Nineteen Hundred Miles to the West (Gentians, part 2)

Two days after discovering rosepink at Serpentine Barrens Conservation Park, Steve and I were in Grand Junction, Colorado, heading south to Telluride. With most of the day open for exploring, we headed up to Grand Mesa National Forest. And I do mean up – Grand Mesa tops out at 11,332 feet above sea level, or about 6,700 feet above Grand Junction. Many websites claim that it’s the largest flat-topped mountain in the world; even if it isn’t, it covers an impressive 500 square mile area.

It’s certainly a lovely place. We didn’t do much hiking, but I spotted about a dozen different species of wildflowers, including another gentian.

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mountain gentian,
Parry’s mountain gentian,
bottle gentian
Gentiana parryi
Gentianaceae

This is one of only two species of Gentian found in Grand Mesa NF, if I’ve done the research correctly. Its range is limited to the Rocky Mountains from southern Wyoming to northern New Mexico, and parts of Utah and Arizona. It grows in open areas in moist soils, usually in the montane, subalpine, and alpine life zones*.

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Mountain gentian is a perennial that grows up to about 18 inches tall, with a terminal cluster of just a few flowers (typically three to five), which bloom from June through September. The flowers remain tightly closed, the tips of the fused petals spreading open only when exposed to enough sun (cloudy days won’t do).

For more information visit the mountain gentian page at the excellent Southwest Colorado Wildflowers site.

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*montane: 8,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level
subalpine: 10,000 feet above sea level to timber line (about 12,000 feet)
alpine: above timber line

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