by Dave Hanks
Those of you that hike in the mountains will come in contact with this zone as you gain elevation. It is just below the alpine zone, where trees begin to appear. These first appearing trees are stunted and twisted because of the winds that frequent high elevations. It is a zone characterized by many wildflowers. Plant species here must be very adaptable, because of the vast extremes in climatic conditions.
Temperatures drop 3 degrees for every thousand foot increase in altitude. It can be comfortably warm in the valley – thus one goes into the high mountains without a coat, only to find that now they are uncomfortable. Because plants have to survive these extremes in temperature, they have adapted. Some adaptations are: anti-freeze in their tissues, growing low to the ground to escape the effects of the wind that bends, twists, and flags (limbs on one side only) the larger woody species. They, also, have large roots to anchor the plant and absorb nutrients, tiny leaves that expose less of the plant to the elements, and fast seed production after the plant flowers.
Plants in this zone are perennial – not having to undergo the risks of repopulating year after year. When cold, people may huddle together to keep warm, krumholtz trees do the same – growing in clumps or ribbons. Herbaceous plants will do likewise. The first tree to grow undergoes hardship, but if it survives it shelters new trees to grow on its leeward side. Animals that utilize this region migrate up in summer and down in winter – or they hibernate. Krumholtz areas are similar to habitat found in the Tundra that is close to the northern tree-line.
Late July and August are the best times to visit and witness the glorious display of wildflowers. The high Colorado Rockies and Lake Cleveland are areas that have late summer wildflower displays that are dazzling. One alpine/krumholtz flower – the blue columbine is a special beauty, and as such is honored as the Colorado State Flower.