Painting a Washington spring portrait

May 14th, 2010 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

All over Washington, the earth is reawakening. Can you see it?

In a period of only a few weeks, spring has come – a monumental paintbrush caressing the landscape, stirring it back to consciousness. Dabs of bright white, pink and yellow compliment deeper streaks of lavender, red and orange, all placed upon a backdrop of fresh green. Buds change to blooms on wildflowers and the hardier of the tree species sport new-growth fuzz.

I always feel so fortunate to stand witness to this spectacle, this miracle of life. From the western Washington’s Salish Sea shores to the contouring curves of eastern Washington’s Palouse Hills, I have made an attempt to capture the most current evidence of spring in our state’s many ecosystems.

Below is a detailed photographic guide to the spring blossoms of three distinct Washington ecosystems – western Washington’s Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve on Whidbey Island, eastern Washington’s Kamiak Butte in the Palouse Hills and the North Cascade Institute‘s Environmental Learning Center in North Cascades National Park. If you do not have enough time to read it all through, just glance through the photos and see if you can’t spot these beautiful spring colors in your own home ecosystems!

Spring in Western Washington: Ebey’s Bluff, Whidbey Island

(Title) Skagit Valley tulips in rich shades (Above) Ebey’s Prairie’s new green hue

As part of the 17,500-acre Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, the 3.5-mile Ebey’s Bluff trail provides a vivid representation of western Washington shoreline plants in spring. Located near the town of Coupeville on central Whidbey Island, this trail is one of many that provides an opportunity to see both the natural and agricultural communities come alive in this new season.

ASTER FAMILY – Asteraceae

Common dandelion – Taraxacum officinale

FERN FAMILY – Polypodiacea

Bracken fern – Pteridium aquilinum

LILY FAMILY – Liliaceae

Common camas – Camassia quamash
Death camas – Zygadenus venenosus

PEA FAMILY – Fabaceae

Seashore lupine – Lupinus littoralis

PINE FAMILY – Pinaceae

Douglas fir – Pseudotsuga menziesii ssp. menziesii

PINK FAMILY – Caryophyllaceae

Field chickweed – Cerastium arvense

STONECROP FAMILY – Sedum

Brittle prickly pear cactus – Opuntia fragilis

VIOLET FAMILY – Violaceae

Alaska violet – Viola langsdorfii

Spring in Eastern Washington: Kamiak Butte, Palouse Hills

The Palouse Hills, as viewed from the Pine Ridge Trail on Kamiak Butte

Located in the Palouse region of eastern Washington, Kamiak Butte is a 298-acre county park between the towns of Palouse and Pullman. Its most popular trail, the 3.5-mile Pine Ridge Loop Trail, offers amazing opportunities for plant identification, as well as panoramic views of the Palouse’s rolling hills. Due to this region’s extensive wheat and lentil farming, Kamiak Butte is one of the only remaining natural areas, which hosts over 170 native plant species.

ASTER FAMILY – Asteraceae

Arrowleaf balsamroot – Balsamorhiza sagittata

BUTTERCUP FAMILY – Ranunculaceae

Sagebrush buttercup – Ranunculus glaberrimus

FIGWORT FAMILY – Scrophulariaceae

Kittentails – Synthyris missurica

IRIS FAMILY – Iridaceae

Satin-flower – Sisyrinchium douglasii

LILY FAMILY – Liliaceae

California false-hellebore – Veratrum californicum
Glacier lily – Erythronium grandiflorum
Western soloman’s plume – Smilacina stellata

PARSLEY FAMILY – Umbelliferae

Fern-leaf desert parsley - Lomatium dissectum

PURSLANE FAMILY – Portulacaceae

Lanceleaf spring beauty – Claytonia lanceolada

Spring in the Cascades: North Cascades Institute’s Environmental Learning Center, North Cascades National Park

Jack Mountain looms over Ross Dam in the North Cascades on Diablo East trail

The North Cascades Institute’s Environmental Learning Center, located on Diablo Lake in the heart of the North Cascades National Park, has many trails to choose from in order to experience springtime in the mountain environment. Plant communities here are much different than those of both eastern and western Washington, adapting to harsher and more variable weather conditions. Spring arrives a bit later here, but when it does, it never fails to impress.

BARBERRY FAMILY – Berberidaceae

Tall Oregon grape – Berberis aquifolium

BIRCH FAMILY – Betulaceae

Red alder – Alnus rubra

BORAGE FAMILY – Boraginacea

Mountain Forget-Me-Not – Myosotis alpestris

CURRANT FAMILY – Ribes

Red-flowering currant – Ribes sanguineum

DOGWOOD FAMILY – Cornaceae

Pacific dogwood – Cornus nuttallii

FERN FAMILY – Polypodiaceae

Parsley fern – Cryptogramma crispa

FIGWORT FAMILY – Scrophulariaceae

Harsh paintbrush – Castilleja hispida

MAPLE FAMILY – Aceraceae

Big-leaf maple – Acer macrophylum
Vine maple – Acer circinatum

ROSE FAMILY – Rosaceae

Bitter cherry – Prunus emarginata
Indian plum – Oemleria cerasiformis
Wild strawberry – Fragaria chiloensis

Painting a state-wide spring portrait requires teamwork. Are you interested in identifying your own spring blooms?

For identifying western Washington plants, check out the classic, Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon. For seeking out Cascade mountain plants, read Mountain Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Ronald J. Taylor. In eastern Washington’s shrub-steppe environs,  Sagebrush Country A Wildflower Sanctuary, by Ronald J. Taylor is extremely helpful. Or, if you’re looking specifically at the Palouse region, check out The Plants of Kamiak Butte website.

Once you have identified additional spring blooms in your own backyards, post them here on Chattermarks to add to this ongoing spring art.

Photos courtesy of Kelsi Franzen.
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