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It’s looking like a very good year for wildflowers in Colorado. Here’s why

Be on the lookout for Elephant’s Head, which it turns out isn’t just something you’ll find at the zoo
Wildflowers bloom in Stevens Gulch below Grays and Torreys peaks along the Continental Divide in August 2022. (Hart Van Denburg/CPR News file)

How many wildflowers are there in Colorado? That’s a question we got through Colorado Wonders.

A lot, at this time of year. But it’s a hard question to answer specifically, whether you’re talking about all the different species or the individual blooms across the state. What we do know is that this season is shaping up to be especially good.

Grace Johnson, a horticulturist with Denver Botanic Gardens Chatfield Farms in Littleton, said this year’s conditions could make for some spectacular summer scenery.

So what are those conditions?

“Moisture, as well as temperature, and then of course snowpack,” Johnson said. “The fact that we have such a great snowpack means it's going to melt slower, wildflowers will delay their bloom, and then they will have more moisture to kind of sustain a longer bloom time.”

Right now is about the peak time for areas around the Front Range, like Green Mountain west of Lakewood, and in grasslands, like the Pawnee National Grassland northeast of Greeley.

Wildflowers bloom at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in September 2021. (Hart Van Denburg/CPR News file)

“As you get higher and higher in elevation, you’re looking more toward mid-July into August as probably the ideal time to see wildflowers,” Johnson said.

Crested Butte hosts its annual Wildflower Festival on July 7 through 16. And the Denver Botanic Gardens hosts its Lavender Festival at Chatfield Farms on July 15 and 16.

And if you – like the young Coloradan who asked the question that got us curious about this topic – are keen on the color purple, look for Lupine, Tall Larkspur and Pedicularis groenlandica, also known as the distinctive Elephant's Head.

“From the side, it truly does look like an elephant’s head, with a trunk protruding upward and outward,” Johnson said. “It’s a very iconic plant, I love seeing it out on trails.”

To learn more about Colorado’s wildflowers, Johnson recommended the book “The Flora of Colorado” by Jennifer Ackerfield.

To read more stories from Colorado Public Radio, visit cpr.org.

A Mariposa lily is seen on the Carbonate Creek Trail above Marble in July 2021. (Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)
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