Wildflower Watch

Hunting the Wildflowers of South Park, Colorado

By Jan Boyd Haring

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist - Volume 15, Issue 2


Have you ever pointed to a wildflower stating the common name such as Scarlet Gilia, and your companion said, “My aunt used to call that a Sky Rocket, but my uncle called it a Skunk Flower”? This curiosity along with my passion for South Park is what gave me an idea. In 2007, I was the happy recipient of an ASBA Art and Education Grant. I wanted to isolate and identify roadside wildflowers in South Park Basin, Park County, Colorado, with the goal of creating a brochure, free to the traveling public, while promoting the art of botanical illustration.  

South Park Basin is a large plateau, fifty miles long and thirty-five miles wide, 60 miles southwest of Denver. The altitude ranges from 8500-10,000 feet above sea level. Today it is used for ranching and recreation, but its past is rich in history, from the Native American tribes hunting buffalo herds to the gold miners. I narrowed my wildflower search to places I thought the traveling public would visit, such as the reservoirs, state parks, and along the dirt and paved roads to mountain passes and towns. 

Generally, wildflower blooms occur between late May to late August. The specimens are shorter and sparser due to powerful winds and fleeting rain. The plants are a mix of northern New Mexico, Wyoming, and Colorado varieties. 

The next step was to photograph and document plants in different areas of South Park. After I eliminated blooming bushes, popular weeds, shrubs, and thistles, I selected twenty-two appealing wildflowers for the brochure. From this point I began using field notes and sketches to capture the details of each plant. 

Locating prime examples of the flowers was as much fun as doing the illustrations themselves. A fine group of Scarlet Globemallows (Sphaeralcea coccinea) was flourishing near one of the reservoirs, stunted and covered with a fine layer of dust. Sheltered among granite boulders was the delicate Cutleaf Evening Primrose (Oenothera coronopifolia). Beautiful clusters of Rocky Mountain Iris (Iris missouriensis) were found in tall grasses. Rockslide Yellow Fleabane (Erigeron leiomerus) were thick in the grasslands, even in cattle herds! 

I started my field sketches and reference photographs in July 2007. One year later I had 22 watercolor and colored pencil drawings completed. I designed and created a brochure, A Traveler’s Guide to Roadside Wildflowers of Colorado’s South Park Basin, which included popular common names for each plant. I printed 1500 and distributed them to key traveler locations by August of 2008. If you ever visit South Park Basin, be prepared for heat, cold, dust, and spectacular views. Did I mention the wind? 

  • Iris missouriensis, Wild Iris or Rocky Mountain Iris, ©Jan Boyd Haring 2008
  • Front side of the South Park Wildflower Brochure
  • View of South Park Basin looking West