Summer color: wonderful wildflowers

Posted: Monday, April 05, 2004

Winter is long in Alaska, but summer compensates with glorious exuberance. Wildflowers flood the landscape white so much of the year with color.

Here are some of the Kenai Penin-sula's showiest and where to seek them:

Meadows Fireweed's showy magenta spires burst into bloom in July, turning entire hillsides pink.

Other meadow notables are the big cow parsnips called "pushki" (which can cause a skin rash if touched on sunny days); purple lupine; lavender wild geraniums; the poisonous and odd-shaped purple monk's hood; wild roses and the unique brown chocolate lilies. Rarer are wild larkspur, red and yellow columbine and Jacob's ladder.

In August, look for goldenrod, poisonous false hellebore, yellow paintbrush and delicate, white-flowered grass of Parnassus.

Forest Amid the moss and ferns, look for the exquisitely fragrant white single delight, also called one-flowered wintergreen or shy maiden. Other wintergreens include pink pyrola. Dwarf dogwood grows in groups. The pink twin flower and heart-leaf orchid are tiny beauties. In clearings, look for blooming shrubs blueberries, currants, spirea and the queer rusty menziesia.


Photo by M. Scott Moon

Fireweed blankets the ground in the fall in many locations on the Kenai Peninsula.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Wetlands Flowers love damp conditions. Cotton grass, actually a sedge, marks marshes. Seek the green bog orchis for its perfume. Blue flag iris and blood-red five-fingered cinquefoil grow beside the poison hemlock. In the water itself, look for water lilies, buck bean and the showy yellow marsh marigold. Along damp creeks swertia, or star gentian, has striking blue-black petals. The odd coltsfoot grows there, too, as do valerian and lovely saxifrages such as fringe cups. Fireweed's gorgeous little cousin river beauty and the beach cinquefoil or silverweed prefer gravel river banks. Muskegs are home to blooming berry plants, delightful miniatures including yellow louseworts, pink bog rosemary, white azaleas (also called Labrador tea) and carnivorous sundew plants.

Mountain meadows Alpine areas riot with flowers during their brief growing season. Look for bluebells, white leutkea, heather, Siberian asters, pink alpine azaleas and dwarf varieties of low-altitude plants, such as birch and blueberries.

Beaches Plants exposed to salt spray are thick and rubbery, almost like desert flora. Yellow beach fleabane, also called senecio or pseudo-arnica, has big sticky blooms. The beach pea is a small legume whose purple flowers become edible peas. Oyster leaf or mertensia has distinctive (and edible) pale blue-green leaves, pink buds and blue flowers.

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