Where wildflowers rule

With a diverse range of habitats, wildflowers provide variety across Colorado


Think “summer” in Colorado, and you’re likely to think of wildflowers! It’s one of the perks of living among so many diverse habitats, from prairie and desert to deep forest, alpine tundra and everything in between. Finding your way through this wide array of flowers just got a bit easier with the new printing of two Denver Botanic Gardens wildflower guides that will leave little to the imagination.

Our newly released guide, “Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountain Region,” is a Timber Press Field Guide that includes over 1,200 wildflowers, spanning the Rockies from British Columbia to New Mexico. Years of research, travel and photography by your local Denver Botanic Gardens’ horticulture staff have culminated in a colorful travel and hiking resource that will finally answer the question, “what is that flower?” Arranged by color and flower shape for easy identification and including range maps and a wealth of information about the region and its flora, this is a guide that will travel the Rockies with you for years to come.

Staying closer to home? I recently revised “Meet the Natives” as our local equivalent, focused on the wildflowers of Colorado with nearly 500 entries. This is the perfect weekend guide for excursions anywhere in the state from prairie to canyon to alpine. This even includes tips on cultivation, so if native-wildflower-mania sets in, you can start growing your own favorites in your home garden and do your part for the local hummingbirds, bees and other pollinators. Many local garden centers offer a variety of native plants.

After a few days in the wilds of Colorado, you may want to come and see just what these wildflowers can do in a garden setting. Native plants are a foundational element for many of Denver Botanic Gardens signature spaces, including the Dryland Mesa, Laura Smith Porter Plains Garden, Western Panoramas Gardens, the Steppe Garden, the WaterSmart Garden, the Gates Montane Garden, the Rock Alpine Garden and Mordecai Children’s Garden. Combined, these feature hundreds of Colorado and Western native plants in naturalistic settings, or blending happily with plants from similar habitats around the globe.

Looking for the best performers in our typical hot dry summers? Explore the diverse plantings in the Plains Garden, thriving without any irrigation since 1998! The Cottonwood Border features some of the best prairie natives in naturalized drifts, including butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa; pale coneflower, Echinacea pallida; shell-leaf penstemon, Penstemon grandiflorus; Mexican hat, Ratibida columnifera; dotted gayfeather, Liatris punctata; and little bluestem grass, Schizachyrium scoparium—all resilient prairie natives that are perfectly at home in sunny Denver gardens. The Watersmart Garden buzzing with hummingbirds and pollinators, combines dry-loving native penstemons and wild buckwheats, Eriogonum spp. with plants from Africa, the Mediterranean and Central Asia, creating unique combinations that thrive in our semi-arid steppe climate.

Whether you’re doing a road trip, trekking in the high country or creating a bit of Colorado paradise in your own back yard, our new books, our ever-changing gardens and our dedicated horticulture staff are here to inspire

Dan Johnson is the curator of native plants at the Denver Botanic Gardens. He can be reached at horticulture@denverbotanicgardens.org.


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