Nature Notes

Mount Rainier National Park

Vol. II August 27, 1924 No. 10

Issued weekly during the summer season, monthly during the remainder of the year by the Nature Guide Service.
F. W. Schmoe
Park Naturalist
O. A. Tomlinson

By Park Ranger Charles Landes

Spring is a long season on Mount Rainier. It begins with May and ends with the early September snows.

Like the march of spring northward coming to points northward later and later, so spring comes on the mountain. When finally it reaches the snowline or the arctic it tarries but a short while.

The spring flowers, many of them like the avalanche lily, Red heather, valerian and many others march up the mountain with the departure of the snow and the coming of spring.

Flowers accustom themselves more or less rigorously to the temperature in which they are found so that any one flower will not keep on indefinitely climbing with spring but reaches a halting point beyond which it refuses to go so that we have flower zones closely corresponding to the temperature zones on the mountain. Each plant and animal has a zone or climatic address. This zone supplies the peculiar requirements of the plant or animal in which it can best hold the ground against its competitors. These flower zones are so definite for some flowers that one can fix within a few hundred feet their altitudes upon the mountain by the Pyrolas, Heathers, and many other flowers.

These flower zones on the mountain also have a very close resemblance to the latitude zones of plant life as you go northward to the arctic. At the altitude of Longmire, the Canada dogwood is common, a plant not found at sea level at the latitude of the mountain, but common at sea level in the latitude of Southern Canada.

At the altitude of Paradise Park on the mountain you reach the Hudsonian region or an altitude of plant distribution corresponding to the plants at sea level in the Hudson Bay country of Canada.

The trees also make a like change. In the latitude of central Canada they are scattered and dwarfed and in the region about central Canada and northward they are scattered over the plains with beautiful meadowlands between much like the park lands of altitudes of five to six thousand feet on the mountain.

Above this region the trees are more and more dwarfed until you reach the barren lands of the Arctic where they spread out flat upon the grounds to protect themselves from the deep snows and the long cold winters, finally disappearing altogether in the purely arctic regions above just as they do in their march northward on the continent.

Finally in their march up the mountain we reach the barren lands just below the snowline. Here we are confronted by a new problem, for the flowers of this region for the most part did not march up the mountain, they cannot grow at lower altitudes only a few of them having worked downward to the tree zone. They are like Robinson Crusoe stranded on their mountain island with eternal snows above the conditions in which they do not thrive below.

How then did they reach their present isolated homes? This is a problem which can be explained probably in two ways. Some of the more hardy lowland plants have gradually adapted themselves to higher and higher altitudes and so have marched up from below. The larger number of the plants of this region and many of those farther down the mountain no doubt were driven southward by the great glaciers that in past ages moved downwards from the north and so in truly Crusoe fashion have been literally stranded at their high elevation where they find the conditions genial and like their former northland home. Since the disappearance of the glaciers and the melting of the snows they have been unable to escape except by the downward march and because they have lived in their bleak habitat for so many centuries of time they are disinclined to leave it.

The Ptarmigan, an arctic bird also inhabits this region and like the flowers of the region was also left stranded in his present home and although he can freely leave it he still prefers it to any other home.

The life zones of the mountain are very complicated and especially at altitudes of five to six thousand feet. Here lowland and arctic have a common meeting ground. Here the exposed or sunny side of a canyon may be lowland in vegetation, the opposite shady side where the snow lingers arctic so that in a very short distance you pass from temperate to frigid. Spring may linger in one spot throughout the entire season about the edge of some protected snow bank.

To travel two thousand feet up a slope in some places is like travelling two thousand miles northward. This is true when at sea level and it is to these many variable conditions of plant environment that we have the great variability of plant life on Mount Rainier.

<<< Previous
> Cover <
Next >>>