Tundra Fall

I always think of the mountains as getting any storm before we do. Not so. Here is what the storm looked like from high on Mount Evans, where it was a beautiful, sunny day.

Upslope storm on the plains brought rain and snow to Denver while Mt. Evans remained clear.
Upslope storm on the plains brought rain and snow to Denver while Mt. Evans remained clear.

I also thought that, since fall had arrived on the plains, there would be no more flowers in the High Country. Wrong again.

Alpine avens.
Alpine avens is in the rose family.

Alpine avens is one of the most common plants in the tundra. It grows best where the wind sweeps the snow away —  a bitterly cold, dry environment in winter.

Alpine avens turns a deep red in fall. The red is actually there all along, it just comes out as the green chlorophyll dies off in the fall (this is true for all of the fall leaf colors).  The red pigment acts as a sun-screen against the intense UV radiation that the high altitudes get, and as anti-freeze to let the plant remain active a little longer in the short alpine growing season.

Unknown beauty.

I don’t know what this little beauty is, but I had to share it.  As with so many other tundra plants, the flower stalk stands much taller than the ground-hugging leaves.

alpine sandwort
Alpine sandwort. The flower stands several inches above the rest of the plant mat.

Alpine sandwort also grows low to the ground in a dense mat. This is another plant that thrives in areas where the wind blasts the snow away. It is in the carnation family!

Artic gentian-1
Arctic gentian. The flower is so low to the ground that it is hard to see the leaves.

Arctic gentian is one of the last flowers to bloom in the alpine.

The Mount Evans road from Summit Lake to the top is closed for the season. Rumor has it that the road from Echo Lake to Summit Lake will close next week. If you’re going to go, it should be this weekend.

Published by Amy Law

Amy Law is a science geek. She feels about science the way some people feel about music, or art, or sports – a total and complete emotional connection. She thinks in science. For Amy, there’s nothing better than helping people see the beauty of science as she does. She loves to untangle a complicated subject into its parts, explaining it so that anybody can understand what’s happening. Let her show you her world...

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