JoAnne Skelly: Want to see beautiful wildflowers? Take a hike

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I’m a big fan of wildflowers. While I have some in my yard such as sulfur buckwheat, blue flax, rose campion and globe mallow, I’m more a fan of wildflowers in their native habitats. So, I hike. Last week, friends and I hiked the trail from Spooner Lake to Marlette Lake and saw a wide assortment of flowers and blooming shrubs.

Flowers included yellow Sierra wallflowers that smell like hyacinth, marsh marigolds growing in the stream areas, royal blue larkspur, delicate blue forget-me-nots, vivid orange paintbrush and creeping pale pink phlox. There were yellow arrow-leaf balsamroot and woolly mule’s ears. These look similar, but the balsamroot leaf is heart-shaped on the stem end and pointed at its tip. With balsamroot, the flowers rise above the leaves, while the flowers in mules ears sit inside the leaves. A few false Solomon’s seal were blooming. They have green lance-shaped leaves clasping the stem.

Adding a bright splash of red on the forest floor is the snowplant. It has no green parts, looks like thick asparagus spears and grows 6 to 18 inches tall. The Brown’s peonies are some of my favorite wildflowers. Their uniquely shaped flowers are maroon with yellowish-green borders and they droop downward.

Some flowers grow close to the ground. They can be very tiny and easily missed if you don’t pay close attention. These include nude buckwheat (no leaves on its stem), mountain violets with their deep yellow flowers and whisker brushes with tiny pink flowers rising above leaves that look like a bottlebrush. The little purple woolen breeches hide their flowers under a short canopy of leaves.

The shrubs were as visual as the flowers. The serviceberry with its white blooms was stunning. It’s in the rose family. Its cousin, bitter cherry, was just as beautiful with its white flowers. Another cousin, bitterbrush, was unfolding its yellow flowers. The wax current was covered in white to pale pink bell-shaped flowers.

Things that weren’t blooming yet were the corn lilies, penstemons, wild garlic and pennyroyal and most of the lupines. I’ll have to get up there again in a week or so to watch the progression of blooms. Then, in July, it will probably be time to hike to Winnemucca Lake for the spectacular floral display up there.

Wildflowers never look as good in a home yard as they do in their natural environment, so get out and take a hike.

JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at or 887-2252.


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