Elmer’s Ragwort

Yesterday morning I took a break from captioning and stepped out in our side yard.  Mt. Baker was visible and the clouds looked like they might stay away, or form nice photogenic framing for the mountains. So I bagged office work, packed a lunch, and headed up the road to Artist Point and the trail to Ptarmigan Ridge.

By the time I got there, the clouds were covering the summit of both Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker, but I still thought there were some good possibilities for later in the afternoon.  It was about 1 pm when I hit the trail out around Table Mountain. I ran into a couple of friends along the trail, both of whom were on their way back from shorter hikes than I planned. Marie pointed out the wonderful fragrance of the masses of Nelson’s Brook Saxifrage along the numerous snowmelt streams crossing the Ptarmigan Ridge trail. This was one of four or five species of saxifrage along the trail.

Senecio elmeriThe farther out the trail I went the cloudier it got, so mountain vistas were out of the question. I crossed a few short snow patches without taking my ice axe off my pack. Then rounding a corner in the rather barren rocky and gravelly alpine habitat I spied several clumps of bright golden flowers at my feet. I could tell at a glance that they were Senecio, but I didn’t recognize the species.  I pulled out my plant list for the trail and the one book I carried, Mountain Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Ron Taylor and George Douglas, and turned to the ragworts. There was my plant, Senecio elmeri, which was new to me.

Elmer’s Ragwort isn’t rare, but it only occurs in a few counties of northwest Washington and in parts of British Columbia. Ragworts certainly aren’t my favorite flowers, but this one was rather nice. It was growing on very gravelly soil (is there really any soil under all that gravel) and as is typical for plants in that habitat the clumps were well spaced. According to University of Washington Herbarium records it’s been collected several places within a few miles of where I found it blooming.

I continued hiking out the trail until my self-imposed turnaround time of 4:30.  I didn’t make it to the end, where the trail meets one of the glaciers coming off Mt. Baker.  I didn’t have time to hike down to an unnamed lake that looked interesting, either. Such is the hazard of getting a late start. I made it back to my truck by about 7 pm, with a good 45 minutes to spare before darkness. Even though I didn’t get the shots I wanted it was a good day.

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