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Take a walk on island's wild side

At Deception Pass State Park, two hikers ignore views of plunging rocks and rushing water and begin the winding trail up to Goose Rock. Their eyes eagerly sweep the trailsides and peer into underbrush.

“Look at that nurse log aglow with moss,” Rick Machins said.

Machins and Pat De La Chapelle are members of Salal Chapter of Washington Native Plant Society. Thursday morning, the amateur naturalists were preparing for a plant walk May 13 by scouting native flora and fauna. Each spring, Salal Chapter members lead walks at state parks on Whidbey and Fidalgo islands when native wildflowers spangle meadows and glades.

“See the carpet of twinflower?” Pat De La Chapelle said. “And here’s a rattlesnake plantain — it’s an orchid that blooms in summer,” she added, pointing to dark green leaves next to the path.

At first, most of the plants were small, woodland varieties scattered among sword fern and Douglas fir. The varied greens were accented by tiny white and pale-pink blooms. Arrow-shaped pathfinder leaves showed silvery undersides. Small-flowered buttercup’s yellow gleamed in the shade.

Native Plant Society walks are “excellent” ways to learn about the area, De La Chapelle said. The walks are designed as introductions to local environments and no two walks are alike. Each stroll focuses on a slightly different ecosystem so people can learn about a variety of plants, animals and geology.

“We’ll talk a lot about plants and how they were used, plus we’ll talk about area history,” De La Chapelle.

As the trail gained elevation, Machins and De La Chapelle stopped often to consult guidebooks. At one point, they counted berry species along the trail: red elderberry, thimble berry, salmonberry, swamp gooseberry, red huckleberry, trailing dewberry gripped the slope. Red-flowering currant and Indian-plum grew higher on the hills near a right-angled cedar.

As they discussed the different plants, Machins and De La Chapelle said the walks would help people develop an appreciation for the natural life in the area.

While they appreciate all native plants, the two do have their favorite native plants. Machins said he is “awed by the majesty” of the soaring old-growth Douglas fir. “There’s a timelessness to this tree,” he said. “And think of how much of our country has been built of Douglas fir from homes to railroads.”

By contrast, De La Chapelle loves the twinflower, a trailing shrub that may only reach 10 centimeters tall. “It is such a gorgeous groundcover,” De La Chapelle said. “It’s Latin name is Linnaea borealis after (Carl) Linneaus, the father of plant naming,” she added.

People don’t have to worry about knowing Latin, or the difference between roots and rhizsomes to enjoy the native plant walks. There will be no quizzes, no lab experiments to complete. “We want people to enjoy the area, ask questions and have a fun morning,” Machins said.

Shade thinned as the trail neared the summit. Shiny green kinnikinnick spread toward sun. Small pinkish flowers drooped near tiny pale berries. Before commercial tobacco made its way to the Pacific Northwest, this plant was the main “smoking mixture” of explorers and early settlers.

As the trail broke into the open, Machins examined glacier scapings on rocks. “You can see the movement as the ice-mass slowly swept southwest,” he said. “What a magnificent place we live in.”

“We’re at the beginning of a wonderland,” De La Chapelle agreed.

In the sun, wildflowers grew in all shades of red, blue, white and yellow. Common camus made pools of blue accented with spires of paintbrush that varied in tones from pale carrot to ember red. Spring-gold and early wooly sunflower shined. Menzies’ larkspur added spires of rich purple. White patches of chickweed and wild strawberry mixed with death camas.

Machins and De La Chapelle tred lightly among the plants.

“It’s such a delicate system,” De La Chapelle said, crouching down. “The soil is so thin up here on the bald, too many feet can scrape everything away.

Look there’s a naked broomrape,” she said pointing to pale lavender tubes rising from near their host of stonecrop.

Many plants, like broomrape and paintbrush, along with lichens and moss have complex lifecycles and depend on each other for certain nutrition or support.

After circling the slopes and admiring the views from Goose Rock, Machins and De La Chapelle made a final sweep identifying last minute finds: owl-clover, Pacific sanicle. Then they headed down the trail into the woods finding trumpet honeysuckle, avens and coralroot along the way.

Plant strolls

Salal Chapter of Native Plant Society has three more spring walks this year. Remember that state parks requires $5 parking fees. For more information, call Harold Mitchell, (360) 293-0405 or go to www.wnps.org/salal.

May 13, Goose Rock at Deception Pass State Park. Meet at bridge parking lot on Whidbey side at 10 a.m.

May 20, Washington Park, Fidalgo Island, 10 a.m.

May 27, Kettles and Fort Ebey bluff, Whidbey Island.

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