Wildflowers are around the Corner
April 6th, 2016 in High Camp Happenings
While the lowlands are bursting with blossoms this time of year our wildflowers are still under many feet of snow. But as soon as the snow melts they burst into life, they have to in order to take advantage of the short growing season they have in the high country. Our High Camp Wildflower Season begins July 25th and good wildflowers can be seen through August, even September in wet and high locations.
Broad-Leaf Lupine blankets much of the High Meadows above the lakes and McCue ridge. It might be ubiquitous but it is sure beautiful. It grows in barren soil and because of that it was thought that it robbed the soil of nutrients, leaving only gravely debris. Because of this it was thought to be a pest like the wolf, Lupus in Latin, which is where it got its name. It is now known that it can grow on barren soil because it has a symbiotic relationship with a family of bacteria, Frankia bacteria, that live in lupines root nodules and can pull nitrogen out of the air and turn it into a usable form for plants. Lupines are one of the only sources of Nitrogen in our alpine meadows so they actually pave the way for many other species.
One of my favorite wildflower hikes is to Larch Lake. En route you go over McCue ridge which hosts lush lupine and paintbrush meadows with the occasional humming-bird favorite, skyrocket gillia with a profusion of red flowers. These meadows are followed by relatively barren sun exposed patches home to sulfer-buckwheat. As you head down the South side of the ridge there are many stonecrops, a suclulant that can fill its leaves full of water to store for the long dry spells in the summer. Also found there are some of my favorites, showy Jacob’s ladder with violet outsides and yellow centers. (Another species of Jacob’s ladder can be found in the marshy areas on the backside of Chiwaukum Lake, tall Jacob’s ladder).
As one descends further meadows of asters, cow-parsnip, banebarry and monkshood greet you in openings between stands of grand fir. Once past Chiwaukum lake, you quickly head into the expansive meadows of Ewing basin. Formerly forest, this basin was opened up by a forest fire close to 100 years ago. The forest has been slow to regrow in this basin in part because it is plagued by frequent avalanches so what is left are spectacular wildflower meadows with abundant hellebore, mountain ash, and huckleberries (as well as some non-native bull thistle that is a reminder of the pack animals that were formerly allowed in this area).
The trail leaves the basin and gains an old lateral moraine left by a glacier that once carved out the basin. This moraine is followed to Larch Lake. As you approach the lake the flower meadows become even more impressive. Elephant-head, a member of the lousewort family, can be found in marshy patches. These flowers really do look like dozens of pink elephants. Also found in these wetter environs are shooting stars, mountain-bog gentian, American bistort and common monkey flower. Also found here is the Western-pasque flower although they are more noticed once it has gone to seed because of its short flowering season and it is taller and showier when its gone to seed with white furry tufts on top of stems. The pasque flower has a nickname of ‘mouse on a stick’ because of the appearance of the seed clusters. When returning from Larch lake I often follow the outlet stream to pass through more meadows, ponds, and small waterfalls.
Thanks for the photos, Max Pillie! Happy Hiking!