Moab Happenings Archive
Return to home


A Banner April
by Damian Fagan

April is an active month in Canyon Country. Many species of birds are busy constructing nests, courting and laying eggs. Amphibians, like the northern leopard frog, start to chorus on warm days, their snore-like calls emanating from shallow pools. Hordes of insects either hatch from dormant eggs or metamorphose from their aquatic childhood into flying adults. But perhaps the most noticeable heralds of Spring are the splashes of wildflower color that pop up across the landscape. And early predictions for this years crop lean toward a banner April.

Abundant winter moisture that slowly soaks into the ground sets the stage for successful germination of dormant wildflower seeds. Many seeds of annual plants have chemical inhibitors that block germination unless there is sufficient moisture in the soil. As moisture seeps into the ground these inhibitors are broken down and results in fields of wildflowers gracing the land.

Of course, things can drastically change from month to month. Dry, hot conditions can quickly remove this soil moisture, and although there may be adequate moisture for germination there could be limited water for growth. Strong April winds can also suck moisture from the soil. But if things progress in the current fashion, this year should be a pretty good one for wildflowers.

Common Indian paintbrush (Castilleja chromosa) is one of my favorite early wildflowers. Growing against a backdrop of slickrock, these flowers are appropriately named. The flower tips resemble dipped paintbrushes holding onto bright red paint. Interestingly, paintbrush flowers are green; red bracts or modified leaves surround the flowers and act as attractants to lure hummingbirds to the plant’s nectar pantry.

Paintbrushes may be partially parasitic on other plants. Their root systems attach to the roots of nearby plants and draw moisture and nutrients from their host. The hosts receive nothing for their contributions except to be in close association with these beautiful wildflowers.

Hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) is another Spring bloomer that may be laden with an abundance of red flowers. Echinocereus is from a Greek word meaning “hedgehog” and refers to the plant’s resemblance to this spiny creature. The species name, triglochidiatus, refers to the plant’s straight spines that are often arranged in clusters of three. And from this spine covered, slender barrel shaped cactus, arise bouquets of delicate red flowers. In good years there are an abundance of flowers blanketing the plants, otherwise only a few blooms may appear.

Two other red-bloomers are the Utah and Eaton’s penstemon, two members of the Snapdragon or Figwort Family that are closely related. The Utah penstemon (Penstemon utahensis) was first located near Monticello, Utah; hence, its common and scientific name. Flowering stalks arise from a basal rosette of leaves and bear short tubular flowers that flare open at the end like an angel’s trumpet. Eaton’s penstemon, named after an American botanist David Cady Eaton (1834-1885), also bear flowers along a long flowering stalk. These flowers are more tubular than the Utah penstemon’s and often have winged pollinators such as hummingbirds or butterflies probing their flowers in search of nectar.

These four plants are just a few of the many desert wildflowers that grace the transition from Winter to Spring.
And hopefully, with fingers crossed, this year's Spring will be a banquet of wildflower bouquets for all to feast upon.

© 2001 Moab Happenings. All rights reserved. Reproduction of information contained in this site is expressly prohibited.

Return to home