Natural Wonders

Wildflowers in Zion National Park

With housing the most wildflower species in Utah, beauty is all around in Zion. There are well over 1,000 plant species and counting, said Walt Fertig.

Zion National Park is well known among botanists, for its rich abundance of plant species — well over 1,000 and counting, said Walt Fertig, an instructor for the Zion Field Institute and doctoral student at the University of Wyoming.

“Zion has the most species in Utah and has the highest density of species,” said Fertig, who also works for Moenave Botanical Consulting in Kanab, Utah.

The eco-regions of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin and the Mojave Desert all come together in Zion National Park’s 229 square miles. Over 30 new species were identified in the park last year, he said, bringing the flora count up to 1,023, of which 871 are native and 152 introduced.

Fertig said that eight plant species are found only in Zion and 45 found just in Zion and the immediate area.

Some of the rarest plants are found in the wet hanging gardens, in the cool and shady slot canyons, such as:

· Clausen’s violet (Viola clauseniana)
· Joanna’s thistle (Cirsium joannae)
· Hays’ sedge (Carex haysii)
· Foster’s columbine (Aquilegia fosteri)

“These are unusual habitats for desert country,” said Fertig.

He anticipates a colorful spring and summer for flowers, since there’s been good snowfall this year.

“Flowers in the lower Zion Canyon should be good in late April and early May,” said Fertig. Early June will see a burst of flowers in the park’s higher elevations, he added. “We should get a second burst of flowers in the fall, if there’s good monsoon activity this summer.”

Zion Penstemon (Penstemon Humilis) by Bill Bouton [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Zion Penstemon (Penstemon Humilis) by Bill Bouton via Wikimedia Commons

Other plant species unique to Zion National Park include sandstone-loving Slickrock wild buckwheat (Eriogonum jamesii var. rupicola) and Zion penstemon (Penstemon humilis var. obtusifolius), the volcanic outcrop-loving Meyer’s daisy (Erigeron ursinus var. meyerae) and a cliff-dweller: Ruth’s chicken-sage (Sphaeromeria ruthiae).

Geologic formations drive where different plant species are found, said Fertig.