Flower Power—Festivals and Medicinal Plants
By Karen L. Monsen
From love symbols to healing potions, flowers lift our spirits and mend our bodies. This summer, celebrate Flower Power at Cedar Breaks with a wildflower festival, and pause to appreciate the unique medicinal substances found in plants.
Cedar Breaks Wildflowers
When spring arrives at high elevations in July, Cedar Breaks celebrates its Annual
Wildflower Festival with guided flower-identification walks, family activities, and spectacular sub-Alpine floral displays set against red sandstone. Generally, a wet winter with snow no later than June followed by summer showers produces good bloom seasons from late June to late August. Sitting above 10,000 feet, wildflowers include Aspen Bluebells, Colorado Columbine, Scarlet Paintbrush, Pacific Aster, Little Sunflowers, Southern Ligusticum, Elkweed, and more.
Cedar Breaks Gilia (Gilia Tridactyla) is an endemic species found nowhere else but Cedar Breaks and Piute County, Utah. Ranger and Cedar Breaks communications contact, Shannon Eberhard describes this member of the Phlox family as “especially suited to limestone soil and the cold harsh conditions found on the windswept peaks of Cedar Breaks National Monument.”
“Because of flowering plants, insects and many other small birds and even mammals have a plentiful variety of foods to select from throughout the warmer seasons,” Eberhard explains. “All these creatures depend on flowering plants to collect sustenance throughout the spring, summer, and fall seasons. As a result, these well-fed critters offer a variety of food sources for animals higher up on the food chain, such as fox, hawks, weasels, and many more, including humans.”
Precipitation levels impact blooms. Eberhard comments. “Winter snow depths have been erratic, and have also been melting sooner than in the past. This may be a result of our average temperatures rising. The last two years nationally have been the warmest in recorded history. Temperatures are now around one to two degrees higher than our historic averages—which doesn’t seem like much, but as a result, our snowpack is melting off sooner and faster. This means spring flooding, drier summers on the mountain, and less runoff throughout the summer to the valley below.”
Citizen Science Program
Responding to increased visitation and environmental changes, Cedar Breaks is introducing a Citizen Science Program in summer 2017. Volunteers will be able to check out a backpack loaded with tools and instructions for sampling air quality, documenting, and photographing observations to help scientists better understand plant life cycles and animal population changes—including why pika, a small mammal, are disappearing from higher elevations. This volunteer work adds to groups already helping Cedar Breaks monitor forest health, including the Utah Forest Dynamics Plot, affiliated with Utah State University, and the Northern Colorado Plateau Network, an NPS organization that studies air quality, climate, phenology, and landscape dynamics.
For centuries, humans have used plants for healing. Today, collecting plants from National Parks and Monuments is prohibited, with exceptions made for Native Americans and scientists who hold a permit granted directly from the park. These protections preserve delicate ecosystems. So when visiting, take only photographs and leave the plants alone.
Flowers are diverse in shapes, colors, and unique plant substances. Dr. Margarita Kay, former University of Arizona nursing professor, writes in Healing with Plants in the American and Mexican West, “In the United States, plant medicine is a billion-dollar business. Health food stores, yerberias, and large grocery chains carry hundreds of different medicinal herbs.” Kay continues, “ . . . using plants for medicines has been revitalized—seen as trendy alternative medicine by some, as hope for the desperate, an economic necessity, or cultural comfort by others.” Nevertheless, Kay cautions that many plants are hard to identify, and choosing the wrong plant may be harmful rather than healing.
Yet, even those with limited plant expertise acknowledge the burn-soothing qualities of Aloe Vera, the decongestant properties of Ephedra (Mormon tea), and the stomach settling of Chamomile tea. Lesser known may be Globemallow as a fumigant, a salve for skin lesions, or a tonic to improve appetite; Sage used as a natural disinfectant, digestive herb, or treatment for sore throats and gums; and Manzanita consumed by Cheyenne Indians as a tea for back sprains, and by pioneers to heal urinary tract infections or as a diuretic.
Judy Bluehorse Skelton, Cherokee on her mother’s side and Nez Perce on her father’s, warns ” . . . herbal medicine is a lifetime commitment. It’s a life study. It’s a life work. And while there are many books out today on plant medicine, plant ID, how to make salves, how to make teas, I encourage anyone who’s interested in herbal medicine to find someone to study with, to go out with, and to start cultivating the relationship with the plants.” Visit her website at WisdomOfTheElders.org/.
As summer temperatures rise in desert communities, you can escape to cooler elevations, immerse yourself in fields of flowers, and appreciate plant medicinal powers.
“Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful;
they are sunshine, food, and medicine to the mind.”