Nature Notes

Vol. X October, 1932 No. 10

Plant Cliff Dwellers

The Stonecrop (Sedum divergens and Sedum stenapetalum), close relatives of the saxifrages are widely distributed on the cliffs where they grow both on the ledges and talus slopes. Their yellow flowers and fleshy leaves make them very attractive. Alaska Spirea (Lutkea pectinata) of the Rose Family is also widely distributed at the higher elevations growing usually upon broken down cliff slopes.

Representing the Mustard family in the cliff habitat are Draba aureola and Smelowskia ovalis which are distinctive in their being the highest flowering cliff dwellers on Mount Rainier. At the lower elevations we find the Mountain Wallflower (Erysimum sp.) with its sweet scented yellow flowers. But we cannot except the Phlox family. Several species of this interesting and well known family prefer the cliffs and dry hillsides here on "The Mountain." The Mountain Phlox (Phlox diffusa) is the more common and best known while the Gilia which closely resembles this Phlox in many ways is very abundant in some localities. The Mountain Phlox is one of the most interesting and beautiful of our plants. Forming large mats in the thin layers of volcanic ash or dust which was accumulated on cliff edges its low, prostrate stems and linear, sharp pointed leaves make them able to hold the soil in place and prevent loss of moisture. The leaves are xerophytic and the numerous flowers vary in color from nearly white to violet.

The attractive flowers and sticky stems of the Jacob's Ladder (Poleminium elegans and Polemonium humile) make these plants choice rockery varieties. The former is common on the cliffs of the Hudsonian Zone while the latter may be found high upon the barren cliffs well into the Arctic-alpine region.

Note: This is the second and last part of this article -- the first section of which was printed last month. (CFB) phlox

The Mountain Buckwheat (Erigonium pyrolaefolium corphaeum) with its rose colored dense umbel of flowers and loosely tufted basal leaves is an interesting member of the cliff habitue, prefering dry, broken down cliffs where it finds lodgement in the rocky crevices and thin soil. And another interesting plant -- the Mountain Sorrel (Oxyria digma) has dock like flowers turning later into showy, bright red fruit.

Among the many species of the Composite family are several cliff dwellers. One of the most attractive of these is the Mountain Goldenrod (Solidage corymbosa) which greatly resembles the goldenrod of the lower altitudes. It has a short stem and is often found peeping out of a rock cranny on perpendicular cliffs. There are a number of hardy members of this group, as of others not mentioned, that inhabit the cliffs but reference has been made only to the more prominent or showy ones. Too, it is not to be implied that these species grow exclusively on cliffs, for most of them grown in other places having a like habitat.

The non-flowering plants - lichens, mosses and ferns - also furnish their quota of cliff dwellers. The Lace Fern (Cheilanthes gracillima) grows in dense tufts with its roots firmly anchored in rock crevices and often lines these crevices for several feet. With dark stems and lace-like foliage it is dainty and graceful. Rock fissures are also brightened by the Licorce-root Fern (Polypodium occidentale) while still another - the Rock Fern (Cryptogramma arastichoides) is found in the debris or talus at the base of the cliffs. This latter species is of particular interest because of its two kinds of fronds; one a vegetative and the other a reproductive frond.

Lichens, of course, are a group of very simple plants that form thin incrustacions upon the surface of cliff rocks. In color they are red, yellow, green or grey and from a distance appear as though painted upon the cliff. Being extremely hardy they occur on the dryest of cliffs and where extremes of temperature are common. These lichens are the pioneers of the plant world since they help to form the soil and prepare the way for the less hardy plants.

These are a few of the more prominent cliff dwelling plants in Mount Rainier National Park - plants that will arouse and hold the interest of the botanist as he scales rugged pinnacles or scrambles about over isolated cleavers that border the cold ice of the glaciers. One never knows when some one of these hardy plants will pop into view to add beauty and interest to the most barren of rock faces.

Charles Landes-Ranger-Naturalist

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