Features of the Flora of Mount Rainier National Park
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There can be no sharp line of demarcation separating the first and second zones, yet no one can fail to note the difference in the flora in a few hundred feet of ascent. There is, for instances a difference between the park entrance and Longmire Springs. The trees as a rule have become smaller except along the border of the low swampy ground adjoining the Longmire property and its continuation up along the Indian Henrys Hunting Ground trail. Not only have the trees become smaller, but different species have come in. The white pine, Pinus monticola, occasionally seen below, now becomes common. It can be recognized by its fine silky foliage, its large cones and five needles or leaves in the bunch. On the pines the leaves are never separate as on the firs, but are apparently tied together at the base and inserted into the branch. The bark of the white pine resembles a checkerboard. The black pine has two short leaves together. At Longmire Springs the white and black pines grow side by side. The black pine has dark foliage and numerous small prickly cones about an inch or two in length while the white pine has cones 8 or 10 inches long without spines.

The common and the Alaska cedars also have a common meeting ground here. The Alaska cedar has globular fruit which distinguishes it from the white cedar. After a little practice the two species of cedar can be distinguished by their bark and foliage. The wood of the Alaska cedar is yellow with a characteristic odor and becomes hard when dry, in marked contrast to the soft wood of the lowland cedar. In this vicinity the Alaska cedar seldom reaches 3 feet in diameter, though occasionally old fallen logs of far greater diameter are found in low places in the forest. The lumber of these large trees is considered very valuable on account of its hardness and fine grain.

On account of the character of the soil the trees mentioned above do not attain their highest development. This is especially true of the hemlocks. The hemlocks can be distinguished by their foliage. The lowland hemlock has numerous small cones and foliage that is white on the lower side. The alpine hemlock has cones 1-1/2 to 2 inches in length and there is little or no difference in the color of the upper and lower sides of its foliage.

The Douglas fir from this point begins to give way to other types. This is also true of the white cedar. The lowland hemlock, on the other hand, forms nearly pure forest at 3,200 feet and higher. The noble fir seems to reach its highest development just below the glaciers at an altitude of about 3,900 feet. Just below the Nisqually Glacier the forest is composed more largely of this tree than any other locality with which the writer is familiar. In the distance these trees can be recognized by their peculiar blue-green color which is very different from the color of any other coniferous tree. They have large cones covered by long exserted green bracts. The noble fir is usually accompanied by the lovely fir. In the upper part of this zone the alpine fir is common, so that the forest has a decidedly changed appearance. Here the valley has become very narrow and the trees grow mostly on steep mountain slopes. Occasionally the wake of the avalanche can be distinctly seen where the trees have been swept away. Where this is of common occurrence there is little or no vegetation, only the bare rocks or gravel, but where this happens at long intervals new trees start up and grow until they in turn may be destroyed.

In wet places a spruce occurs in the tree groups of the meadows. On the south side of the mountain the spruce is seldom seen, though it is common on the north and east sides.

Several species of Usnea, a lichen, become attached to the trees and give them a light gray color. These hang down from the trees in long thread-like tufts which give the trees a drooping or weeping appearance. These pendant lichens are popularly called Spanish moss, confusing it, perhaps, with Tillandsia, a thread-like vine which grows so profusely on the trees in Florida. In neither case is the name appropriate. How different is the aspect of the forest here, clothed in its garb of light gray drooping thread-like lichens, from the majestic trees of the lower forest in their apparently tropical attire.

Many of the shrubs of the lower valley continue on up into the second zone. The white rhododendron, R. albiflorum (figs. 9 and 10), a beautiful shrub of the huckleberry family, enriches this area with its creamy-white flowers and glossy variegated leaves. It is said, however, to be poisonous to sheep and other animals. The mountain ash, Sorbus occidentalis, has large flat clusters of rather small white flowers and compound leaves. This is also much admired in the late fall and early winter because of its bright red berries which hang on the shrub for a long time unless devoured by the birds. The camp robbers and Clark's crow see that these berries do not stay on too long.

FIG. 9.—White rhododendron (Rhododendron albiflorum). Color of flower, white or greenish white; height of plant, 4 to 6 feet; blooms July and August. Photograph by A. H. Barnes.

FIG. 10—White rhododendron (Rhododendron albiflorum). Color of flower, white or greenish White; height of plant, 4 to 6 feet; blooms July and August. Photograph hy Asahel Curtis.

The ovate-leaved salal, Gaultheria ovatifolia, occurs here among the moss. It is much smaller than its lowland relative and lies closer to the ground with its zigzag stem, ovate leaves, and small white urn-shaped flowers. These plants will leave a photograph of themselves on white paper when pressed, thus showing the presence of oil. In case of a forest fire both species of these plants take fire readily because of their oily nature and do much to increase the rapidity of the fire over the forest cover. They burn with an explosive crackling sound.

The twin-flower, Linnaea americana (fig. 11), is one of the most dainty and graceful of our trailing vines. Trailing vines are rather rare in this region as are plants with much fragrance. This plant can be detected by its odor long before it is seen. It has two graceful, pink bell-shaped flowers near the end of each branch. These vines grow in radiating lines and its connection with the honeysuckle family can be seen both by its creeping stems and its fragrance. This plant is named in honor of Linnaeus, the great Swedish botanist. It has a wide range extending across the continent. Locally, it extends from sea level to about 4,000 feet, reaching its highest devel opment about 2,800 feet.

FIG. 11 —Twin-flower (Linnaea americana.) Color of flower, pink; plant trailing on the ground, etc.; blooms July and August. Photograph by A. H. Denman.

The squaw-grass, Xerophyllum tenax (fig. 12), is perhaps the plant that attracts the greatest attention. It receives its common name from the fact that the Indians use it in making their baskets. It has other popular names, such as mountain lily, elk-grass, bear-grass, etc. It may be recognized by its dense mat of coarse grass-like leaves and flower stalk about 3 feet high with raceme of beautiful creamy white flowers. In the early stages of development the flowers are crowded into a conical cluster at the top which gradually lengthens out until the stalk is nearly uniform with flowers on all sides. This, like the twin-flower, is very fragrant. In places where the trees are small this plant grows abundantly, generally in volcanic ash soil.

FIG. 12.—Squaw-grass (Xerophyllum tenax). Color of flower, white; height of plant, 3 to 4-1/2 feet; blooms June to August. Photograph by Asahel Curtis.

With it may be found the pyrolas, pipsissewas, and mertens' coral root Corallorhiza mertensiana. The latter may be recognized by its leafless stalk, coral-like roots, and strange pink flowers in racemes. This saprophyte grows in clusters like the other coral roots and is a characteristic plant of this region. Several of the leafless plants mentioned in the first zone extend well up through the second. The common lousewort, Pedicularis racemosa (fig. 13), may be known by its tendency to lean over, its lanceolate leaves, and pinkish-white flowers. It usually grows in radiate clusters.

FIG. 13.—Common lousewort (Pedicularis racemosa). Color of flower, pinkish white: height of plant, 5 to 8 inches; blooms July and August. Photograph by A. H. Barnes.

FIG. 14—Pedicularis contorta. Color of flower, light yellow; height of plant, 6 to 9 inches; blooms July and August. Photograph by A. H. Barnes.

Sweet-after-death, Achlys triphylla, is common through these woods, extending up from sea level. It may be known by its spike of small white feathery flowers and the leaf in three cuneate sections. This has several other common names, as sweet-clover, vanilla leaf, smelling leaves, etc. In the cities it is collected in bunches and sold on the streets under the name "smelling leaves," as the leaves become more fragrant as they dry.

Trautvetteria grandis has no common name. It has delicate white feathery blossoms in corymbs and maple-like leaves. It belongs to the buttercup family and like most plants of that group it is quite ornamental. Many questions are asked about it.

The bird's-foot bramble, Rubus pedatus, is recognized by its long trailing vine, compound leaves, and strawberry-like flowers. It covers the ground in many places, and the pack animals eagerly feed on it, when they have an opportunity. The snowy bramble, Rubus nivalis, may be recoguized by its hard glossy simple leaves, red ber ries, and red flowers. It is never found in such abundance as the above. Somewhat similar to the bird's-foot bramble is Rubus lasiococcus, but this has simple leaves and extends to a greater altitude.

Along the rivers where there is an abundance of light may be found a strange assembly of plants. Many are washed down from above and have rooted in the scanty soil. Those not adapted will sooner or later die, while those like the alder and willow form thickets and grow luxuriantly, thus giving protection to other plants. In this way the river channel is often changed. Luina hypoleuca, a beautiful composite plant with glossy oval leaves, white underneath, is found on the old river channels at Longmire Springs and much lower down. This grows on the perpendicular cliffs near the glaciers. The plants themselves may be washed down and take root when stranded, or seeds may be carried by the river and lodge on the gravel bars and germinate, producing the species at a lower altitude. Perhaps both methods are successful in the production of these river bottom strangers, many of which compete successfully with those plants common to that region. Maples, cottonwoods, alders, and willows are the arborescent plants usually found here. These river-bar waifs are usually those which grow along streams higher up or on perpendicular cliffs above the streams.

There are several extensive areas swept by fire just below the meadows. The "pearly everlasting" seems to have taken possession of some of these, while the fireweed and a combination of other plants have a firm hold on other areas. These burnt areas are strewn with fallen logs and old erect snags, which are tottering and ready to fall. After every windstorm there is a new addition to the prostrate forms. This is especially noticeable along the roads, trails, and telephone lines. Some of these areas were burned 30 years ago. Still there is little progress toward reforestation. The areas near the forest receive the seed and new trees start up, while those more remote have made little headway and still present desolate scenes with their blighted crop of "ghost trees" and scattered logs. The huckleberries, mountain ash, and the white rhododendron usually grow in great profusion and ripen their fruit in excellent condition.

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Last Updated: 15-May-2007