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Where the columbines grow

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Photo and text by Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff

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Rocky Mountain Columbines (Aquilegia caerulea) were blooming in profusion on the Flat Tops a couple of weeks back, but luckily nobody seemed to be picking ’em. As the state flower, they’re protected with a possible fine for pulling one up by the roots or taking more than 25 stems from public land. It’s a good thing, too, as there was once quite a craze for them akin to the Dutch tulip mania in the 1600s.

According to White River National Forest Ecologist Kristen Pelz, it’s been a great year for wildflowers statewide despite a fairly dry June. She expects elevations between 9,000 and 11,000 feet — such as around the Maroon Bells or in Lime Park — to be blooming nicely through the end of the month. Richardson’s geraniums, Woods’ rose and scarlet gilia seem be doing particularly well, Pelz said.

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That’s good news for bumblebees — the primary alpine pollinators — which are distinct from their honeybee cousins both in size and organization, with the even larger queens joining the drones in the quest for food instead of staying in a hive.

In order to avoid damaging the delicate alpine ecosystems, Pelz discouraged picking or trampling the flowers, and suggested distributing your steps if you must venture off trail or across wet ground — basic leave-no-trace principles.

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Interested in learning more about our native flora? Check out programming through The Roaring Fork Conservancy and Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (see page 7 for more on their mushroom events) or try some identification on your own with Pelz’s favorite local nature guide, “Wild at Heart” (available at the Carbondale Ranger Station), and websites like www.swcoloradowildflowers.com.

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