A Collection of Bloom Reports from the Methow Valley, Washington
This collection of Bloom Reports was written and collated by George Wooten for displays at Methow Valley Ranger District Stations over the latter 1990's. In this index, they are arranged in order by month, and secondly by year.
From Dana Visalli:
I hiked up the south slope of Eagle Rocks today (3.3.08)—from the Balky Hill road, looking for bluebirds and buttercups. I didn’t see any bluebirds, but just 30 feet below the “summit” was one quite large, fully open buttercup flower. The earliest record I have for these is 2.20.05, in the same spot.
A seasonal marker that is probably completely dependent upon actual spring “temperature units” (days and hours above 32 degrees) is when the catkin buds break on the cottonwoods, such that the trees start to show a blush of green. The earliest date I have for this area is 3.30.04 for the trees at the Twisp Confluence Park (also 4.8.06 and 4.15.99), and 4.18.99 and 4.21.07 at the Winthrop park (no record for Winthrop in 04 or 06).
March - April 1997
This year was fast-paced and exciting. Everyone was anxious and raring to get out and hike! The snows were the deepest in years (112" at Twin Lakes near Winthrop by Jan 7), and many houses, barns and backs gave out with a whoomp! and a boom! during the deep snows. It took snoeshoes just to get to the compost heap. Twisp seemed to get more snow than Mazama, reflecting the cold weather that persevered through the southern storms, which are the storms that usually bring water, not snow in winter (but not in 1998).
I bet Art Kruckeberg that the liliaceous bulbs of yellow bells (Fritillaria pudica) would be first up in 1998, and I was almost right. Actually, the first flowering plants (not counting alders) that I saw were glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum) blooming profusely in the burned areas at the east base of the Blewett Pass road near Leavenworth, on March 23, 1997.
On March 25, south facing hillsides near Carlton in the Methow Valley had sagebrush buttercups (Ranunculus glaberrimus), yellow bells, one plant of languid ladies (Mertensia longiflora), spring beauties (Claytonia lanceolata), and one plant of Lomatium ambiguum. The arrowleaf balsamroots soon followed suit, and gave me my first taste of tender spring shoots. Only plants less than an inch tall and growing near snow packs are free from bitterness.
Covering the hill were many bright yellow "blooms" of rust
on Arabis holboellii, smelling of daffodils. It has been documented
that a rust can infect Arabis holboellii leaves, yellowing them
in a false display designed to attract pollinators searching for early
flowers, and even going so far as to produce the daffodil-like fragrance.
It was surprising this April to find this also occurring on the leaves
of a single plant of dagger-pod (Phoenicaulis cheiranthoides). In
my first encounter with this plant, I bent down with Lanette Smith to view
at close hand what initially appeared to be our first spring buttercup.
As we bent close, we smelled the powerful daffodil aroma, just as a large
bumble bee buzzed under our noses onto the bright yellow leaf rosette,
took one sniff and buzzed away indignantly!
On April 12, the cottonwoods were just budding out at Pateros, and by April 15, serviceberry bushes were blooming in Grand Coulee. Above the coulees on flood-scoured basalt soils sagebrush pansies (Viola trinervata) were in bloom, along with Hooker's balsamroot (Balsamorhiza hookeri), nine-leaf biscuit root (Lomatium triternatum), chocolate tips (Lomatium dissectum), the low, yellow-and-white flowers with contrasting black anthers of Hesperichiron pumilus, white cushions of Phlox hoodii (which have styles up to 10 mm long, despite the claim in Hitchcron that they normally only reach to 5 mm in length), bluebells (Mertensia oblongifolia, with hairy leaves--not expected), tower mustards (e.g., Arabis cusickii, A. holboellii), and dagger-pod (Phoenicaulis cheiranthoides).
By April 22, the cottonwood buds were blooming in Winthrop, and whole hillsides were beginning to turn yellow. The hills of Studhorse Mountain above Winthrop were flourescent green with chocolate tips (Lomatium dissectum). In Grand Coulee, serviceberries were in bloom. Lupines and bitterbrush were slow to emerge, and made the spring a long, drawn-out, wonderfully complex affair.
No serviceberries! Zip, nada! Last year they wore themselves out. The same was generally true for the balsamroots, however the lupines (Lupinus spp.) came out unaffected, as they regurlarly do year to year.
This is the year of the serviceberry. Amazing displays were found throughout the upper Wenatchee, Entiat, Methow and Okanogan valleys. Open forests were dabbled with white fountains. There was so little time between snow melt and peak bloom for many species that there wa practically nowhere that wasn't fantastic. Balsamroots (Balsamorhiza spp.) are striping the hills where different times of snowmelt kept the ground cooler longer. The Nuttall's larkspurs passed north of Mazama on May 14, and there were even Penstemon pruinosus blooming in Twisp. Strangely, there were no lupines in the Methow Valley in May of 1997. They must be on a different clock. On cliffs above Mazama, the paintbrushes (Castilleja hispida, C. miniata) were out on May 10. This was certainly the greenest year anybody could recall for decades. Even the little annuals put on twice as much leaf area, due to the spring. Heat waves on May 10-15 have resulted in nearly complete disappearance of the yellow bells (Fritillaria pudica) till next spring.
On or about the first of May, bitterbrush shrubs (Purshia tridentata) become laden with fragrant blooms throughout lower elevations of Okanogan and Chelan counties, mid-central Washington. It is a sign that the ephemeral spring flowers are about to be eclipsed by the dominants in this semi-arid ecosystem.
In 1996, the spring ephemerals put on a fair show; last year's wet spring
was far more spectacular. Many of our arid species have large storage roots,
for instance the sagebrush buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus), salt
and pepper (Lomatium gormanii, and other Lomatium spp.),
the balsamroots (e.g., Balsamorhiza sagittata) and the yellow bells
(Fritillaria pudica). When these plants have a great year, as in
1995, the following year often seems so-so, even if ample moisture exists,
and this appeared to be the case in 1996. Also in 1996, an early spring
was followed by weeks of cold weather, so flower displays were drawn out
over a longer season, which somewhat compensated for the less-than-spectacular
show for some species. The blooms of arrowleaf balsamroot at low elevation
were almost all killed by a late frost, but at higher elevations, some
balsamroots bloomed that were still dormant during the frosts.
Plants which ignore the above pattern are the ones to watch for: serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia, and its subspecies), Phlox spp., bluebells or languid ladies (Mertensia longiflora) and bitterbrush. The bitterbrush blooms produce an almost hypnotic fragrance when blooming en masse, that is reminiscent of jasmine and cinnamon. Combined with the camphor in the sagebrush and the vanilla-like scent that comes from ponderosa pine pitch, warm evenings can be a memorable event. Allergy sufferers can best appreciate these smells after a heavy rain, when the air is clearer.
North Central Washington has a number of beautiful Phlox species, many of which grow in multi-hued cushions. The common Phlox longiflora tends to be pink, Phlox speciosa tends towards whitish-pink, and other species often arrange their themes around bluish hues. At low elevations different plants of Phlox cespitosa make pink and blue palette patterns; at higher elevations, Phlox diffusa forms multi-hued mats of blue and blush, beginning at the end of June.
Above 3000 feet, the buds are just starting to break in the forested zones. Solomon's seal (Smilacina racemosa and S. stellata) were both gorgeous in 1996. The first Calypso orchids, or fairy slippers (Calypso bulbosa) usually peek out about now, and its regal beauty is worthy of a search by visiting vacationers to North Central Washington, where it often grows in mossy, north-facing or shady areas. By the end of May, most of the trails on the Swauk, Entiat, Chelan, Wenatchee, and Okanogan main tributaries were opening up, but snow lingered along the streamsides for another month after that. If an area is just budding out, one can often find more blooms by looking for trails at lower elevations, or further down the main drainages. US Forest Service Ranger District offices can help direct visitors to open areas.
Once again this year, the Okanogan countryside was riotous with yellow hillside displays of arrowleaf balsamroot. The amount of bloomage seemed to be related to winter and spring precipitation, which piled snow three feet deep in Winthrop. Some people think the floral displays are late this year, but my friend Emmett, who tracks these sort of things, says that the balsamroots in Mazama are only four days later than last year. It does seem like all of the wildflowers are blooming simultaneously, rather than spread out in time, and this might be related to the relatively sudden, late snowmelt.
Travelers through our area who don't know arrowleaf balsamroot, which is the same in Latin (Balsamorhiza sagittata), can usually recognize it correctly as being in the sunflower family. A number of other sunflowers can be seen throughout the state, including several other species of Balsamorhiza, annual sunflower (Helianthella uniflora) and mule's ears (Wyethia amplexicaulis). Good places to view arrowleaf balsamroot would be south-facing dry hillsides at low elevations, close to the Columbia River, and in open areas such as Alta Lake State Park and the Methow Game Range and other state wildlife areas such as those near Conconully.
Other plants that respond positively to winter precipitation loads (as opposed, to just blooming the same time and same amount each year) are those with bulbs or corms. This includes the yellow bells (Fritillaria pudica), onions (Allium spp.), spring beauty (Claytonia lanceolata), and the genus Calochortus, which includes desert tulips, mariposa lilies and cat's ears (Calochortus lyallii). Look for these desert gems from May to June in most open areas and grasslands of the Okanogan countryside. Lilies and orchids that grow in forested areas, however, are still under the snow, so check first to see if an area is open. This year some trails were closed due to the heavy snows and avalanches in winter.
As spring warmed into summer, the cinnamon-jasmine smell of bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) blooms moved up the main tributaries. On the first of May, the bitterbrush were blooming along the Columbia River near Entiat. Near Chelan, the canyons were vivid with pink-white clumps of phlox and desert buckwheats. Purple sage (Salvia dorrii) soon followed suit, decorating the roadsides. Travelers into the upper Methow, Entiat and Wenatchee valleys should have noticed the unmatchable fragrance of the black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa), as their sticky buds opened. Giant cottonwoods in the upper Methow over seven feet in diameter make this the largest diameter tree in the Valley (and state?). Big tree lovers can also find giant western larch (Larix occidentalis) at Big Tree Botanical Area in Tonasket and ten-foot-plus diameter trunks of red-cedar (Thuja plicata) on the Wenatchee National Forest.
The lower trailheads and roads opened up as summer began, and this was a memorable year as we tried to deal with recovery from the previous year's fires and floods.
Late-breaking news! Lewisia tweedyi was spotted in bloom along the Chewuch River. Look near large rocks and bare, sandy soil areas for groups of creamy flowers a couple inches across, with broad, slightly succulent leaves about six inches long. This is one of the less common species of the North Cascades, and it does not occur elsewhere in the whole, wide world.
Lowland bloom displays were extra-spectacular in 1993, with good displays
of arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) and other spring ephemerals
in the foothills of the lower ponderosa pine / bitterbrush / bunchgrass
zone. Local folks couldn't remember when the serviceberries (Amelanchier
alnifolia) were quite this fluorescent, and the homestead apples and
apricots were equally spectacular. Due to the late season coolness and
the sudden onset of warmer weather, blooms were forced to pop up all at
once, and the main flush soon moved up to the upper parts of the bitterbrush
zones and into the lower Douglas fir forested zones.
Main displays of balsamroot continued atop the ridges at the mouths of most tributaries to the Methow, Twisp, and Chewuch Rivers, as the lower elevations began showing daisie, bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), larkspurs (Delphinium spp.), penstemons and Douglas sunflower (Helianthella uniflora), while the shadier or cooler parts of the forested zones began their displays of orchids, mountain lilac (Ceanothus sanguineus), tiger lilies (Lilium columbianum), Solomon's seal (Smilacina spp.), and heart-leaf Arnica (Arnica cordifolia).
The heavy production of bitterbrush blooms caused still evenings to be heavily cinnamon-jasmine-scented for a few weeks.
Most of the high country was, of course, still wet and snowy in May, but lower trailheads were floriferous as far up as the blooming of the glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum).
So many flowers are putting on strong showings this year, due to our snowy winter and sunny spring, that was hard to recommend a particular plant or area to spend time in. Although the main balsamroot blooms in the valley bottoms came and went by June, the Douglas sunflowers (Helianthella uniflora) and mule's ears (Wyethia amplexicaulis) were in mid-bloom in June. Summer shows of bigleaf lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus), sulfur lupine (Lupinus sulphureus) and velvet lupine (Lupinus leucophyllus) followed the displays of silky and white- stemmed lupines (L. sericeus and L. leucophyllus). Few could recall seeing such blue hillsides before, and the lupine was a major contributor, along with larkspur (Delphinium nuttallianum), annual phacelias (Phacelia humilis and P. linearis), and lighter blue daisies (Erigeron filifolius, E. linearis, E. poliospermus, and E. corymbosus).
Cat's ears (Calochortus lyallii) and other plants with starchy
roots did very well. The taller mariposa lilies or desert-tulip (C.
macrocarpus) were still on the way, as they are deeper-rooted and may
not respond as strongly to heavy winter snows.
Hawksbeards did fine in 1995, in fact they are beautiful. What is a hawksbeard? There are several species of Crepis in our area, which in our Flora of the Pacific Northwest, by Hitchcock and Cronquist, are claimed to be primarily apomorphic, which is to say that some of them are self-fertile clones. Shocking. Anyway, they can be recognized by numerous foot-long, yellow-flowering stems arising from a clump wavy-edged leaves. The hawksbeards are not the only difficult genus in the sunflower family or Compositae, now called the Asteraceae. Other difficult groups include hawkweeds (Hieracium), daisies (Erigeron), Asters (Asters), and the pussytoes (Antennaria). The common rosy pussytoes (A. roseum = A. microphylla) comes in two sexes, with the boys dressed in white and the girls dressed in pink. Of course.
Many good access points to follow flowers up into higher elevations were open by July, but as of June 12, most trails north of Winthrop were only open for a couple miles before they hit banks of snow surrounded by glacier lilies. Hikers in reasonably good shape could follow cat's ears and silky lupine right on up into the mountains, but horseback riders should confirm that trails are open first. The upper Methow Trail was brushy, but passable on foot, for three miles, for spectacular shows of Chelan, or frosty, penstemon (Penstemon pruinosus) and shrubby penstemon (P. fruticosus). In the Winthrop area, the Cub Creek and Rendezvous areas are always good bets to see open meadows with lupine and cat's ears, as well as more montane species.
Because so many flowers showed off this year, a good guidebook such
as Daniel Matthew's Cascade-Olympic Natural History or Ron Taylor's
Country would have been useful. These books identify the most commonly
seen plant species. Some plants, like paintbrushes and members of the sunflower
family however, require technical plant keys such as those found in floras.
On the Wenatchee and Okanogan, the orangish sticky paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) seems to be commoner than the scarlet-colored "common" paintbrush (C. miniata) that is usually listed in popular books on wildflowers. Both paintbrushes are popular with hummingbirds. Some families of flowers, that are moth-pollinated elsewhere, are hummingbird pollinated in the North Cascades. What they lack in scent, they gain in showiness.
Besides the paintbrushes, other good examples of hummingbird-pollinated flowers include the spectacular firecracker-flower (Gilia aggregata or Ipomopsis aggregata), which prefers sandy hillslopes, and members of the honeysuckle family, for example, Lonicera ciliosa and L. hispidula, which barely enter the Methow from the West Cascades. Members of the honeysuckle family abound in the wetter parts of the North Cascades, but because of the cold winters in the interior, they become scarce on the east slopes, with species represented more by shrubs than vines, as in snowberries (Symphoricarpos albus and S. oreophilus) and elderberries (Sambucus cerulea and S. racemosa).
Another adaptation to life in temperate forests has been acquired by the twinflower (Linnaea borealis, named after Carolus Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy), also in the honeysuckle family. The plant clambers like a vine within inches of the ground, where winter snows protect it from the frost. Indeed, its leaves are neither deciduous, nor evergreen, but instead are tardily deciduous, which is to say they hang on indefinitely, unless it gets really severe. Twinflower lives under dense canopies, eking out a living in cool, frost pockets, but if a treefall should open up the canopy, twinflower's vine-like runners can scramble rapidly toward the opening, to take advantage of the sunlight. Like other honeysuckles, its stems are pithy inside, which also helps protect against frost damage. In fact everything about this plant typifies the ecological dodges that plants of temperate forests can take to cope with snowy winters, warm summers and dense canopies.
What an interesting year this was. As dry as the valleys were, there was a surprisingly high water table higher up. The winter snow pack was heavier above 4000 feet, and in addition we had a cold spring and several late snows above 4500 feet elevation. What this meant for plants is that the lowlands were really finishing their peak blooms early and the uplands were really late!
Rhizomatous plants of shady environments, such as orchids and other monocots, seem to benefit most from this regime. We saw exceptional blooms of lady's slippers (Cypripedium montanum), fairy slippers (Calypso bulbosa), lady's tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana), rattlesnake plantains (Goodyera oblongifolia), Solomon's plumes (Smilacina stellata and S. racemosa), and tiger lilies (Lilium columbianum). Seek out cool, mossy, generally north slopes near water for these showy forest goddesses.
Grasses were growing profusely in 1994, in part from a very wet year in '93. At lower elevations these were dominated by bluebunch wheatgrass (Agropyron spicatum) and Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis). Higher up, pinegrass (Calamagrostis rubescens) is the commonest grass. The Indian paintbrushes (Castilleja miniata and C. hispida) are widespread in grassy areas, where they form root associations with grasses and mycorrhizal fungi.
Mosses and lichens are responsive to alternating wet-dry environments. They are most visible after a rain, on cliffs and talus slopes throughout the forest. Almost all trails on the Okanogan cross many rock outcrops, but there are differences between watersheds. The Chewuch drainage seems to be the sandiest, the Methow has a higher precipitation, and the Twisp seems to specialize in aspect-controlled meadow mosaics.
Remember the Okanogan was under a mile or two of ice 12,000 years ago. Therefore, one can find many plants adapted to the sandy "glacial till". Firecracker flower (Gilia aggregata, or Ipomopsis aggregata) in the phlox family is a noticeable sand lover on the Loup-Loup road. Other plants of sandy soils are the pussytoes (Antennaria spp.), blazing star (Mentzelia laevicaulis), forget-me-nots (Cryptantha spp.), and bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata). The bitterbrush put on an exceptionally powerful bloom this year, with strong scents of jasmine and cinnamon, but the main bloom was over within days.
In calcareous swales and drainages at lower elevation, which can often be located by the presence of giant clumps of basin wild rye (Elymus glaucus), look for strong shows of mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii), which puts on good shows every year.
It was difficult to predict what was in store for us at higher elevations. Buds broke at 4000 feet on May 15 on south slopes, but were still dormant at 5500 feet on north slopes. It seemed that plants of cool, moist areas would do well, i.e., the Pyrolas, kinnickinnick, prince's pine, huckleberries, and plants of spruce forests. What we got was a nearless sunless year--the great Washington fires in late July and early August made 1994 a smoky, hazy year, even though the lightning-caused fires, thousands of them, started early when the plants were still very green.
Wildflower displays changed considerably as the early bloomers either went dormant or moved to the higher elevations. The leaves of Chocolate-tips (Lomatium dissectum) were already an orange tinge as it went to seed, and the balsamroots (Balsamorhiza sagittata) were replaced by displays of Douglas sunflower (Helianthella uniflora). Mid-summer flowers such as the composites, scrophs, and grasses came into dominance in the lowlands and salsify (Tragopogon dubius), that darling non-native, put on good shows on cloudy days. The lowlands were replete with elderberry (Sambucus cerulea), frosty or Chelan penstemon (Penstemon pruinosus), and daisies (Erigeron filifolius, E. linearis, and others) in bloom. Roadside displays of Penstemon fruticosus mats and glistening purple-frosted plants of P. pruinosus were spectacular.
The midmontane zone was really where the flowers were blooming in June. Loup-Loup Pass was splashed with the red of scarlet gilia (Gilia aggregata= Ipomopsis aggregata) and heart-leaf arnica (Arnica cordifolia). For those who missed spring in the lowlands, there was a second chance higher up for finding spring beauties (Claytonia lanceolata) at about 5000 feet elevation in forest openings, along with the little white salt-and-pepper (Lomatium gormanii), Betty blue-lips (Collinsia parviflora) and avalanche lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum). All of these were blooming a month before down in the valleys and each year they continue their journey on up to the highest peaks. Say good-bye to the balsamroot in June, however, since it tops out at 5000 feet elevation.
The subalpine zone was just beginning to show off pussy-willows and a few Draba species and dandelions, but by the end of June that zone was in full swing. Best chances for wildflower viewing in June are the higher valleys and trailheads leading into the high country, wherever Douglas fir grows. Look for openings in the canopy to let sunlight into the understory for best displays. Happy hiking!
Folks are saying it. No one can remember when they ever, ever saw such spectacular displays of wildflowers. Perhaps it was the late-season cold weather or perhaps it was the rain, but whatever, the leaves were greener and healthier and the floral displays were more spectacular than ever. Most of the bloom displays were happening over short periods, so local adjustments to wildlfower viewing schedules came in rapid succession.
The bloom displays in the lowlands of the sagebrush-steppe zone were finished in July. Already, the mock-orange plants (Philadelphus lewisii) were forming seeds, but during the waning months of June, incredibly bloom-laden shrubs decorated all the lowlands. The lowland penstemons moved their peak blooms up into the mountains, but one could still catch the shrubby penstemon (Penstemon fruticosus) blooming with scarlet gilia or firecracker flower (Gilia aggregata), on the mountain passes.
The last bloom report highlighted the lower montane zone, with lupines and penstemons, but in July the action is in the upper montane zone and just beginning in the subalpine zone. Lupines will always be found producing powerful displays for the rest of the summer, but cool, moist situations will delight the wildflower seeker with lush patches of saxifrages such as mitre-worts (Mitella spp.) and coolwort or foamflower (Tiarella spp.) Bog-orchids (Platanthera spp.) are showing off their scents as well as their good looks, and the liliaceous plants are positively lush along trails in July. Look for Solomon's plumes (Smilacina racemosa) and Solomon's seals (S. stellata), twisted stalks (Streptopus amplexifolius and S. roseus), tiger lilies (Lilium columbianum), and bead lilies (Clintonia uniflora) all flowering in unison.
Somewhere between July 1 and July 15 the high country changed from wet and cold to hot and dry. The heat forced all the plants out in a fantastic frenzy of blooming. On south slopes, peak bloom in July was at about 6000 feet elevation, with awesome broadleaf lupine (Lupinus latifolius) displays. That is the common lupine of higher elevation, but on top of the very tallest peaks there is a tidy dwarf lupine with the bluest flowers of all (Lupinus lepidus var. lobbii = Lepidus lyallii). On tall peaks such as Slate Peak, the blue flowers seem to predominate earlier, with silky phacelia (Phacelia sericea), Jacob's ladders or sky pilots (Polemonium elegans, P. pulcherrimum, and for lucky climbers, P. viscosum), thread-leaved sandwort (Arenaria capillaris), and Jessica's stickseed (Hackelia micrantha) all vying for the sun. A few weeks into July and the yellow petals of the daisy family hold sway. Bud don't wait to see it. It's all gone too fast.
Despite what may at first seem like unbeatable heat in the valley, it can be pleasantly cool in the mountains, and most trails become noticeably flowerier as one ascends. Many trails follow tributaries of the Twisp, Methow or Chewuch Rivers--these trails are great spots to see some of the ancient trees that we have in the Okanogan. What they lack in height they make up for in age, with almost every tree invariably scarred with fire, lightning, and mistletoe--real survivors! While hiking across a hot, south slope, the shade of a Douglas fir or ponderosa pine is highly appreciated. While sitting there, note that the chartreuse "hair" on the trunks of all the big trees is really wolf lichen (Letharia vulpina).
Visitors to the Methow may be interested in visiting some of the local lakes, to fish or camp. Patterson, Pearrygin, Buck, Blackpine, and Big Twin Lakes are all popular spots. In the mountains are many gems studding the cirques. All are decorated with garlands of willows and sedges, and some have water lilies (Nuphar polysepalum), water buttercup (Ranunculus aquatilis) or the carnivorous/insectivorous bladderwort (Utricularia vulgaris). Look for the hapless bodies of its prey caught in special underwater trapdoors within the leaves. The bladderwort family can have showy flowers when low water comes, and my personal favorite in group (scrophs and close relatives) is the sky blue butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris), which occurs circumboreally in bogs at high elevation, and uses uses viscid flowers to catch flying insects.
Actually, there are cool spots everywhere, but they might not have as great a view. In shady, wet forests, a good place to cool off is next to the coolwort foamflower (Tiarella spp.). Tiarellas keep good company, preferring bog orchids (Platanthera spp.), white shooting stars (Dodecatheon dentatum) and grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia fimbriata) in mossy seeps. This year had a greater-than average number of biting flies in the mountains, so I took along some of my special blend of fly repellant, however sometimes the only way to escape them is to jump into one of those icy streams. Just be prepared for anything.
Rain, rain, go away, mushrooms, mushrooms, mushrooms. There were a lot of mushrooms growing where there were never any before. Morels were popping up in the most unexpected places. By August, we were still waiting for the East Cascades' blast furnace to kick into action.
The main August flower action was occurring at about 5500 to 6000 feet elevation, and by choosing the aspect, one could still find early-season plants of Phlox diffusa and Draba growing fairly close to later season plants like lovage (Ligusticum canbyi and L. grayi) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Western anemone, old man's beard, or mouse-on-a-stick (Anemone occidentalis) is very showy in alpine meadows now, and hikers could find mixes of paintbrushes of all colors, Senecios in gold, orange and yellow, elephant's heads (Pedicularis groenlandica) in pink, bog-orchids (Platanthera spp.) in white and green, pussy-toes (Antennaria spp.) in pinks and greenish shades, and on sandy slopes, the off-white of dirty socks (Eriogonum pyrolifolium). This amazing plant has a flexible root that allows the flowering crown to move around in endless whirling circles above the ground--truly a dizzy plant. Be sure to walk carefully when viewing the elephant's heads and bog-orchids, not just to see them better and to keep from sinking into their boggy habitats, but also to become aware of some of the smaller denizens of wet areas, like butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) and sundews (Drosera spp.), both insectivorous and probably well-fed in this buggy year. The wet areas also support attractive sedges and the rayless alpine butterweed (Senecio indecorus), certainly the most-photographed alpine Senecio, for its infloresences of sunburst-orange buttons.
Drier slopes were lush with the blues of lupines and larkspurs and the whites, pinks and yellows of the mountain-heathers, Phyllodoce and Cassiope, Greek goddesses of the high country. Be sure to notice our alpine green fescue (Festuca viridula), which is green and wiry-leaved with tall, graceful, reddish heads in dry meadows above 6000 feet elevation.
Hart's Pass is a good place to see all of these and much more, but beware of heavy traffic up and down that awful road on weekends. It is possible to see both the purple and the white varieties of paintbrush (both color variants of Castilleja parviflora var. albida). There are a number of high quality wildflower shows on trails accessible along Highway 20 (Rainy Lake, Blue Lake, Easy Pass) and the upper Twisp River (North Lake, Twisp Pass, Copper Pass, South Creek, as well as along all the tributaries between Blackpine Lake and the end of the Twisp River road). Hikers and horseback riders will have plenty to do in the Pasayten and Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness areas. As the month progresses, huckleberry and raspberry patches will be getting ripe; be sure to leave some for the bears!
It is always a sad time when the gentians come out because it means that summer is over and fall is here. One could find Gentiana calycosa blooming in September in all its regal splendor in the high country wet meadows. Other plants that have their last floral fling in September are grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia fimbriata), a little white-flowered saxifrage of wet areas, the bluebells of Scotland (Campanula rotundifolia), and the leafy aster (Aster foliaceus). People often want to know the difference between an aster and a daisy, and this is their answer. If it blooms later, its an aster, earlier, a daisy. Also, asters tend to be blue rather than white, and they have overlapping bracts on the flower heads. The wandering daisy (Erigeron peregrinus) is the most confusing aster-like daisy we have around here. It blooms late for a daisy because it grows at high elevations, but it is still earlier than leafy aster, which it resembles strongly. To make a positive identification, turn over a flower head to see if the green sheathing bracts are leafy, making the plant Aster foliaceus, instead.
Other high country plants were still managing to hold on to what was left of summer, notably monkshood (Aconitum columbianum), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), and lovage (Ligusticum spp.). Actually it is more proper during this time of year to talk about berries, specifically huckleberries of every shape, color and flavor. Some people prefer Vaccinium deliciosum, which from the name is obviously very tasty, and which grows above 5000 feet from Hart's Pass west. Some prefer the tarter thinleaf huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum) that grows at slightly lower elevations, primarily in the upper montane zone. There are the little red dwarf whortleberries or grouse whortleberries (Vaccinium scoparium), and the little blue berries of the diminutive Vaccinium caespitosum, both more valuable for fall color displays than what can be gotten by trying to make a meal.
Ross Lake area is the center of huckleberry distribution in the Cascades, which also has four species of the closely related salal, one species of which tastes like Hawaiian Punch (Gaultheria ovatifolia). Incidentally, the common salal was a major staple of the tribes, who combined them into pemmican, a food made to last for long periods without losing vitality. We northwesterners also have dewberries and salmonberries (related to raspberries), highbush cranberries and blue elderberries (both related to honeysuckle, but not poisonous or inedible like other members in that family, such as red elderberry). The west Cascades has been overrun by Himalayan and cut-leaf blackberries (Rubus discolor and R. laciniatus), but we eastsiders consider it almost a rite to take a trip over the pass and get some each year. Delicious though they may be, they have taken over thousands of acres of native vegetation in the state.
As fall passes, be sure to notice all the grasses in their different colors. Be careful with campfires, which can get out of control quickly in dry grass. Also watch out for yellow jackets and their kin. They get a bad temper after summer from dealing with the depredations of man, bear and bird. And watch out for the drunk bumblebees. Fermenting flower nectar and cold weather often leaves them groggily wandering across the last of the thistle tops.
With winter upon us, it is time to reflect upon the summer and reassess the prospects for next year. The summer of 1995 was a bountiful season and large crops of cones were harvested right up to the last minute by Douglas squirrels. Bright red rose hips still advertise to birds and animals that their dense tangles of bright red canes can provide food, shelter and perches through the winter. As winter snows begin to fall, many of our northwest plants carry on their lives beneath the snow.
Snowpacks keep life hovering at a slow, but tolerable 32 degrees, and
though the winds may be howling above, it is calm below. Many of our northwest
shrubs have leaves that are evergreen or semi-evergreen (tardily deciduous),
which allows them to carry out photosynthesis under the snow. Plants with
evergreen leaves make the most attractive wreaths, so it is good to remember
the summer location of patches of kinnickinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi),
Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium), and mountain lover (Pachystima
myrsinites). During December, one may dig down and find them there,
green and very alive. The kinnickinnick, also called bearberry, has attractive
red berries that contrast with the foliage, but cut sprigs will brown quickly
if allowed to dry out.
A unique plant adaptation that is characteristic in climates with hot summers and snowy winters is the herbaceous perennial. Many of our showiest wildflowers have extensive to downright enormous root systems, and these become enlarged in the spring. For rodents this would mean a continuous food supply, except that the native plants are all good producers of chemical deterrents to herbivory. Thus Mr. and Mrs. Mouse tend to prefer the succulent roots of more short-lived plants such as Senecio, knapweeds and dandelion, not to mention those expensive things you bought at the nursery.
Some of our native plants produce a second crop of blooms in the fall. For instance, some of the composites and groundsmokes (Gayophytum spp.) can put on a second set of blooms in November. The blooms are admittedly tiny, but the evening-primrose-like flowers of Gayophytum diffusum, or the waterfalls of nearly-frozen Mimulus floribundus scattered like stars in the diffuse inflorescences makes them a welcome fall or winter surprise. Richardson's penstemon (Penstemon richardsonii) may flower after the snows, because it sometimes inhabits the cooler recesses of rock crevices, where its stems may emerge onto warm rocks after fall. Another late bloomer of the sagebrush zone is blazing star (Mentzelia laevicaulis), a biennial which sometimes just doesn't quit. Look for in roadcuts on the Omak side of the Loup-Loup Highway. The showy white tassels of traveller's joy (Clematis ligusticifolia), in the buttercup family, and also one of our only vines, are visible all year. Vines are uncommon in the interior west because the buds are unprotected by the snow in the harsh winters.
Although the alders are traditionally thought of as being the earliest flowers in the Okanogan, two wild plants that can bloom on New Year's day are Mimulus floribundus and Phlox caespitosa, and thus these are among our latest, as well as our earliest, flowers. They grow near the Chelan Bridge, where the Highway Department, Bonneville Power, and gravel pit operators are trying hard to make them disappear.
Other areas of botany that can be explored during winter include lichens and mosses. Mural lichens attain their peak colors when melting snows soften them and expand their tissues. Some mosses come out very early, particularly in springs and seeps. Winter buds make attractive shows and offer an interesting, alternative way of studying botany in winter. A number of keys are available. Did you know that a willow only has one bud scale, called a perule?
Winter is a time of remembrances. For the many Methow photographers it is a time to organize their photos and have slide shows and pot-lucks. See you there.