It’s time to stop and smell the wildflowers

It’s easy to find yourself among the wildflowers in Alaska.

 

The approach of summer solstice brings peak wildflower season on the Kenai Peninsula. The roadways are already brightened by the deep purple of the lupine. It’s hard, though, to predict exactly when the bloom will reach its height.

“The question will be when they peak this year,” Kenai Wildlife Refuge Park Ranger Leah Eskelin said. “I wouldn’t even be able to put my finger on it because it’s different throughout the peninsula.”

Eskelin said she saw all the wild roses and Labrador tea flowers out by the Swanson River in full bloom Monday and she saw the same in the Skilak area this weekend.

“Those flowers are all blooming and then, here, around town, nothing,” Eskelin said.

But the wildflower wait will end soon, leading to a wide array of flowers that create a palette of color.

Alaska’s state flower, the sky-blue forget-me-not, can be found in alpine meadows, or as written in the margin of the 1917 bill that approved the flower as the Alaska Territory’s official floral emblem — “a little flower blossoms forth on every hill and dale, the emblem of the Pioneers upon the rugged trail.”

According to Eskelin, low woodland areas are ideal for spotting the oval leaves of the low-bush cranberries or the four white petals of the dwarf dogwood.

“Then, in the wetlands, the bog rosemary, the Labrador tea and the cloudberry should be blooming shortly,” Eskelin said.

Joining them will be the aromatic smell of the prickly rose, with pink flowers.

“The red elderberry is also really beautiful and pretty plentiful on the peninsula,” Eskelin said. “And raspberries, if you’re lucky enough to be close to a bush, are great. It isn’t a very showy flower, but we all love the fruit.”

There is more to wildflowers than beauty and berries, though.

“A lot of people pick the dandelions and the roses to make jellies, jams and teas,” Eskelin said. “If it’s on private property or a disturbed roadside, you can pick and enjoy them with some level of respect for the next person.”

The light pink of the fireweed flower can be seen throughout the state. It is edible, making a great selection for jams, jellies, ice cream or, for a healthier option, salads.

It’s important, though, to enjoy the wildflowers in their natural habitat instead of in a vase, Eskelin said.

“Just enjoy seeing them and the way that they show up on the hillsides, making everything just gorgeous,” Eskelin said. “The wild roses are especially beautiful and that is a wonderful thing and if you pick them all, there are not enough for the next person.”

And if the flowers are picked before they have the chance to berry, no one will have the opportunity to enjoy the wildflower’s berries.

“So enjoy their beauty, being able to identify and knowing that if you leave them you can come back and enjoy the taste of the berries or leave them for wildlife to enjoy the berry crop, like squirrels, bears and birds,” she said.

The Kenai Wildlife Refuge will be hosting Wildflowers of the Kenai, a walk through the refuge with Park Ranger Candace Ward on Saturday at 2 p.m. that starts at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor’ Center in Soldotna.

“You can travel through the forest, out to the wetland,” Eskelin said. “You’ll get a nice, broad stroke of everything you’re likely to see around the peninsula.”

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com.

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