Wildflowers of every size, shape and color bloom profusely around Juneau from early spring to late fall. Watch for them along the road, trails and our parks. Right now lupine are at their peak and particularly abundant. Following are some of the more outstanding areas to view wildfowers.
Brotherhood Park meadow at 10 Mile Glacier Highway has a nice display of blooming Indian rhubarb. This plant can be 10 feet tall with dinner-plate sized umbels of tiny white flowers. The multitude of plants makes a striking foreground for Mendenhall Glacier in the background. Some people develop a rash and blisters when coming in contact with this plant, so treat it with respect.
Look in wet areas of the meadow for low growing (about 18 inches) Alaska cotton, a member of the sedge family. A close up view of a field of these beige-colored puffy-seed heads, glowing in the sun and blowing in the wind, is a thing of beauty. A walk along the Kaxdegoowu heen dei trail beside the Mendenhall River will bring to light a myriad of small flowers all calling for you to get out your flower field guide and properly identify them.
Point Bridget State Park
Point Bridget State Park, with the trailhead at 39 Mile Glacier Highway, offers a wide range of flower viewing from early spring to late fall. There are also many biting bugs, so bring your bug dope.
Immediately off the highway the trail leads through a forest muskeg. In and around the edges of this wet area are both unusual and beautiful flowers.
Some of the flowers are: Purple Alaska violets, bright yellow geum (Caltha-leaf Avens), buck bean with several white flowers on top of stalks growing right out of the small pools of water in the bog. Sundew plants have a very nondescript white flower, but the plant is very intriguing because the tips of the leaf hairs are sticky and trap insects.
Labrador tea, a one to two-foot shrub with feathery clusters of small creamy-white flowers, also grows here along with many other small flowering plants.
A little over a mile down the trail, to the right, there are a series of meadows. These meadows were all washed by tide in fairly recent times and the lower ones are still covered with seawater on extreme high tides. This is one of the reasons the vegetation is quite different in each of meadows. They are all worth observing on a regular basis as even the overall color changes every few weeks during the late spring, summer and fall depending on which flowers are blooming.
For a bright pinkish magenta show, look for a whole meadow of shooting stars in early June. Then a little later the same meadow might have a bluish purple cast with lupine and wild geranium, a plant that grows to 18 inches or more with a 5-petaled, 1 1/2 inch pretty bluish purple flower. At the same time the meadow might be interspersed with patches of magenta fireweed and white Indian rhubarb. In August, white grass of Parnassus dot the intertidal meadows and the leaves of many of the flowering plants turn bright colors.
Alpine flowers carpet Mt. Roberts all during the summer. Some of the showiest flowers are Narcissus-flowered Anemone with several white flowers on six-inch stems above a leaf that goes all the way around the stem, bright yellow geum, patches of dwarf dogwood with a single white flower above a umbrella-like whorl of four to six leaves.
Besides the more showy flowers, there are many tiny ground-hugging flowering plants such as blueberries, primroses, alpine azaleas, bluebells and many more. Because the alpine vegetation is very fragile, be sure to stay on the trails so that the Mt. Robert's flower show will not become endangered. Also, heed caution signs about potential hazards like avalanche danger.
Airport Dike Mendenhall Refuge Trail
Look for lupine and shooting stars on river side as you start the trail, before reaching the end of the runway. As you turn the corner just beyond the float plane basin, the edge of the tide flats will be filled with a succession of shooting stars, lupine, Indian rhubarb, and a little later, banks of fireweed.
Many wild flowers are seen and enjoyed right along the roadside. An especially colorful area is along Egan Drive at about 8 Mile, across from the Southeast Alaska Veterinary Clinic and Fred Meyer. Starting early in the spring there are great patches of yellow dandelions, followed by bluish purple lupines, then in July the grand show of banks of magenta fireweed. During the summer the road beyond Tee Harbor is lined with cream-colored goat's beard and other flowers appearing here and there.
It is important to help protect our wildflowers by not trampling, digging, or picking them particularly along trails and in parks. If you would like to learn more about our local wildflowers, look in one of the libraries or bookstores for one of several very good Alaska wildflower books. One I like is Verna E. Pratt's "Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers."
Mary Lou King is author of "90 Short Walks Around Juneau" and numerous other local nature guides. Juneau Audubon Society will resume monthly meetings the second Thursday in September. E-mail members at firstname.lastname@example.org.