This past week, Nevada Outdoor School completed our inaugural backpacking adventure with three 15-year-old teens on Soldier Creek Trail into Soldier Meadows in the Ruby Mountains. Throughout the hike the wildflowers were out in force, and we quickly lost count of the number of species when we ran out of fingers to count on. Yellows, whites, blues, reds, and purples, with many shades and colors in-between, the vibrancy and diversity was stunning!
We observed how the diversity also varied as we traversed through different ecosystems (biological community interacting with its physical environment). Aspen groves along the stream, near naked ridge tops, and spring-fed meadows each hosted species that were unique to each environment. Other species appeared to be ubiquitous, or appearing wherever we tread. Wildflowers are an important component of a healthy environment. Wildflowers are genetically created to thrive in the present conditions in which they exist and they do not require any human interaction or input. This is quite a hit for the human ego; many humans like to think all things need a human touch. The diversity observed in the wildflower populations in the Ruby Mountains also remind us that Mother Nature is not into monocultures (a single species) but instead demands variety.
While wildflowers are a wondrous visual treat for our eyes and sometimes our noses, they are not just a thing of beauty. They also provide a habitat as a source of food and shelter for pollinators, insects, and other wildlife that are needed for a functional ecosystem. Wildflowers also help to prevent erosion. They also play a role in the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and water cycles. Because wildflowers are genetically created for an environment, they tend to be naturally tolerate to disease and pests. Unfortunately, however, many invasive plant species cause the demise or loss of wildflower species. Due to aggressive competition for resources (nutrients and water), invasive species threaten an environment because they alter the ecosystem, which in turn will impact the native species and a loss of biodiversity.
This is the time of year to get outside on your favorite trail and appreciate the wildflowers, allowing your eyes and nose a feast on color and smell! Remember to leave the beauty for others to enjoy, and not disturb a natural home, by taking only pictures of the blooms, or sketching them in a notebook with color pencils or markers. Creating your own local field guide is an activity that the whole family can be involved with. What you create becomes something that can be passed down through the generations. Think of the conversations that could be spurred by reviewing Grandpa Joe’s natural record from days gone by. Get outside and enjoy!