July Walking Tour: Exploring Mount Goliath

By Amy Schneider, Horticulturist

The alpine interpretive garden surrounding the Dos Chappell Nature Center at Mount Goliath is a special place to enjoy during your day trip to beautiful Mount Evans.

The decades-long partnership between Denver Botanic Gardens and the United States Forest Service allows visitors a unique learning experience of alpine plant communities.

Surviving above an elevation of 11,500 feet, the plants growing in alpine communities adapt to extremely harsh conditions characterized by relentless cold winds and intense solar radiation. Buried under a blanket of snow for most of the year, they must bloom and produce seed in a very short period of time, for winter is never more than about two months away.

Here is more information about Mount Goliath, including when there are docents on the trail and the days a free shuttle bus is available to allow for a one-way hike.

Alpine species adapt to a variety of microclimates and form several different types of alpine plant communities. Visitors will see six of these in a stroll around the Nature Center.

FELLFIELD

  • Fell = Gaelic word for stone
  • This “Stonefield” is a rock-filled slope, dry and windy. The terrain is characterized by a large proportion of frost-shattered stones. The plant community is a mixture of cushion and mat plants, mosses and lichens. Tiny intermeshed stems and leaves typically covered with hairs or wax conserve warmth and moisture.
  • Species commonly seen in Fellfield communities include Silene acaulis, Minuartia obtusiloba, Paronychia pulvinata, Eritrichium nanum, Phlox pulvinata, Trifolium nanum, and Eriogonum arcuatum var. xanthum.

ALPINE TURF

  • The Alpine Turf is a gently undulating lawn-like meadow. The relatively deep, rich, well-draining soil supports an advanced and complex alpine ecosystem with the widest variety of species. Plants form dense carpets of sod composed of perennial sedges, grasses and forbs. Their fibrous root systems anchor the soil.
  • Species commonly seen in Alpine turf communities include Gentiana parryi, Polygonum bistortoides, Castilleja rhexiifolia, Mertensia lanceolatum, Geum rossii, Cerastium beeringianum, Cirsium scopulorum, Tetraneuris grandiflora and a wide variety of grasses and sedges.

WET MEADOW

  • The Wet Meadow is a microclimate with poor drainage, standing pools and puddles of water. There is typically a high species diversity including Caltha leptosepala, Gentiana algida, Rhodiola rhodantha, R. integrifolia and Pedicularis groenlandica.

TALUS, SCREE AND CREVICE

  • This is the plant community at the peaks of the alpine – a high, barren, rocky environment characterized by very large boulders on unstable steep slopes. Plants grow between stones in little to no soil, in high solar intensity and extreme wind.
  • Crevices, overhangs and ledges provide shelter from wind and provide niches for species that don’t tolerate full sun, wind or competition from other species, yet can survive in minimal amounts of soil found between rocks.
  • Species commonly seen in and near these sheltered spaces include Claytonia megarhiza, Heuchera parviflora, Saxifraga chrysantha, Oxyria digyna, Aquilegia coerulea, A. saximontana, Androsace chamaejasmae and A. septentrionalis. The fern Cystopteris fragilis may be seen under rock ledges.

KRUMMHOLZ

  • Krummholz is a German word meaning “crooked wood” where trees are stunted, twisted and sculpted by severe wind and the ice and dirt scouring their sides. The three major tree species seen in Krummholz areas are Picea engelmanii, Abies lasiocarpa and the beloved ancient bristlecone, Pinus aristata.

BRISTLECONE PINE FOREST

  • The approximately 1600 year old bristlecones grow in abundance on open, high, south facing slopes where they have adapted over the millennia to the extremes. They save their energy in interesting ways – one is by retaining their needles for decades. The dense resin in the wood prevents decay even in tree trunks lying on the ground. Species growing on the shady forest floor include Polemonium delicatum and Pyrola minor.

SNOWFIELD or SNOWBED

  • The final plant community, unable to be represented at the Nature Center, is the fascinating Snowbed. Snowbed communities are found in depressions where snow accumulates all winter and persists long into summer.
  • Plants are protected from desiccation and temperature extremes by snow insulation, under which surface level temperatures remain between 26 and 28 degrees. Species commonly seen in Snowbed communities include Ranunculus eschscholtzii and Sibbaldia procumbens.