In the heart of Southern Utah’s national parks, Cedar Breaks National Monument is tucked in the mountains just east of Cedar City. High atop the Markagunt Plateau, this giant amphitheater is over 2,500 feet deep and more than 3 miles across. Formed by an abundance of minerals, the colorful cliffs are awe-inspiring. Each summer the color multiplies as a spectacular display of wildflowers fill the grassy meadows and lines the trails. Cedar Breaks National Monument’s Wildflower Festival celebrates the stunning wildflower bloom as it peaks each July. I decided to visit a little after the festival in mid August. Not quite as many flowers but still a magical experience.
The inflorescence is a symmetrical terminal raceme that blooms progressively from bottom to top, producing a gracefully tapered shape. The flowers are About 1 inch (2-3 cm) in diameter, slightly asymmetrical, with four magenta to pink petals and four narrower pink sepals behind. The protruding style has four stigmas. The reddish stems of this perennial are usually simple, erect, smooth, 1-8 feet (0.5–2.5 m) high with scattered alternate lanceolate leaves. It is native throughout the temperate Northern Hemisphere.
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Penstemons or beardtongues (genus Penstemon of the figwort family or Scrophulariaceae) are among the showiest of the native wildflowers. Penstemon flowers can range in color from white to pink, red, or purple, but the majority are bright blue and are characterized by a tubular corolla formed by the fusion of five petals. Among the more widespread of the purple beardtongues of western North America is Rydberg’s penstemon. It is equally at home in alpine meadows above treeline and valley bottoms and streamsides from Washington and Montana to central California, northern Arizona, and New Mexico. Rydberg’s penstemon has relatively small flowers (compared to other Penstemon species), but these are clustered in several dense, leafy whorls that interrupt the bare stem.
Bigelow’s tansyaster is a native biennial to short-lived perennial with deep violet to blue-white colored flowers. Plants are 1 to 3 feet tall (15-90 cm) and arise from a taproot. Dieteria bigelovii, formerly machaeranthera bigelovii, is characterized by tall, rigid, branched, brownish stems bearing a sparse covering of thin leaves, topped by pink-purple flowers, each consisting of around 30 ray florets (ranging from 12 to 60) surrounding a yellow center of tiny disc flowers. The flower head is about 1.5 inches in diameter.
Clusters of leafy stems,1 to 3 ft. tall, rise from the woody rootstock of this perennial. Each stem bears several showy, nearly 2 in. wide flower heads with from 70–150 blue, or rarely white, narrow rays. A leafy stem branches near the top into leafless stalks, each with one flower head at the end, with many narrow pink, lavender or white rays surrounding a yellow disc. The disc flowers are yellow-orange. The lower leaves of this plant tend to fall off as the season advances. It is native to western Canada and the United States, from Alberta and British Columbia south as far as Arizona and New Mexico, with some isolated populations in the Mexican state of Baja California. It grows in open coniferous forests.
Lupines often form large patches in well-drained soils along the forest edges at Cedar Breaks. As in other members of the pea family, bacteria “infect” the roots and form nodules. Rather than being considered a disease which harms the plant, these bacteria absorb and convert atmospheric nitrogen into nitrate fertilizer for the plant. The plant, in turn, supplies a sugar energy source to the bacteria. This relationship, in which two different life forms cooperate to the benefit of each, is called mutualism. It allows Lupines to come in and establish in infertile soils and may actually enrich the soil, allowing other species to come in as well.
Oxytropis oreophila is most widespread on the plateaus of southern Utah, and is also found in other mountainous areas to the west and south. Plants are small, especially in alpine regions, and lack stems; leaves and flower stalks grow directly from the base. Stalks, leaves and calyces have a covering of relatively long, silvery hairs. Leaflets are folded up along the leaf axis. Flowers are produced in compact clusters of between two and 12. Corollas are purple/pink to nearly white, darker when withered. Clusters may rise a little way above the leaves, or be held within. Flowers are conspicuous though small, around half an inch long. Fruits are short, inflated, hairy, egg-shaped pods, around half an inch long, angled upwards when mature.
Despite its species name, mertensia arizonica is most abundant in Utah; in Arizona it occurs only in the far north, in Coconino county. Leaves are relatively large, hairless, widest towards the base, with a prominent center vein and branched side veins. Upper stem leaves are only slightly smaller than those below. Flowers are in open, nodding clusters, on arching stalks from the top of the stem and the upper leaf nodes. The corolla is pink in bud, later blue, and up to 0.8 inches long. The corolla lobes are markedly longer than the tube. The green calyx is at most 0.3 inches long, lobed to about half its length.
Mertensia ciliata is a species of flowering plant in the borage family known by the common names tall fringed bluebells, mountain bluebells, and streamside bluebells. is a perennial herb producing a cluster of erect stems from a thick, branching caudex. The leafy stems reach well over a meter in maximum height. The veiny leaves are oval to lance-shaped and pointed. The flowers are an open array of many clustered blue bell-shaped flowers each between 1 and 2 centimeters long. The hanging, fragrant flower is tubular, expanding into a wider, lobed mouth. As the individual flowers progress in age they change in color from blue to pink-red.
Wild Helianthus annuus is a widely branched annual plant with many flower heads. The domestic sunflower, however, often possesses only a single large inflorescence (flower head) atop an unbranched stem. The plant was first domesticated in the Americas. Sunflower seeds were brought to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century, where, along with sunflower oil, they became a widespread cooking ingredient. Sunflower leaves are broad, coarsely toothed, rough and mostly alternate; those near the bottom are largest and commonly heart-shaped.
Oneflower helianthella is a perennial with a branching root crown arising from a stout taproot. The stems are 2–3 feet (60–100 cm) tall ending in solitary yellow flowers. The basal leaves are 1 to 6 inches (3–15 cm) long, lanceolate to elliptic with smooth margins. The flower heads are erect with a 1–0.6 inch (1.5 to 3 cm) disk.
Showy Goldeneye (Heliomeris multiflora) is a sub-alpine member of the sunflower family, this bright yellow flower grows in pastures, on roadsides and hillsides across the west and does best at 6,500 to 9,500 feet (is found from 3,000 to 11,800 feet). It establishes well and is frequently used in stabilization and restoration mixes. It is a perennial forb arising from a woody taproot. It is found in most western states from Texas north to Montana and west to California, Nevada and Idaho. It produces abundant flowers and is easy to manage in landscaped settings.
Agoseris glauca is a species of flowering plant in the daisy family known by the common names pale agoseris and prairie agoseris. It is native to northern and western North America from Alaska to Ontario to New Mexico, where it grows in many habitat types. This is a perennial herb which varies in general appearance. It produces a basal patch of leaves of various shapes which may be as long as the plant is high. There is no stem but the plant flowers in a stemlike flower cluster which is sometimes erect, reaching heights near 2 feet or taller. The flower head is 1 inch (1-3 cm) wide with layers of pointed phyllaries.
Potentilla hippiana is a species of flowering plant in the rose family known by the common names woolly cinquefoil, horse cinquefoil, and Hipp’s cinquefoil. It is native to North America, where it occurs in western Canada and the western United States. It likes dry sites, its flower stems are from a few inches to twenty inches tall, and its leaves are green on top and silvery on the back. Leaves often curl, and, very important in identifying this species, its leaves are pinnate (arranged ladder-like as shown in the photograph above).
Lactuca serriola has a spineless reddish stem, containing a milky latex, growing up to 6 feet 2 metres (2 m). The leaves get progressively smaller as they reach its top. They are oblong or lanceolate, often pinnately lobed and (especially for the lower leaves), waxy grey green. Fine spines are present along the veins and leaf edges. The undersides have whitish veins. They emit latex when cut.
Rocky Mountain Goldenrod
This goldenrod makes creeping clumps with flowering stems mostly less than 2 ft. high. The leaves are elliptical to spoon-shaped, becoming reduced up the stem. Flower heads are not as numerous as on bigger goldenrods, but individually are larger with many golden-yellow ray flowers. They occur in dense terminal clusters. It blooms in late summer to early fall.
Oreochrysum parryi is a perennial herb that looks like other goldenrods except that the leaves are wider and longer, up to 20 cm long. The rays and disc flowers are yellow. Oreochrysum parryi is very common, especially in Spruce forests. It spreads from underground roots putting up scores of clusters of basal leaves, each leaf about three to five inches long. Plant stems, typically from twelve to eighteen inches tall, are characteristically rough with a purple hue and sport few but large and vertical, then arching leaves. Flower heads are small relative to the size of the plant and typically three to six flower heads are clustered at the top of the plant; there may be a number of clusters.
Eriogonum umbellatum is a species of wild buckwheat known by the common name sulphurflower buckwheat, or simply sulphur flower. It is native to western North America from California to Colorado to central Canada, where it is abundant and found in many habitats, including the sagebrush steppe and alpine areas. The plant typically forms low, broad mats with individual clumps ranging from 4 inches to 2 ft (but up to 4 ft) tall and wide. Leaves are basal, 1 inch long, and softly wooly or hairless. Flower stems 3 to 16 inches tall are topped by clusters of tiny sulfur yellow flower heads. Flowers range from yellow to orange or reddish, sometimes turning rusty orange-red with age. Flower displays can color entire slopes starting in June at lower elevations and continue into September or October at higher elevations.
Wild Rhubarb or Arizona Dock
Rumex hymenosepalus, commonly known as canaigre, canaigre dock, ganagra, wild rhubarb, Arizona dock, and tanner’s dock, is a perennial flowering plant which is native to the North American deserts in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It has been cultivated in the southwestern United States for the roots, a good source of tannin, which is used in leather tanning. It also yields a warm, medium brown dye. The leaves and leaf stalks are considered edible when young, the older leaf stalks cooked and eaten like rhubarb, which is in the same plant family.
Scarlet Indian Paintbrush
Indian paintbrush, also known as scarlet painted cup, is a tough and colorful wildflower found in open areas like grasslands, prairies, or meadows. This biennial (which lives for two years), develops oval rosettes during its first year of growth and produces stalks with insignificant flowers surrounded by much more colorful and dramatic bracts the second year. It can be distinguished from other Castilleja of the southeastern US because it has showy scarlet bracts which nearly hide the small greenish-yellow flowers. Flowers hidden in axils of scarlet-tipped, fan-shaped bracts and arranged in a dense spike. Scarlet painted-cup is an annual herb that is hemiparasitic (meaning it obtains some resources from other plants via underground connections with their roots, as well as using photosynthesis to obtain its own resources). While it grows vigorously only in the presence of a host, it has a fairly wide range of host species.
The thin, branched stems of eremogone fendleri bear numerous (up to 30) pretty white flowers about half an inch in diameter, consisting of five pointed green sepals beneath and between five white petals, which usually have a shallow notch at the tip. Sepals are about the same length as the petals, or slightly shorter. Relatively long, white filaments radiate from the greenish center, topped by purplish anthers. The stems and sepals have a covering of short, stalked, glandular hairs. Flowers are borne on pedicels up to one inch long, also glandular hairy. The thin, thread-like leaves grow mostly around the base, but also along the stem, in four or more opposite pairs, usually reduced in size. Fruits are hairless, green capsules, around a quarter of an inch long. The plant is quite widespread across the southern Rocky Mountains, most commonly on cliff ledges and at the base of scree slopes.
Geranium richardsonii is a species of geranium known by the common name Richardson’s geranium. This is a perennial herb varying in maximum height from 20 to 80 centimeters. The plant grows from a tough, woody taproot and older plants develop rhizomes. The leaves are up to 15 centimeters wide and are divided into generally five segments, each segment subdivided into small rounded or pointed lobes. The flower has five pointed sepals beneath five rounded petals, each one to two centimeters long. The petals are white to purple with darker purple veining. The fruit has a small body with a straight style up to 2.5 centimeters long.
This several-foot tall perennial herb is found across the Rocky Mountains, from the foothills to the alpine, where it is often common in aspen groves, open forests, meadows, and talus slopes. The flowers are very variable in color, from pale blue (as in the species name coerulea) to white, pale yellow and pinkish; very commonly the flowers are bicolored, with the sepals a different shade to the petals. They consist of five petals, five sepals and an ovary surrounded by 50 to 130 stamens. Five long spurs hang below the calyx and contain nectar at their tips, accessible only to hawkmoths.
Achillea millefolium is an erect, herbaceous, perennial plant that produces one to several stems 0.2–1 metre (8–40 inches) in height. Leaves are evenly distributed along the stem, with the leaves near the middle and bottom of the stem being the largest. The leaves have varying degrees of hairiness (pubescence). The leaves are 5–20 centimetres (2–8 in) long, almost feathery, and arranged spirally on the stems. The inflorescence is produced in a flat-topped capitulum cluster and the inflorescences are visited by many insects, featuring a generalized pollination system.
Cirsium clavatum is a biennial or perennial herb up to 3 feet (100 cm) tall, blooming only once before dying. Leaves have thin spines along the edge, much smaller than those of related species. There are several to many flower heads, with white or pale pink disc florets but no ray florets. It occurs in the Southern Rocky Mountain region of Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. While Bigelow’s tansyaster is very similar to the hoary tansyaster, it is much more restricted to habitat and range.
Leucanthemum vulgare, commonly known as the ox-eye daisy, oxeye daisy, dog daisy, marguerite and other common names, is a widespread flowering plant native to Europe and the temperate regions of Asia, and an introduced plant to North America, Australia and New Zealand. It is a large (one to three feet tall) white daisy with 1–40 flowering stems. The flowers are white with a yellow central disc, two inches across which are present all summer. The leaves are alternate, spoon-shaped, deeply cut and lobed or toothed.