Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Spring is a wonderful time of year for the Northwest naturalist. Everything seems to be happening at once. Migrating birds arrive every day. Butterflies add their erratic movement to the landscape. And flowers are everywhere.

The most spectacular flower shows in spring are in the open country and pinelands east of the Cascade Crest. They easily equal the floral spectacle that makes a midsummer mountain hike such a delight, although they are surely less appreciated. But they are worthy of the effort it takes for a Puget Sounder to plan a trip east. Starting as early as March in the sagebrush country, the spring flower show slowly moves uphill with the increasing temperatures of spring and reaches its peak in early May in the grasslands at the lower edge of the Cascades.

Sagebrush buttercups (Ranunculus glaberrimus) and yellow bells (Fritillaria pudica) start off the parade of colors with bright yellow spots in the gray sagebrush landscape. They’re followed by the more conspicuous show of big balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) bouquets and wide washes of white and purple phlox (Phlox spp.). Just these flowers alone create a macro-spectacle in that part of Washington, easily viewed from the main highways.

But to see all the phytodiversity you can imagine, get off the highways. Back roads near Thorp or the Umtanum Road southwest of Ellensburg provide as good a flower show as anyone could desire. Drive slowly or walk out through the habitat. Check out open rocky areas for spectacular pink bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva) and Simpson’s hedgehog cactus (Pediocactus simpsonii) flowers and look for the beautiful color scheme of sagebrush violets (Viola trinervata).

And come back about every two weeks to see the turnover, as species after species blooms. You can only hope that there are enough pollinating insects out there to see to the needs of all these sex-starved flowers.

Dennis Paulson

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