Pacific Rhododendrons...and Friends
On Friday April 25, I returned to the Pacific Rhododendron grove in Deception Pass State Park. I wanted to check on the progress of the blooms. A bit more color was showing, but the flowers were not yet fully opened.
I began visiting these beautiful native shrubs last year. This is probably going to become an annual tradition. I have grown and enjoyed Rhododendrons in the garden for many years. Visiting this grove is like a pilgrimage for me.
The Pacific Rhododendron (R. macrophyllum) is the Washington State flower. Deception Pass State Park is one of the few places where they can be found growing wild. They grow in the shady understory of a mature coniferous forest on the southern flank of Goose Rock. The usual bloom time is late April into early May.
One blossom has been a bit more eager than the others and is almost fully opened. The brown seed heads visible in the photos are the remnants of previous years' blooms. Above the flower and to the left are two more buds that will be opening soon.
I was very pleased to be joined by three new friends on this "rhodie trip." After checking out the Rhododendrons, we decided to continue on up to the summit of Goose Rock. In the spring, this is a wildflower mecca and we wanted to see what was blooming up there. From the trail, we caught this view of Cornet Bay below. Starting at sea level, the climb takes us 484 feet/148 meters to the top.
The Rhododendrons also had some friends on Goose Rock today. Meadows of wildflowers ring the summit, especially on the south side. The first one we spotted was Harsh Paintbrush (Castilleja hispida). The further up we went, the more we found.
Shady spots next to the trail were carpeted with Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria vesca) also starting to bloom.
We were surprised to spot these tiny Morel Mushrooms growing from a mossy stone. At least that's what we thought they were. They were only about the size of my little finger.
One of the most abundant wildflowers around the summit was Spring Gold (Lomatium utriculatum) from the parsley family. It also goes by the names Fine-leaved Desert Parsley and Foothill Lomatium.
Spring Gold is growing with Harsh Paintbrush. On the left side of the photo are several kinds of Club Lichens including False Pixie Cup (Cladonia chlorophaea). I could use some help identifying the rest. Right-click the photo to view it full size.
Broad-leaved Stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium) is just beginning to bloom. You can find this little succulent growing all around Deception Pass on vertical stone walls. It seems to thrive in the driest spots. The plant is sold in nurseries as Sedum 'Cape Blanco.' I have tried to grow it in the garden, but it doesn't readily take to soil. I am now trying to get it started in the stone wall next to the driveway.
Another regional native which is also found in nurseries is Red-flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum). This is a great shrub for dry spots and it will grow in sun or shade. It's one of the indigenous shrubs in my yard where it will come up wild. I let them grow wherever this happens.
The blue flowers are Common Camas (Camassia quamash) from the Lily family. According to Pojar and MacKinnon, it is one of the wildflowers in our region restricted to rainshadow climates. The white flower growing with it is Death Camas (Toxicoscordion venenosum, Zigadenus venenosus). As the name implies, the bulbs are poisonous. Members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition became ill eating the Death Camas bulb. Common Camas bulbs, on the other hand, were relished by local indigenous peoples.
Five or more Common Camas flowers will grow on a single stem. They like to grow in grassy meadows and forest edges and seem to thrive in our low rainfall and marginal soils. Another place where they grow is on dry, windblown Flagstaff Island in the Kukutali Preserve. Flagstaff is literally a large stone in the middle of Skagit Bay.
Here growing with Buttercup and Common Camas, the Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria affinis, F. lanceolata) is one of the special attractions of the Goose Rock summit. I have read that wildflower fanciers are often brought here specifically to view this plant. Pojar and MacKinnon specify that they are rare in many places and should be left undisturbed.
This little purple flower is another local oddity with a bizarre name. Naked or One-flowered Broomrape (Orobanche uniflora) is a parasitic plant without leaves or chlorophyll. It attaches to the roots of a host from which it draws its nutrition. Those gray-green plants are probably serving the purpose. I used my Washington Wildflower app from The Burke Museum to identify this unusual plant. I used the "Search by Characteristics" function and it came up on the first try. It is available to download at Apple iTunes, Google Play and Amazon.
We have had a lot of rain over the last few days. It seems to rain at night, then the sun comes out in the daytime. This probably accounts for the beautiful wildflower display we found on Goose Rock. Some puddles had formed on the summit. This pair of Spotted Towhees (Pipilo maculatus) took the opportunity for a good bath. We could tell they were really enjoying it. This pair has probably found a good spot to nest up here where there is not much competition.
Three new friends joined me on this hike, Jerry, Julie and Jill. Jill publishes the Pacific Northwest Seasons blog, one of the best in the region. It was a special treat for me to meet them and share this experience. Good company, a wonderful state park and perfect weather made for a very pleasant morning.
My next visit to the Rhododendrons will be Tuesday, April 29, 2014. Again, if anyone wants to join me, we will meet at 08:30 AM in the North Beach parking lot in Deception Pass State Park. Use the main park entrance on Whidbey Island and follow the signs to North Beach. Bring your Discover Pass or pick up a day pass from the ranger at the gate. We will check on the Rhodie blooms, explore a little forest ecology and say hello to the Banana Slugs. Plan on about two hours.