04 December 2009

Sun God

Ahh... the alpine. Before our trip to Colorado in July 2009, we had never seen the alpine. I had images in my mind of short plants topped with enormous flowers. Sun God (Tetraneuris grandiflora) certainly didn't let us down. At approximately 10 inches tall and with composite flower heads up to four inches across, this conspicuous and charismatic alpine wildflower puts on quite a show.

Like other alpine plants, Old-Man-of-the-Mountain, as it is also known, has adapted to the difficult conditions of the harsh alpine environment. Being so tall (relatively), it attempts to keep its flower heads away from the prevailing winds by orienting most of them to face east (Beidleman et al. 2000).

The photograph above is one of my favorites from our trip. We saw this plant in the alpine at Independence Pass (between Leadville and Aspen) at approximately 12,000 feet above sea level. Independence Pass is located in central Colorado on the Continental Divide. A photograph of the habitat and terrain is shown below. Sun God grows on rocky ridges and slopes, as well as in meadows (Guennel 2004), and is found in only five states in North America: Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming (Biernier 2006).

If you recognize this plant but don't know it as Tetraneuris grandiflora, maybe you would recognize one of its synonyms. Sun God has undergone several name changes since it was initially collected by John Fremont in the 1840s and named Actinella grandiflora by John Torrey and Asa Gray in 1845; since that time, it has also been known as Rydbergia grandiflora and Hymenoxys grandiflora (Southwest Colorado Wildflowers). This member of the family Asteraceae also has several additional common names, including Mountain Sunflower, Alpine Goldflower, Alpine Sunflower, Rydbergia, Graylocks Rubberweed, and Four-nerved Daisy (Beidleman et al. 2000; Biernier 2006; Guennel 2004).

Beidleman, L.H., R.G. Beidleman, & B.E. Willard. (2000). Plants of Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes Park, Colorado: Rocky Mountain Nature Association; Helena, Montana: Falcoln Publishing, Inc.

Biernier, M.W. (2006). Hymenoxys. In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 15+ vols. New York and Oxford. Vol. 21.

Guennel, G.K. (2004). Guide to Colorado Wildflowers, Volume 2: Mountains. Englewood, Colorado: Westcliffe Publishers.

Southwest Colorado Wildflowers. Retrieved December 4, 2009. http://www.swcoloradowildflowers.com/.


Tom said...

Scott- I've heard about the western Tetraneuris species from studying Lakeside Daisy here in Ohio, but wow, this is cool. It looks like a Lakeside Daisy on steroids. Nice.


Sight Seer said...

That is a beauty!! I don't think I saw any of those when I was in the Rocky Mountain National Park.. A great place for a motorcycle ride and sightseeing. read more at http://www.sightseeingreview.com/rockymountainnationalpark.php

Scott said...

Tom, you're right. I hadn't even thought about it, but after looking at Lakeside Daisy on line, I completely agree that this plant "looks like a Lakeside Daisy on steroids." I've never seen Lakeside Daisy flowering, and have only seen it once (at a site in Illinois where it has been re-introduced) vegetatively.

Sight Seer, thanks for visiting and commenting, and for sending along your link. We didn't see this plant at Rocky Mountain National Park when we were there, either, but I know that it grows in the tundra there.