If you have not taken a drive to see the wildflowers this year, now is the time to do it, for they will soon fade. Shrine Pass is always a delightful trip for wildflowers, and many can be seen without a great deal of walking. Arapaho Pass (west of Boulder) is also excellent but takes a bit longer and involves a bit more hiking. The unusual amount of moisture this year has made the wildflowers exceptional. Just last week friends of mine drove me to Bailey for dinner one evening, and the flowers along U.S. 285 were prolific, and the back roads were spectacular.
We saw many scarlet gilia along the highway, since they seem to do well in the Foxton gravel banks along the roads. Also abundant was Lambert’s loco in fields turned purple with their brilliant blooms. Yellow fields were most likely some senecio, but I could not identify it from the moving car. There was also an abundance of blue along the right of way that was from great masses of blue mist penstemon, bright patches of alpine penstemon and a few lupines. Many clumps of golden banner were still in bloom to add to the horde of gold. All in all, it was a delightful and colorful ride.
As is often the case, many beautiful and good things tend to have a dark side. Most of our wildflowers are harmless and beautiful, but a few of them are not. This is one reason that we should learn to know the wildflowers. Nearly every summer I receive a phone call or two from some distraught mother whose child has eaten some “wild peas.” These are usually children who are pretending that they are Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn or American Indian children, or that they are some famous explorer “lost in the wilderness.” Such imaginary adventures become very real, and they think they mist live off the land. They see pea pods that look much like the ones they have eaten at home, and they assume they are safe to eat. Most of them are not. There are not even in the same genus as peas, and some of them are very poisonous. It’s very important to teach your children not to eat any flower or plant they find in their yard or in the woods. At the very least, they should bring it home to find out about it, but even that is not totally safe, for some plants such as poison ivy can cause a severe skin rash just from picking the leaves or berries.
Among the many members of the big pea family are most of the loco weeds that are so poisonous to livestock, especially horses. Some are more poisonous than others. Lambert’ loco is often fatal to horses if they eat a large quantity of the leafy plant. The toxicity of these plants varies depending upon where they grow, for their poison is selenium that the plants absorb from the soil. The amount of selenium in a plant may vary depending upon how much there is in the soil.
Many other plants and berries contain poisons. So, it is important to know what exactly you’re dealing with. If your child has eaten some unknown plant, the first thing is to take him to the place and have him show you what he ate.
Don’t panic or scold your child, but collect the plant, including stems, leaves, flowers, berries or seeds, if possible, and call the Poison Control Center so that experts can identify the plant and treat the child as soon as possible. Treatment may vary from something as simple as giving the child something to make him vomit or as serious as having his stomach pumped. Do act quickly — don’t wait to see if he is affected or not, for once a poison has moved through the stomach into the intestines, it may be impossible to remove it.
I don’t wish to alarm you unduly, but there are dangerous plants in the wild. Your best plan should be to talk with your child and teach him not to put unknown plants in his mouth.
Other plants you should learn to recognize are members of the parsley family. Most people admire the delicate flat-topped cluster of blossoms known as Queen Ann’s lace.
It should not be eaten, and the flat-topped cluster of flowers is typical of members of the parsley family.
Some of them are deadly, and amateurs should eat none of them. Water hemlock, poison hemlock, the poison that killed Socrates, and cowbane are all poisonous; teach your children to recognize these plants and to stay away from them.