Nature Notes

Mount Rainier National Park

Vol. V September 6, 1927 Summer Season No. 10

Issued monthly during the winter months, weekly during the summer months, by the Mount Rainier National Park Nature Guide Service. By Floyd W. Schmoe, Park Naturalist.


Recently Ranger-Naturalist Landes discovered a beautiful but rare flowers growing in wet moss on a small cliff along Van Trump Creek a half mile below Comet Falls, elevation about 4500 feet. It is Pinguicula vulgaris of the Pinguiculaceae, but that does not describe it. Really there is nothing vulgar about it, it is a beauty. In many respects it resembles a violet or an orchid but closer examination reveals that it is related to neither. In fact, its nearest relatives with a reasonable name are the bladderworts and we suspect that it is not overly proud to admit it.

The leaves are light in color, basal, orchid-like, the flower is a beautiful shade of blue. (Note cover sketch for form). This plant has been recorded from the Park but it is new to us.


Many people this season have asked regarding the small purple things that grow at the tip of the tall spire-like alpine firs of the high country and look like small dark owls. The are the cones of the fir.

Only two species of trees are abundant in the alpine meadows, one of the alpine fir and the other the mountain hemlock. The cones stand up on the fir and hang down on the hemlock. The true firs are the only trees in America on which cones stand up. This is one way of identifying a fir. Another is to lean against it. If you stick to it, its a fir. The true firs, the balsms have pitch pockets or blisters in the bark filled with balsm. This is the source of the Canadian Balsm of Commerce.

There are four true firs, or balsms, in the Park. The most common tree is called a fir, the Douglas fir, but fir is a misnomer. The Douglas fir is a tree without relatives. A new name should have been invented for it but new words are difficult to invent so it was called a fir because it resembled in some respects a fir.

The alpine fir bears cones only every other year and by some coincident most of the trees bear the same year. Last year we looked for cones and found only two trees in Paradise Park in seed. This season there are tons of cones, almost every tree has its quota.

These cones are purple-green in color from three to four inches in length and one to one and a half inches in diameter. The scales fit close and there are no bracts. Small globules of pitch form on its surface making them very very disagreeable to handle but pleasant to smell. Sometimes as many as a hundred are born in dense clusters upon the upper short branches.

Another peculiarity of the cones of the true firs is that they never fall from the trees unless cut by squirrels, but rather fall apart on the trees when mature leaving a central core the size of pencil on the tree.

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