The first pic is of a plant that all by itself makes the trip North worth it, in my opinion: wild ginger, botanically Asarum caudatum (the Forest Service Fire Effects Information System — FEIS for short –info page is here). I first met this lovely creature when working for a couple years doing radon surveys in the Bitter North for a French mining company, an experience for which I still hold out hope protective amnesia will kick in so I can’t remember it. 🙂 The money I earned later got me through undergraduate school, that and the fact of meeting Asarum caudatum are the only points worth retention. It’s a plant of the cool forest floor, so handsome with its heart-shaped leaves, and yes, the root does indeed smell of ginger. I knew I would find it when I made my visit and it was a sight for sore eyes.
The next pic is Pinedrops (Pterospora andromedea), an oddment in the botanical scheme of things. It’s a member of the group Monotropoideae, which astonishingly is in the heath family (Ericaceae) and makes its living by being parasitic on mycorrhizal fungi. Hardly a ladylike thing to do — one feels certain the Queen Mum could not approve of such an arrangement — but if it gets you flowers like you see in the pic it’s nice to know somebody’s having a good time out of it. The Forest Service wildflower page on the species is here if you want the particulars. The other member of the Monotropoideae in the area is Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora), a stark white plant I call The Ghost Plant. If you’re a saprophyte you needn’t worry your pretty little head about being photosynthetic, which leaves Indian Pipe free to ditch the chlorophyll and loll about on the forest floor draped in white like some distressed damsel from a forgotten age who kicked the bucket and decided to hang around. It’s a lovely plant to the eye but always gives me a mild sense of unease. Some part of me thinks, “It just ain’t natural.” The feeling is that there must be something dead underneath into which it’s sinking its toes, and perhaps it’s there due to foul play. Gives you the shivers. It is natural, obviously, but all the same I find ghostly parasites mildly off-putting. I much prefer green plants who roll up their sleeves and concoct their own dinner from the sunlight. Pinedrops isn’t creepy until you learn what it does for a living, but I can forgive it more easily because at least it keeps up appearances. And we all know, don’t we, how important it is in life to keep up appearances. Just ask the Queen Mum.
Next: huckleberries! Yum yum. My mother has a war story from her early years in the area about a legendary huckleberry patch at Lamb Creek, south of Nordman, where one year when I was too young to know what was going on the huckleberries were like cherries weighing down the tree, so goes the tale. Apparently gallons just fell into your bucket as you ambled from one heavily laden bush to the next. I have no doubt every word is true, but never in my long years of huckleberry picking have I ever come across such a patch. Huckleberries in my experience require resolve, determination, patience and a picnic basket with coffee and muffins. If I ever came across a patch like my mother described I’d go hog wild and fill the freezer so full of berries nothing else would fit in it for a couple years at least. Those of you who know the delights of huckleberry coffee cake and the agony of having your frozen berries run out in February will understand my reasoning without further explanation.
The first pic in the second row is monkshood — Aconitum columbianum. The USDA plant profile page is here. As can sometimes be the case with our botanical chums, what looks pretty can be deadly to us mammalian sorts, and Aconitum is decidedly on the don’t-mess-with-me list. Acotinine and its related alkaloids are both cardiotoxic and neurotoxic — two toxicities for the price of one, woohoo! You just need to absorb that fact, let it sink into the recesses of your long-term memory so it blips across your mental screen when you meet a monkshood, then carry on enjoying the lovely foliage and the stunning flowers. The color is superb, one gets so few wildflowers in that part of the world of a deep blue or purple. Seeing a spray of the flowers in full bloom is cause enough for me to stop in my tracks and gawk a good long while. And btw I’ve never once found myself seized by an uncontrollable urge to chomp a monkshood when I came across one, so don’t worry, they haven’t an aggressive bone in their body. If they wore T-shirts I’m sure they would say “LIVE AND LET LIVE.”
The next pic, if it were a cultivated plant in someone’s garden, would doubtless put one in mind of old cardigans and support hose and liniments smelling of camphor and such like, because it’s a Spirea. The small-flowered white shrub that back in the day was a must-have in the rural working class garden deserves IMHO the moniker “Old Lady Bush.” I can’t count the times I’ve seen it in the front or back yard of old ladies living out their days in a ramshackle house filled with knick-knacks in the worst possible taste. The plant in the pic is a different animal, however — Spirea betulifolia, birch-leaf spirea, and the color alone exempts it from association with old ladies, unless they’re the kind who wear lots of makeup and still mosey on down to the bar of an evening for a drink with the fellahs. I had a lovely one just a stone’s throw from my modest abode on the property my family owns. I always said hello whenever I walked past it. I think once I even got a wink. 🙂 Saucy …
The plant in the last pic in Row 2 deserves a MUCH better photo, my head hangs in shame at the disservice I do it with that wretched photo I took. It’s fireweed, Epilobium angustifolium, and it’s a stunner in the flesh. The flowers are a gorgeous color I couldn’t possible name accurately — mauve? pale violet? who knows … I couldn’t identify a swatch of mauve at gunpoint, so pick whatever name suits you best. I pilfered a photo some time ago of a fireweed group growing in the Ivano-Frankivsk area of the Ukraine, which offers a much better view of it:
In my neck of the woods we have a sister species, as well, the common willow-herb, Epilobium glandulosum, that grows barely a foot high. Lovely in its own way, to be sure, but the sight of a group of tall fireweed plants in full bloom is hard to beat.
The first pic in the last row shows how much we can learn from our plant friends in the area of cooperation. Here we have asters, a cow parsnip and a goldenrod each doing their own thing and getting along just fine with their neighbors. There are no covenants in their development, as far as I know, and I saw no community watch signs. During my visit I heard not one word of complaint from any of them about how their neighbors keep — or don’t keep — their yard. Rather makes you wish you were a plant …
The middle pic, last row, is all about foliage — LEAVES. Look at them all, so fresh and glossy and crisp. It looks like an enormous salad, one’s tempted to sprinkle it with ranch dressing and start chomping. But of course one maintains an appropriate restraint at all times, doesn’t one. Of course one does. If you were a moose, however, you’d chomp it even without the ranch dressing. Yes, Bridget, that’s the voice of experience speaking. I had near my humble abode a white alder tree I was lavishing with tender loving care in the hope it would grow and spread seed far and wide. One morning I awoke, looked out the window and saw a moose chomping the thing to bits. When it finished the branches were bare. 🙁 I really must have a chat with the Design Team after I get past the Pearly Gates. Many things on four legs can only be considered flaws in the schematics, particularly if you happen to be of the botanical persuasion. In my opinion, wildlife should be ornamental, nothing more. I have tons of forms filled out for the Suggestion Box On High in the hope that inundating the Higher Ups with them will lead to the error being corrected ASAP. Fingers crossed …
Last but not least we have our old friend Western Mountain Ash, Sorbus scopulina, which is in the rose family — which I mention because that fact may increase its clout with some, roses being the ooh la la thing they are with so many folks. The berries become a brilliant red in the fall, which is lovely to see as one goes about the forest. I find the glossy, long leaves equally scenic. Its family ties put it in the same ballpark as cherries, plums, almonds and a host of other common fruit trees, almost all of which are members of the family Rosaceae. Since there are excellent orchards in the vicinity with fabulous fruits on offer, however, I see no reason to disturb our mountain ash friends for the berries. The birds do a good job of that, so let’s leave them to it, shall we? There’s an excellent page on the species on the website of Native Plants PNW (here).
The area is called Priest Lake because — duuuh — there’s a lake there. A really big lake. A huge lake is just down the road — Lake Pend Oreille. Lakes like these are what you get when you throw an Ice Age party, carve everything to smithereens with glaciers, then melt off the ice so the gouged out parts fill with water. For those of us with a taste for water skiing or fishing, the geological sequence of events and the timing are perfection itself. We get the pristine mountain lake without having had to freeze ourselves to death for thousands of years, then we cleverly avoid the to-do of the Missoula Floods (info here) that created Lake Pend Oreille, one of the five deepest lakes in the United States (info here). Just think what forces of Nature ganged up for its creation and be glad we weren’t around to get caught in the middle of things. No place for a lady, that’s as plain as the nose on your face.
Priest Lake isn’t so huge that it boggles the mind, whereas Lake Pend Oreille decidedly is mind-boggling, at least for me. That isn’t to say, however, that Priest Lake doesn’t impress by its size. It’s impressive, alright, especially with its ring of mountains on the eastern side. Let’s have some pics to prove the point: