These wildflowers are worth hitting the road to see

Indian paintbrush

Sego lily

Evening primrose

Perky Sue


Freckled milkvetch, “locoweed”



If you’re looking for a good website to identify wildflowers, go to

It is user-friendly, has photos and is organized by flower color, so it’s easier to use than some other keys for the less botanically-inclined.

I’m always reminded of car trips this time of year, when the wildflowers begin their gorgeous displays.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have a DVD player in the car to entertain us on the road. Heck, we didn’t even wear seatbelts in the back of that old station wagon with an eight-track player and a CB radio in the front. We spent our time peeling our sweaty legs off the Naugahyde seats, elbowing each other and hoping one of us didn’t get carsick because there wasn’t room to take cover.

Mom always kept us on the look for wildflowers, specifically Indian paintbrush. I don’t think we knew any of the other wildflowers’ names, but paintbrush is unmistakable. Whenever one of us would start whining or asking how much farther we were going, her reply was always, “Anyone see paintbrush? Look for paintbrush!” It was like I-Spy for paintbrush, all the time.

Some years, it’s hard to find. This year seems to be a good year for paintbrush and it’s easy to spot its fiery spikes from a distance across the desert hills. Sometimes you’ll find it in clumps of other flowers, as Indian paintbrush is somewhat of a parasite. Its roots will stretch out until they encounter other plants’ roots, so they can drain nutrients from those host plants to thrive, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Since it’s National Wildflower Week, it seems like a good start to the wildflower-spotting season. While I love planting my own landscape, it’s refreshing to see how Mother Nature gardens, too. Wildflowers show us what really grows well in our native soil, without irrigation or soil amendment. I always find inspiration in nature for my own garden.

The grand wildflower show in Colorado starts in the arid desert and goes up from there, peaking in the mountains by July. The spring wildflower show belongs to the delicate but determined desert flowers: the sego lilies, prairie phlox, globemallow and primrose. They don’t last long. Some, such as the tufted evening primrose, last only a day.

Others are beautiful but dangerous — the freckled milkvetch with its sweet-pea-like purple flowers that eventually produce spotted seed pods that can cause serious problems with grazing animals. Here’s a hint at what happens if you eat it: Its common name is “locoweed.”

Don’t wait long if you want to see the desert in display. That’s part of its beauty. It’s very short-lived. Whatever you do, take only photos and watch your step. And don’t forget to look for paintbrush.

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener, writer and Grand Valley native. Please email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback.


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