SEARCH AND WILDFLOWER HOME PAGE     BLUE/PURPLE FLOWERS      CONTACT US

    Polemoniums abound in the San Juans and nearby mountain ranges:  Polemonium foliosissimum, growing erect to three feet, is common in high meadows and along streams; sprawling, low P. pulcherrimum is very abundant in the dry shade of Spruce forests;  and the intensely purple, but less common, P. viscosum grows to six inches tall in very high meadows and alone on alpine scree.  But beware of beauty; most Polemoniums exude a strong skunk odor when touched.

       Because of the skunk-like smell of these plants, one might think that the name "Polemonium" referred  to "pole"-cat (skunk), but the name is more probably for either the Greek Philosopher, Polemon, or from the Greek  "polemos" meaning "strife":  Pliny the Elder indicated that a war was fought over who actually discovered this plant!

Polemonium foliosissimum
Polemonium foliosissimum variety foliosissimum (Leafy Jacobís Ladder)
Polemoniaceae (Phlox Family)

Montane, subalpine.  Meadows.  Summer.
Scotch Creek Road, July 1, 2004.

Polemonium foliosissimum is easy to spot and identify because of its growth patterns: it is often in dense to loosely scattered colonies in open mountain meadows; it grows tall (commonly two to three feet) in an open, airy manner; and its leaves are finely cut into numerous leaflets.

Polemonium foliosissimum's abundance of softly lavender/blue/purple flowers are borne in numerous, showy clusters.  Altogether, Polemonium foliosissimum is a softly appealing, lovely plant and one of our favorites.

Charles Parry first found this plant for science in the headwaters of Clear Creek, Colorado, (probably in 1862) and it was named and described by Asa Gray in 1878.  "Foliosissimum" is Greek for "very leafy".

Polemonium foliosissimum
Polemonium foliosissimum variety foliosissimum (Leafy Jacob’s Ladder)
Polemoniaceae (Phlox Family)

Montane, subalpine.  Meadows.  Summer.
Lizard Head Trail, June 19, 2004.

Polemonium foliosissimum
Polemonium foliosissimum (Leafy Jacobís Ladder)
Polemoniaceae (Phlox Family)

Montane, subalpine.  Meadows.  Summer.
Navajo Lake Trail, July 11, 2005.

Click for more Polemonium foliosissimum photographs.

Polemonium pulcherrimum

Polemonium pulcherrimum

Polemonium pulcherrimum

Polemonium pulcherrimum subspecies delicatum (Beautiful Jacob’s Ladder)
Polemoniaceae (Phlox Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands. Summer.
Above and left: Owens Basin Trail, June 13, 2004.

The very common Polemonium pulcherrimum grows to just 6 inches tall but it attracts attention with an abundance of pale blue/purple flowers. It most commonly grows in shady, acid soils under Spruce and Fir, but it can also be found, as in the photograph above shows, in open sunny areas. 

It is common for there to be clusters of dozens of plants with few, if any, flowers.  But eye-catching arrays of dozens of flowers are also common. The difference seems to be determined by winter snows and spring rains. In the very dry year of 2003 there were almost no Polemonium pulcherrimum in flower, but following the very wet winter and spring of 2004-2005, flowers were abundant.

 

"Pulcherrimum" is Greek for "very beautiful". The name was given to this plant by William Jackson Hooker in 1830 from a specimen collected by Thomas Drummond in his 1825-1827 Canadian Rockies explorations.

(Thanks to Bob Clarke for reminding me to show a close-up of Polemonium pulcherrimum leaflets.)

Polemonium pulcherrimum
Polemonium pulcherrimum subspecies delicatum(Beautiful Jacob’s Ladder)
Polemoniaceae (Phlox Family)

Montane, subalpine. Woodlands. Summer.
Sharkstooth Trail, July 18, 2005.

It is very common to find clusters of Polemonium pulcherrimum at the base of Spruce and Fir in the montane and sub-alpine woods.

More Polemonium pulcherrimum photographs.

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Polemonium foliosissimum

Range map for Polemonium pulcherrimum