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The Poser's Guide to Utah's Trailside Flowers

"What type of flower is this, Mommy?" Sooner or later, your child grows beyond those tender years when he thinks you know everything, and enters the teen years, when he's certain you know nothing. As an aid to mountain-biking parents, we provide this limited guide to trailside flowers... just enough for you to fake it. It's up to you to work it into conversation. "Careful, Jeremy, you're stepping on that firecracker penstemon."

Want more? Go to our bookstore and pick up a guide book!

Yellow Flowers Description
Balsamroot
Balsamroot blooms in mid-spring, with single sunflower-like blossoms on straight stems about a foot in height. Disks are large and yellow, with radial ray flowers of the same color. Spear-shaped leaves arise from the bottom of the plant, without branching. Leaves may be elongated heart-shaped (arrow-leaf balsamroot), or serrated (hooker's balsamroot).
Mule's Ear (northern wyethia)
Mule's ear blossoms (and the overall appearance of the plant) are similar to balsamroot. However, leaves are smaller in proportion to the plant, and there is branching of both blossom stems and leaf stems. (Leaves may arise from the stem of a mule's ear blossom, whereas balsamroot blossoms are alone on a stem.) Disks are bright yellow, and smaller in proportion to the ray flowers.
Sunflower
Sunflower is a compound flower, with a brown disk and bright yellow ray flowers. The plant may grow to several feet in height, with multiple branches of heart-shaped leaves. Flowers are found on the upper areas of the plant. Grows in warm disturbed areas in open sun.
Showy Goldeneye (Arnica)
Another member of the sunflower family, goldeneye is a dense, multi-branching plant of about 18 inches height, with a mass of flowers on the outer surface. Flowers consist of a yellow to slightly-greenish disk surrounded by bright yellow oval ray flowers. Usually found in shady locations.
Potentilla
Potentilla is a woody shrub that can grow to 3 feet in height. Multiple small leaves branch close to the stalk, with yellow flowers about 3/4 inch in size scattered among the leaves.
Flannel Mullein
Also called "boy scout torch" and "toilet paper plant," flannel mullein has a base of very large fuzzy soft leaves, with a tough central stalk rising about 2 feet. Flowers bloom in a dense cluster at the end of the stalk.

Glacier Lily (Fawn Lily, Trout Lily)
Among the first plants to bloom after the snow melts, glacier lily is about 4 inches tall, with inverted 1-inch blossoms. These flowers are usually found in shady areas in damp hollows at higher altitudes. Small lily-like leaves are found at the bottom, with stalks bending before terminating in a six-pedal yellow flower. Pedals bend back away from the stamen.
Desert Marigold
Found in desert washes of the southwest (St. George area), this is a handsome flower. A large orange disk is surrounded by multiple thin ray flowers. Multiple branches support flowers at the top of the bush.
Buttercup
Found along streams and springs, buttercup prefers a damp, cool location. Five shiny yellow pedals form a cup above a low-lying base of deeply septate leaves.
Rabbitbrush
Thick woody stalks grow from the base, with tiny yellow flowers on a multi-branching tip. Overall height is 18-24 inches. Leaves are pale gray-green, long and thin. It blooms in late summer.
Violet
The Nuttal Violet is a small 5-pedal yellow flower (1/2 to 3/4 inch) with oval leaves about 2 inches in length. It grows low against the ground in damp areas, blooming in mid-spring. The lowest pedal tends to be larger, making the flower symmetrical side-to-side rather than radially. Brown or purple "guide lines" may be seen at the base of the lower pedal.
White Flowers Description
Bitterbrush
Bitterbrush blossoms can be yellow or white. Multiple blooms occur along the stalk, among tiny leaves. Leaves are small (about 1/2 inch) and geranium-shaped. This is a woody shrub, usually about 2 feet high, but it can grow to 4-6 feet.
Colorado Columbine
Columbine is a graceful flower, with long "tails" aiming backwards along the stalk. Blossoms are usually white, but may be light purple. Flowers are found well above the main bush, which consists of septate leaves densely placed in rounded configuration about 12 inches in size.
Moonflower (Southwestern Thornapple)
Moonflower is a "morning glory" shaped flower about 3 inches across, with a deep throat. The flower blooms at night. Found in the warmer sandy areas of southern Utah, the plant forms a dense mass of heart-shaped leaves, above which rise a few large white blossoms.
Prickly Poppy
This poppy blooms at the top of a thistle-like plant. Blooms are about 3 inches across and fairly flat compared to other poppies, and are found at the top of the stalk. Grows in disturbed areas (along the edge of roads and washes) in low-altitude desert regions.
Sego Lily
Utah's state flower, the sego lily has three prominent pedals, with a spot of brown-purple near the yellow throat. The blossom is at the top of a narrow stalk about 6-8 inches high. The leaves at the base of the plant are often thin and inconspicuous.
Yarrow
A cluster of multiple white compound flowers sits on the top of a straight stalk. The disk flowers are off-white (slightly yellow), with small round ray flowers touching the neighboring blossom. Long compoundly septate leaves protrude from the stalk, with larger leaves at the bottom.
Yucca
Bell-shaped white blossoms are found on branches near the top of the long, tough central stalk. Blossoms are about 2-3 feet high. Tough spike-like leaves, about 12 inches long, arise at the base.
Pink-Violet Flowers Description
Daisy
A member of the sunflower family, the daisy is a compound flower. Most mountain daisies have ray flowers that pale pink to violet, with the disk flowers yellow to orange. Blossoms are 1 to 1-1/2 inches in diameter, and tend to cluster above the plant.
Sticky Geranium
Sticky geranium is a bright pink, five-pedal flower about 2 inches across, found on a branching plant with deeply septate (maple-like) leaves. (The flower is very similar in appearance to wild flax, which has a straight stalk and grass-like leaves.)
Longleaf Phlox
Phlox blooms in spring, with small (1/2 to 3/4 inch) pink 5-pedal flowers appearing on top of branching grass-like leaves. Found in foothill areas.
Prickly Pear
Prickly pear blossoms are rose-like with multiple pedals. Color varies from yellow to pink to deep red. The base of the blossom branches off the main body of the cactus.
Wild Rose
Wild rose is a large shrub with small thorns and pale-green oval leaves. Blossoms are pink with a yellow center.
Sweetvetch
Sweetvetch is a member of the pea family. Blossoms are side-to-side symmetrical, not radial, and are pale-pink to purple. Multiple oval leaves arise from each stalk, palm-like. May be similar in appearance to its relatives wild pea (which has tendrils -- curly projections) and locoweed (which has fuzzy leaves and grows low to the ground).
Locoweed (Utah Milkvetch)
Locoweed is also a member of the pea family. Hairy gray-green leaves branch from each stalk. Pink or purple pea-like blossoms protrude beyond the leafy part of the plant. Found in dryer open areas. Locoweed contains an alkaloid that can poison livestock.
Thistle
Norway thistle is a deeper green, with brilliant purple blossoms. Utah thistle has leaves that are almost gray, with much paler blossoms.
Vase Flower (Hairy Clematis)
This pretty 1-inch flower hangs upside down, with the ends of its confluent "pedals" curled back. Members of the clematis family lack true pedals -- the sepals form the flower. The outside is fuzzy, the inside a deep velvet dark purple. Stems are about 12-18 inches long, with multiple deeply divided narrow septate leaves.
Clematis
Delicate but large flowers, about 2-3 inches in diameter with 4 sepals forming the appearance of pedals. The vine climbs onto trailside brush, with widely separated pointed oval leaves. Found in shaded, moist areas. Blooms in late spring at upper altitudes.
Wild Onion
Multiple vase-shaped blossoms sit at the end of small stalks arising from the end of a main stalk about 8 inches tall. A few inconspicuous grass-like leaves can be seen at the base. The blossom is similar in appearance to dwarf waterleaf, which has large septate leaves and stamens protruding beyond the end of the pedals.
Dwarf Waterleaf
Multiple vase-shaped blossoms sit at the end of small stalks arising from the end of a main stalk about 8 inches tall. Stamens protrude beyond the end of the pedals. Broad septate leaves surround area of blossoms, creating a small bush about 8 to 10 inches high. Grows in shaded moist areas, blooming in spring.
Red Flowers Description
Desert Trumpet (Scarlet Gilia)
Near the top of a sparse branching 12-inch bush, long thin scarlet blossoms terminate in a broad 5-pointed star.
Firecracker Penstemon
On a single stalk high above the leaves, multiple long thin red blossoms end in a narrow opening, or a snapdragon-like flare. Penstemon leaves are "paired opposite" -- arising in matched pairs on opposite sides of the stem.
Desert Paintbrush
Common in hot dry areas of intermediate altitude, desert paintbrush is a low plant that terminates in multiple brilliant red fronds at the tip. Paintbrush is often found in association with sage and other shrubs -- it attaches itself to the roots to steal nutrients from the host plant.
Indian Paintbrush
In shady areas at high altitude, other species of paintbrush compete for attention. There are multiple species of paintbrush, ranging from red to pink to yellow to white.
Prickly Pear
Prickly pear blossoms are rose-like with multiple pedals. Color varies from yellow to pink to deep red. The base of the blossom branches off the main body of the cactus.
Orange Flowers Description
Orange Globe Mallow
Globe Mallow forms a bowl of five brightly-colored pedals, with numerous stamens forming a yellow "satellite receiver knob" in the center. Blossoms are about 1/2 inch in size, grouping on a stalk at the top of the plant. Leaves are light in color and geranium-like.
Blue Flowers Description
Wasatch Penstemon
Penstemon blossoms vary from white to purple to blue to pink to red. The Wasatch or mountain penstemon is blue, with snapdragon-like symmetrical flowers branching near the top of the stalk. Long, spear-shaped leaves branch in pairs on opposite sides of the stalk.
Lupine
Lupine has groups of blue to purple pea-shaped flowers on stalks above the plant. Leaves are palmetto-like fans of long, narrow leaves on each stem. Overall height is 18-24 inches.
Chicory
This isn't a native to Utah, but will be found in disturbed areas. Disk-shaped flowers are found close to the branching stems. Overall height is 18-24 inches.
Berries Description
Choke Cherry
Choke cherry is a small tree with reddish bark. Leaves are oval and dark shiny green. Small white flowers occur in hanging clusters. Fruit is dark red with a prominent cherry-like pit. Taste varies from sweet to bitter. Used for jam, jelly, and pancake syrup.
Currant
Berries develop in clusters in this dense woody shrub. Shrub is usually about 3-4 feet high, with geranium-like leaves. Tart-sweet, currants make good jam and jelly.
Elderberry
Long stalks terminate in long branches of compound leaves, about 6 feet high. Berries develop in dense downward facing clusters. Berries are slightly tart. Made into syrup or wine.
Hawberry
Varying from a shrub to a small tree, hawberries develop in groups of 2-3 along smaller branches. Berries delicate in taste and are pulpy with multiple seeds.
Oregon Grape
Small yellow flowers occur near the base of branching holly-shaped leaves. Bitter small blue grape-like berries can be made into lemonade.
Rose Hip
Bright-red hard seed-pods of wild rose are used for rosehip tea.