First Camas

Grass WidowsWe’ll get to the Camas in a bit, but that was a surprise find, not what I went looking for today.

Last weekend when I was down to the Columbia Gorge searching for Garrya I spent a few minutes at Catherine Creek to check out the earliest flowers, including Grass Widows, Olsynium douglasii. Today Natalie and I headed down to Pass Island at Deception Pass State Park in search of the same flower. Pass Island is one of the earliest spots in our region where the flowers start blooming. It has thin, rocky soil similar to what you find at Catherine Creek and the open slopes face south and west where they can bake in the afternoon sun.

Based on the number of Grass Widows in bloom today I’d say our season is nearly a month advanced from last year. Of course, last year was a cold winter and everything was late. This has been a warm winter. I guess it all works out in the averages over a century.

In any case there were lots of Grass Widows in bloom. They aren’t really visible from the bridge but as soon as we stepped out from under it on the island the bright magenta flowers came into sight at the expected spots.

Common CamasWe continued walking along the path toward the east end of the island, checking out whatever we could find in bloom. There were many bright splotches of yellow Spring Gold, Lomatium utriculatum with its broad umbels nestled among finely divided bright green foliage. There were tall stalks of Western Saxifrage, Saxifraga occidentalis, foliage of Western Buttercups, a single blossom of Beach Strawberry, swelling buds on the Madronas, and new leaves emerging everywhere. Broadleaf Stonecrop, Sedum spathulifolium, rosettes of foliage carpeted many rock faces and masses of Licorice Fern waved gently in the warm breeze.

But the real find was this precocious single stem of Common Camas, Camassia quamash, growing at the side of the trail in a protected spot at the edge of the woods. We hardly saw any other Camas with buds; most of the foliage was still pretty short. I can’t recall ever seeing Camas in bloom this early. Usually it comes out after the Grass Widows are finished. This specimen wasn’t in the most photogenic location as it was coming up through the dormant stems of a shrub I didn’t bother to identify. I cleaned out the dry grass stems, but the shrub had to stay. But it’s the first of the season!

Red-flowering CurrantWhen you visit the same place over a period of years you get familiar with where to look for certain plants. This Red-flowering Currant on the cliff just above high tide has been there for years and is always one of the first to bloom. There’s no way to get close to it and enjoy the fragrance of the blossoms, but I’m sure the bees and possibly the hummingbirds find it just fine. I made this image with my 70-200mm lens zoomed most of the way in. The sun was playing in and out of the clouds and I shot it both ways. This is the sunny version, which I like a bit better because it brings out the color of the blossoms better.

The rest of today’s photos were made with my 100mm macro lens. I used a collapsible diffuser when the sun was out and the natural clouds when it wasn’t. As usual my camera was on the tripod for everything.

Natalie pointed out foliage along the trail that I think may be the first leaves of Chocolate Lilies, Fritillaria affinis. They certainly grow in the area, but I haven’t seen them blooming on Pass Island so I’ll have to check back later in the season and see what the foliage turns out to be.

Small-flowered Prairie Star

The other flower we saw in several locations on Pass Island was Small-flowered Prairie Star, Lithophragma parviflorum. The name is a bit of a misnomer because the flowers are actually bigger than those of the other common species in the northwest, Bulbiferous Woodland Star.

After we’d seen all we could find in bloom on the island we headed to West Beach and walked along the dunes trail. Not much was blooming there except the Spring Whitlow Grass, Draba verna and an occasional blossom on Beach Knotweed, Polygonum paronychia. It will be several weeks before there’s much blooming in that part of the park.

I’ll be leading a field trip to Pass Island for the Koma Kulshan chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society on Saturday, March 20. I’ve already had some people sign up, so let me know if you’d like to come along and enjoy these flowers and more in person.

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3 thoughts on “First Camas

  1. Reba Olsen on said:

    Thanks, Mark. It’s hard to believe they are blooming so early, and so far north. Beautiful.

  2. Ilze Choi on said:

    Thank you for the exhilirating photography. It is next to being there.
    Hope there will be some by June when we get back to Oregon.

    Ilze Choi,
    New Orleans

  3. Pingback: Deception Pass « Notes of an Amateur Botanist (and his Dog)