I took the kiddos to the annual Wasatch Wildflower Festival this weekend.
The event spans the many ski resorts in the mountains above the Salt Lake Valley and is a world-class event, evident by the number of foreign-languages I heard being spoken. It’s also unique in that it is one of the few places where you can see masses of wildflowers by using mass transit. You could, in theory, fly into Salt Lake International Airport, take the light-rail downtown, catch the 951 bus to Big Cottonwood Canyon, transfer to the 990 (which was running today) to the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta Ski Resort, and take a free shuttle from the bus stop to Albion basin at 9,000 feet above sea-level for some of the best wildflower displays you’ll see in the West.
Where a bus-pass will take you in Salt Lake City. Here’s a route map.
I always enjoy coming up here. It’s been a while since I came up to Albion basin, but I was glad to see that one feature in particular hasn’t changed; this singular clump of Monkey flower (Mimulus guttatus [more likely tilingii]*).
It’s on the bottom leg of the trail to Cecret Lake. As you cross under the ski lift, you’re in an ocean of bluebells (Mertensia ciliata) around a stream, but suddenly this clump of Monkey flowers pops out at you from the end of well-worn trail spur. I bet there are hundred of amateur photographs of this incredible specimen and its ridiculously oversized blossoms.
With no DYC in sight, this baby is working it. Definitely garden worthy. Did I mention that deer don’t like this plant?
In years with average snowfall and rain, the stream is running, though it was dry today. Still, this Mimulus is blooming its head off. I hope to see for years to come.
*Techincally, Mimulus are no longer called Mimulus but Diplacus, or in the case of this particular plant, Erythranthe but that’s for another post. It will still always be our famous yellow Monkey Flower.
Island Park just keeps on giving whenever I go there. It’s one of those places where you can go again and again for years and not exhaust the possibility of discovery. Take, for instance, when I showed up at our cabin, opened the window to my bedroom and saw this:
Sunlight streaming through Lodgepole Pine and Fireweed to cast a spotlight on a large clump of Corallorhiza mertensiana, commonly called “Western coralroot” or “Merten’s coralroot.” It’s a terrestrial orchid which grows in conifer forest understories. They have no roots, just a rhizome that is branched like coral. It is a non photosynthetic, mycotrophic wildflower; they are parasitic plants, relying on a symbiotic fungus to pull nutrients from the surrounding trees and understory plants for its entire life as it has no chlorophyll & can’t photosynthesize sunlight into food. In fact, its seed cannot even germinate without this fungal host as it has no endoplasm or “food store.” It gets all its carbohydrates and minerals to germinate via its subterranean host.
The seeds of Corallorhizae are among the smallest in the world, with some measuring only two-tenths of a millimeter in diameter.
The area around my cabin was full of these, and I could spot plants wherever I went. It’s one of those western forest ephemerals you wish you could grow in a garden, like Pterospora andromeda (Pinedrops), but will never be able to. The funny thing is I’ve looked for these elsewhere in other years and wasn’t able to find any, which makes the discovery right outside of my cabin window all the more serendipitous.