Top of the world

Another hot day in Tucson, bringing back memories of cold mountain-tops. Above is Treasury Mountain (13462′ elevation) at the edge of the Raggeds Wilderness in Colorado. When I took this photograph at the end of July there was still deep snow on most of the high ridges. An inhospitable place for life to take hold, one might think, but alpine plants find a way.

This beautiful plant is Claytonia megarhiza (alpine springbeauty) – it grows directly out of the loose talus that covers the summit. The leaves are soft and succulent, and turn green when they mature. The purple-red coloration might be due to protective pigments that prevent photo-damage while the leaf matures – or might not! The plant has a long taproot that stores resources year-to-year. It’s quite tasty when roasted, almost like a parsnip. But before eating one, keep in mind that this amazing plant has taken years to grow such a root root under these harsh conditions – just a month or two of growing season each year!

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