May 1, 2008
Previous  Top  Next

Zion National Park
What's up --and Blooming?

All these flowers can be seen from the roads and trails! We want you to enjoy the flowers; photograph them, tell them you love them, BUT please stay on the roads and trails so that you do not trample the plants and/or compact the soil, thus destroying what you seek to admire. Left unmolested others may also enjoy them, and they can reproduce and still be there for future generations to enjoy and study; and the wildlife will still have the habitat and food upon which their lives depend.

We are having a GREAT (and HUGE) bloom this year; some species we seldom see, and others are in really huge quantities. Haplopappus linearifolius is really coloring the landscape bright yellow; and Blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima) is now turning a huge area a lighter yellow. Even the Ephedra (Mormon tea) is "blooming" profusely! The East Side (the "Slickrock") still looks rather barren, as the Gambel Oak (Quercus gambelii - one of the main shrubs) is not yet leafed out - it's always the last of our trees to come to life in the spring.


Erigeron pumilus EARLY WHITE DAISY Sunflower Family
An early bloomer, somewhat spreading, with rather narrow leaves; both they and the stems rather hairy. Typical daisy flowers, with many rays in several layers; usually light pink or bluish, rather than white, despite the name. Look for it in the lower areas of Zion Canyon.


Abronia fragrans FRAGRANT SAND VERBENA Potato or Nightshade Family
The unusual hemispheric clusters of trumpet-shaped white flowers radiating from a central point, along with a very pleasant fragrance when young (designed to attract night-flying pollinators) are generally enough to make it easy to pick this one out. It is definitely worth stooping to smell! Found in sandy areas such as Coalpits Wash and the slickrock, and very plentiful this year on the East side.

Amelanchier utahensis      UTAH SERVICEBERRY      Rose Family
A deciduous shrub, its flowers come out along with the leaves in early spring; quite showy in full bloom. Its small roundish leaves have serrated tips. The berries are rather small and dry, not much good for food (in contrast to the fleshy ones of the Saskatoon, found at higher elevations here), but Indians made arrow shafts from the branches. Mostly done blooming in Zion Canyon, but really "whitening" up the landscape on the East Side.

Montia perfoliata MINER'S LETTUCE Purslane Family
The stems of the small white flowers of this plant go right up through the centers of the round leaves. A good source of Vitamin C, miners used the plants in salads to prevent Scurvy. It likes shady relatively moist areas.
Astragalus praelongus RATTLEWEED or STINKING MILKVETCH Pea Family
The leaves are the usual compound pea leaves, with dark green leaflets; the flowers are typical long narrow Astragalus ones. The seeds in the short fat pods rattle when dried, giving it its common name. It usually grows on seleniferous soil and absorbs the selenium, giving it a strong rank odor and making it quite poisonous. Mostly on the slopes and flats of the lower Canyon.
A plant with very similar flowers, but low, spreading, and smaller overall except for flower size, and with spines on the stem, is
Peteria thompsonae, THOMPSON PETERIA, found mainly along the Watchman Trail.

Claytonia lanceolata LANCELEAF SPRING BEAUTY Purslane Family
A delicate plant found growing out of rock crevices in shady moist areas. Flowers are dainty, pink or white, with darker pink veins. The leaves are all basal, and often all withered by flowering time. Check the Echo Canyon trail or Emerald Pools for this one.

Oenothera species EVENING PRIMROSE Evening Primrose Family
Flowers have four large petals, and open in the evening, closing (permanently) the next morning soon after then sun hits them. The spent blossoms generally age pink. They prefer sandy areas in Zion.
O. caespitosa, WHITE TUFTED EVENING PRIMROSE: has short leafless stems arising from a basal tuft of leaves, each stem bearing a large very showy single white flower. Usually at the higher elevations such as the slickrock.
O. pallida, PALE EVENING PRIMROSE: a more spreading plant, with smaller white flowers and leafy stems.

Yucca species YUCCA Agave Family
Most of us who live in the west are familiar with this plant and its long, stiff, very sharp-pointed leaves, and large ivory white flowers pollinated by night-flying Pronuba Moths.
Y. utahensis, UTAH YUCCA, has narrow-leaves and tall flower stalks which often fall prey to hungry deer.
Y. baccata, DATIL or BANANA YUCCA, our broad-leaved species, has short flower stalks with flowers that nestle down among the leaves, thus avoiding being lunched by the deer. Now just starting to bloom.


Arctostaphylos pungens      MANZANITA   Heath Family
A shrub of rocky places, mostly in the slickrock areas; the bark is smooth, thin, and reddish, sometimes peeling. Leaves are bright green, thick, roundish; flowers are pink (gradually fading whitish) with anunusual urn shape. Manzanita is Spanish for "little apple:, and this term well describes the fruits. Ours are mostly on the East Side, beyond the long tunnel.

Astragalus zionis ZION MILKVETCH Pea Family
A low spreading plant having compound leaves with many pairs of opposite rather silvery (and hairy) leaflets. Its flowers are typical pea ones, red violet with white markings in the throat. Very attractive! Look for it now in sandy spots in the slickrock.
Astragalus argophyllus, SILVER-LEAVED MILKVETCH, is very similar & nearly impossible to distinguish until the seed pods appear, but prefers higher elevations with better soil, so haven't seen any of these yet this year.

Castilleja species PAINTBRUSH Snapdragon Family
The traditional "Indian Paintbrush" of one or a few stems and bright red (on ours) "flowers", which are actually bracts. The flowers are the pointy green things often seen protruding slightly from the bracts.
Castilleja chromosa, EARLY PAINTBRUSH, has bright scarlet "flowers". It is usually the first of our paintbrushes to bloom, and really brightens the landscape. The foliage is also often reddish, especially early in the season.
Castilleja scabrida, SLICKROCK PAINTBRUSH, grows out of slickrock crevices; so look for it in the cracks in the slickrock on the east side of Zion.
Castilleja linearifolia, WYOMING PAINTBRUSH, has orange-red "flowers"; it starts blooming in the spring, continues growing (and blooming) on through the summer and into the fall, by which time it has usually become quite tall and gangly. Found mostly in Zion Canyon.

Echinocereus triglochidiatus   CLARET CUP      Cactus Family
A hedgehog cactus with clusters of globular or cylindric stems and very showy bright scarlet flowers. Cacti look fearsome (and really are, if you get tangled up with them!) but they do have particularly attractive flowers! Blooms earlier that our other cacti but not for very long.

Erodium cicutarium RED-STEMMED FILAREE Geranium Family
A ground-cover plant often found in disturbed areas. The flowers are small, red-violet, and are followed by typical long narrow "stork's bill" seed pods. A favorite food of the endangered Desert Tortoise. Common on the Canyon bottom for most of the year but most prolific in spring.

Lathyrus brachycalyx var. zionis      ZION SWEETPEA   Pea Family
A low plant generally found clambering with its tendrils on sunny hillsides or disturbed roadsides. The attractive deep pink flowers look like those of cultivated sweetpeas, and when young also have the same marvelous aroma.
We also have some "escaped" cultivated sweetpeas, escaped from a long-ago Superintendent's yard; they are found along the irrigation ditches.

Mirabilis multiflora COLORADO FOUR O'CLOCK Four O'clock Family
A low spreading plant, very handsome in bloom, with brilliant magenta to purple funnel-shaped flowers that open only when the plant is in the shade. Found mostly on dry slopes and mesas, spectacular but usually not too plentiful. However; I just saw a very spectacular hillside southwest of Zion (up the highway from Virgin) absolutely covered with this, in full bloom. But you have to catch it at the right time of day; if the flowers are closed the plant is lost among the blocks of basalt.

Phlox austromontana DESERT PHLOX Phlox Family
Usually a compact mounded mound (var. austromontana, DESERT PHLOX), or sometimes looser and cascading over cliffs and ledges (var. jonesii, ZION CANYON PHLOX); its leaves are very narrow and look (but are not) prickly. Flowers are deep pink to white, often several colors on the same plant at the same time, fading as the flowers age. Found in rocky areas.

Penstemon eatonii EATON or FIRECRACKER PENSTEMON Snapdragon Family
This one's flowers are long, tubular scarlet ones with hardly any flare at the mouth, and relatively wide shiny opposite green leaves. It flowers a little later than P. utahensis, thus giving the hummingbird pollinators a longer season. One parent of the hybrid JONES PENSTEMON.

Penstemon palmeri PALMER PENSTEMON Snapdragon Family
Its fat flowers range from nearly white to deep pink, with distinctive reddish "guidelines" on the lower lip to lead pollinators into the flowers. The upper leaves are joined around the stem into a boat-shaped arrangement which collects water; with help from the wind, the plant waters itself! The only fragrant penstemon in Zion, it is often found in rather large masses, preferring rocky wash bottoms and dry canyonsides. Just starting to bloom.

Penstemon utahensis      UTAH PENSTEMON      Snapdragon Family
Beautiful long velvety-looking trumpet-shaped ruby red (hummingbird-pollinated) flowers that sometimes almost seem to glow, are the trademark of our earliest-blooming penstemon. The leaves are rather narrow, and opposite. They are particularly plentiful this year.

Rumex crispus      WILD RHUBARB, CURLY DOCK Buckwheat Family
The rusty-reddish flowers of this plant are small but many, and funny-looking. The leaves are typical rhubarb-type with wavy crisped edges; their petioles (the edible "stems") are shorter than on the cultivated ones but can be used in the same way. Found in the flats in the lower Canyon.


Dichelostemma pulchellum BLUEDICKS Lily Family
This one grows in sandy soil, from a small bulb. A single long leafless stem arises from the long narrow grasslike leaves typical of the family, with a small cluster of pretty blue flowers at its tip, each flower having 3 petals, and 3 sepals that look like petals. Sandy soils, often found growing up through shrubs that shelter them.

Linum perenne ssp. lewisii LEWIS FLAX Flax Family
The 5-petaled light blue (with darker blue stripes) flowers of this plant have a rather delicate appearance and last only a few hours, but the stems are quite tough and fibrous, as flax stems are. The plant has been used medicinally, as well as for food, and the fibers from the stems for making such things as cord and fishing lines. Canyon to slickrock.

Penstemon pachyphyllus THICKLEAF PENSTEMON Snapdragon Family
This lovely penstemon has narrow blue flowers, arranged in whorls around the stems. Leaves are silvery and rather thick. Blooming now in sandy places in lower Coalpits Wash; later you'll find it in the Slickrock on the east side; I've never seen it in Zion Canyon.

Salvia dorrii PURPLE or DESERT SAGE Mint Family
A relatively small shrub with small silvery leaves having a distinct and delicious minty sage smell, The unusual and particularly beautiful bright blue flowers nestle in purple bracts; very spectacular in flower! Found on dry canyon slopes and flats; and really putting on an act this year!


Baileya multiradiata DESERT MARIGOLD Composite Family
The very white foliage of this plant is due to its being covered by a mat of white hairs. The 25-50 wide layered ray flowers and many disk flowers are bright yellow; usually a single flower head per stem. Found at the lower elevations such as the lower Watchman Trail; a showy 3-season bloomer.
Coleogyne ramosissima DIXIE BLACKBRUSH Rose Family
A rather dark-appearing (except when leafing out in spring) shrub found on dry slopes in the lower part of the Canyon. The flowers are yellow and have only 4 "petals" (unusual for a rose) which are actually officially classed as "sepals-that-look-like-petals", since there is only one set of them. Check the lower Watchman Trail for this one. It's also putting on a great show south & west of Zion.

Cryptantha confertiflora YELLOW FORGET-ME-NOT Borage Family
A quite hairy plant with narrow green leaves and small bright yellow flowers in a "scorpion's tail" head. Look for it especially along the Watchman Trail and in Coalpits Wash in early spring.

Encelia frutescens var. virginensis BUSH ENCELIA Composite Family
A rather small rounded shrub with whitish stems and very rough leaves with short stiff hairs; both ray and disk flowers are yellow. Look for it on gravelly, rocky, deserty slopes such as the lower Watchman Trail.

Erysimum asperum WESTERN WALLFLOWER Mustard Family
This plant may be a foot tall or occasionally more, generally unbranched; its large clusters of bright yellow four-petaled flowers have a delicate but very pleasant lilac scent when newly opened. Larger than Draba, and has leaves on the stem.

Mahonia repens      OREGON GRAPE         Barberry Family
A creeping woody plant with prickly hollylike leaves and clusters of small yellow flowers that later become clusters of edible dark blue berries. Actually it is neither grape nor holly! It likes shady relatively moist places in Zion Canyon. Check Emerald Pools and Riverside Walk trails.

Purshia mexicana CLIFFROSE or QUININE BUSH Rose Family
This shrub is generally rather small in Zion; but occasionally rather large and with shaggy bark rather like a juniper. The leaves are small and 5-lobed leaves with a bitter taste that gives it one of its common names. The flowers are yellow, with 5 petals, 5 pistils which later elongate into very long plumose styles, and many stamens. Closely related and very similar is
Purshia tridentata, ANTELOPE BITTERBRUSH, which can be distinguished by its larger non-shiny 3-lobed leaves and single pistil.

Sphaeralcea grossulariifolia GOOSEBERRYLEAF GLOBEMALLOW Mallow Family
A typical orange globemallow, generally of one or a few stems and loose elongate many-flowered heads, found on rocky slopes. The leaves are deeply cleft, parted, and toothed, easily distinguishing it from
S. ambigua, DESERT HOLLYHOCK, whose leaves are much less cleft, resembling small cultivated hollyhock leaves. It is often quite bushy, and is found mainly in the lower elevations.
S. coccinea, SCARLET GLOBEMALLOW, has leaves somewhat more cleft than S. ambigua, but less than S. grossulariifolia.


Chorispora tenella MUSK MUSTARD Mustard Family
A small plant with blue-purple four-petaled flowers. Tends to have a musky scent, although this is usually hard to pick up. Found in disturbed area along trails and floodplain meadows in the canyon bottom.