Indian Paintbrush, Prairie Fire, or Sp. Castilleja is a genus of wildflower found in high elevation Colorado late in the summer and earlier in the desert. The genus contains about 200 species. It’s a gorgeous plant and one of the genus is the state flower of Wyoming. There is a legend connected to it but I’m not sure how much of it is real Native American legend and how much of it is a children’s book rewriting things…Either way, this is Erin’s favorite mountain wildflower and for good reason.
Fireweed or Chamerion angustifolium (Known as Epilobium angustifolium when I learned of it first in a local flora class)
Fireweed is a gorgeous wildflower growing around treeline in Colorado. Fire often helps it by clearing areas and creating a good habitat for it, thus its common name. One thing I find very interesting about this flower is that although it can be found at 9-12,000 feet elevation in Colorado, I found it thriving right at sea level the first time I visited Alaska. The difference in where it was found in elevation is obviously due to difference in climate, Alaska being so much further north, it was as cool at sea level as at 10,000 feet elevation in Colorado.
Let’s end with the weirdest of the still life in this post. Unlike everything else I’ve written about here, this is a fungi, not a plant. Many of you may think fungi are plants or closely related to them; in fact mushrooms, yeast and other fundi are more closely related to you than any plant.
If you’re from my generation (and maybe if you’re not) you’re likely to remember playing Mario Bros. and the red and white mushrooms that made your character grow larger and get an extra life. Those computerized mushrooms are based on an actual mushroom with a stranger reality than its fiction.
Amanita muscaria is a mushroom swirling with rumors of hallucination, symbolism and toxin. When I took mycology in college, I was told two stories about A. muscaria. First I was told that Inuit cultures used the mushroom. The men in these cultures would gather into a building together on cold days without much prospect of hunting, fishing, or anything else (women were traditionally excluded from these ceremonies). Then special sausages mage with A. muscaria were passed around and all the men ate them. After a bit the hallucinations hit and the men were quite high on mushrooms indeed. Eventually the A. muscaria high would wear off, so the men would pass around a vessel and urinate in it. Apparently the drug was still active in the urine, because the men would then drink the urine, and hallucinate again.
I was also told that possibly due to differences in soil or environment, Amanita muscaria is toxic in Colorado, unlike in Alaska or Canada. However, while writing this blog post I came across this very interesting article that made me question the toxicity of A. muscaria. The article mentions that the mushroom if processed properly can be eaten without hallucination. They’re said to be quite good when fried in butter or olive oil. Of course, undertaking something like eating Amanitas should only be undertaken by someone with a degree of expertise.
I also learned that apparently Caribou eat A. muscaria to get high. They seek them out.