Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mountain Lady's Slippers at Red Top

Driving back from the Columbia River Gorge yesterday (Friday, June 25), we followed Highway 97 north through Yakima and Ellensburg towards Leavenworth, a beautiful drive that took us both through rich farmland and near desert.

Along the way we saw the huge windfarm just north of the Columbia, had some spectacular views of Mount Adams and arrived tired and hot near the Mineral Springs campground where the road to Red Top begins.

The Forest Service road we followed was very rough in spots and four-wheel drive vehicle would have been better, but driving slowly we arrived at our destination.

We had been given a very careful description of where to find the Lady's Slipper orchid we were looking for by our good friend, Martha Anderson. She had made several trips to the area recently and describes these orchids in a recent blog entry:

We found these Mountain Lady's Slippers exactly where she described them. There were 20-25 plants, almost all in flower, scattered in the dappled shade of deciduous trees and shrubs.

The flowers, with their dark sepals and white pouches were very difficult to photograph in the conditions in which they were growing, part sun and part shade. The fact that there was a stiff breeze made photography even more difficult, but the sunlight accented many of the features of these lovely flowers in a way that even the best photos can't show.

The flowers are covered completely with fine hairs which glitter in the sunlight, giving them and almost surreal appearance.  The bright yellow of the column adds a nice accent to the brown and white of the flowers and we noticed that some columns were without the red spotting that we observed on others.

After taking photos we headed further up the road and followed it to its end to a primitive campground and a trail leading to the fire lookout at the top of the mountain.

We took a few pictures of the wildflowers that were blooming there. The two shown here are the Short Jacob's Ladder, Polemonium pulcherrimum and Fendler's Waterleaf, Hydrophyllum fendleri. We decided, however, a decision we now regret, that we did not have time to make the hike to the top, and so headed back to the car and then on home.

Note: The picture of me taking pictures was taken by my wife. The Lady's Slippers can just be seen where the camera is pointing.

Orchid Hunting in the Columbia River Gorge

Early Thursday morning we left to visit our handicapped son in Spokane. Having spent the day with him we left about 8:00 that evening and headed for the Columbia River Gorge east of Portland to investigate locations for two native orchids.

We drove down through Pasco and Kennewick, Washington, crossed into Oregon and headed west on Highway 84 towards Portland. We arrived near the Dalles Dam on the Columbia at about midnight, crossed back into Washington over the Dalles Bridge, found a place to park the van and slept in the van for the rest of the night.

We can put up curtains in the van and use our backpacking sleeping bags and pads for a decent night's sleep. We slept until about 5:00 am, at which time we headed for our destination, near Bingen, Washington, following the Lewis and Clark Highway westward along the Columbia.

Near Bingen we turned off the highway and followed a County Road to our first location. While my wife slept (it was still only about 5:30 am) I hiked around looking for the orchid we had come to see and photographing some of the other wildflowers that were growing in the area including the Harvest Brodiaea, Brodiaea coronaria, shown here.

Mount Hood was visible across the Columbia and we were able to get some pictures of it also in the morning light. In fact, when my wife awoke, she spent more time photographing Mount Hood than the orchids we had come to see.

After searching everywhere and not finding the orchid, I was about ready to give up and was heading back when I spotted it. I had walked past it several times but missed it since it was only just starting to bloom.

The orchid, one of the Ladies' Tresses, so called because of the braided appearance of its flower spikes, is Spiranthes porrifolia, the Western Ladies' Tresses. This orchid, while uncommon is not that rare, except in the state of Washington where it is found only in this one location.

I had been told that last year twelve plants were blooming in this location. I don't know whether I found them in a different place, but the description was slightly different and I found 65 plants there, several of which were just opening their flowers.

After taking photos we headed further west to another location where we hoped to see the Phantom Orchid, Cephalanthera austinae, blooming. We had a bit of trouble finding the road we needed but finally found both it and the orchid.

We parked the car near an old converted schoolhouse and walked back along a Forest Service road into the woods, a very old and open woodland with almost no understory. Not very far along the road we could see the orchids all over the slope above us.

There must have been nearly a hundred plants growing in that area and, being such a stark white color, they stood out dramatically in the shade and against the darker forest floor.

Cephalanthera austiniae is the only North American representative of a genus that is found in Europe and Asia, and is unique in that it totally lacks chlorophyll. The bone white of the plant is broken only by the yellow-orange color of the lip. They are aptly named the "Phantom Orchid."

These plants are leafless, saprophytic, that is, they derive their nutrients from soil fungi, and very rare. They range from British Columbia down into California and east into Idaho.

Having spent several hours looking for more plants and photographing them, we headed back east along the Columbia and then north towards home, though we had one other stop to make at Red Top Mountain where we hoped to find the Mountain Lady's Slipper in bloom.

Note: The first two pictures in this post were taken by my wife.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Little Bog of Horrors

Note: This blog entry is bound to be controversial since it has to do with the introduction of non-native species, their spread, and what ought to be done about them.  I'll not take sides in the controversy but will let those who read this entry decide for themselves where they stand.

In early October of last year I went on a field trip with a small group from the Washington Native Plant Society.  I had seen the trip advertised on their website and had asked if I could accompany them, even though I was not a member of the WNPS.  They very kindly invited me along.

The field trip was advertised under the same name as this blog entry, "Little Bog of Horrors," and promised a visit to a floating bog where non-native carnivorous plants had been introduced and were flourishing (non-native, that is, to the state of Washington).

The field trip took place on a Saturday and took us to a small lake about an hour south of our home where we found five species of carnivorous plants growing.  We looked for a sixth, the Cobra Lily (Darlingtonia californica) but did not find it.

The trip was everything it promised to be and more.  After finding a place to park near the lake we made our way to the edge of the floating bog that almost completely surrounds the lake and balancing precariously on half-sunken logs and a few floating planks, made our way out onto the floating mat of vegetation.

I had never seen a floating bog before and it was amazing to see that this floating mat easily supported our weight and allowed us to explore right up to the edges of the mat.  One did have to be careful for holes and places the mat did not reach, and most of us, even those with high boots, ended up with wet feet.

We found a lot of different plants growing on the mat, including many sedges, the Western Bog Laurel (Kalmia microphylla),which was in bloom, and the Bog Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos), whose fruits were just ripening.  In fact, I ate enough of the cranberries in the course of the day to give myself a stomach ache.

We explored the east side of the lake first and found three species of carnivorous plants there,and then followed the mat around the south end of the lake to the west side where we found two more species.  Later on we explored the northern end of the lake from a different route, looking for the Cobra Lily, but did not find it.

The first of the carnivorous plants we found was the Purple Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia purpurea.  This plant was growing in huge clumps, some of them several feet across and had already finished blooming.  We found this species only on the east side of the lake.

On the same side of the lake we found a number of clumps of the Yellow Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia flava,and these were in bloom, their strange flowers standing among the pitchers.  We could see large clumps of these on the other side of the lake as well.

This plant varied a great deal in color, from a bright yellow to a dull brown.  In some cases the pitchers had fallen over but in most cases they were standing tall, the largest being nearly three feet in height.

My son, who was along, had a small point and shoot camera and was able to take some pictures of the insects that were floating in the pitchers.  One of his photos has since been published in the March-April issue of the Mexican conservation journal, Especies, in an article on carnivorous plants.

Also on the east side we found the Roundleaf Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia).  These tiny plants were everywhere, but were hard to see because they are so small.  This is actually a native species, but may have been introduced in this location.  One had to get wet to get down far enough to take pictures of these delightful plants.

Making our way around the south end of the lake we continued to see clumps of the Yellow Pitcher Plant, and on the southwest end of the lake found it everywhere, growing, like the Purple Pitcher Plant, in large clumps.

On that same end of the lake we found two new species, one of which was the well-known Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula).  These, too, had finished blooming sometime before, but many of the traps had insects in them.  They were not as abundant as the Pitcher Plants, but the clumps we found were very large, some of them with hundreds of traps.

Nearby we found several individual pitchers of the White Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia leucophylla.  There were not more than half a dozen of these and they seemed less securely established than the other species of Sarracenia.  They also varied considerably in color, the deep maroon veining being much heavier on some plants than on others.

No one seems to know who introduced these species and why.  No one even seems to be sure how long they've been there.  Nor, it seems, does anyone quite know what to do about them.  Apparently the DNR has discussed the possibility of trying to eradicate them, though I think this would probably be quite difficult in the case of Yellow and Purple Pitcher Plants, which are very well established.

Since then my son and I have made several trips back for photographs and in the hope that we would find some of the other species in bloom.  We hope to go again later this summer when the Venus Flytrap and the Purple Pitcher Plant are blooming, but the last trip we made this spring found the water in the lake very high and made the effort to get out on the floating mat a real balancing act.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Goat Mountain

Friday, to celebrate our wedding anniversary, my wife and I hiked Goat Mountain in the Mount Baker Wilderness.  We were not able to leave home until about 9:30 am and were not on the trail until about 11:00 am, so had just a short day hike.

We stopped at the Ranger Station in Glacier to ask about the trail conditions and about native orchids.  We were informed that most of the trails were still snow covered at 4500 feet and above, but that the Goat Mountain Trail was open for several miles and that someone had reported seeing Lady's Slippers on the trail, so off we went.

We made one stop on the way to the trailhead to take pictures of Mount Shuksan and the Nooksack River.  There was no one else at the trailhead and we spent a while there taking pictures of some of the dew covered plants, of an unidentified beetle, and of a small butterfly, probably a Silvery Blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus).

We found the trail to be all in the woods and quite steep with a lot of switchbacks, but we were not in a hurry and took our time, doing the three miles of open trail in about four hours (45 minutes back), stopping often for pictures and to explore the woods along the trail.

After the second switchback we began to see Fairy Slippers (Calypso bulbosa var. occidentalis) along the trail as well as a number of Coralroots, both Merten's (Corallorhiza mertensiana) and Spotted (Corallorhiza maculata), neither of which were close to blooming.

While taking pictures of some of the Fairy Slippers we also found some unusual fungi and lichens, one fungus like a black cup partially buried in the ground and the lichens with interesting fruiting bodies held above the flat "leaves."

There were a lot of waterfalls and streams as a result of snow melt at higher elevations and we made a long stop to take some time exposures of one of them.  When my wife was finished she pulled out a book and sat on the trail to read while I finished taking pictures.

There we saw the only other hikers of the day, two girls who were making much better time than we were.  After they passed us my wife spotted a mouse, possibly a Deer Mouse, which we could not identify with certainty and we watched him (her?) going about its business totally unconcerned with us.

After the mouse we came to a long stretch of trail that was relatively flat and it was there that we found the day's treasure, numerous spikes of a tiny Corallroot that I had never seen before, Corallorhiza trifida.  This tiny plant was growing in a rather damp area and we had to crawl around to get pictures.

As we gained altitude we continued to see these along the trail for a while along with Trilliums, which were finished flowering lower down the trail, and many other wildflowers also, including the wild ginger, Asarum caudatum.  This, when any part is crushed, has a strong ginger odor.

We continued up the trail until about 3:00, having hiked about three miles, at which time we had to turn back.  Though keeping our eyes opened for other treasures and for morels, of which we found a few, we were back at the car in less than 45 minutes and home before 5:00.