Saturday, May 7, 2016
This will be my fourth spring visiting and photographing the wild Pacific Rhododendrons in Deception Pass State Park. For National Wildflower Week, please enjoy this gallery of pictures from the 2016 season. Click or right-click the photos to view them full size.
The Pacific or Coast Rhododendron (R. macrophyllum) is the Washington state flower. It grows in isolated pockets on the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains, on the Olympic Peninsula, and of course, at Deception Pass. Its total range includes southwestern British Columbia and Vancouver Island, south through western Washington and Oregon into northwest coastal California. At Deception Pass, you can find them along the Lower Forest and Southeast Summit Trails on Goose Rock.
These are understory shrubs that grow in mature coniferous forests. This habitat can create special lighting and composition challenges for photography. You can expect deep shade, bright sun, or worse yet, the high contrast of both. Nature doesn't always give you a clear shot either. There's frequently other stuff, like trees, growing there and getting in the way.
Above, I had assumed all the Deception Pass rhododendrons were on the south slope of Goose Rock. This year, I was surprised to discover this pair of shrubs blooming on the Discovery Trail near the Highway 20 underpass tunnel. This could mean I have yet to find even more in other sections of the park.
From my observations, Bumble Bees appear to be the primary pollinators. This is also the case for the cultured rhodies growing in my garden. I attempted once to grow a Pacific Rhodie in the yard. It was no match for the root weevils that made quick work of it. This was nature telling me they belong in their native environment where their natural defenses can be deployed.
I have been a rhododendron gardener for more than forty years. Visiting these wild, native plants has become a yearly tradition, almost a pilgrimage. I still find every visit a thrilling, even startling experience. These are large, beautiful shrubs covered with bright pink and magenta blossoms. They are completely out of character in the dim light and dark palette of the forest. Such a spectacle simply doesn't belong there. Yet there they are in all their glory giving us a few weeks of magnificent beauty.