Thursday, July 16, 2020

An Astonishment of Alpines: Long Expedition part two

Telesonix jamesii at Denver Botanic Gardens
I am two days late, alas: Edwin James and his associates actually climbed James Peak Pikes Peak on July 14, 1820: so I've missed the fatidic anniversary of the discovery of this, one of the most spectacular endemic plants of Colorado.

Here it is in nature, much as James must have seen it himself 200 years ago this past Tuesday
Original herbarium specimen of Telesonix
What extraordinary times we live in! This specimen that traveled for months on pack animals through rain and all manner of vicissitudes, and has spent the better part of two centuries, first at Columbia University and now New York Botanical gardens, where it was scanned for us to enjoy!

I could go on and on...but how much better it is to see the glory of Pikes Peak tundra through the eyes of the first scientist to climb above tree line in Colorado:

This above is the entry describing the first glimpse above tree line on Pikes Peak. I think it is perhaps the most beautiful prose poem ever composed about the Rocky Mountains. James wasn't given to fits of excessive emotion--the repetition of "astonish" twice in such a short space is telling. 

In a world where we are so often ruled by the hum drum, it's good to welcome astonishment such as this.

Aquilegia saximontana

Also growing on Pikes Peak, and one of many plants collected by James, the Colorado alpine columbine was not named from this, the first specimen ever collected, but only named decades later by another collector. John Torrey was manifestly overwhelmed by so many novelties, quite a few, like this, were overlooked.


  1. Is that an Aquilegia saximontana in habitat or a garden photo. There is much controversy about what is the true species and what is hybrid. Also, I grew from seed what was presumed to be Heuchera pulchella collected by Cathy King in the Big Horns on a trip with Zdenek Zvolanek a few years ago. The leaves are much thicker than they should be for the Heuchera, appearing much more like those in your second photo. Is the Telesonix a sturdier plant than the Heuchera which cannot get beyond a pot in my garden. I do have two long-lived but whimpering H. abramsii.

  2. The Aquilegia was photographed on Pikes Peak (which should be named James Peak): very much in the wild and not far from where James probably collected it. Heuchera pulchella grows only on the Sandia mountains of New Mexico: I can guarantee you it will thrive for you with a little shade: I'll send you a cup of seed if you'd like. Telesonix needs a bit of shade too--and a little more moisture. But it's doable.


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