Monday, July 18, 2005
Pacific Northwest Wildflowers
This year must be a standout year for wildflowers in the Pacific Northwest. I lived in Seattle for five years in the 90's, and I did a fair bit of hiking back then, but I never saw such a show of wildflowers as we did during our two-week vacation to Washington and Oregon this summer.

These are Avalanche Lilies (Erythronium montanum) from Mt. Rainier National Park. Avalance Lilies were mostly finished when we reached the park, but there were a few to be found here and there. We found this field of lilies while hiking up to Pinacle Peak, and at the beginning of the trail we were on a north-facing slope in a shady woods, which these spring flowers probably like.

One the slopes of Rainier, the subalpine meadow at Paradise always has an amazing wildflower display in the spring. The meadow is probably the largest, and lushest, mountain meadow I've ever seen. The flower display is like an impressionist's painting. The colors are dazzling, and the variety of flowers would rival any florist's window display. The park provides a wildflower guide to visitors, and I wandered around trying to find matches. I believe this one is Pink Mountain Heather (Phyllodoce empetriformis). It looks like a low-growing, evergreen plant with bell-shaped flowers at the tips of the stems.

In Paradise, Magenta Paintbrush (Castilleja parviflora) and Broadleaf Lupine (Lupinus latifolius) looked ravenous. The lupine were absolutely everwhere. Some were more bluish, others a deep purple. We even saw some with a varitated blue and white bloom.

The white puffs are actually seedheads for the Pasqueflower (Anemone occidentalis). The seedheads form after the white flowers are finished. The puffs look like something out of a Dr. Seuss story.

This wildflower display is from the devistated area around Mt. St. Helens. When we visited St. Helens, it was a cloudy grey day, and we couldn't make out the volcanic dome from the viewing area. But wildflowers were growing all around, even around blown-down and charred timber where the ground is so rocky I'm amazed anything can grow at all. According to a friend, the subalpine wildflowers are used to growing in rocky ground without a lot of soil. They are among the first plants to return to a disturbed area. The roots and stems of the plant trap more soil, which makes the area hospitable to other plantlife. In this picture, we have Lupine, plus Scarlet Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata. It's more orange-red than the Magenta Paintbrush), plus a few Smooth Mountain Dandelions (Nothocalais alpestris) , which are actually charming in a meadow.

This picture was taken in the Wallawa-Whitmore Wilderness Area in a sea of Lupine. We're near the eastern border of Oregon, an area that is much drier and desert-like than the rest of Oregon. Further up this trail, we hiked to a summit outlook where a fire tower is kept by the Forest Service. The fire tower was staffed by a retired forester named Maurice (We don't have a picture of him or the fire lookout tower. Drat!) He pointed out more wildflowers growing at the top near the lookout, including Alpine Aster (Alpine alpigenus), and what looked for all the world like the prairie Brown-eyed Susans. Maurice said, "I have my own rock garden and flower garden up here."

Another summit picture, this one looking over Hells Canyon and the Snake River in Oregon. The diversity of wildflowers here blew my mind. It's very dry here, but the flowers must love it because they were everywhere. My wildflower guide from Rainier couldn't help me identify these flowers, given the change in the growing conditions, and my limited wildflower knowledge didn't help me out either. I recognized Asters, Lupine, and Paintbrush, of course. But there were many new and colorful flowers unique to this place.

Walking along a train and finding wildflowers ia magical. On one hike in the Grove of the Patriarchs at Rainier National Park, we came upon clusters of tiny white flowers that looked for all the world like little shooting stars. On another hike in Snoqualamie Pass in Washington, I think we saw wild foxgloves and tiger lilies. Somehow, we timed our vacation during a blockbuster wildflower year. I'm hoping for a repeat performance in the not-too-distant future.

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