This rather spectacular member of the phlox family (Polemoniaceae) also goes by the names of western sky-pilot, western polemonium, and giant polemonium. The common name Jacob’s ladder refers to the supposed resemblance of the opposing, but slightly offset, leaflets to the biblical Jacob’s vision of a ladder to heaven.
I am fairly certain I had seen this species before, but I had never previously made a positive identification, because when I used to spend time along mountain streams I was always obsessed with catching trout rather than identifying wildflowers. Sometimes I rue the narrowness of my focus during my callow youth, though I wouldn’t say I didn’t have fun. Still it was nice to meander along the bank of the Metolius River and find satisfaction, in the form of insects and wildflowers, at every bend, without trying, usually unsuccessfully, to prove that I was smarter than a trout.
Description-Perennial; has a single long (up to 40” tall) stem with many basal and lower cauline leaves and an elongated, often crowded inflorescence, with showy blue to purple or pink flowers; leaves pinnately divided into 11-27 lanceolate leaflets, reducing in number up the stem; flowers 5 lobed, with lobes stigma extending past the petals, and stamens shorter than the petals.
Similar species–P. californicum and P. pulcherrimum are low growing, many branched, prostrate or in tufts; P. carneum has light yellow orange flowers and grows in clumps.
Habitat-Wetlands, wet meadows, along streams, in relatively arid zones at mid elevations.
Range-Western North America; mostly east of the Cascades in our region.
Reproductive timing-June to August
Eaten by– Valued nectar and pollen source for a variety of winged insects.
Etymology of names–Polemonium is either from the Greek word for strife, or from the Greek philosopher Polemon. But I can find no explanation for what either of those may reference. The specific epithet occidentale is from the Latin for ‘of the west’, and this is indeed a western species.