The beautiful wildflower-filled landscape is dotted with something conspicuous this year. It’s a large, extraordinarily tall white flower called the monument plant, monument flower, or green gentian. It’s scientific name is the Frasera speciosa.
Not having seen these before, I had no idea what these prominent plants were until I read an article in the Crested Butte News. As it turns out, these plants are simply amazing. Here’s a few interesting facts I learned from the article:
* most of these flowering plants are really old, with estimates being that the average flowering plant in Gothic valley is about 35-40 years old, and near Cumberland Pass it’s about 50 years old
* some plants may wait as long as 80 years to flower
* after the plant flowers, it dies
* each stalk doesn’t produce just one flower, it’s actually about 600 different tiny white flowers
* flowering seems to be triggered by some sort of environmental cue like soil moisture or summer precipitation, but since these plants flower so rarely, scientists are unsure of the exact trigger
* the environmental cue is usually widespread, often crossing over into other parts of Colorado and Utah
* since many of the plants tend to flower on the same year, this increases their chances of being pollinated and reproducing
* a stalk may drop 30,000 to 40,000 seeds, but on average only one seed survives to actually grow a new plant
* the plants “pre-form” their leaves, which means that their leaves form on the stalk underground about two or three years ahead of when they actually reach above the ground, which means that the “environmental trigger” causing them to flower likely happened two or three years before
So, if you see these magnificent monument flowers, remember that they are nature’s example of patience. Also, keep in mind that that some of these plants may be older than you and that it could be a long time before you see them again!