One of the joys of being out on the trails and in the campgrounds in the springtime is watching Alaska’s wildflowers start to bloom. Starting nearly at green up, when the snow has finally melted and the foliage suddenly pops out, they put on a show and invite wanderers to stop for a bit and take a closer look. Some of the early bloomers are also some of the most recognizable.
Alaska’s state flower, these tiny but showy blue flowers are found near streambeds and in meadows. These little flowers start blooming in late May and early June, and continue blooming into early August. The 5 round blue petals surround a yellow eye, and usually bloom in bunches, with 4-5 flowers per stem and several stems per plant. They can be hidden, though, so keep your eyes peeled for them when you’re out hiking. The alpine version blooms on the tundra and on sub-alpine slopes, and the Brook version is the one found near streambeds. The flowers can sometimes be pink, but blue is the most common.
Primrose or Prickly Rose
Wild primroses are found throughout most of Alaska, and appear in forested areas, especially near the edges of clearings and meadows. They bloom in mid June, and the flowers, about 3 inches across, have 5 pink fluttery petals. They grow in bushes and there are multiple flowers per bush—but beware! They’re called prickly rose for a reason, as all of the stems and woody parts of the plant—pretty much all except the flowers—are covered in spines and prickles. After the flower has bloomed, the seed pod, known as a rose hip, develops, and rose hips can be used to make tea and jam, and are apparently high in vitamin C.
In June, fields of lupine start to bloom, and sometimes entire hillsides are awash in purple as the flowers . There are actually 2 kids of lupine to be found in the state, and both kinds can be found in the Southcentral area, especially around Anchorage. Both types feature bluish purple flowers growing up a stalk, to a maximum height of about 3 feet, though mostly they grow to about 18 inches to 2 feet. Nootka lupine grow into a point at the top of the stalk, with more rounded leaves, and alpine lupine grow less tightly to the stalk, with pointier leaves. There are a few lesser-known fields whose locations locals guard the way they guard the location of their favorite fishing hole, where they go for family photos and wish-you-were-here pictures each summer. If you happen to stumble upon one, keep the secret! After the flower blooms, the seed pods that form resemble pea pods, but they are poisonous! Do not eat them, and wash your hands before you touch anything you’re going to eat.
The western columbine is found all over the West and Northwest, all the way up into Southcentral Alaska. They can mostly be found on mountain slopes in brushy areas and the flowers extend on stalks that peek out of the ground cover. They have red outer petals and yellow interior sepals, and stamens that protrude out of the flower’s center. The flowers hang off the tip of the stem, and open toward the ground, as if they’re bells with dangling clappers. The blue versions can be found in a few places, too, though they’re less common than the red columbine.
Wild geraniums are found all across Southcentral, including Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula, and they love an open field with good sunshine. The small light purple flowers are often found along with columbine, lupine and sometimes fireweed, as these plants all love a sunny open field, too. They start blooming in late May to early June and usually last into July. Fine hairs grow along the stalks so sometimes they appear woolly, but the little flowers that suddenly start to dot the greenery is one of the more welcome sights of the season. It means summer has finally settled in.
Ready to go wildflower hunting? Make your reservation now, and don’t forget the early season specials if you want to catch the first flowers of the year!
We highly recommend Verna E. Pratt’s Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers. The book is an invaluable reference, both for this post as well as for plant identification out in the field. We’ve got a copy in the office, but if you love wildflowers, you may want to pick up your own copy!