Celebrate wildflowers at the refuge

Posted: Friday, June 13, 2008

The summer solstice marks the peak of wildflower season in Southcentral Alaska. To make the most of this special time, join us at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to learn more about wildflowers at our Celebrate Wildflowers Fun Day.

This event will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 20 at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Environmental Education Center, one mile from Soldotna off Ski Hill Road.

Enjoy displays, games, craft activities and wildflower inspired snacks. Guided half-mile wildflower identification walks will take place at 1 and 3 p.m. Walks are limited to 15 people, and you need to preregister with Education Specialist Michelle Ostrowski at 260-2839.

You can discover lots of wildflowers as you walk and hike the Kenai Peninsula this summer. Each habitat from wetlands to alpine tundra has distinctive wildflowers. Wetland blooms to enjoy include brown chocolate lilies, purple wild iris, pink bog rosemary, white cloudberry and yellow monkey flower.

Woodland favorites include white dwarf dogwood, pale pink twinflower, white starflower and pale pink wintergreen. Disturbed roadsides are showy with purple lupine and deep pink wild rose.

Though mid-June is the time for the most concentrated wildflower blooms in the lowlands, a second wave of flowers can be found in alpine areas from late June to early July. When hiking from 800 to 2,000 feet, look for blue harebells, pink moss campion, yellow spotted saxifrage and white gentian.

A few commonly encountered wildflowers require caution -- white-flowered baneberry, purple monkshood and purple larkspur are all very poisonous.

It is recommended that you wash your hands after even lightly touching these plants to prevent any of their oils from being transferred to your hands and eventually to your mouth.

Another flowering plant to avoid is the large white-flowered cow parsnip that produces an oil that causes severe skin irritation in people and animals.

Wildflower season is a great time to find the flowers of wild berries, so you can stake out good berry patches for late summer and early fall. Look for white wild raspberry flowers in disturbed areas by roadsides and trails. White low-bush cranberry flowers tinged with pink are found in woodlands and wetlands. White bell-shaped blueberry flowers are found in wetlands and alpine areas.

Not only do Alaskans enjoy beautiful wildflower displays all summer, but also, thanks to the hardy pink fireweed, we have one of the most colorful wildflower "exits" of any place in the world. In late July, roadsides, meadows and mountainsides are a vivid pink with awesome displays of showy fireweed.

While Alaska is renowned for its scenery, fish and wildlife, let's not forget how remarkable our state is for its beautiful wildflower displays. To protect our wildflower heritage far into the future, remember to view or photograph these showy blooms, but refrain from collecting them to insure there will be seeds for next year's blooms.

Take time to enjoy wildflowers with us during Celebrate Wildflowers Fun Day or go outdoors on your own to appreciate these colorful and beautiful Alaska residents

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Candace Ward works at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge as a park ranger specializing in visitor service and education. Her favorite wildflower books are A Field Guide to Wildflowers by Verna Pratt and The Flora of Alaska by Eric Hulten.

Previous Refuge Notebook articles can be viewed on our Web site http://kenai.fws.gov/. You can check on new bird arrivals or report your bird sighting on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Birding Hotline (907) 262-2300.

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