Friday, September 26, 2008

Fields of Flowers, Mt Baker

Still catching up on the trip I took to Vancouver with a memorable detour to Washington.

To the right is...Table Mountain. Washington! Quite different from the one I know. But also rich with plants and fresh water. We started our day up high and then worked our way lower.

Lots of late lupins, maybe L. lepidus, scattered about, growing in low mounds over the rock, at this higher elevation.

I nearly missed this, right near the path in the shadow of a boulder, and squawked when I saw it. At first glance it resembled the rare Mimetes, from the Cape Mountains [the photo in the link is from Farm 215, a very interesting guest house near Stanford in the Western Cape, a couple of hours SE of Cape Town, where conservation and eco-friendly design are merged in a very happy and unusually sophisticated way].

It is Indian paintbrush, Castilleja [probably] miniata.

Apparently the flowers themselves are sweet and edible (luckily for Vince I didn't know that at the time), but the leaves and green parts are very poisonous due to a high selenium content.

Pink mountain heather, also hugging the rocks higher up: Phyllodoce empetriformis.

Above: Funny. This is what makes me so happy to be where plants belong. You see where they come from, and what their origins say about how they grow and what they need. Spiraea! So used and abused in "landscapes". The word makes me think of red mulch. I do like to use it as a tough hedge, sometimes, and I never knew that there was one native to these mountains.

Spiraea splendens var. splendens. Of some 70 species worldwide it is one of only 10 native to North America, and of a handful native to the Pacific Northwest. Here it is in the middle of its range, which stretches from British Columbia south to the Sierra Nevada and east through Montana, Idaho and Oregon.*

Above: fireweed - Chamerion angustifolium. Tall, stunning flower, with many still in bud, often right beside the road, as we drove down the hairpin bends to Glacier, later. Apparently quite easy to grow from seed. *

We made our way, mit picnic, down to a snowfed lake in an area called Heather Meadows. We followed what was barely a path, eschewing an obvious one on the other side of the water. It was hard not to walk on flowers. In some places the path disappeared into a stream, or became a stream's course.

Below, this was the first and almost the last flower I saw, both higher up, growing in the scree, and down here, wetter but still rocky. It was not in the books I have, but the Plant Forum at the University of British Columbia (UBC) was very helpful. Luetkia pectinata - Partridge Foot.

It is only about 6" tall...

Ranunculus occidentalis (I think) - or western buttercup. Very buttercup-y.

An orchid, I thought. But no. Pedicularis groenlandica. Common name? Lousewort. Lousewort...? -well. This one is called Little Elephant's Head, which is a little better (larger?), but not much. It is hallucinogenic! And partially parasitic, living on the roots of other plants. Likes to have wet feet, too.

A daisy? Erigeron, probably peregrinus. Lovely name.

These were prolific along the flat parts of the water meadow, along with their yellow cousins. Still, it took a helluva lot of Googling, as I was completely without frame of reference for a search. I could figure out that they were Mimulus, but which?

Mimulus lewisii, named for Lewis of Lewis and Clark. Another good name; one to situate the landscape within myth again.

And here the cousin. So thick underfoot that squashing was inevitable. Mimulus = monkeyflower. Bad name. This one is Mimulus tilingii. Creeping monkeyflower. Native to California. Must have wet feet. And in some places it really was in the small streams.

And the moss. Identifying moss is beyond my present scope of attention. It was just very lovely. Thick and fresh and deeply, brightly green.

We made our way around the little lake and beside the well-worn path there was one broad patch of phlox, growing, apparently, out of the rock.

Phlox hendersonii.

These, growing beside a small stream tumbling down a steep, grassy slope, looked like more ranunculus to me, and I searched and searched. Again, the UBC's Plant Forum came through with an answer: Parnassia, they said, and that steered me toward the species, fimbriata. Fringed grass of Parnassus. Though it hardly resembles grass.

It belongs to the Saxifrage family, and is considered threatened. I can't find why it is named after Parnassus, which is a Greek Mountain...?

Below, this little blue one stumped me too. And there was only the one. Usually, you see one flower, and then you see some more of the same (also a nice thing to apply to gardens, moving from drift to drift). UBC helped again. It is carniverous! Pinguicula vulgaris. Indeed. Or common Butterwort. The leaves are sticky and trap insects, which are then absorbed...yum yum.

The little path down on the right is the one on which we returned, after circling the blue.

Below: Valeriana sitchensis,* filling a whole bank between that little path and the water.

False hellebore - Veratrum viride - standing about 4 feet tall. Very poisonous to stock and considered a pest by farmers. There were no farmers here.

Back higher up, grasses grew in swathes amongst the low blueberries.

And the best for last. Very low growing blueberries, possibly bog blueberries? No more than a foot high and spreading in broad sweeps of red, their cloudy blue fruit held singly rather than in clusters, and no less sweet for it.

I could have stayed a lot longer. It was a brief taste (literally) of one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

* Encyclopedia of Northwest Native Plants for Gardens and Landscapes, Kathleen A. Robson, Alice Richter and Marianne Filbert, Timber Press, 2008.

Thank you, Vincent...x


  1. You are in a place of incredible natural beauty. I would like to circle that blue too! Wow....what a variety of colours and flowers....enjoy!

  2. The triple Indian paintbrush picture is divine, my absolute favourite. We must go back there!

    Beautiful pictures, now I understand what you were doing crouching so low in the flower fields. You were exposing flowers. ;-)


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