Originally Published: May 29, 2010 10:57 p.m.
PRESCOTT - The wildflowers at the historic Citizens Cemetery in Prescott couldn't have picked a better time to show off.
The wildflower show is peaking right when the cemetery hosts its major annual event, a special Memorial Day Observance that is modeled after a ceremony that took place there exactly 100 years ago. The 9 a.m. Monday ceremony features military re-enactors, a brass ensemble and bagpipes. The cemetery is located along East Sheldon Street behind the black iron fence.
Citizens Cemetery is Prescott's first cemetery, established the same year as the city in 1864. That might be one reason why it offers such a dramatic display of native wildflowers, since much of the ground has remained undisturbed from development.
"It's like the wildflowers are saying, "This is how you really decorate a cemetery,'" observed Pat Atchison, long-time chair of the Yavapai Cemetery Association that cares for the county government-owned cemetery. "It didn't cost anything and it's beautiful."
She wondered out loud how much it would cost to buy thousands of Mariposa lilies and place them all over the grounds.
The native lilies literally blanket the cemetery right now, and all of them haven't even bloomed yet. They just started coming up in the last few weeks.
This year county workers left most of the cemetery undisturbed instead of mowing it, so that visitors can enjoy nature's show even more.
Sue Smith, who leads wildflower walks throughout the Prescott region, was shocked at the cemetery's floral display when she stopped by there for the first time this week.
"I would not even have thought of coming here to see wildflowers, but they put on a fantastic display," Smith said.
The Mariposa lilies were the first flowers to catch her eye, with their delicate white and purple petals. Her "Plants of Arizona" book noted that American Indians and early Mormon settlers ate their bulbous roots.
"And the phlox! They're gorgeous," Smith said. "I've never seen this much anywhere else in Prescott." The phlox are tiny clusters of pink flowers.
Indian paintbrush also is prolific at the cemetery, growing in unusually large clusters. Smith noted that their red color is in the bracts, not the flowers, and they can remove selenium from the soil.
"There are little stories with each plant," Smith observed.
Smith also spotted several patches of tall blue Delphinium (larkspur). Other flowers currently on display include lomatium, blue flax, globemallow (just starting to bloom), elegant or bajada lupine, white tidytips, blue dick or Papago lily, popcorn flowers and salsify.
Banana yucca is full of blooms too, and flowers on the prickly pear are just starting to form.
Three awn (aka purple three awn) and squirrel tail grasses with their purplish hues make wonderful backdrops to the flowers. Sage also is here. The blue grama grass is waiting for monsoon rains before it comes up in full force.
Mourning families long ago planted non-native species such as lilac, yellow roses and iris that still thrive.
Non-native invasive plants have made their way here accidentally, too, including cheatgrass and red brome, mustard, morning glory (aka field bind weed), and Dalmatian toadflax.
Smith is a member of the Prescott Chapter of the Arizona Native Plant Society. She also is a naturalist guide for the Highlands Center for Natural History here, and a Master Gardener for the Yavapai County Cooperative Extension Office.
The Master Gardeners and Cooperative Extension are working on a new webpage that features easily accessible photos of local flowers, grasses, bushes, trees, etc. It is located at cals.arizona.edu/yavapaiplants.
(Atchison urges visitors to enjoy the wildflowers, but not to pick them, so others can enjoy them too. Of course, she wants people to pull the non-native invasives.)