June 8 to June 18, 2021
I went out into the Willow Spring Open Space quite a few mornings in early June. The grasses were lush from the cool, rainy May, and the start of the warm, sunny summer days brought out the blooms on many flowers.
The first thing I saw was the new crusher fines path going up the west side of the Englewood Dam! That was really exciting because it had been a muddy stretch whenever it rained (which was so much of the time in May!). It is great to be able to go up to the top of the Dam and not get all muddy!
Plants in the Plains – lots of blooms!
The hot summer days combined with heavy rains have caused tall grass growth and an abundance of blooming flowers – especially on the Plains portion of the open space.
Looking across the hillsides, I could see the white bloom stalks of the Great Plains Yucca (Yucca glauca) standing up taller than the grass and contrasting nicely with the purple blooms of the alfalfa (Medicago sativa).
Alfalfa has been planted in many areas, as it puts nitrogen back into the soil. It is a component of hay and is a major crop in the US. It is not native to this area, but it is a preferred host plant for the Orange Sulphur butterfly, which is a native butterfly. The Alfalfa here may have been planted intentionally or may just have escaped from cultivation. It blooms all summer long, from May through September.
One grass I spotted was Foxtail barley (sometimes known as Squirreltail) (Hordeum jubatum) which resembles an animal’s tail. This grass prefers wet ditches and meadows and is native to this area. Native North Americans would eat the dry flour made from the seeds.
The Scarlet Globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea) groundcover was full of orange blooms on my visits. It is also known as Cowboy’s Delight, and is a native plant to this area. Blackfoot Native Americans applied a paste of the plant to burns and sores!
Prickly Pear Cactus
The Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia polyacantha) is a succulent which only blooms a short time, so it was fun to see these yellow blooms before they dried up. This is a native plant here, and has many edible parts.
The bright yellow flowers of the Western Salsify (Tragopogon dubius) are only open in sunny mornings and close in the afternoon. They really stand out as they can get to be 4 feet tall! These grow in dry, hot valleys and are not native to our area. When they are done blooming, their seed heads look like giant dandelions.
Drummond’s milkvetch (Astragalus drumondii), named for botanist Thomas Drummond, is another member of the pea family (Fabaceae). It is a native plant that grows in sagebrush areas in the plains and foothills. It is closely related to locoweed.
This wild rose, known as a Wood’s rose (Rosa woodsii), was hiding among the grasses on a social path on the West side of the Open Space. They are drought tolerant and can live in valleys, gulches and trailsides up to 11,000 feet elevation. They are related to the roses in many people’s gardens, which have been hybridized to have more petals and colors.
Wetlands Plants – lots of Poison Hemlock
In the wetlands plants, the most noticeable plant blooming was the Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum). The hemlock was thriving so much that it was covering almost the entire edge of the wetlands, including the bank by the swimming hole. That was discouraging to find it next to such a popular area because it is highly toxic and can make people sick from eating any part of it. It is related to parsley and carrots and the leaves have the same lacy appearance as carrots.
Bonus – Mallard ducklings!
Although I wasn’t focusing on birds these days, my path next to the beaver dam pond led me to a cute display from the Mallard ducklings!
The Open Space is delightful in the early summer – it is so nice to see so many blooming flowers!
- Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification, by Thomas J. Elpel, 1967
- Flora of Colorado, by Jennifer Ackerfield, 2015
- Colorado Native Plant Database Data Portal, Colorado State University
- Colorado Flora Eastern Slope: A Field Guide to the Vascular Plants, 4th Edition, by William A. Weber and Ronald C. Wittmann, 2012