Surface Creek
Tuesday July 29, 2014

Monument Plant
Allen and I are driving up Highway 65 to the Grand Mesa again — I never tire of these scenes! We’ve just passed through aspen stands and are coming into the tall conifers at mesa’s top.

We cross the full beaver ponds and on our right is an area where large cattle trucks can park, hence my name “cattlemen’s curve.”
We park and look across the highway for the monument plants that we’ve seen here for many years. And there are the clusters of huge leaves … at least a dozen plants. We cross the highway for a closer look and these leaves are huge, over a foot long … another over two-feet long and at least  eight inches wide. It’s soft to the touch. Upslope and just beyond the small waterway are more plants. So up we go.
Here’s a plant in full bloom. Nearly as tall as I am. No wonder it’s called monument plant! The stem is covered with closely crowded blossoms. Each inch-wide flower has four separate petals, pale greenish or white, with many purple spots. There are four sepals that protrude slightly beyond the petals. Thus, it is an unusual-looking flower. I pick up a fallen blossom. With my hand lens I can easily see long, purplish hairs near the center …
and there’s a darker purple area; I suppose that would be called a “gland.” And a couple of pollinators come out …
now many minute insects appear. Sorry to have disturbed you!
This plant provides plenty of nectar during most of the summer.
I know this plant, but it’s always good practice to check it out with Janet Wingate’s “Rocky Mountain Flower Finder.” This leads me to the plant’s leaves be-ing “whorled.” The term means that more than two leaves come out from a single point on the stem, in this case four. This leaf arrangement is not often found in our Colorado plants, and so it’s a good clue to monument plant.
And all of this leads me to the Gentian Family. But that family has autumn blue flowers occurring in damp places. Now it’s the middle of the summer, my plants are on dry sunny slope and the flowers are greenish. So another exception and the common name of Green Gentian. My current references give it a new name (Swertia radiate) but I prefer the old name, Frasera speciosus honoring John Fraser, a colonial botanist, and speciosa, meaning beautiful.
I recall that the plant may live for many years with the basal leaves dying in winter and sprouting in spring. With favorable conditions, the plant may send up the heavy flower stalk and after that single blooming, the plant will die. This is called “monocarpic” with “mono” meaning once and “carpic” meaning fruiting. A similar situation occurs with the century plants in the deserts to our south.
Clear blue sky, a bit of breeze, and the beauty of the monument plants today and those yet to come this summer.

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