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Stewards of the Land: Check out mountain wildflowers

Hike in the San Juan Mountains, and you’ll see plenty of wildflowers such as the hybrid rosy and sulful paintbrush. Recent preciptiation has helped to grow plenty of foilage.

Stop complaining about the rain. Really, it’s not that bad. I think you need to take a walk in the mountains.

If you haven’t been above 9,000 feet for a few weeks, you’re missing out. Most of the snow is gone, and there’s been an explosion of wildflowers.

Here is a quick guide with some facts that you might not find in a field guide. For some, there is also more than one common name listed.

Forest flowers

Heart-leaved Arnica: A bright yellow daisy-like flower about 10 inches tall with, yes, heart-shaped leaves. The leaves of the arnica plant are used externally to relieve inflammation. Do not eat them or apply to broken skin.

Fairy Slipper or Calypso Orchid: This is a somewhat rare orchid mostly found early in the summer but can also be found in places where snow melts later in the summer.

Meadow flowers

California Corn Lily or False Hellibore: Before its flowers bloom, this is often falsely identified as the lower-lying skunk cabbage. However, this plant is poisonous. Its tall leaves surrounding a central stalk begin to come up as soon as the snow melts, but the flowers bloom a few weeks later.

Colorado Blue Columbine: This is the state flower of Colorado. Their blue color can range from dark to light and, sometimes, even white. On rare occasions, they cross-pollinate with red columbines to make a pink columbine. Please, don’t pick them – it’s illegal.

Harebells: These soft purple bell-shaped flowers bloom later in the summer. They are also delicious, but look for bugs first and don’t eat them all!

High-alpine flowers

Old Man Mountain: This member of the sunflower family faces the shining sun throughout the day. They are some of the tallest alpine flowers, but they only stand about 6 to 8 inches.

Alpine (Rosy) and Sulfur Paintbrushes – Most people think of Indian Paintbrushes as bright-red desert flowers.

Wondering what the best trails are for viewing wildflowers? Choose a trail that covers a wide range of elevation and travels in and out of forest and meadows. Some great trails include the Colorado Trail west of Little Molas Lake off U.S. Highway 550 and Navajo Lake Trail in the Lizard Head Wilderness off the West Dolores Road.

MK Gunn is an assistant for education, volunteer programs and visitor information services for San Juan Mountains Association, a nonprofit dedicated to public land stewardship and education.