Gardening with Deb: Early season wildflowers in bloom now

Deb Babcock/For the Steamboat Today
Deb Babcock

CSU Master Gardeners are available to answer gardening questions between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Thursdays throughout the gardening season. Call them at 970-879-0825, email csumgprogram@co.r... or visit the Extension Office, 136 Sixth St.

Last week, I took a couple hikes on some of the trails that have finally dried out from snowmelt. All along the Hinman Fisherman’s Trail was one of my favorite early season flowers, the Glacier lily (Erythronium grandiflorum). This exquisite and delicate small flower features curved yellow petals with stamens that protrude from the flower’s center. The leafless stems are 6 to 12 inches long and bend at the top giving the flower an elegant drooping profile.

Also called dogtooth violet and snow lily, glacier lilies provide early season food for much wildlife in our area, including bears, deer and elk who eat the corms (the swollen underground part of the stem that stores energy for next year — not quite a bulb, but close) and green seed pods, as will sheep and cattle. Ground squirrels and other rodents dig up the corms and store them for winter consumption.

Although it is a really pretty flower that would look great in a meadow or garden, it generally should not be dug up from its habitats in the wild as it sends its corms deep into the soil. Most of us would end up digging up only the leaves and their stems, killing the pretty plant.

It’s an edible plant, as well as a spring beauty. The corm is edible raw but tastier and easier to digest when cooked. The stems and leaves of glacier lilies are also edible, although less nutritious than the corms, and can sometimes be found adding a touch of color and texture to salad greens. The seedpod, which forms after the flower bloom has ended, is also edible and can be eaten raw or cooked. It tastes a little like green beans. As with any of these wild edible plants, it’s best to eat in moderation to avoid upsetting your stomach.

Later in the week, I hiked the Sarvis Creek trail in the southern part of the county and was enchanted by all the Mountain Bluebells (Mertensia ciliata ) in bloom along the way. A member of the Boraginaceae (forget- me-not or borage) family, this widely dispersed perennial features a four-foot tall, three-foot wide plant with blue-green leaves that feature fine hairs (hence the name ciliata) and small, bell-shaped flower clusters that start out light blue and become pinkish purple as the flower ages. It’s usually found in wet meadows and along stream banks throughout the western U.S. and is sometimes found as a single plant but often as a whole colony along a stream or wet meadow. It’s an aromatic and beautiful early season flower.

The bell-shaped flowers are edible, as are the leaves, but the leaves aren’t very palatable raw with their hairy coating. Native Americans had medicinal uses for this plant.

As the weather turns nice, be sure to get out and see all the early-season wildflowers our part of the mountains feature during this short blooming season.

Deb Babcock is a volunteer Master Gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County.

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