12 Colorado Wildflowers to Look For this Spring
By Emily Krempholtz
Due to Colorado’s wildly diverse range of elevation and climates throughout the state, spring comes at a different time depending on where you live. Although summer is the best time to see wildflowers in the mountains, well below the treeline, early spring wildflowers are beginning to peek their heads through the grass and shed color on the foothills and plains of Colorado. As Colorado continues to burst into bloom, take a hike and see which of these spring wildflowers you can find in your area.
Here is a list of some spring wildflowers you’ll find in Colorado:
Lewis' Blue Flax
Blue flax, or prairie flax as it’s sometimes called, is not only beautiful, it’s also incredibly useful. The seeds are edible and often used for baking or making oils, and the long stems can be used to make linen. Another fun fact—blue is a particularly favorite color of pollinators like honeybees, who go crazy over this beautiful little bloom.
This pretty flower is part of the buttercup family, and usually is one of the first signs of spring. It starts blooming around Easter or Passover in wet areas where snow is melting, anywhere from the foothills to subalpine regions of the state, and is unique because the flower blooms even before the leaves develop.
Chances are, if you haven’t seen this cute little flower out in the wild, you’ve seen it in one of your neighbor’s gardens. Periwinkles are not native Colorado wildflowers—they hail from Europe, and are actually quite invasive, but they provide great ground cover in shady, wooded areas, and they are quite beautiful.
Starting in April, depending on elevation, with a season that extends into August, shooting stars are delicate and instantly recognizable, with swept-back purple petals behind a yellow center and a pointed black pistil that looks like a little dart. A single stem grows in a cluster called an umbel, and can have as many as 20 flowers. Shooting stars are very bee-friendly, and grow all over, but in Colorado, they’re most often found in mountain meadows, especially near moisture.
These large yellow blooms like higher elevation deserts, so they can be found in any part of Colorado where there is sandy soil and a semi-desert climate. The leaves and stems are rough and scaly, and the broad flowers are about two inches wide. Larger plants grow in a bushy cluster full of cheerful yellow flowers.
White Marsh Marigold
Soon after the snow melts, the white marsh marigold appears along wetlands and riverbanks as one of the earliest harbingers of spring in the mountains. They are sometimes called “elks-lip” because of the shape of the broad, glossy leaves.
Bitterroot was discovered on the Lewis & Clark expedition, and stood out to the explorers because the plant’s roots can be dug up, dried completely, stored for months, and then planted again. As you might expect from the name, the root of this plant is edible and quite bitter. The root goes dormant in the heat of summer, and starts activating in the fall, with leaves that remain green through the cold winter months and wither in the spring to be replaced with a short-stalked flower with pink petals that fade to white near the center. Bitterroot grows best in dry shrublands and piñon-juniper forests.
Wild Bergamot, aka Beebalm
Beebalm grows all over the US, but it’s perfectly suited for Colorado’s dry, sunny climate. Drought-tolerant, with spiky, colorful flowers that look a little like threadbare pompoms, beebalm is, as the name suggests, a very bee-friendly plant. You’ll find it in a lot of wildflower and pollinator seed packs, as well as out in the wild in alpine meadows.
In the grasslands and semi-desert climates of Colorado like the Four Corners region, the sego lily usually crops up in April. This plant grows from a bulb, more like an onion than anything, with a thin stem and delicate, tulip-like flowers that range in color from white to magenta to lavender.
Also called a ‘Prairie Rocket’ or ‘Western Wallflower,’ this pretty plant is easily identified by its yellowy-orange flowers that grow in clusters at the end of each stem. The sand-dune wallflower grows best in the plains and foothills regions of Colorado, and usually starts appearing each year in May.
These intensely blue flowers grow in clusters along a stalk that can be up to a foot long. With blue-green leaves and delicate, 5-petaled flowers, broadbeard penstemon, also sometimes known as ‘whorled beardtongue,’ are easy to spot in the eastern plains and foothills of Colorado, usually in May and June.
In many parts of Colorado, the arrowleaf balsamroot plant’s sunny yellow flowers are a welcoming sign of spring approaching. The flowers look a lot like mule’s ears, mentioned above, but if you look closely, you’ll notice some major differences. While mule’s ears have long, narrow leaves up to sixteen-inches long, and shaped like the mule ears for which they are named, arrowleaf balsamroot has leaves that are wider, about four inches wide and less than a foot long. Like the name suggests, these leaves are shaped like arrowheads. The flowers grow on long stalks, and after they die, the leaves and stalks dry up—you can see the dried, graying skeletons of last year’s growth beneath the greenery of this year’s plant.
Finding Spring Wildflowers in Colorado
One of the most unique parts of Colorado and its diverse geography is that it means spring comes at different times throughout the state. If you miss the early spring wildflowers in the plains, just head somewhere a bit higher in elevation and you’ll probably find a whole new world of spring wildflowers. As the year goes on, you’ll find more and more unique, beautiful flowers dotting the higher elevation mountains and alpine meadows of the Rockies. For more information about other types of wildflowers in Colorado and how best to appreciate them, check out our Guide to Colorado Wildflowers here.