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Wildflowers in the Albion Basin of Alta Ski Area on a sunny summer day

Wildflowers of Alta

By Adam Fehr 07-30-2020

your guide to the magical world of alta's wildflowers.

Wildflowers of the Cottonwood Canyons Guidebook

Wildflowers have been celebrated for time immemorial and there is no exception in the Wasatch. Listed below is a small selection of the wildflowers waiting for you in the Albion Basin and beyond!

The common plant names link to descriptions from the database. The photos are from Alta photographer Rocko Menzyk. We have also included plant descriptions borrowed from the Alta Environmental Center, Lexi Dowdall of Ski Utah and Tim Remkes of the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation.

But first, some rules from the Alta Environmental Center on how to responsibly enjoy the wildflowers.

  • Don’t pick the wildflowers, let them stay wild - All living organisms need to reproduce. Digging up wildflowers, picking or stepping on wildflowers, or collecting their seed will reduce a plant’s ability to reproduce and will adversely affect its long-term survival in that location
  • Removing wildflowers from the wild can adversely affect pollinators and other animals that depend on that species for food or cover
  • It is illegal to harm or remove wildflowers on Forest Service land - you will be fined

So grab your Wildflowers of the Cottonwood Canyons Guidebook from the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation and let's get into the mountains to #RecreateResponsibly while we enjoy the wildflowers of Alta.

Paintbrushes | Wyoming, Wavy-leaf, Brokenleaf & Giant red

Castilleja linariifolia, applegatei, rhexiifolia, miniata

Indian Paintbrush on the slopes of Alta Ski Area

Peak season: July & August

A few different paintbrush species can be found within Alta with a wide range of paintbrush colors, ranging from red, to pink, to orange, to almost white. One of the most common paintbrush species within Alta is the Wyoming paintbrush, which is most often scarlet or red-orange in color. Linear leaves subtend the torch-like spikes of showy, bright-red bracts. These bracts are hiding small, green flower tubes. - Alta Environmental Center


Helianthus uniflora

Peak season: July–September

One can distinguish this species from Showy Goldeneye by counting the number of flowerheads per stem: true to its name, Single-Head Sunflower has only one flower per stem, while Showy Goldeneye has up to five flowers per stem. Also known as Oneflower Helianthella and Little Sunflower. - Cottonwood Canyons Foundation

"Almost every person, from childhood, has been touched by the untamed beauty of wildflowers."

- Lady Bird Johnson

Pearly Everlasting

Anaphalis margaritacea

Common White Yarrow of Alta

Peak season: June–August

This plant earns the name "everlasting" because its stark white bracts persist after the flower has dried up. - Cottonwoods Canyon Foundation


Chamerion angustifolium var. circumvagum

Peak season: July–September

The name "Fireweed" comes from its swift ability to colonize areas following a fire. It was one of the first plants to re-establish after Mount Saint Helens erupted, turning the barren landscape into fields of pink. - Cottonwood Canyons Foundation

Silvery Lupine

Lupinus argenteus

Lupine flowers at Alta Ski Area

Peak season: June-August

Lupines, though poisonous, are beneficial nitrogen-fixers, meaning they take nitrogen from the atmosphere and deposit it into the soil. - Cottonwood Canyons Foundation

Aspen Fleabane

Erigeron Speciosus

Wandering Daisy soaks in the sun at Alta Ski Area

Peak season: July–October

This species has a showy flowerhead that lends credence to its species name "specious," which means good-looking, handsome, or beautiful in Latin. - Cottonwoods Canyon Foundation

"Flowers are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sticky Purple Geranium

Geranium viscosissimum

Sticky Purple Geranium on the slopes of Alta Ski Area on a sunny summer day

Peak season: June–August

The name, viscosissimum, comes from the sticky hairs that cover the plant. The petals are pink with distinctive stripes. The stripes are thought to have evolved as "landing strips" to guide pollinators. - Cottonwood Canyons Foundation

Richardson's Geranium

Geranium richardsonii

Richardson' geranium at Alta Ski Area

Peak season: June–August

Geraniums, or Crane's Bill, are named for their curved seed pods that resemble the beak of a crane. This particular species is named after Sir John Richardson (1787–1865), an arctic explorer and naturalist. - Cottonwood Canyons Foundation


Pedicularis groenlandica

Elephant Head near the Albion base area of Alta Ski Area

Peak season: June–August

Delicate, magenta pink or purple flowers distinctly resemble the shape of an elephant’s face and trunk. Stems are singular though often clustered together, varying in height. Leaves resemble those of a fern with teeth. The Elephant-Head blooms late June through early August. You'll find this specimen growing in wet, boggy areas, around beaver ponds, meadows, or along streams and lake shores. This unique flower occurs at higher elevations from 7,400 feet to above timberline. The name Pendicularis derives from the Latin word for louse. There was an old superstition that eating these plants increased lice on cattle. - Ski Utah

"One person's weed is another person's wildflower."

- Susan Wittig Albert

Wasatch Penstemon

Penstemon cyananthus

Larkspur sits in front of Mount Superior

Peak season: June

This is one of the largest species of Penstemon. Its showy inflorescences make it a commercial landscaping species. Also known as Wasatch Beardtongue. - Cottonwood Canyons Foundation

Rocky Mountain Columbine

Aquilegia coerulea

Columbine at Alta

Peak season: June & July

Look for this fetching and delicate bloom in cool, damp areas in July and early August. Blooms can vary from white, blue, to coral red, and yellow as their color is determined by the acidity of the soil. Pale blue or yellow hues indicate a basic PH while darker colors indicate more acidic soils. The bloom is suspended above the fern-like foliage below. Look for 5 wing-shaped sepals and 5 tube-shaped petals. Butterflies and hummingbirds are often found near these flowers. Look for them in open woods and valleys as well as moist alpine and subalpine meadows. - Ski Utah

Alpine Jacob's Ladder

Polemonium foliosissimum var. alpinum

Alpine Jacob's Ladder | Photo: Rocko Menzyk

Peak season: June–August

The white flowers and height of this species make it very distinctive among other members of this genre. - Cottonwoods Canyon Foundation

Cow Parsnip

Heracleum maximum

Cow Parsnip at Alta Ski Area | Photo: Rocko Menzyk

Peak season: July–August

This is the largest member of the Carrot Family that is native to North America. - Cottonwoods Canyon Foundation

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