Mulesear. All photos ©NHMU, credit: Allison Izakonas
By Allison Izaksonas
Take a walk in the foothills above the museum in early June and you will find that it is absolutely carpeted with wildflowers in an array of gorgeous hues. What follows is a list of some of the more common ones you will encounter. Get outside and see how many you can find!
Boreal Sweetvetch (Hedysarum boreale)
This is a hard-to-miss bright pink member of the pea family. Apart from its showy color, you can tell it by its distinctive pea flower shape (banner, wings and keel as seen here) and its leaf shape which is pinnately compound (many leaflets situated on opposite sides of a central stalk.)
Tapertip Hawksbeard (Crepis acuminata)
The leaves really give this one away! If you didn’t know better, you might mistake it as a dandelion on steroids with extremely toothy leaves and it’s yellow aster-like flowers. But unlike dandelion, the leaves are grey-green and leathery and there are several flowers on each stalk.
Mulesear (Wyethia amplexicaulis, main post image)
It’s easy to mistake this flower for the spring-blooming foothills resident, arrowleaf balsamroot. They both have large yellow aster-like flowers and grow close to the ground (unlike the tall stalk of sunflower). Additionally, there is some overlap in flowering times. In order to tell them apart, look at the leaves. Mulesear will have dark green lance-shaped leaves, while balsamroot has heart-shaped leathery, grey-green leaves.
Sego Lily (Calochortus nuttallii)
How could I not mention our iconic state flower? Don’t miss out on seeing this in person. Sego lily is unmistakable with its three large white petals that are yellow and hairy at the base.
Wasatch Penstemon (Penstemon cyananthus)
In my opinion, Wasatch penstemon is one of the most iconic wildflowers of our area. It is tall with unearthly blue-violet flowers. The leaves are situated opposite of one another and have wide bases that appear to clasp the stem. Despite its name, this plant is found throughout the U.S. Rockies.
Hooker’s Onion (Allium acuminatum)
While common in the foothills, this one is more easy-to-miss than the others as it grows low to the ground and is often absent of leaves. You can tell this one by its perfect sphere of pink flowers that look like a firework exploding.
Longleaf Phlox (Phlox longifolia)
Phlox can be found growing in low tufty patches throughout the area. The flowers are five-petaled and pink-white. The leaves are narrow and lance-shaped. It’s not uncommon to find flowers with 4, 6, or even 7 petals!
Silvery Lupine (Lupinus argenteus)
Lupines are distinguished by their tall spikes of flowers and their leaves which are palmately compound (the 5-9 leaflets are situated radially around a central point, like outstretched fingers on the palm of your hand.) This plant has blue-purple flowers in a typical pea flower shape like sweetvetch.
Allison Izaksonas is the herbarium collections manager at the Natural History Museum of Utah, a part of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Our mission is to illuminate the natural world and the place of humans within it. In addition to housing outstanding exhibits for the public, NHMU is a research museum. Learn more.