Native Plants of the Southwest (36) - Fairyland Loop, Bryce Canyon National Park
Begin your hike at Fairyland Point just outside the Park boundary. Great views await you with lots of colors similar to the 'Artist Drive' in Death Valley but here there are lots more reds. With such colorful sights in front of you, it's amazing to think about the colors we can't even see now, e.g. ultraviolet light like a honey bee or the sounds and odors we can't detect though a dog can. So much sensory experience lies beyond our ability to perceive and places like the FairyLand Loop are good reminders. What we can see is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.
Permits are not needed to day hike but an entrance fee into the Park is required. There is plenty of parking but no other facilities are at the trailhead. There is no surface water along the trail. The Park rates it as strenuous and it is about eight miles long.
To get to the Fairyland Loop, take exit 95 off Interstate 15, 35 miles north of Cedar City. Take Hwy. 20 east to Hwy. 89 and follow the signs south to Hwy. 12 then east to the Park. Fairyland Point is actually before the gate to pay and enter the Park.
Three flowering beauties and one conifer are included below. The website for the park lists a few more possibilities (http://www.nps.gov/brca/naturescience/plants.htm). Paintbrush is everywhere as a genus, but this species is unique to Bryce Canyon and vicinity. Cinquefoil too is widespread. Some are red. This one is yellow with lovely, dissected leaves. Wallflower is not only attractive and widespread, it is also fragrant. This one is yellow. Some are orange. Finally, the pine is one of the oldest life forms on the planet, Bristlecone Pine. There is so much more to enjoy on this hike. Have fun.
Bryce Canyon Paintbrush, Castilleja revealii (Figwort Family)
This diminutive flower is small but mighty. It is all the more eye-catching due to the contrast with its surroundings. There are quite a few rocks in Bryce Canyon, so this little paintbrush really stands out among them. I spotted one below the trail almost glowing like a fuchsia flame. It stood alone, but there was no way to miss it. I didn't need a field of flowers in order to see it. I could not resist getting closer and, on my belly, taking its picture at ground level. It stood only five cm tall. The top was bright fuchsia and the few leaves at its base were darker, almost black. Among the white gravel, it was stunning. Like other paintbrush species, the most colorful parts are sterile bracts, not actually floral parts. It is also semiparasitic. Therefore, it is not a good candidate for transplanting. Besides, plants in the wild, especially a National Park, are not to be disturbed. Look, but do not take, unless you are taking its picture. In that case, click away.
Shrubby Cinquefoil, Dasiphora fruticosa ssp. floribunda (Rose Family)
Shrubby Cinquefoil, as a member of the Rose Family, displays the basic flower pattern of the family: five green sepals, five colorful petals, many stamens coming off a disc called a hypanthium. In the center of all this, are the little pistils that become the fruit, in this case they are dry, called achenes. The flowers are not particularly large by themselves, just about two cm across. But they are bright yellow and there are many on these small shrubs. The flowers stand out nicely against the foliage, which is a light green. Each leaf is divided into 4-6 leaflets, that are pointed. Each leaflet is 1-2 cm long. The stems are reddish. The shrubs are about knee high, so they are not likely to knock you over, but they are truly beautiful. Their beauty is a gentle kind, not flashy or brassy, but wholesome, genuine. They are like a refreshing breeze on a stuffy day and who couldn't benefit from that these days?
Western Wallflower, Erysimum capitatum var. purshii (Mustard Family)
Wallflower is reliable, standard fare for hikers across the Southwest, hiking in pine country. They stand to about a meter tall, topped with a solid cluster of cross-shaped flowers. Sometimes their fragrance is absolutely heavenly. You'll just want to snuggle up close to them and inhale. I'd like to bottle the aroma and pack it with me for the rest of my hike, but that possibility has eluded me. Identifying mustards, such as Wallflower, is much more accurate when flowers and fruits occur together. Fortunately, that is commonly the case with these plants. The fruits are elongate, quite skinny. They are dry and you might not recognize them as such, but fruits they are indeed. They quickly follow each flower. So, while you are appreciating the flowers above them on the stem, the fruits are developing just below. They grow to 15 cm in length, but are only about 2mm in diameter. They are easily mistaken for petioles if you are unfamiliar with fruit types. They have a special name: silique. Found from Alaska to Mexico on rocky, open slopes, Wallflower is a sure bet in Bryce Canyon NP.
Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva (Pine Family)
Often associated with the world oldest living organisms, Bristlecone Pines, occupy a special place in the minds of most naturalists and lovers of the outdoors. They represent toughness, occupying and enduring the harshest landscapes in temperate zones: alpine sites where the winters are cold and the winds are high. Therefore, don't look for them except at timberline. Bryce Canyon isn't high enough for timberline, but the exposed rocky slopes and relatively high latitude, mimic the conditions found at timberline. Bristlecone Pines have short pine needles, less than 4 cm in length. They are slightly curved. Some of the branches look like a bottlebrush, since the needles tend to remain at the ends of the branches, though they have fallen away lower down. Some of these needles will stay on a tree for several years. The cones start out purplish then turn reddish-brown. They are without a stalk and each scale bears a short but sharp prickle. You can't talk about trees without mentioning their bark. In the case of this Bristlecone Pine, the bark is red-brown, shallowly to deeply fissured with thick, scaly, irregular, blocky ridges. These trees are nothing short of inspirational. They have endured much. May we be as strong on our next hike.