Wildflowers – Foothills Edition

This past spring was one of the wettest on record in the Colorado foothills. In fact, Boulder received almost half of its yearly precipitation in the past 2 months. But all those showers brought A LOT of flowers! On one foothills hike I saw at least three dozen different types of wildflowers. Some of them were flowers I’d never seen before. Here are just a few of the dozens:

Eastern prairie marbleseed Eastern prairie marbleseed: This is one of the new ones. I’d never seen it before but this year it’s everywhere! The Cheyenne smashed the leaves and flowers, sometimes mixed them with grease, and  used it as a topical to relieve back pain.


Hound's tongueHounds tongue: Who names these flowers anyway? This one was also new to me. While stunning, apparently it’s an invasive species.



PenstemonPenstemon: I’m not even going to try to identify the exact species of penstemon this is, because there are approximately 250 different varieties found in different habitats. Whatever this variety is, it blanketed the foothills in purple!


Western wallflowerWestern wallflower: These guys are in the mustard family. I love the orange, but they also grow in yellow and sometimes maroon and purple.



BeeblossomBeeblossom: I had never seen this one either. Now it’s everywhere and there’s even volunteers in the yard. Apparently it has a long blooming season, making it one of the best flowers for bees. I suppose that’s how it got its name!


Monument plant, green gentianMonument plant: This intricate, delicate flower is only about 2 inches wide and is one of many on a stalk that grows up to 7 feet tall!  And get this plant is monocarpic (new word!). It grows for 20-80 years, flowers only once, then dies. That’s nuts.

I feel so lucky to have seen so many flowers already this summer, but I’m especially grateful to have seen the monument plants blooming!

Really, Flies are Interesting

Hear me out. Yes, they are annoying. They land on our food. They zip around in front of your face. Their buzzing is endlessly maddening. And they’re surprisingly fast. But they’re actually pretty amazing creatures. For one, flies are overlooked and underappreciated pollinators. Bees get all the credit, but flies help pollinate over a hundred different food crops, including a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

House fly

Image Credit – meineresterampe

Flies also make a tasty meal for all kinds of animals – birds, frogs, and lizards to name a few. That means that flies are an important part of the ecosystem. The common housefly is found all over the world, too, which points to their adaptability. Next, that buzzing sound we hear? That’s fly wings flapping at over 1,000 times per minute. Interestingly, most house flies in urban areas have a small territory – only about 1,000 yards. But rural flies will travel miles. In addition to flying, house flies can walk upside down (well, and as you know, right side up). The upside down and vertical walking is possible because each one of a flies’ six feet has two foot pads covered in tiny hairs. These hairs produce a substance of oils and sugar that’s glue-like and provides grip and the ability to scale most surfaces.

Now about those eyes. Flies have compound eyes. Unlike each of our eyes with a single lens, each fly eye has thousands. Because of this, flies have an almost 360 degree range of view and can see what’s going on behind them. Not only that, flies have an amazing ability to process what they see and have excellent reaction times. People can process roughly 60 images per second. Flies, on the other hand, can process 250.

Not yet convinced that flies are interesting? How about this – flies taste with their feet. They land on a potential food source and take a stroll to determine if it’s to their liking. Yet flies can’t chew. So if the meal is solid, how do they do eat? They spit up digestive enzymes that liquify solid food sources. Yep, flies vomit onto their meal before eating it. Then they use their long proboscis to slurp up their food. Yum!

So now, armed with a little knowledge and patience, are you convinced that flies are interesting (as long as they’re not in your house)?

Desert Wildflowers

I’ve trekked out to the Utah desert dozens of times over my three decades in Colorado, but never in early June. It might need to be an annual mecca! The desert flowers were in full bloom…polka dots of color on a generally monochrome palette. At every turn there were flowers to marvel at, some with really fun names!

Scarlet globemallow: Our first hint that the desert was in full bloom were the fields of these orange flowers, blanketing the scrubland in color as far as we could see.


Mojave popcorn flower: The name for this is perfect! All those buds getting ready pop, pop, pop!



Desert prince’s plume: This drought-tolerant plant is part of the mustard family; it can grow to 5 feet tall. Who gets to name flowers anyway? I want that job…


Small wirelettuce: This flower was new to me; it’s part of the aster and sunflower family and has the ability to grow in a variety of habitats including deserts, woodlands, and sagebrush habitats from sea level to 8,000 feet.


Pretty buckwheat: This was also new to me. The second I saw it I thought it was right out of a Dr. Seuss book.



Prickly pear cactus: I’ve seen blooming cactus before, but never so many. We saw dozens of these flowers in bloom in both pink and yellow.


Eaton’s penstemon: While the whole desert was alive, these bright red blooms really stuck out. I also had no idea this was a type of penstemon, but there are close to 300 species of this flower that grow from deserts to mountains in a variety of colors.


Lupine: Lupine in the desert? Yes! I’m used to seeing them in the mountains, but as it turns out, like penstemon, there are hundreds of species of this flower!


So if you are interested in visiting the desert, go in the spring!!!

Lazuli Bunting

I had a new visitor to my birdfeeder this spring – a lazuli bunting. He was a splash of blue among the regulars. Apparently Colorado’s Front Range is just on the eastern edge of their breeding grounds.

Photo credit Becky Matsubara

Aside from their coloring, one of the neatest things about lazuli buntings is their song. Just like humans all have a unique voice, so too do these birds. Before I go on, I should define the difference between songs and calls of birds. Calls tend to be short and simple, and act as notifications: there’s food nearby, a predator is approaching, or  communicating location to others in the flock. Songs, on the other hand, are longer and more complex. They have structure, rhythm, and repetition. Males are usually the ones singing, to attract mates or to claim or defend a territory.

Among lazuli buntings males, the base of their songs is a complex series of squeaky, jumbled notes that are repeated 2-5 times. Yet each male varies the order of their notes to create their own unique song. Lazuli buntings create their unique song as yearling when they arrive at their breeding grounds. They combine fragments of other males’ songs and rearrange syllables to create a song of their own that they will use for life.

Not only that, but neighborhoods of birds have their own “accent.” Since the younger males create songs from nearby older males, songs in a neighborhood all sound similar just as humans in different regions of a country have different accents. As a result of this similarity, male birds in the same neighborhood recognize each other and will tolerate one another. I only had the one bunting visit my feeder, but now I’m listening and watching for more!