August 13, 2012

Botanizing at 14,000 feet - Mount Evans Summit, Colorado

The 14, 000 ft. summit of Colorado's Mount Evans can be reached easily by car, it is America's highest paved road.
Any Colorado trip is enhanced if one can get into the mountains, and thanks to two fellow members of the North American Rock Garden Society, past national board member Roger Tatroe and his wife garden book author Marcia Tatroe, ( read more about their garden here).  Marcia's work is also frequently seen in Sunset Magazine and other gardening publications; so clearly I could not have asked for two better tour guides for a day in the Rockies. I appreciated this time in the mountains so much - many thanks Randy and Marcia.

Gentiana algida, the Arctic Gentian is also sometimes called the Whitish Gentian can be found in mountain meadows with some elevation during mid summer. I always get excited when I see white gentians, in Switzerland and even in the garden, they are rare.
 We visited two different alpine areas in the Denver area, each only an hours drive from the city. This images are from the Mount Evans summit drive, ( later, we drove up to Jones Pass, a mountain Pass known for its summer wildflowers. I'll post that hike on a different post). The Tatroe's kept reminding me that last year, the wild flowers were spectacular, most likely due to a heavy snowfall, but this year, the display was less than prolific, and even the spring display at snow melt was one of the worst in years. Still, we were lucky enough to find plants in bloom, even in August.

Arctic Gentian ( Gentian algida), a white flowered alpine gentian found across western North America - Alaska through the Yukon, down to the Rocky Mountains from Montana south to Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. It blooms in mid to late summer.

Mountain Goats are often found at the Summit Parking Lot on Mount Evans in Colorado. These were shedding their old coat, and were found rubbing again rocks trying to scratch off the itchy coat. Can you believe that I took this with my Nikon D200? I could almost touch him, I was so close. Well, I really just wanted to brush him.

A Baby Mountain Goat Follows its Mother. Goaty cuteness at 14K.

Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep are commonly found along the mountain road, on the way to, or at the summit of  Mount Evans.

Campanula parryi ( I am guessing due to it's short height). It is commonly confused with the Common Harebell, but as I have not keyed this out, this is only a guess based on the linear basal leaves. (C. rotundifolia has rounded basal leaves). Despite these differences, the two species are difficult to tell apart in the field.

Rhodiola rodantha - The Redpod Stonecrop or Kings Crown,  growing in a wet meadow near 10,000 ft.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine trees ( Pinus aristata) on Mount Evans

 Any visit to Mount Evans should include a stop at the Mount Goliath Natural Area, an area which is a boundary between the sub-alpine forest and the tundra found at the top of Mount Evans. A grove of Bristlecone Pines which are nearly 1700 years old can be found at the interpretive ranger station. I've never seen Bristlecone Pines before, aside from my Viewmaster disks as a kid. Found only in the Southern Rockies and in California ( where some trees are 3000 years old), these trees are the oldest living things on earth.

A few interesting facts about Bristlecones - the needles can live 20 years, a strategy which aids in their survival since the long lived needles provide a stable photosynthetic capacity to help sustain the tree over many years of severe stress.
Many Bristlecone Pines have damaged trunks, bare with little bark, damage caused by lightning strikes of forest fires, but even a tiny strip of bark can sustain a tree for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Another strategy for survival is the gradual dieback of the bark. These forests in Colorado frequently experience forest fires and trees are often struck by lightening, but even with bark reduction, the crown can still be supplied with nutrients, One tree in California is known to be 4000 years old, and it has a trunk diameter of four feet, yet only a 10 inch strip of living bark supports the entire tree.

Gentiana parryi, the Mountain Gentian growing in a sub-alpine meadow. Thanks to the nineteenth century botanist Charles Parry, three plants that I found now bear his name. Gentiana parryi, Primula parryi and Campanula parryi.

Gentiana parryi in a mountain meadow on Colorado's Mount Evans


  1. Dear Matt,
    If you hadn't been so kind about my workplace in another post (and more importantly, if you weren't such a mensch) I would be extremely peeved: I've probably been on Mt. Evans 100 times and I think your pix of Mt. Goats, gentians and more are better than mine: how annoying!
    So I don't feel TOO bad telling you the campanula is just a dwarf form of C. rotundifolia (they can be very fetching up there--alas, they get big if moved down below): Campanula parryi has salverform, upward facing flowers and does not grow so far east (and is generally montane and subalpine rather than alpine)...I sound so pedantic!
    Come back soon!

  2. Wonderful. Love the mountain goat and the ancient trees. Great post. LT

  3. Acantholimon, Oh Hell, I though you DID tell me that it was C. rotundifolia, I'm such a goob botanizing in an arm chair -and a voice inside of me told me it just ain't so. Here on the pedantic coast, we appreciate any corrections - I am enjoying the book 'Both' .Thanks again for an awesome week!

  4. The plants are nice, but the view especially of the bighorn sheep is off the chart. When I was in college, driving up to the day's ski area on breaks, there was often one of those perched on some very steep, inaccessible perch above I-70, watching everyone drive by. Probably like morning entertainment for them!

    But great plant shots. I think it's better to go up there to see bristlecone pines than to plant them in Abq, and pretend they are happy here...can't make that stuff up.....

  5. We are fortunate to have friends in Denver that don't mind having us as company, or taking me to the DBG every time we visit. Your Co. posts do bring back memories... memories of me thinking I was having a heart attack on top of Mt. Evans (altitude sickness) and of later meeting God in that grove of bristlecones.


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