Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Miracle Madrona

Miracle Madrona

Living in the weather can be interesting.  Late last August, we were hit by a freak windstorm.  A sudden gust of wind from the west snapped off a couple of the neighbors' tall Douglas Firs.

August 2015 Windstorm

Those firs landed in my driveway and upper garden.  They snapped off one of the Madronas that line the driveway (near the center of the photo with red trunk).  Pacific Madronas (Arbutus menziesii) are nifty trees that don't grow just anywhere.  They are nearly impossible to transplant.  I felt bad to lose one of the big ones.  I was left with a four foot high stump without any foliage.  I had the tree service cut it off at the ground level when they cleaned up the firs.

The other day when I went up for the mail, something at the edge of the driveway caught my eye (first photo).  That cut off Madrona is growing new shoots from the margin of the cut end.  For a fussy tree that is difficult to grow, this is indeed a miracle.  Apparently, if they like the spot, neither tempests nor chainsaws can stop them.

This might provide a lesson for how to grow them.  When the house was constructed, the driveway was built up with pit run stones topped with road fill and crushed rock.  The pit run ranged from large gravel shards to bread loaf size.  This is the medium in which the Madronas chose to grow.  Now that I think about it, this would be much like the pure stone where they grow on Goose Rock in Deception Pass State Park.

For now, I will leave the new shoots alone and see how they come along.  Eventually, I will leave only two or three of the strongest.  The tagline of this blog is "Living in the weather..."  This story provides a good example of what that means.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Blushing Dunes

Sea Blush at Deception Pass State Park

If drifts of wild rhododendrons aren't enough, then consider the West Beach sand dunes at Deception Pass State Park.  Every spring, they become washed in magenta because of a little annual flower called Sea Blush (Plectritis congesta).

Sand Dune Interpretive Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Although West Beach sits about a hundred miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, the conditions here are ocean-like.  Winds off the Strait of Juan de Fuca built the sand dunes cutting off what is now Cranberry Lake.  The lake was once an inlet off the Strait.  A unique and beautiful ecosystem was created.  Visitors can explore the dunes over an easy 1.2 mile (2 km) interpretive trail.  Along the way are signs describing the features of the dunes.

Sea Blush (Plectritis congesta)

Every spring at about this time, sections of the dunes take on the look of bright oriental carpets.  This event would seem to be an illustration of the word "incongruous."

Sea Blush (Plectritis congesta)

This crouching little plant, here barely 3 inches/8 cm tall to avoid the winds, is the cause of the spectacle.  Part of the miracle is that it sprouts from seed every year in this windy, hostile place.

Sea Blush (Plectritis congesta)
Sea Blush (Plectritis congesta)

Where struggle and tenacity is required for survival, Sea Blush gives us a couple weeks of gentle diversion.

Sea Blush (Plectritis congesta)

But for the plants that hold these sands in place, the dunes would easily blow away.  This annual, springtime display is just one of our rewards for protecting this place for all to enjoy.

False Lily-of-the-Valley

Click or right-click the photos to view them full size.  Elsewhere along the Sand Dune Trail, False Lily-of-the-Valley (Maianthemum dilatatum) is just starting to bloom in the shady dune forest (left).  Viewed from the Cranberry Lake wetland observation deck, the aquatic Buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) is also blooming now (right).

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Goose Rock Botanical Tour

Goose Rock Trailhead at North Beach

There are more than trees in an old growth forest.  Much more.  The diversity of plant life is uncountable.  Let's take a hike around Goose Rock in Deception Pass State Park and see if there are any interesting native plants.  My favorite place to start is the trailhead at the North Beach parking lot.  My route will be the Discovery, Southwest Summit, Lower Forest, Goose Rock Perimeter, and Southeast Summit Trails.  I'll return via the Southwest Summit and Discovery Trails.  This is a route I have dubbed the "Rhododendron Trail."  There will be more about that in future posts.  Click or right-click the photos here to view them full size.

Red Elderberry
Stinging Nettle

Step Moss
Western Sword Fern

Clockwise from upper left:  Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa), Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica),  Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum),  Step Moss (Hylocomium splendens).

Western Starflower
Bracket Fungi

Pacific Rhododendron
Red-flowering Currant

Clockwise from upper left:  Western Starflower (Trientalis latifolia), Bracket Fungus (Formitopsis pinicola ??), Red-flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum), Pacific Rhododendron (R. macrophyllum).

Coralroot Orchid
Saskatoon a.k.a. Serviceberry

Left to right:  Spotted Coralroot Orchid (Corallorhiza maculata), Western Serviceberry, Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia).

Pacific Madrona
Queen's Cup Lily

Goose Rock Terrain
Miner's Lettuce

Clockwise from upper left:  Pacific Madrona (Arbutus menziesii), Queen's Cup Lily (Clintonia uniflora), Miner's Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), Moss growing on stone provides a footing for grasses and other plants.

Death Camas
Death Camas

Left and right:  Death Camas (Toxicoscordion venenosum, Zigadenus venenosus).  Don't eat the bulbs.

Spring Gold
Harsh Paintbrush

Left to right:  Spring Gold (Lomatium utriculatum). Harsh Paintbrush (Castilleja hispida).

Left and right:  Naked Broomrape (Orobanche uniflora).  Interesting little parasitic plant, terrible name.

Common Camas
Chocolate Lily

Left to right:  Common Camas (Camassia quamash), Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria affinis, Fritillaria lanceolata).

Field Chickweed
Kinnikinnick (Dying?)

Left to right:  Field Chickweed (Cerastium arvense), Kinnikinnick, Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) appears to be dying at the summit of Goose Rock.  Its cousin the Madrona will do also this, but usually recovers with new leaf growth.  I'll be curious to see if this Kinnikinnick will recover.  The emerald carpet it created was very beautiful.

Stinging Nettle

Left to right:  Fringecup (Tellima grandiflora), Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica).


Foamflower (Tiarella trifoliata).  By June, the stalks of tiny flowers will be so dense, it will look like bands of mist drifting along trail edges.

That's a sample of early April in the forests of the Rhododendron Trail.  I will be visiting the Goose Rock Rhododendron grove several times during late April and early May to photograph the blooming.  If you would like to join me, send me an email.  We usually meet around 08:30 a.m. in the North Beach parking lot in Deception Pass State Park.  Weekdays are preferred, since the park is usually crowded on weekends.  The entire loop is about 2.25 miles (3.6 km) of mostly easy hiking.  The summit trails are moderately steep with switchbacks, but they're not extremely difficult.  We always set a leisurely pace suitable for exploring and study.  Allow 2-3 hours.

I use the Washington Wildflowers app extensively for identification and nomenclature.  There are also versions for several other western states.  If you enjoy identifying our native plants, I highly recommend this indispensable tool.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Madrona Year

Pacific Madrona

Yesterday, I hiked the "Rhododendron Trail" at Deception Pass State Park to see how things were shaping up.  The rhodies are far from close to blooming yet, but my favorite tree is more spectacular than usual this year.  Everywhere I looked, the Pacific Madronas (Arbutus menziesii), a rhododendron cousin, were blooming more profusely than I have ever witnessed.  Above, from the Goose Rock Summit Trail, I was stunned by the display of this old giant Madrona below me.

Pacific Madrona
Pacific Madrona

The trees I saw coming up the trail were not flukes.  Those at the summit also blew me away.  Just driving to the park on Highway 20 I saw dozens more blooming along the road.  Even this was an amazing sight.

Pacific Madrona

At the summit, this Madrona next to the trail was more rambling and shrub-like.  Madronas have adapted to harsh conditions produced by drought, wind and poor soil.  They will grow where other trees cannot.  The Goose Rock summit is pure stone, but this tree thrives here.

Goose Rock appears to be a volcanic pluton, a mass of underground magma that was thrust up and exposed by glacial action.  Visitors will notice the striations in the smooth stone revealing the paths of ancient ice sheets.  Mere inches of soil has accumulated, yet the Madronas find enough to support them.

Pacific Madrona
Rhododendron 'Lem's Cameo'

Back home, even the Madronas in my yard are blooming (left).  Whatever conditions allowed this spectacular bloom may be affecting the rhododendrons as well.  My 'Lem's Cameo' (right) is poised for an extra special bloom this year.  My perpetually stubborn bloomer 'Hotei' even has swelling buds.  I am more eager than usual to see how the wild rhodies at Deception Pass will fare this year.