Mountains are regions known for extremes. Plants must adapt to warm, cool, wet and dry conditions in order to thrive. Wildflowers are among the types of plants that abound in mountainous regions, and favorites such as the bellflower and columbine are common. Rocky soils, poor sunlight and decreased oxygen are just a few of the challenges that routinely face different plants of the mountains. High elevation gardeners can glean ideas from observing and learning about the types of plants that grow in mountains while gaining a greater appreciation of their surrounding habitat.
The bellflower is a common mountain wildflower frequently found in high elevations. It can thrive in elevations up to 12,000 feet and is a hardy mountain flower. The bellflower boasts bell-shaped blooms in white and purple shades. Each stem can hold up to 15 flowers, but most bellflowers have one flower for each stem. More than 250 species of bellflower exist. Bellflower does best in full or partial sun in well-draining soils. It is drought tolerant and is often found growing near ponderosa pine or aspen. They are known for their ability to spread rapidly and may become weedlike if not properly contained. Additional names for the bellflower include lady’s thimble, harebell and bluebell.
Another flower common in mountainous regions is the columbine. This short-lived perennial is known to attract flocks of hummingbirds and prefers organic soils. For optimal bloom, full to partial sun exposure is required along with moderate watering. The columbine is known for its unique bloom that includes five petals springing from its tubelike stem. Each petal has inner yellow shade with accompanying red for the outer petal. Blue and white are also sometimes found on the petals of columbine. Additional names for the columbine include our lady’s shoes and Virgin Mary’s shoes. The fallen petals are said to resemble a slipper and are symbolic of Mary’s journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth.
Bristlecone pine is an evergreen tree commonly found in the mountains. It is a slow-growing tree that adapts to many soil types, including sandy soil. Bristlecone pine is drought tolerant and reaches heights between 8 and 20 feet. Needles appear in clusters of five in a blue-green shade. Bristlecone produces cylindrical cones that range from 2 to 4 inches long. It thrives in the fresh mountain air, but will often die if transplanted to areas with high air pollution. Bristlecone has a long lifespan and is estimated to live up to 5,000 years given the right conditions.