During a June 14th hike in the Kenai Mountains on the Kenai Peninsula, a friend (Brent Voorhees) photographed numerous wildflowers from sea level to about 3,500 feet on a south-facing slope that receives a lot of sun.
He sent the photos to Montana amateur botanist Debbie BanDrosky, who made a positive identifications on at least 30 species.
According to the late Verna Pratt, one of Alaska’s most noted wildflower experts, there are about 1,500 species of flowering plants across Alaska. Among those, in her Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, she lists 19 species that are poisonous. Published by Alaskarafts, Inc. in 1989 and last printed in 2012, the book is available on Amazon and at Anchorage bookstores.
The first and second week of July are generally the peak of the southcentral Alaska’s wildflower season, so I’m certain some species were not yet flowering during our mid-June hike. However, Spring came early this year and accelerated the growth of many flowering plants.
For those who are interested, I will include the flowers’ Latin names with the common names at the end of this article.
At sea level and hiking to lower elevations through spruce and birch forests, we observed Arctic Lupine, Jacob’s ladder and Northern Geranium. Also seen in the first 1,500 feet were Chocolate Lily, which have a disgusting smell; Red Columbine, Bunchberry and Bering Chickweed.
We did not notice Bluebells and Monk’s Hood that are common at lower elevations, and we were definitely too early for Fireweed.
As we ascended higher to about 2,500 feet and began breaking out of timberline, we observed the state’s official flower Forget-me-not, Wooly Lousewort, Alpine-Azalea, Bog Blueberry and Narcissus Anemone.
Above 2,500 feet on the alpine tundra, the flowers became more brilliant in color, and to survive the strong winds at higher elevations, were growing much closer to the ground. Most notable were Moss Campion, Rockcress, White Mountain Avens, Tundra Cinquefoil, Pixie-eyes, Blackish Locoweed, Tundra Milkvetch, White Mountain-heather and Unalaska Paintbrush.
These were not all of the flowers we observed on this outing, but a good sampling.
My friend Brent’s fastidiousness in stopping to photograph these beauties offered me several chances for much-needed rest; but more importantly, reminded me that on our various hikes we should be looking down as often as we look out ahead. Some of nature’s most fascinating treasures are small and lie at our feet.
Prime locations for finding wildflowers in and around our area include Arctic Valley; the bowl above Twin Peaks (overlooking Eklutna Lake); Mile High Pass in Eagle River Valley, the slopes above South Fork (Eagle River), Hatcher Pass and the Pioneer Ridge Trail. On the Kenai Peninsula, two ideal locations are the Lost Lake Trail and the Exit Glacier Trail that leads to the Harding Ice Field.
For more information on Alaska wildflowers in the Chugach National Forest (which can also be found in Chugach State Park), check out this website developed by the U.S Forest Service.
Flowers photographed by Brent Voorhees, but not all included in this article.
Arctic Lupine (Lupinus arcticus)
Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium pulcherrimum)
Northern Geranium (Geranium erianthum)
Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria camschatcensis)
Red Columbine (Aquilegia Formosa)
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)
Bering Chickweed (Cerastium beeringianum)
Bluebells (Mertensia paniculate)
Monk’s Hood (Aconitum delphinifolium)
Forget-me-not (Myosotis alpestris)
Wooly Lousewort, (Pedicularis lanata)
Alpine-Azalea (Kalmia procumbens)
Bog Blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum)
Narcissus Anemone (Anemone narcissifolia)
Moss Campion (Silene acaulis);
Rockcress (Arabidopsis lyrate)
Mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala)
Tundra Cinquefoil (Potentilla subvvahliana)
Pixie-eyes (Primula cuneifolia)
Blackish Locoweed (Oxytropis nigrescens)
Tundra Milkvetch (Astragalus umbellatus)
White Mountain-heather (Cassiope mertensiana)
Unalaska Paintbrush (Castillija unalaschcensis)
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River with his wife Rebekah. A former Alaska resident, photographer Brent Voorhees is a retired petroleum industry geologist who lives in Red Lodge, Montana with his wife Nancy. Special thanks to Debbie BanDrosky for her assistance in this article.