Features of the Flora of Mount Rainier National Park
NPS Logo


In the pumice fields and rocky ledges above timber line one of the most beautiful plants is Lyall's lupine, Lupinus lyallii (figs. 37 and 38). It extends upward to about 8,000 or 9,000 feet. It is small and forms a rosette with its silvery palmate leaves and numerous stems, each bearing a short raceme of brilliant blue-purple flowers. It blooms soon after the snow disappears, and keeps on blooming until about the middle of August. The season for all plants in these alpine and subalpine regions is governed by the depth of the snow. The position and depth of snowdrifts depend largely on the winter conditions, which vary from year to year. The flower beds on these pumice fields have many extreme changes. One locality may have little snow, while near by may be a drift 20 feet deep. In the former the plants spring forth early, while in the latter they are buried in snow, which may not thaw for weeks. In the former locality the plants may ripen their seeds, while in the latter the autumn snow may bury them in full bloom. For this reason the date of blooming can not be given as we speak of it in regard to our common plants, which vary comparatively little.

FIG. 37.—Lyall's lupine (Lupinus lyallii). Color of flower, bluish purple; height of plant, 2 to 7 inches; blooms July and August. Photograph by A. H. Barnes.

FIG. 38.—Lyall's lupine (Lupinus lyallii). Color of flowers bluish purple; height of plants 2 to 7 inches; blooms July and August. Photograph by A. R. Denman.

Pentstemon rupicola is one of the most highly-colored plants on the mountain. It is often seen on cliffs, it has short, prostrate, shrubby stems with thick leaves and rose-crimson flowers. Very similar to the above is Pentstemon menziesii with duller purple flowers. These extend to an altitude of nearly 8,000 feet. Spraguea multiceps grows in the volcanic ash from a thick rootstalk bearing several short stems with entire spatulate leaves and pinkish-brown heads. Growing with the above is a member of the dock family, Eriogonum pyrolaefolium coryphaeum (fig. 39). This has one to four flowers of a purplish yellow color in an umbel with short flower stalks and thick oblong leaves. Polygonum newberryi belongs to the same family as the above. It may be known by its somewhat prostrate habit, rather fleshy ovate leaves, and small greenish flowers.

FIG. 39.—Eriogonum pyrolaefolium coryphaeum. Color of flowers yellowish purple; height of plants 3 to 8 inches; blooms July and August. Photograph by A. H. Barnes.

On the storm-swept peaks and ridges in the crevices of the rock may be found the tiny lace fern, Cheilanthes gracillima, with its numerous thread-like roots securely anchored from the fury of the storms. It is seldom more than 3 or 4 inches high. Nature has made ample provision for its inclement environment by clothing it with a furry woolly garment. It is found on the summit of Pinnacle Peak and on Plummer Peak. Sometimes it is found as low as the peaks overlooking the terminal moraines of the glaciers and the rocky pinnacles above the road leading from Narada Falls to the Nisqually. Its companion plants are the mountain polypody, Polypodium hesperium, the kinnikinnik, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi and Pentstemon oreopola. Sometimes Phlox diffusa is woven in and out among them. A study of any one of these peaks is extremely interesting, whether the student be a botanist or not.

Competing with Lyall's lupine for first rank as to beauty of foliage and brilliancy of flower is Phacelia sericea, an elegant plant of the water-leaf family. It may be known by its silvery foliage and purplish flowers, stem leafy to the top and leaves pinnately parted into linear divisions. This plant was formerly seen along the trail to the summit. The writer failed to see a single plant last summer along that route. It doubtless makes too good a souvenir to be let alone. Polemonium elegans may be known by its strong odor, alternate pinnately parted viscid leaves, and cymulose cluster of blue flowers with yellow centers. A small aster, Erigeron compositum, having pinkish flower and dissected leaves, grows here. Hulsea nana, another composite plant, may be known by its large yellow flowers, 2 to 6 inches high, with sticky pinnatifid leaves, mostly radical, from a long branching rootstock. This plant also is now rare along the trail to the summit. It is not likely that the tourist would carry this plant after its viscid quality was discovered, though its large golden yellow flowers would tempt the flower destroyer to pluck it.

Draba aureola, a yellow mustard, grows rather sparingly on the rocky ledges at Camp Muir and at similar altitudes around the mountain. Its lower leaves are oblanceolate, usually less than half an inch long, and the upper are oblong. It is densely pubescent all over, even the oblong seed pods being covered with fine stellate hairs. Smelowskia ovalis is another hardy plant which belongs to the mustard family. It has hoary white foliage, creamy white flowers in terminal racemes and pinnatifid leaves. These two cruciferous plants just mentioned reach a higher altitude than do any other flowering plants on the mountain. Perhaps the smelowskia beats its companion a little. Two grasses, Poa lettermani, Poa suksdorfii, and a sedge are close competitors for the highest honors.

Number of varieties of ferns and flowering plants occurring in Mount Rainier National Park.

Fern allies17
Evergreen trees or Pinacea15
Grasses and allied plants66
Other flowering or seed plants417

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>>

Last Updated: 15-May-2007