April hikes in the North Cascades have to be at lower elevations unless you want to break out your snowshoes or skis. On a rainy Sunday it made sense for my friend Brian and me to choose the East Bank Baker Lake Trail and head to Noisy Creek. Neither of us had hiked this section of trail before.
At only 800 feet elevation, spring was in full swing along the trail. We inhaled deeply as we entered the woods, sucking in the sweet scent of moist humus and conifers. Much of the forest is old growth, the usual mix of Douglas-fir, western hemlock, and western redcedar, the understory a tangle of mossy logs and thickets of vine maples, salmonberries, and huckleberries. Without a trail it would be tough bushwhacking. Continue reading →
I’m sure you’ve seen the bumper sticker, “I Brake For Flowers.” Well, I don’t just brake for them — when conditions are right I’ll drive thousands of miles for wildflowers. That’s just what I did in mid-March when I confirmed that the predicted “superbloom” at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in southern California was actually happening.
A little back story: most of the wildflowers in the desert are annuals. Their seeds remain dormant until conditions are just right. When there’s enough rain at the right time during the winter and temperatures warm up not too fast then the desert can burst into spectacular masses of flowers. Most years only a few flowers bloom, but in 2017 conditions were just right for a massive bloom, which lasts for only a couple of weeks at peak. I couldn’t stay home. Continue reading →
Visit the high country of the North Cascades and other mountainous regions of the west during the summer and you’re likely to come across masses of pink mountain-heather, Phyllodoce empetriformis. It’s one of our very common low-growing woody plants, lighting up the hillsides for a short period of time with nodding bell-shaped brilliant pink blossoms. Some people call it pink mountain-heath. Continue reading →
Every now and then when I’m hiking in the mountains I run across a really cool plant. Over Memorial Day weekend I was out with a group of friends on the trail to Lookout Mountain and Monogram Lake, off the Cascade River Road east of Marblemount in the North Cascades. We came across more candystick (aka sugarstick), Allotropa virgata, than I’ve seen in one place in the 25 years I’ve been hiking in the northwest. Continue reading →
With the arrival of spring later this month come all sorts of early-blooming wildflowers. Candyflower is tasty as well as pretty. It’s also known as Siberian springbeauty and its scientific name is Claytonia sibirica. You’ll find it growing throughout the Pacific Northwest, except for the driest counties east of the Cascades. Look for it in damp deciduous woods or at the edge of conifer forests. It likes a little shade, but not too much.
Candyflower is closely related to miner’s lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata, which can also be found throughout most of the northwest. Both of these species are delicious spring greens. I like them raw, straight from the plant, and they’re a tasty addition to an early spring salad. Miner’s lettuce got its name because it was one of the few fresh spring greens in miner’s diets during the gold rush era. Continue reading →
In mid-summer you’d be forgiven for walking right past a wavyweaf silktassel (Garrya elliptica), thinking it’s just another large broadleaf evergreen shrub. In the middle of winter, when practically nothing else is blooming, you’d have trouble missing this west coast native with its long tassels of flowers waving gently in the breeze. Continue reading →
When you think “Christmas tree” you’re probably conjuring up a conifer. They’re those trees with (generally) evergreen needle-like leaves that bear their seeds in woody cones. Those cones are where the name conifer comes from.
Here in the Pacific Northwest conifers are the backdrop for most of our landscape, whether in the wild or the garden. In fact, if you throw a rock anywhere on the west side of the Cascades and hit a tree you’ve probably found a Douglas-fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii. It’s our most common conifer and is native from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. There are three varieties, but we’ll not bother with that detail today. Continue reading →
As I sit at my office computer I can look out the door to the large and majestic Pacific willow (Salix lasiandra var. lasiandra) in our backyard. It’s one of 38 species of willows found in Washington state and one of the easier ones to identify (willows in general are notoriously difficult to key out).
Our Pacific willow is one of the last trees on our property to lose its leaves in autumn. Today it’s still covered, although there are lots of fallen leaves on the ground, too. Continue reading →
Now that our autumn rain has arrived, the forest floor in our woodland has sprung back to life. It’s almost like a second spring even though the trees are beginning to shed their leaves. Underfoot, piggyback plant (Tolmiea menziesii) has greened back up and is busy producing little plantlets atop nearly every leaf. Continue reading →
Every year we northwest lowlanders make pilgrimages to the mountains to savor Vaccinium deliciosum, Cascade blueberries (aka blueleaf huckleberry, Cascade bilberry, or Rainier blueberry). This low-growing and widespread blueberry lives up to its Latin name, for the fruit is truly delicious. When you find a patch loaded with fruit you can feast for a long time on sweet tastiness.
In this low-snow, warm-summer year the blueberries have ripened earlier than usual. Last weekend Natalie and I hiked out to Low Pass and High Pass, above Twin Lakes and just south of Mount Larrabee. In many places the trail is cut into a steep slope and we could graze on blueberries at waist level without even having to bend over. It can’t get much better than that! Continue reading →