Monday, September 17, 2012

Another Visit to Lake Elizabeth

We made a number of visits to Lake Elizabeth this summer, now that the Forest Service road to the lake is open once again.  The visit does not require a 14 mile hike.  The road has been badly washed out in several locations and it took the Forest Service a long time, several years, to get it repaired and open again.  Until this year a visit required a 14 miles hike.

Lake Elizabeth is an alpine lake in the North Cascades near Skykomish, Washington.  It and the surrounding area support a rich variety of plants including many native orchids.  We had been there earlier in the season (July 18) to see some of the orchids that were in bloom then, but had a somewhat different purpose this time.

On this visit we were looking for one orchid especially, the tiny, rare, and elusive Chamisso's Orchid, Platanthera chorisiana, which had been reported from the sedge mats on the far side of the lake many years ago and again more recently.  We had searched there before both on our own and with others and not found it.

This time, knowing that it had been found again, we found it too, but it was well past its peak and photos of it will have to wait until another trip and another season.  We were not disappointed, however, since we found two other native orchids in bloom, as well as other treasures, including the lake itself which can be hiked around.

One of the other orchids we found in two varieties, the Tall White Northern Bog Orchis, Platanthera dilatata var. dilatata, and the Sierra Rein Orchis, Platanthera dilatata var. leucostachys.  These are two of three varieties of Platanthera dilatata, all three of them often referred to as Bog Candles and all of them sweetly scented.

These three varieties are distinguished by the length of the spur, in var. dilatata the spur is about the length of the lip and in var. leucostachys it is clearly longer than the lip.  We have not found the long-spurred variety as often as the others and were delighted to find it in this location, along with the Hooded Ladies' Tresses, Spiranthes romanzoffiana.

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