Nature Notes

Vol. III July 15th, 1925 No. 3

By F. W. Schmoe, Park Naturalist

It is likely that Mount Rainier National Park is more famous - taken the world over - for its remarkable fields of wild flowers than for any other one feature. The expression " where flowers and glaciers meet " and most of the other statements made concerning the unusual beauty of the wild flowers are literally true.

Down in the belt of dense lower-slope forests, comparatively few flowers bloom but those which find in the moist mossy woods a habitat suitable to their peculiar needs, are often strangely beautiful and in numerous instances quite unusual. These shade-loving species - orchids, ghost-pipes, pyrolas, wintergreens, skunk-cabbages, forest anemones, and dwarf dogwood combine with the ferns and mosses to give interest and a rich verdant appearance to the dark forest floor.

It is in the open alpine meadows above this belt of timber and below the line of permanent snow that the famous wild flower fields are found. Between the scattered clumps of trees the mountain meadows are so carpeted with lovely blossoms, all thru the summer, that over large areas the ground is entirely covered, and the colors on hillsides overgrown with flowers of the more brilliant hues, may be noted at a distance of a mile or more. As this series of alpine parks extend, at elevations between five and seven thousand feet, completely around the mountain the result is a perfect garland of flowers two miles across and fifty miles in circuit draped about the shoulders of the ancient monarch like gigantic ' leis ' of fragrant blossoms. Or in the worlds of the famous naturalist, John Muir who visited the mountain in 1907:

"Above the forests there is a zone of the loveliest flowers, fifty miles in circuit and nearly two miles wide, so closely planted and luxuriant that it seems as if nature, glad to make an open space between the woods so dense and the snows so deep, were economizing the precious ground and trying to see how many of her darlings she could get together in one perfect wreath - daisies, anemones, columbine, crythronums, larkspurs, etc., among which we waded knee-deep and waist-deep, the bright corollas in myriads touching petal to petal. Altogether this is the richest sub-alpine flower garden I have found, a perfect flower elysium."

More than 500 different flowers bloom each season within the boundaries of the Park, and often as many as 100 different varieties may be found in bloom at one time and in one small area. Practically every color and tone is represented and the flowers follow each other in such close succession that from the time the first bare ground appears in the spring until the snows come again in the fall there is never a break in the passing show. In fact the little avalanche lilies that bloom in such profusion early in the season do not wait until the snow is gone but each year is found pushing its tightly rolled leaves through the departing snow drifts and I have actually found it in full bloom through three inches of snow. And after the first snows late in the summer the blue gentian and the numerous asters go right on blooming until completely submerged in the growing blanket of white. In the spring these cold-storage flowers sometimes come out in a remarkable state of preservation.

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