The spring snow brings a brilliant display of flowers to the foothills of Colorado and I’ve always wanted to know more about them. Each year, I hike the trails with my camera and take dozens of photos with plans to look up their names. When I heard about the Native Plant Master program offered by the Colorado State Extension, I rushed to sign up. Each county offers classes in local parks with three 12 hour courses required to earn the NPM certificate. For enthusiasts like me, three courses is just a start!
In early May, I started this journey with a course at Deer Creek Canyon Park near my home. The course met each Monday morning at 8:30 am for three weeks. Our instructor, Amy Flanagan, a former Lockheed Martin engineer and native plant master in retirement, led the 14 of us on three hour hikes of the flora of the canyon. To aid in our learning of both native plants and noxious weeds, we were treated to a variety of books, brochures and insider information. The cornerstone of our studies has been the respected textbook “The Flora of Colorado” written by Jennifer Ackerfield. At $78, this text is an investment but well worth the expense to have the gold standard of plant identification in the state.
The first day, Amy handed us a spreadsheet listing the common name of the plants to review along with their plant families and Latin names. During our hikes, we were introduced to at least 30 new plants. I took photos of each one and tried to match each photo to the numbered list on the spreadsheet. Familiarizing myself with what the plants looked like was just a start since we also needed to learn how to “key” each plant using the Ackerfield text. By looking at the plant, we learned how to discern their unique properties — the structure of the leaves, the color of the flowers, the placement of the stamen and the sepals, etc. The new terminology associated with plant identification is immense and sometimes confusing and admittedly, I have so much to learn. But, I’m feeling good about learning new things and building some new pathways in my brain.
For the exam, we needed to use the Latin name of each plant marked with a flag as well as describe identifying characteristics of the plant families. There were questions about noxious weeds as well. Fortunately, we were able to write a key in the back of the Ackerfield and use the book as a reference during the hour exam. In preparation, I spent at least 8 hours preparing my cheat sheet. As I continue taking courses, I believe the absorption of the new knowledge will get easier and the exams will get easier. So excited to learn more about the wildflowers I’ve appreciated for so long. Can’t wait for my second course to begin in June at Chatfield Farms!
Below is a sampling of some of the May flowers I endeavored to learn during my first Native Plant Master Course:
Western Sand Lily, Redstem Filaree, , Bluemist Penstemon, Three-leaf Sumac, Sticky Willy, Nelson Larkspur, Miner’s Lettuce, Wavy Leaf False Dandelion, Western Wallflower, Death Camus, Spreadfruit Golden Banner, Chiming Bells, Fendler’s Waterleaf, Dalmation Toadflax, Boulder Raspberry, Mouse-eared Chickweed, Canada Violet, Western Wallflower, Narrow-Leaf Puccoon