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Plants of the Western Slope Oct. 11, 2017

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Photo by Al Schneider Marsh marigold

Marsh Marigold

There is fresh snow on the crest. And it triggers a host of memories. I remember seeing the random pattern of the snow on the black rocks as it slowly melted.
The spruce and fir trees were laden with snow and icicles dangled from the trees. And there was a special spot on Grand Mesa, along the Land's End Road just after a heavily-forested section, and there was a wet spot that was filled with marsh marigolds.

The foot-long leaf stalks supported heart-shaped, glossy leaves that were up to six inches long and nearly equal broad across. Inch-wide white blossoms came singly atop the long flower stalks and the center of each blossom was a dense mess of stamens laden with bright, yellow pollen. Surprisingly, the plants look short and unimpressive as they sprawl across the ground.

Usually flower parts come in four or five segment: the green outer sepals, the colorful petals and then the stamens and pistils. I knelt down for a closer look. I found many pistils nestled among the many stamens but only one set of "petals." They were white on the top side and darker on the under side, often streaked with bluish purple. As the flower opens, the white upper side is what we see. Since botanists try to be consistent, such a situation as this is defined as "tepals."

The name Marsh Marigold always seemed a misnomer: The "marsh"' was acceptable but marigolds are actually in the Sunflower Family. However it seems that in the Old World many pretty yellow flowers were labeled marigold ("mari" in honor of the Virgin Mary). When settlers came upon the yellow eastern specie of our plant, that common name was applied. Later the name was given to the western species even though it had white blossoms!

The plant is usually given the botanical label of Caltha leptosepala: Latin caltha = a marigold and lepto = slender, referring to the narrow tepals that serve as petals. This genus included about 15 species of colder regions in both eastern and western hemispheres. However, more recent study relates our plant to a different genus which occurs in the mountains of South America, Australia and New Zealand: genus Psychrophile (Greek pyschro = frigid and phila = lover). So that makes our plant Pschrophila leptosepala. In this new context, our plant may represent an ancient remnant of Tertiary flora. Common names include Kingcup and Cowslip.

But no matter the name, it's a delight to find the marsh marigolds in the solitude of the high mountain vale.

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Surface Creek
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Evelyn Horn, Plants of the Western Slope
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