Updated: Sep 6, 2020
I have never spent much time “smelling the roses,” however, during the summer of 2020, I changed my attitude. I slowed down, stopped more frequently, and took the time to observe and appreciate the vast species of wildflowers in the Rocky Mountains. Make sure to subscribe to our blog to receive notifications!
If you have ever visited any of the Rocky Mountain ranges from May through August, you will undoubtedly have seen an array of colors unmatched by even the fullest rainbow. While we typically devote most of our time to birds and other wildlife here at Flocking Around, we wanted to provide a pictorial representation of a summer spent enjoying, identifying, and learning more about native wildflowers.
I am no flower expert, but through the help of field guides, professionals, and iNaturalist, we have labeled these photos to the best of our ability. If you have a knack for wildflowers and can help us with any mistakes, make sure to comment in the section at the bottom of the page!
One of my favorite wildflowers of the early season is the larkspur. In particular, I am quite fond of the prairie larkspur and the low larkspur, which is pictured below. It is frequently ostracized by the agricultural community due to its poisonous nature to cattle. However, this plant is an essential early bloomer for pollinators such as hummingbirds.
The fields of low larkspur were complemented well by large swaths of sticky geranium. These neon pink flowers shower the ground with brightness. I did not know there was a native geranium before the summer of wildflowers. The early hatch of native bees truly appreciated these flowers, and so did I!
I often do not get into higher elevations until the end of May, due to snowpack, muddy trails, and morning temperatures. Luckily, it always seems these blooms wait for my arrival.
Early through mid-June brings some of my favorite wildflowers of the Rockies. The dark-throated shooting star might be my favorite wildflower in Wyoming. It was one of the first I was able to identify, and when in large blooms, it creates pathways of pink. Want to walk one of these pink pathways? Visit Yellowstone National Park.
Another favorite wildflower of June is the bluebell. There are several types, and they are all a sight to behold. I attempted to key out the photo below, and I believe it may be a prairie bluebell. When these bluebells are blooming, another flower blooms that I had been wrongly assuming an identity for. After using my Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountains (Amazon) field guide, I determined it was the ballhead waterleaf.
As June came to a close, bursts of purple appeared around the field station, as silvery lupine and harebell began their blooms in earnest.
I cannot talk July wildflowers without mentioning the state wildflower for Wyoming, the Wyoming Indian paintbrush. Its blooms can appear vibrantly red, orange, or yellow. There are a variety of explanations offered for the name of the plant, including a Native American legend. However, I am partial to a nickname of the plant, prairie fire which has a more obvious origin.
A quick trip into the western part of Wyoming provided some opportunities to observe some new species to me, including scarlet gilia and Rocky Mountain penstemon. These flowers were new to me, and I depended on my wildflower guides and iNaturalist to aid in identification.
As late July rolls in, new blooms become scarce. However, fields of nettle-leaf giant hyssop and aspen fleabane are a common occurrence. While these blooms are amazing, I am partial to the towering blooms of Sierra larkspur, and the firework visuals of fireweed.
As summer winds down, water becomes scarce, and temperatures rise, new blooms are difficult to come by at lower elevations. However, a large bloom of rabbitbrush is always on the way, and it is much appreciated by pollinating insects and migratory birds. These are the last bursts of color as the snowy season edges closer to our elevated state.
Enjoy this gallery of some of the beautiful Rocky Mountain wildflowers!