Axton Ranch Mountain Park Floristic Survey Results

June 8, 2023 Jennifer Ackerfield , Head Curator of Natural History Collections & Associate Director of Biodiversity Research

For the last two summers, Denver Botanic Gardens has been conducting a floristic inventory of Denver Mountain Park’s newest property, Axton Ranch Mountain Park. Just what is a floristic inventory? Well, it is simply a list of all the plant species in a given place at a specific point in time. Although simple in design, these inventories provide a baseline of biodiversity, and are important resources for land managers to inform best conservation practices.

We discovered that Axton Ranch was home to a diverse array of plant communities – lodgepole pine/spruce forests, aspen groves surrounding wet meadows, rocky outcroppings, lakes and small streams within forests. Ultimately, through surveying all these different plant communities, our inventory of Axton Ranch resulted in the identification of 319 unique plant species. In other words, approximately one in every 10 plant species present in Colorado was found within this 450-acre property! We even found two plants listed as rare and tracked by the Colorado Natural Heritage ProgramAsplenium septentrionale and Senecio rapifolius. All specimens collected for this floristic inventory are now part of the Kathryn Kalmbach Herbarium of Vascular Plants, and all plant observations are available on iNaturalist.

Overall, we found that Axton Ranch consisted mostly of intact ecosystems that have not been (or minimally so) degraded or altered by human stressors. Nearly 90% the plant species found were native to Colorado, with only seven noxious weeds located on the property. One of the most unique plant communities at Axton Ranch were the two wet meadows which supported approximately 10% of the plant species overall, including numerous sedges, buttercups, willows and even marsh arrowgrass (Triglochin palustris). We also noted a remarkable number of orchid species at Axton Ranch – eight different species in all, and one of which (Corallorhiza wisteriana) that is uncommon in Colorado.

Although we were there for the plants, we also documented several animals at Axton Ranch as well. Moose made common appearances in the meadows. Hummingbirds flew through the meadows, stopping at the red paintbrushes for food. And one of our favorite discoveries was that of a lake dominated by western tiger salamanders in their larval form. 

Axton Ranch Mountain Park is an incredible property with a diverse array of plant species and communities, intact ecosystems and evidence of good land stewardship by the Axton family. The benefits of this inventory extend far beyond just an inventory of the property. Through this project, we were also able to provide immersive research opportunities for six high school students. None of this would have been possible without the generous support from the Denver Mountain Parks Foundation, Denver Mountain Parks for their assistance, the Axton family and everyone who helped collect and process plant specimens. We look forward to our next floristic inventory project, who knows what treasures we will find!


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