once or twice--and now shall have another reason to do so. Among his other talents he makes exquisite custom jewelry as a hobby! Another link to click on!

A good man to know...and one of his loveliest jewels is the penstemon he's nestled in: Penstemon brandegei is found in north central New Mexico and south central Colorado. It has been lumped by myopic botanists into both P. alpinus and P. glaber--which I don't buy. It is surely one of the most spectacular native plants in our state--which is currently missing from my own garden (and probably Denver Botanic Gardens too I reckon). It would probably make a superlative Plant Select introduction if we didn't already have the somewhat similar P. mensarum (which blooms a month earlier, however)...and yes, I know Penstemon strictus 'Bandera' is ubiquitous in Colorado plantsmens' gardens (hardly known elsewhere)--but more blue-purple in color than this. This is the penstemon as far as I'm concerned. And I hope he'll get some seed for us before he scurries southward!

*You may not have noticed I put an asterisk after the title of this post. This is a disclaimer I should perhaps have put in the first sentence: I am very much aware that the USDA map database is not definitive: there are herbarium vouchers deposited in dozens if not hundreds of herbaria across the globe that may document the species occurrence in Clear Creek county that I so blithely dismiss in my account. But I wouldn't bank on that!


  1. Fantastic spot! The "another Antennaria" looks like A. neglecta. If it is, that is another one that USDA does not show in Gilpin/Clear Creek Counties ;)

  2. Aww! You two are awfully nice: it was a magic spot!


Featured Post

A garden near lake Tekapo

The crevice garden of Michael Midgley Just a few years old, this crevice garden was designed and built by Michael Midgley, a delightful ...

Blog Archive