procession of desert wildflowers begins in late winter,
depending upon temperatures, and picks up speed through
the month of March. The first flower buds signal the
promise of spring, although winter storms may still
cover the landscape with a thin blanket of snow. The
old adage “Wait 5 minutes for the weather to
change” rings true during this time of year.
Some of the earliest wildflowers to bloom are members
of the Carrot Family, the Apiaceae. Relatives in the
Lomatium and Cymopterus genera poke their floral heads
barely above the ground surface, taking advantage of
surface heat and early season insects.
Parry’s lomatium (Lomatium parryi) and Canyonlands
biscuitroot (Lomatium latilobum) may start their springtime
season in March, but gain momentum for their peak bloom
later in the spring.
The Parry’s lomatium sends up a reddish floral
stem that unleashes an umbrellalike profusion of yellowish
flowers. The flowers are minute and tightly clustered
together so that insect pollinators (flies) can move
easily over and across the dome of flowers. These stems
will arise before the highly dissected, dark green leaves
appear. These perennials arise from a thick taproot and
herald the changing season.
The common name honors Charles Christopher Parry (1823-1890)
an American who was the first official botanist of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture. Parry made several botanical
surveys in the West and is credited with “discovering” numerous
plants new to science.
In addition to Parry’s lomatium, the Canyonlands
biscuitroot may also start to bloom in March, although
its peak is later in the season. Both plants share the
genus Lomatium which means “fringed” and
refers to the irregular edges of the large seeds.
This biscuitroot also sends up an umbrella of tiny yellowish
flowers; however, the plants are more clump-forming than
the Parry’s lomatium. The leaves are divided into
several pairs of dull green, broad lobes – latilobum
means “broad lobes.” One interesting aspect
of the Canyonlands biscuitroot is that it grows primarily
in association with the Entrada Sandstone. Because of
this habitat requirement, this biscuitroot grows only
in a few areas on the Colorado Plateau near Grand Junction,
Colorado and in Moab. The greatest percentage of the
plant’s distribution is found in Arches National
Park, making this endemic plant a treasure to avoid disturbing.
In the park, this biscuitroot occurs in the Fiery Furnace
and is a prominent subject on guided walks through the
area. When the plants bloom, the air has an eau de skunk
perfume – what better smell for attracting flies
as pollinators? Visitors are surprised to learn that
this plant, not the mammal, is responsible for this aroma.
But the plant’s smell did not deter Native Americans
from harvesting the thick roots for food. The roots were
eaten raw, cooked or pulverized into a flour (hence the
Another relative of the lomatiums is the sweetroot spring-parsley
(Cymopterus newberryi) that also blooms in the spring.
This plant’s cluster of flowers is set against
the highly dissected, parsley looking leaves. The seeds
of this Cymopterus have a very wavy and corklike edge,
which is what the genus name means. Newberryi is for
John Strong Newberry (1822-1892) a geologist and Columbia
University professor. Like the biscuitroot, the parsniplike
roots of the plant are edible.
There are other Carrot Family members that bloom in the
Canyon Country, but these three seem to get the season
going. Once they do, there is a steady progression of
wildflowers that appear in spring. All of these flowers
are a welcomed addition and enhance the already magnificent
beauty of the landscape.