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Plants of the Western Slope August 5, 2015

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Photo by Evelyn Horn Scarlet Gilia

Scarlet White Gilia

I always find this drive exciting. We left Eckert (elevation about 6,000 feet) and now we're on top of Grand Mesa (elevation over 10,000 feet). We passed through the Pinyon-Juniper Life Zone around Cedaredge, then up through the Scrub Oak Zone, and on into the Aspen Zone. So now we are here in the Hudsonian Life Zone. But we didn't have to drive to all the way to the Hudson Bay in Canada! Next we take the dirt road out to Land's End in search of a special flower, the scarlet gilia that I've known for years -- but these are white!

And here they are, in the same place along the footpath to the conservancy building where I found them a year ago. They're even more delightful than I remember! The lobes of each flower are narrow and curved -- the blossoms look like miniature pinwheels. On the left, there's a stem that has been bent and I can easily see the long tube of the flower. How lovely! They bend with the wind so delicate yet so hardy. And I know that they are either perennials or biennials: that seems necessary up here with the short growing season.

I met this plant as a brilliant red flower in a sandy wash in Nevada with the name of "Skyrocket Phlox" and it really looked like it was ready to take off! But now this group's botanical name is Ipomopsis meaning "like a morning glory." I think mine might be Ipomopsis tenuituba with "tenu" meaning thin (as the thin tube seen in the photo). Other names for the red version are Trumpet Gilia, Foxfire, Fairy Trumpet, and Gilia aggregata. Gilia was an 18th century Spanish botanist.

The Phlox or Polemoniaceae family includes over 300 species in North America with many garden specimens. On the Western Slope we have the native blue-colored Jacobs Ladder and Sky Pilot as well as the Gilia-Ipomopsis complex with blossoms in red, pink, white and lavender.

The beautiful scarlet gilia ranges from British Columbia to Arizona and California, thriving from desert regions up to subalpine, most often found on open, sunny slopes. They may be a few inches tall to three feet tall at lower elevations. But wherever you find it, scarlet gilia and its color variations will catch your eye.

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Evelyn Horn
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