Saturday, July 26, 2014

Pass Lake in Summer

Pass Lake, Deception Pass State Park

Just five minutes from my home, Pass Lake on Fidalgo Island sits next to Highway 20 on the way to Deception Pass.  It's the first major feature in the State Park that southbound travelers will encounter.  The highway drops low and edges right up against the lakeshore.  It feels like driving at the same level as the water surface.  The lake is a popular catch and release fishing hole, but most travelers pass right by it.  In my opinion, they are missing one of the special places to explore in Deception Pass State Park.

Last winter I hiked the Pass Lake Loop Trail for the first time.  I discovered a rain forest along the Ginnett Hill Trail which branches north off the Loop Trail.  I decided to return and see what they look like in the summer.  I arrived early in the morning and found Pass Lake veiled in fog.  The rising sun created an incandescent glow above the water.

Lake Campbell, Pass Lake and Deception Pass

First a little geography:  From the summit of Mount Erie, this is the view southwest towards Pass Lake.  Lake Campbell is the body of water in the foreground.  Pass Lake is just above the center of the photo.  The gap you see between the two lakes has come to be known controversially as "Naked Man Valley" (pdf).  It appears the two lakes may have once been connected.  The hill on the left of the gap is Rodger Hill.  On the right is Ginnett Hill which I will climb.  The Ginnett Trail spur will pass through the wooded section of the valley.  Deception Pass is above and to the left of Pass Lake.  The Strait of Juan de Fuca is in the upper right of the photo.

Western Sword Ferns, Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Altogether, the hike will cover a bit more than 4 miles/6.4 km.  The Pass Lake Loop and Ginnett Hill Trails pass through a mature, closed canopy mixed coniferous forest.  The Western Sword Ferns (Polystichum munitum) were up to my shoulders here.  In mid-July, I found a number of wildflowers blooming with the ferns along the edges of the trails:

Largeleaf Avens

Largeleaf Avens (Geum macrophyllum)  Native perennial


Herb-Robert (Geranium robertianum) Introduced annual or biennial

The nickname "Stinky Bob" is derived from the odor given off when the leaves are crushed.  This is an invasive noxious weed that crowds out native forest floor plants.  It is so aggressive and widespread, removing it has become a lost cause.  It is an example of nature's chemical warfare.  It inhibits the growth of nearby plants by releasing toxins.  This allows it to spread and displace the native flora.

Indian Pipe
Rattlesnake Plantain

Left:  Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora) Native perennial, parasitic

In this photo, the maturing flowers have turned upward.  Compare them to the plants we saw earlier in the month on Kiket Island.

Right:  Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera oblongifolia) Native perennial orchid

Western Skunk Cabbage

Western Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) Native perennial

In the lowest marshy areas of the valley, the Skunk Cabbage was huge, more than waist high.  It is one of the first plants to bloom in early spring.  Big, bright yellow hooded flowers produce an odor that is a magnet for pollinating insects.  This is a useful trait for a plant that likes to grow deep in the woods.

A Red Alder (Alnus rubra) appears to have been taken down by the wind.  This is a common fate for this rapidly growing, short-lived succession species.  The wood will decay and help nourish the forest.

Cooley's Hedge-nettle

Cooley's Hedge-nettle (Stachys cooleyae) Native perennial

It also goes by the name Stachys Chamisonnis var. cooleyae.  Despite the name, it does not sting.

Ginnett Hill Trail Summit

The Ginnett Hill Trail ends at about 400 feet/122 m elevation.  The canopy opens and a mixture of Madrona (Arbutus menziesii) and Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) indicate drier conditions.  A concrete slab is almost all that marks the former homestead of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Hall.  Just below the hilltop, a side trail leads to a meadow and a large fruit orchard.  There is evidence they had electricity, but I have never found a source of water.  The Halls sold the property to the State Park in the 1970's, but continued to live here until they died.  I found another selection of wildflowers growing in this warm, dry and sunny location:

Common Chicory

Common Chicory (Cichorium intybus) Introduced perennial

The taproot of this plant can be dried, ground and used as a caffeine-free coffee substitute.  The insect appears to be a type of hoverfly.

St. John's Wort
Common Chicory

Left:  St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) Introduced perennial

The plant is named for John the Baptist because it blooms on his feast day, June 24th.  This is the source of the herbal remedy purported as a treatment for depression.  Actual studies found it no better than placebo and some unintended effects can be harmful.  Interestingly, the drug class known as SSRI's have also shown little difference between active and placebo effects.  The spreading ground cover grown by gardeners is Hypericum calycinum.

Center:  Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare) Introduced biennial

I am not 100% sure of this ID.  It could be our native Edible Thistle (Cirsium edule).  If someone can tell from the photo, please leave a comment.  I had a huge Bull Thistle in the garden that I left because it had White-crowned Sparrows nesting down in the protection of the spines.

Right:  Another Common Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

The Halls had stunning views from their hilltop home.  Pass Lake, where I began this trek, can be seen in the distance.  I headed back down the trail, then would continue around the Pass Lake Loop counter-clockwise.

In the middle of summer, on a bright sunny morning, the lighting in the Ginnett Hill forest is very different from what I found in the middle of winter.

Three-leaf Foamflower (Tiarella trifoliata) Native perennial

This tiny flower was the most common of all in the shady areas of both trails.  They were so abundant, they looked like low clouds of mist along the trail edges.

One of the surprises along the Pass Lake Loop Trail is this logged clearing.  It is filled with slash piles and logging debris.  According to the map, this piece of land is not owned by the State Park.  A primitive logging road leads into this site off of Rosario Road and becomes part of the Pass Lake Loop.  Secondary succession is underway here with Red Alder trees, Salal, grasses and other plants colonizing the cleared land.  Such a "disturbed site" often becomes a wildflower habitat.

Left and Right:  Common Centaury (Centaurium erythraea) Introduced annual or biennial

Left:  Yellow Glandweed (Parentucellia viscosa) Introduced annual

Right:  Purple Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) Introduced biennial

Purple Foxglove is the original source of the cardiac drug digoxin.  Its use dates to the Romans and it has been prescribed by physicians since the late eighteenth century.  The drug is still a standard treatment for heart failure and abnormal heart rate.  The flowers, leaves and seeds all contain the alkaloids digoxin and digitoxin.  They are poisonous and possibly fatal if eaten.

I had a Foxglove come up at the edge of my shade garden.  It was attractive and I let it stay.  After it bloomed the second season, I had dozens of them coming up everywhere.  When the flowers fade it becomes spent and weedy-looking.  The lesson is to remove the entire plant right after the blooms fade.

Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) Introduced perennial

This widespread flower also comes up in my yard.  Although attractive, it can be a problem in agricultural areas.  If eaten by dairy cattle, the taste of the milk will be affected.  The stringy stems can get tangled in harvesting equipment.

I found it interesting that all of these wildflowers growing in the cleared areas are introduced species.  Clear-cut logging and home sites can provide a foothold for invasive plants if not properly managed.

Arriving back at the Pass Lake parking lot, I found the fog had lifted from the lake.  In the middle of summer, the forest here is very different from what I saw last winter.  This has been another memorable adventure exploring Deception Pass State Park.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Spurge Laurel

Spurge Laurel (Daphne laureola)

Last week, I returned to Ginnett Hill in the Pass Lake area of Deception Pass State Park.  Recall when I visited back in January I discovered a Kingdom of Moss.  That was the middle of winter.  Now I was curious to see what I would find there in the middle of summer.

Back in January I noticed a plant I didn't recognize.  It was attractive, rich green and healthy looking with shiny leaves.  It was an evergreen that really stood out among all the wintering forest vegetation around it.  I looked through my books but couldn't find it.  This trip I was curious to see if I would catch it blooming.  Maybe that would help ID it.

Again, there were no flowers on this visit and I was still not able to identify it.  I didn't have enough to narrow down an internet search either.  I tweeted a photo to Washington State Parks (@WAStatePks) to see if they knew what it was.

Spurge Laurel (Daphne laureola)

The response I got from State Parks was both quick and helpful.  It was also emphatic, on the order of "YIKES!  DON'T TOUCH IT!  Tell us where it is."

They told me it was Spurge Laurel (Daphne laureola) and that it was a Class B noxious weed in Washington.  Apparently it can be quite invasive in natural forests.  It is especially a problem in dry Madrona/Douglas Fir forests which is exactly what this site is.  It is located near the summit of the Ginnett Hill Trail where the canopy opens to allow sunlight to reach the understory.  It spreads both by seedlings and root suckering.  Stands can become large and dense choking out native vegetation.  Once it gets established, it is very difficult to eradicate.

The plant is neither a Spurge (Euphorbias) nor a Laurel, but a member of Thymelaeaceae, the Mezereum family.  You can say Thimmel-ee Acey-eye.  It is native to Europe, western Asia and north Africa.  The berries, stems, bark and leaves are toxic to humans and pets.  Apparently, birds and rodents can eat the berries and this is how seeds are spread.  The sap can cause contact dermatitis and blistering on the skin.  Eating plant parts can produce swelling of the tongue, nausea, vomiting, internal bleeding, organ failure and possibly coma.  Gloves should always be worn when handling plant parts.

Andrew Fielding, Resource Manager,
Washington State Parks

This morning, I returned to the site with Andrew Fielding, Resource Manager for Washington State Parks.  His mission was to remove the plants if possible and to survey the extent of the infestation.  As we looked around, we found several patches.  It will be necessary for him to come back and bring additional tools to get this stand completely eliminated.

Spurge Laurel should always be removed from private property before it becomes established.  The King County website has instructions for accomplishing this.  If you find it growing on public lands, the location should be reported to the government agency responsible.  This would included county weed control boards, state, city and federal parks, and so forth.

Last week I took several photos of the wildflowers I found growing along the Ginnett and Pass Lake Loop trails.  I will be posting those shortly.  I assumed this Spurge Laurel would be just another one among them.  I could not imagined the turn this story would take.  You never know what interesting things you will discover when hiking in the woods.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Skywatch Friday:  The Neighborhood

South Fidalgo Island from Mount Erie

This is a view of my South Fidalgo Island neighborhood from the summit of Mount Erie looking southeast.  I come up here every once in a while to take this same picture.  I keep hoping to find a moment when the air is free of haze.  This one from June is one of the best.  When it is very clear, it is possible to see Mount Rainier from here more than 100 miles/161 km away.  But not this day.

The closer body of water is Lake Campbell.  Beyond is Skagit Bay, the northern-most reach of Puget Sound.  The bay is bounded on the left by Fidalgo Island and on the right is Whidbey Island.  The small islands in the bay, left-to-right, front-to-back are Kiket, Skagit, Hope and Goat Islands.  Does anyone know if the little island in Lake Campbell has a name?

Visit Skywatch Friday

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Native Plant Gardening:  Yarrow

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

I had a perennial bed next to the driveway that never did well.  It tended to look weedy to me.  If it got rained on, the taller plants would droop over.  The spectacular color display I expected and the butterflies never materialized.  I think the soil, weather, location and whatever were just not right for this type of garden.

In February, 2013 I ripped out the perennials and replaced them with native plants and shrubs.  Since then, I have been gradually adding new plants to the bed whenever I have been able to find them.  This included a clump of Yarrow (Achillea millefolium).  This wonderful native flower has turned out better than any of the non-native perennials that I had there before.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Yarrow grows wild all over the area.  All it seems to need is bad soil and well drained to dry conditions.  I have a lot of both.  Most of the wild flowers I see are white, but along my road and nearby Highway 20, I see plants with pink flowers.  Apparently, they also come in red.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) with Oregon Grape

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

The three photos above were taken at the Kukutali Preserve, along the causeway to Kiket Island and on the tombolo between Kiket and Flagstaff Islands.  Here they grow fairly tall, 24-30 inches (60-76 cm).  On the other hand, at the summit of Goose Rock in Deception Pass State Park, they barely reach 6 inches (15 cm)  in height.  The top photo in the pair above also shows a fine crop of Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium).

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Back in my garden, I have planted cultivars of the native Yarrow.  Looking closely at the blossoms reveals they are made of many tiny flowers clustered in tight groups.  They are sweet smelling and attractive to beneficial hover flies, lady bugs, bees and butterflies.  The flower also attracts wasps that feed on garden pests, including moth and beetle larvae.  I have read that growing Achillea improves soil quality and the health of other plants growing nearby.  Crush a leaf and enjoy a spicy aroma with a hint of menthol. To me it is a bit like oregano or maybe nutmeg.  Is there any downside to this beautiful flower?

I just bought three more plants to start another clump in this bed.  Leave the seed heads through the winter to get new seedlings coming up next spring.

Yarrow has a long history of medicinal value by both Europeans and Native Americans.  The name Achillea is derived from the Trojan War hero Achilles.  It is said he carried the plant with his army for its styptic and healing properties to treat battle wounds.  Millefolium means "a thousand leaves" referring to the feather-like leaf structure.

Salal (Gaultheria shallon)
Salal (Gaultheria shallon)

I'd like to mention another plant in this new bed that is surprising me.  Salal (Gaultheria shallon)  is already beginning to spread and produce berries in its second season.  In early spring when food can be scarce, the flowers were alive with bumblebees.  The shrub is attractive to birds and beneficial insects and is one of the best for providing cover for wildlife.

Once again, I have been able to use native plants to solve problems in my garden.  With native plants, I don't have to water as much and I may never need to fertilize.  They are also naturally resistant to local pests and diseases.  If you are having garden problems like mine, take a look around you and notice what likes to grow naturally.  Visit local nature preserves and see what catches your eye.  Then check the native plant section of your nursery or look for native plant society sales.  Your garden could become something very special and a model for the neighborhood.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Ghost Plant Trail

Ghost Plant (Monotropa uniflora)

One of my discoveries in the newly opened Kukutali Preserve is the Ghost Plant (Monotropa uniflora).  I had never seen this plant growing in the wild.  It also goes by the name Indian Pipe and Corpse Flower, but I like Ghost Plant the best.  It is appropriate for a pallid, colorless plant with a translucent quality.

The new North Trail on Kiket Island rises into a closed canopy coniferous forest.  The center section of the trail levels off and this is where I see Ghost Plants growing in profusion.  It seemed appropriate to give the North Trail a nickname, the "Ghost Plant Trail."

The Ghost Plant Forest

A closed canopy of Douglas and Grand Fir lets in just a bit if dappled sunlight here and there.  The forest floor is covered with mosses, Western Sword Ferns, Salal, Snowberry and a myriad of small plants.

Ghost Plant (Monotropa uniflora)

The Ghost Plant is parasitic meaning it derives benefit at the expense of another organism.  It contains no chlorophyll and thus cannot produce its own energy from sunlight.  Instead, it parasitizes certain mycorrhyzal fungi that are associated with the roots of nearby trees.

Carbohydrates produced by photosynthesis in the tree are passed through its roots to the fungus.  In exchange, the fungus provides water and minerals to the tree.  The association also imparts disease protection to the tree.  Nutrients produced by one tree can be shared with other trees and plants through the fungal network.  By this mechanism, the big "mother trees" help to nurture the smaller, weaker trees and other plants in the forest.

The Ghost Plant takes nutrients from the fungus without giving anything back.  It thus derives its energy from photosynthetic trees by stealing it from the fungi.  It can grow in complete shade as it doesn't need any sunlight at all.

Ghost Plant (Monotropa uniflora)
Ghost Plant (Monotropa uniflora)

I spotted this patch growing at the base of a Grand Fir.  The photo on the left was taken last Monday.  The one on the right was shot today.

Ghost Plant (Monotropa uniflora)

This is a closer view of the same patch in the photos above taken today.  Notice something new going on.  There are two Banana Slugs (Ariolimax columbianus) that appear to be making a meal of the Ghost Plants.

Ghost Plant (Monotropa uniflora)
Ghost Plant (Monotropa uniflora)

I am a bit confused by the Ghost Plant's scientific classification.  According to Wikipedia, it was formerly classified in the family Monotropaceae but now is included in the Heath family, Ericaceae.  This would make it a cousin of Rhododendrons, Madronas, Salal and Kinnikinnick.  On the other hand, the USDA says exactly the opposite, formerly Ericaceae, but now Monotropaceae, the Indian Pipe family.

The latter makes more sense to me.  This odd little plant doesn't seem to fit in with the Heath family shrubs, but I am not an expert.  Searching other websites didn't clear it up either.  This is where I need an expert taxonomist to chime in.

UPDATE:  I contacted Ivan @WildPNW in Portland for an answer.  He indicated that the Oregon Flora Project classifies it in the family Ericaceae.  This is a terrific site I will add to my sidebar.  You can visit Ivan's websites at Wild Pacific Northwest and Volcanolands.  The UW Herbarium also classifies it in the Ericaceae family, so I will consider that definitive.

Skagit Bay and Deception Pass

Where the Ghost Plant Trail skirts near the edge of the island, the Deception Pass Bridge can be seen.  Boaters were out in force today on Skagit Bay celebrating the Independence Day holiday.

The pendant flowers of the Ghost Plant will develop into a fruit capsule that points upward.  I plan to return to see what those look like.  If I get decent photos, I will try and post an update.