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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Orchid Trips

Over the last two weekends I have been on two lovely trips with the Native Orchid Society.


Each trip was distinctly different from the other.

Last weekend was to see a specific orchid. Truly that! The Phantom Orchid is simply that , a rare and elusive plant that blooms inconsistently. You cannot count upon it being at the place it bloomed last year. The Phantom is totally without chlorophyll and makes use of an intermediate fungal hyphae ( underground fungal threads) to connect itself to the host plant.

The venue was a stunning private home on the Olympic Peninsula. The owners had a wonderful home in the woods and had worked hard to preserve the second growth forest around their home. It was here they found the Phantom Orchids and to the knowledge of our leader, this is the only known spot on the Olympic Peninsula where this flower is currently known to bloom.

We were given ample opportunity to view and photograph the two flowering spikes. The freshest spike had grown up inside some greenery which produced a twisted, convoluted stem. The white blossom, as white always is, a challenge for my little cameras.

Sorry this image is so small. Somewhere along the line I lost my original image and could only salvage this from my Flickr account.

But I was thrilled to see this lovely thing and visit such a nice couple who clearly care about the world around them.

Plus needing to pass through Kingston, I stopped at Mora for ice-cream. Simply the best ice-cream shop ever. This picture is from last month when I hosted a little traveler called Rhiney. There is something deliciously decadent about walking on the ferry on the hottest day of the year and riding across to have ice-cream for dinner.

Yesterday was a different type of trip. Lake Elizabeth, outside Skykomish is in the far northeast corner of King County. For years the little lake could be driven to but a land slide took out the road about three miles from the lake, requiring an approximate three mile hike in. I had read about the lake but had never been. When I saw that there were plans for this trip, I knew this would be the opportunity to visit a new place in the company of friends.

I got off to a bad start in messing up on the written directions to the starting point. I encountered two train crossings in my misadventure and had to stop at the train crossing each time, putting me further behind the rendezvous time.

Worse was that each crossing stop was for the same train. A long slow train. But I got to the start and was happy to see some familiar type vehicles. I started up the trail across a bridge that had "road closed " sign. I figured my group was just up the way by about 1/2 hour or less.

I encountered a fire truck simply parked. It seemed strange. There were, however many pieces of heavy road construction equipment along the road. They were trying to do work on this road but personally I wonder if it is worth it. I think I counted at least four landslides that have impacted the road and taken good chunks of it away. You could see parts of the hillside want to slide down in the future. I figured that the water truck was a precaution around the heavy equipment, should all the work spark some fire.

But later I met a ranger simply standing with supplies and a radio near his truck. It turns out there was a spot fire high on the ridge above us. I could clearly see the column of smoke rising from a place at the base of a cliff. In talking to the ranger , he said they figured it was someones poorly left campfire. It had been smoldering for several days. I heard helicopters later on and found out on my return that they had dropped firefighters into the high spot along with equipment. The fighters would camp for several days working to put down the fire. The helicopters would drop supplies as needed. On the return hike I could hear chainsaws working high on the ridge.

As I hiked along I counted the mile markers placed by the county for the road workers. Doing the math I had to wonder where the lake was since the trip schedule said this was about a seven mile (total) hike. I had already done about 3 1/2 and there was nothing but a running creek. I eventually crossed what was the original landslide that took out the road several years ago. I knew my hike was going to be longer than advertised.

I caught up to my group and the leader said that the original bridge crossing was not supposed to be the planned starting point and that today's hike would be longer than anticipated. OK I am game for anything. The weather was fine, there were a lot of butterflies to try and photograph. The only thing more frustrating than trying to identify butterflies (I find it very challenging) is photographing them.

I believe this is a Hydaspe Fritillary , Speyeria hydaspe.

This is Phoebus Parnassian , Parnassius phoebus. They were everywhere and totally frustrating to capture.

This pretty Garter Snake offered a lot of opportunity to take a picture.

We reached the lake which owing to its remote access is little visited. The trail around it has been little used and so we started bushwhacking through greenery.

We encountered many Slender Bog Orchid , Platanthera stricta along the long trail in and around the lake itself.

We also had one small patch of Tall White Bog-orchid just starting to open.

Even though my brothers and sisters insist I was, this is not where I was found as a baby.

Skunk Cabbage

All over in the boggy area frogs of many sizes were swimming popping and hopping. They blend in so well that you really have to be careful when walking in their territory.

The trail, such as it was, became choked with fallen trees and the overgrowth did not support going any further. I was thrilled we came this way, however, as I found a single specimen of Pinesap an odd saprophyte, much like the Indian Pipes. I have never seen this except in book pictures.

We also encountered some Common Butterwort. I am disappointed this photograph did not turn out well. They are pretty little flowers and totally insectivorous. Their leaves trap bugs to supplement their "diet" in nitrogen poor soils. In my reading I found out that it was believed the juice of butterwort protected cows from the elf arrows and humans from witches and fairies. The juice is also used on chapped udders of the cows.

We backtracked the trail and headed off around the lake encountering a better trail and a few more species including Heartleaf twayblade and Listeria caurina (banksiana) Northwestern Twayblade, an impossibly tiny orchid.

By now it was 2:30 and I knew I had at least seven miles to hike back down. I decided to call it a day and I hiked back to my car along with another member. Seven hours on the trail with no opportunity to sit down; about 15 miles round trip, I was feeling it late last night. But I was thrilled with the six different orchid species encountered as well as the Pinesap and Butterwort.

Today does not feel like a day for a long hike, so I will go out and find something "easy" and new.


  1. My goodness, that's a long hike. But, as you said, the result was worth it. Your pictures are lovely, as usual, especially the one of the slender bog orchid.

    Can't wait to see where you went today.

  2. That was a long hike, wasn't it? We were pretty weary when we got home, took a shower, a quick look at our pictures and went to bed. Love your picture of the lake (Lake Elizabeth, by the way, not Margaret) - they're all good, especially the butterflies - I'll have to look at my butterfly shots to see if I got the same ones. I take it you didn't find the Platanthera chorisiana.

  3. Yikes my bad on getting the lake name wrong. I was pretty pooped out this morning but just returned from a 5 mile ramble in nearby woods.

    We did not find chorisiana though Carol and I left not long after you. Melissa said she would send out word if they found . Last seen they were slogging the lake edge the wet way.

    Ron I am sure your butterfly pictures turned out superbly. I watched you work and it looks like you got in on some of the Parnassians pretty well.