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For some of us, the thrill of spotting the first wildflowers each summer never goes away. Newcomers are always surprised by our reaction to that good ol’ green stuff — plants, not money. We can’t get enough of it.
Most non-natives move here with little thought to growing anything in the semi-arid climate. They seem to all assume the grass, flowering trees and plants will just thrive on their own. Growing up in an area with double-digit precipitation measurements tends to create this attitude. It is not until one attempts to grow a garden from seed late in the season that one begins to understand what living in the high country really means.
Pioneer women often wrote in their letters home or in their journals about the cheery effect the sight of the first blooms had on them. My great-great aunt kept track of the health of the plants she had grown, as often as she did her eight growing boys. Raised in the Far East by her missionary family, tropical plant life was all she knew before finding herself homesteading on a dry land farm outside of Delta.
Her monthly letters to the family remaining in Siam (now Thailand) chronicled her struggle to surround herself with the trees and flowers. If relatives came to visit, sometimes she would request seeds or saplings. The year after the family’s tragic loss of her husband, the main breadwinner in the family, she moved off the farm and up to a piece of property on top of a mesa. Surrounding the house with American elms brought to her by a relative with a nursery in the Midwest, she named each of the trees for a family member. Then she waited for them to grow and thrive, along with her children.
Her boys figured out an irrigation system. Although they moved away from the area years ago, a few of those elm trees are still standing.
Many of the plants pop up in the oddest places in the harsh climate of the high country, so when they do appear it is quite a triumph. While their growing season is short, each year the wildflowers put on a spectacular show. Aside from their beauty, these plants were found to have more practical uses, whether it be for healing or eating. However it is important that one become knowledgeable about the flowers that are poisonous, such as the Pasqueflower. According to the Wildflowers of Colorado Field Guide, “all parts contain poisonous compounds.”
Hiking up in the high country, one is reminded not to go to close to the edge of cliffs with the sight of the Alpine Forget-Me-Not. Another citation in the book previously mentioned notes that the pretty little flower was named for “the story of a suitor who reached too far over a cliff to obtain a flower for his love, fell, and cried out, ‘Forget me not!’” His predecessors, the Native Americans, discovered that the long fibers of the Western Blue Flax could be used for ropes or cords.
That would have come in handy, wouldn’t it?