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What’s Blooming Along Golden’s Trails? Fivepetal Cliffbush

Figure 1. Jamesia americana growing along the Peaks to Plains Trail at the Tough Cuss Bridge.

By Tom Schweich

“Fivepetal Cliffbush” — Jamesia americana Torr. & A. Gray — is found in the mouth of Clear Creek Canyon and on Lookout Mountain. The best place to see it in Golden is on the Peaks to Plains Trail at the Tough Cuss Bridge across Clear Creek. The plant is more common at higher elevations throughout the foothills region of Jefferson County and generally found along in the Front Range of Colorado.

Our plant was first collected by Edwin James, M.D. in 1820. James was the botanist on the Stephen H. Long expedition, the first scientific expedition to explore the Front Range of Colorado. They ascended the South Platte River and camped at mouth of Clear Creek at the South Platte on July 4th, 1820. Seeing the mountains in the distance they ascended Cannonball Creek (now Clear Creek) but became discouraged when, at Inspiration Point, the mountains still appeared far in the distance. Traveling south, they climbed Pikes Peak, saw the Royal Gorge, and followed the Arkansas River as far as Rocky Ford where they turned south for New Mexico.

Unfortunately, James failed to record the location that he found our plant, so the collection could have been made anywhere from Adams County south along the Front Range to Fremont County. John Torrey M.D. and Asa Gray, M.D. wrote about our plant in the 1840 edition of their Flora of North America.

All three of these men, Edwin James, John Torrey, and Asa Gray, were medical doctors as were many of the botanists during this era. The study of botany was regarded as an essential component of medical training from the early 18th century until early in the 20th century because plants were the main source of medicine.