Leave No Trace – Let The Mountain Keep Her Crown

The art of making a flower wreath was one I worked hard to conquer. It was one that embodied my hippie-soul and allowed me to express my affinity for peace and love and all things flower child. All that changed when I realized I was stealing the crown from its rightful owner. During my time at the University of Colorado, I have become informed of the dangers of picking wildflowers in our alpine mountain climate, and want to talk a little about it with you here.

As an avid Colorado hiker, it is necessary to research trails and mountain hikes in the Rocky Mountain region before a trek. Most resources are supplemented with wilderness manners or, as they are better known, Leave No Trace principles. Living in Colorado opens all of us up to an incredible opportunity to participate in honoring nature and contributing to the legacy that our state has in preserving the wilderness world, so today I will share how picking wildflowers is actually an act with long-term consequences on our natural world. It is imperative that we respect the Leave No Trace principles to protect and preserve the great outdoors.
When you think of a bouquet of flowers or a wreath placed upon someone’s head, what emotions are evoked within you? I’m here to tell you, with heaviness on my heart, it’s a deceptively beautiful image. 

The truth is, the loss of wildflowers affects entire ecosystems. According to the U.S. Forest Service, picking wildflowers triggers a critical chain of events that damages the well-being of pollinators, birds, small animals, and insects. Four main consequences to this illegal activity:

  1. All living organisms need to reproduce. Digging up wildflowers, picking wildflowers, or collecting their seed will reduce a plant’s ability to reproduce and will adversely affect its long-term survival in that location

  2. Removing wildflowers from the wild can adversely affect pollinators and other animals that depend on that species for food and cover

  3. Removing wildflowers from our national forests and grasslands prevents other visitors from enjoying our natural heritage; and

  4. Most wildflowers when dug from their natural habitat do not survive being transplanted.

    (Taken from https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethics/ )

Wildflowers provide seeds, nectar, and pollen for these creatures meaning it is their very life support system.

Think of something that you depend on for your sustenance, for your survival, and imagine what it would be like to have that taken from you. Our answers today differ greatly from just a few hundred years ago… 

As technology and society advance, it is easy to remove ourselves from the natural, outdoor world, but people still long for it. There is more of a separation between hobby and habitat now than with our ancestors whereas we used to be more intricately connected to nature because our dependence on it was more apparent. Today hiking, sustainability efforts, camping, and observing nature are considered ways to spend our free time. Outdoor Recreation Programs only became integrated into society in the late 1900’s, and the Wilderness Act passed in 1964, leading to federally-designated Wilderness areas and educational brochures.

What was previously named Wilderness Manners, Wilderness Ethics, Minimum-Impact Camping, and No-Trace Camping  evolved into what is now referred to as the Leave No Trace Program. The seven principles, as shared by the Center for Outdoor Ethics in 2012, are:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impact
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

(Taken from https://lnt.org/learn/7-principles)

Alternatives to picking flowers include:
~ Photography – In a 2015 article by the Huffington post, 10 Instagram accounts are highlighted that collectively keep millions of followers “…even though our eyes are only capable of appreciating nature briefly, there are people who have the ability to capture images of nature and transform them into something everlasting thanks to their photography.”
~ Drawing or painting  – Many local communities organize excursions for groups to learn from an esteemed artist in order to bring more appreciation and skill for observing natural beauty.
~ Using artificial flowers for headbands, bouquets, and other displays. The booming talents of artist industry has allowed for a very real appearance to false flora. Avoiding using real flowers as accessories benefits pollinators like bees and butterflies, which in turn give us the opportunity to eat delicious fruits like this adorable strawberry I found in France:

France - Flora Headband
Strawberry Fields in France

Earth is the home for so much more than mankind. Why treat it as though it belongs to only us when we depend on it profoundly than we realize?  

Picking wildflowers is an act with long-term consequences on our natural world, so it is imperative that we respect the Leave No Trace principles to protect and preserve the great outdoors. Don’t let yourself become too distant from nature because of the progress humanity is achieving, we are more connected to the earth than we realize on a daily basis.

Colorado Columbines.

I’d like to leave you with this poem by the Indian guru Osho:
“If you love a flower, don’t pick it up.
Because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love.
So if you love a flower, let it be.
Love is not about possession.
Love is about appreciation.”


Huntgram. (2015, May 17). 10 Amazing Nature Accounts to Follow on Instagram. Retrieved October 22, 2017, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/huntgram/the-10-most-amazing-natur_b_7285908.html

The Leave No Trace Seven Principles. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2017, from

Wildflower Ethics and Native Plants. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2017, from https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethics/

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