Although the Pacific Northwest is known for its temperate rainforests accompanied by an abundant amount of green, with April warmth, we can start to look forward to the colorful relief offered by the return of the native flowers around the Canal and South Puget Sound area..
May to June is the best time of year for finding the delicate jewel tones out here on the wet coast. Whilst domesticated daffodils and tulips will always be celebrated markers of Spring, our native plants are often forgotten gems of the forests understory. As the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, take a ramble down one of Mason County’s forested walks, like Twanoh State Park Trail or for a more adventurous alpine hike, with spectacular views and unique flora, try Mount Ellinor Trail.
Keep your eyes peeled for the first nodding, purple blossoms of Henderson's Shooting Star (Dodecatheon hendersonii) and the showy, pinky-purple blooms of our local variety of Rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum).
There are nearly 30 varieties of Rhododendrons native to North America. The Pacific Rhododendron is Washington’s State flower and is found in drier parts of the Hood Canal in the understory of coniferous forests. Pacific Rhododendron can also be seen in partly sunny, open areas, such as along roads. The Pacific Rhododendrons and also Goat's Beard (Aruncus dioicus) can be found in proliference along the winding, scenic 101 Highway following Hood Canal. For an especially spectactular showing of the native rhodendrons, head up to the scenic outlook on Mount Walker.
In sunnier, damper areas, near streams, look for the bright pink flowers of Pink Fawn Lily (Erythronium revolutum) or the iconic, if not slightly smelly, “West Coast Daffodil”— Skunk Cabbage (Fritillaria lanceolata). Also in sightly shady, waterside spots, look for carpets of pink Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa)— a more delicate version of our domestic variety. Try the Kamilche Kennedy Creek Trail for these humid loving flowers.
As the weather gets warmer (from May to June) search in the partly shady area of the woods for the trailing tender beauty of Orange Honeysuckle (Lonicera ciliosa), and the yellow blossoms of Tall Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium). The delicate, orange-red blooms of Red Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) also emerge during this time.
Other blossoms to look for in the late spring are the azure, crocus-like flowers of the Common Camas (Camassia quamash). Found in full sunlight in open places, such as fields, parklands, the bulbs from the Camas were an important part of the diet of Native Americans. Known as k’a’w˜up to the Skokomish and sxa’dzaêb by the Squaxin, this bulbous flower was actively cultivated and traded between Nations throughout the Pacific Northwest who would harvest the bulbs in the early spring and roast them in pit cooks.
On one of those calm days when you believe it might just be summer here early, pack a lunch and hop in the boat and travel to Hope Island Marine State Park. Here you will be greeted by lovely trails and beautiful naturalized gardens with a mix of introduced and native species.
Once settled as a farm, Hope Island has historic fruit trees mixed in with native camas, honeysuckle and the elegant red, trunks of Madrone (Arbutus menziesii). An unusual looking plant found along sun-facing, beach banks is the Red Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata), whose tiny green flowers are hidden in bright red leaves that give the appearance of a brush dipped in red paint. Since most of these species are protected against picking or transplanting, remember to keep your enjoyment to viewing.
You can take as many photographs as you like, but refrain from taking bouquets and let the native flowers thrive.
If casual enjoyment of our native plants is what your after, the Washington Native Plant Society has plant identification resources online and there are plenty of guide books to help. Pojar and Mackinnon’s Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast (2014) and Nancy J. Turner’s Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples (1995) offer excellent information, photographs and tidbits that add color to an already polychromatic subject. Happy hunting!