In the build for a hundred-miler that I had signed up for in late April, I decided to put in a 40+ mile long run, but I wanted it to be on an inspiring route. Therefore, I went to strava maps and put together an …
I signed up for the Run for Shoes 50K for the second year in a row. When I ran it in September of 2020, it was shortly after my failed Washington PCT attempt and my legs were fairly tired. Also the air quality was quite …
On a partly sunny 32-degree morning on December 12th I headed up to the Bullitt Fireplace Trailhead on Squak Mountain to participate in Chris Gregory’s Best of Squak Mountain Half Marathon. This was the first race style event that I had participated in since the Gulch Countdown in January. Even though it was a low-key event, I was still nervous about how my body would respond to a race-like effort.
Under the pretence of COVID19, we started in waves of five to limit group size. I went in the first group, which contained Dennis Gorsuch, Michael Eaton, Troy Haeseler, and Ryan Stueber. I started off fairly quickly as we ascended the 10% grade of the Bullitt Fireplace Trail. I was passed by Michael after about .5 miles and did not attempt to hold his pace. I know that Michael is a three-time Olympic Trials qualifier, so even if he is less experienced on the trails, his aerobic ceiling is still much higher than mine.
I turned my attention to holding off my frequent Squak training partner Dennis Gorsuch, who I knew would be closely pursuing. Dennis holds course records on many of the climbs, but he is not known for his descending prowess. So my thought was if I could climb close to as well as him, I could make up some time on the descents.
Another runner who I knew I would have to hold off was Troy Haesler who is known to be an extremely skilled downhill runner and daring risk taker on technical terrain. I know that on Margarets Way he even pulled out cross-country spikes to shave more time off his descent record! In order to fend off Troy on the final Chybinski descent, I knew I would have to bank away some serious time on the climbs.
In addition to Troy and Dennis I knew that there were many more excellent runners starting in different waves, so I did not want to let up on the pace in the slightest. So after about a mile on the Bullitt Fireplace Trail, the course then turned onto the Central Peak Trail, which continued upwards towards the Bullitt Fireplace. The race then transitioned onto the lesser-known Bullitt Central Connector Trail, which led to the Central Squak summit at mile 2.
From Central Squak Peak we all began the first descent of the day, down everyone’s favorite – Old Griz Trail. After a steep half-mile descent, Old Griz Trail ends at the start of Phil’s Creek Trail, which we followed for .3 miles before taking the East Side Trail. I took a little breather on East Side Trail, allowing my HR to decrease and breathing pattern to normalize with an easier pace.
The East Side Trail has some unique scenery; it features enormous glacial erratics, a cascading stream and a dilapidated staircase. These things make it great for an easy jog, but difficult in a competitive race. At around mile 3.7, the climbing begins again as we all transition onto the strenuous East Ridge Trail. However, instead of taking East Ridge all the way back up to Central, Chris sent us out to the elusive Southeast Squak summit for an out and back Oregon Grape massage. This .8-mile out and back was a great opportunity to get an update on everyone’s location on the course.
I noticed I was about a minute behind Michael, because he was coming off the summit as I was going up. I also saw Dennis was right behind me, followed by Troy, then Bret, and then Zach, who were all looking very strong! From the Southeast Squak Trail, we briefly returned to the East Ridge Trail before turning onto the narrow gradually downhill Phil’s Creek Trail. It was near the junction with the Equestrian Loop when I saw it… the coolest wildlife sighting of my life – A Porcupine! I actually almost ran into the magnificent creature in my haste to make up time. It was dark brown, roughly the size of an overweight Dodson and covered with long sleek quills.
I could not linger too long to appreciate the rare sighting, I had charging runners to fend off so I pressed onward and crossed the bridge over Phil’s Creek onto the Equestrian Loop Trail. I love the series of switchbacks on this trail, which lead to the May Valley Loop down near the May Valley entrance to the park.
Just past the halfway point around mile 7, our final large ascent began up the May Valley Loop Trail. This trail gradually climbs along McDonald Creek and eventually transitions onto the Perimeter Trail at the Bullitt Gorge Junction. As I ascended the switchbacks I could not see Michael ahead of me, nor Dennis behind me, I was in no-mans-land in relation to my competitors. Around mile 9.5, the race begins the last pitch up to the final summit of the race – West Squak Peak. Mark Griffith was on the West Squak false summit taking photographs, a fitting place after a grueling race thus far.
After returning to the Bullitt Fireplace-Perimeter-Chybinski Junction, we began the final descent of the day, which would lead us, all back to the starting point at the Bullitt Fireplace Trailhead. The new Chybinski Trail is so smooth and easy to run, it made the final downhill of the day pleasant and fun to cruise down to the finish. The trail winds and switchbacks through some of the prettiest forest on the mountain at about a 10% grade. I reached the finish in 1:56:48, less than two minutes off the winning time.
Overall I was satisfied with second place, especially considering the winner was a multi-time Olympic Trials qualifier! I was also elated to break the 2-hour barrier, which was a prerace goal. It was a beautiful morning on the mountain and Chris Gregory did an excellent job creating such a unique route that truly captured the best of Squak. Thank you so much to all the volunteers at the race who took photographs, lined and swept the course, and manned the start/finish area. I want to further commend Chris for his efforts on what is sure to become an Issy Alps classic in his directorial debut.
This post is intended to highlight the reptiles and amphibians of my beloved Issy Alps, however, I feel I must first dive into herpetofauna more generally. The study of these two classes is referred to as Herpetology. Herpetology as a term is anomalous because 17th …
The Run for Shoes 50K was my first race since COVID19 and it was also unconventional because it was a time trial style race. Typically, I am not interested in virtual races because the competitive aspect that I love about racing is eliminated but with …
I moved to Issaquah in June of 2018 after a four month home health contract in Pullman, Washington. We purchased our condo after living in our RV for one month and were ecstatic with our new place and the impeccable location. As with most places I have lived, I took a keen interest in the local flora, and even though we lived in Newcastle just down the street in 2017, I feel as though I became even more interested in my surroundings after making Issaquah my permanent residence.
Issaquah is in the King County ecoregion referred to as the Western Cascades Lowlands and Valleys. This region is characterized by a network of steep ridges and narrow valleys. The elevation spread is 800 to 4000 feet, but generally less than 3200 feet, which is the lowest in the Cascades ecoregion. The ridges trend west and the valleys have medium gradient rivers and streams (Ecoregions – King County, 2020).
Issaquah is referred to as a warm-summer Mediterranean climate (Csb) on the Koppen climate classification. This climate is a subtype of Mediterranean climate and is characterized by chilly, extremely wet winters and warm, moderately humid summers. Specifically, there are no monthly averages higher than 72 °F. During the coldest months, the average temperature ranges between 27 and 64°F. This is due to the cool Pacific ocean currents and upwellings, and the altitude of the landscape. This climate type, which extends from Western Washington south along the coasts of Oregon and California, is also found on the northern Iberian Peninsula, central Chile, southern Australia, Morocco’s Atlantic coast, and southwestern South Africa (Peel, Finlayson and McMahon, 2020).
In terms of the United States Department of Agriculture hardiness zones, Issaquah is 8b meaning that the low temperatures range from 15 to 20 °F. The average first frost ranges from October 11 to 20 and last frost ranges from April 21 to 30. This allows for a wide range of diverse plants that are much more unique than my home state of Ohio which ranges from 5 to 6 (USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, 2020).
Issaquah is home to Cougar Mountain, Squak Mountain, Taylor Mountain, Grand Ridge and Tiger Mountain.
Cougar Mountain Regional Park is between 1,000 and 1,600 feet above sea level and includes diverse habitats such as mature second growth forests, streams and wetlands, cliffs, and nearby caves. The landscape is dominated by mostly second growth forest consisting of deciduous trees such as Big-leaf Maple, Vine Maple, and Red Alder. However, there are some areas with a healthy population of Douglas Fir, Western Redcedar, and Western Hemlock and the accompanying understory. There are many marshy areas and riparian zones with the typical forbs and shrubs. My favorite area in the park is the De Leo Wall section and it is highlighted by a cliff side covered in Pacific Madrone and an interior covered by Douglas Fir-Salal-Oregon Grape forest.
Squak Mountain State Park is a beautiful and rugged parcel of land that is home to a wide array of habitats much like Cougar Mountain. Squak is also home to wetlands and second growth forest; however, the mountains are a little higher and little steeper, topping out just above 2000 feet. My favorite section of Squak is the East side of the mountain, which consists of Maple-Red Alder-Cottonwood forest near the base of the mountain. Then gives way to Douglas Fir-Salal forest in the middle sections, and then continues on to Western Redcedar-Western Hemlock-Douglas Fir forest as the elevation increases.
Taylor Mountain Regional Park is an ecologically important park due to its many Salmon spawning streams and its habitat use. Additionally, it borders the Cedar River Watershed, which supplies much of Seattle’s water supply. The mountain saw logging operations occurring well into the 1970s therefore much of the forest is second growth deciduous trees such as Red Alder and Big-Leaf Maple. However, there are still some areas with Douglas Fir, Western Redcedar, and Spruce. My favorite section of this park is the Elk Ridge which forms the eastern border of the park and is home to some beautiful conifer growth and pristine meandering streams.
Grand Ridge Park is a swath of land that rises about 1100 feet in elevation and is home to second growth Douglas Fir forest as well as groves of Western Redcedar trees along with western sword ferns. Some of the Western Redcedars in Grand Ridge are up to 1.5 meters in diameter! There are many Red Alder forests and wetlands as well as the headwaters of the Salmon-bearing Canyon Creek.
Tiger Mountain NRCA is home to talus rock caves, steep mountainsides, and summit rock outcrops, all of which were shaped by glaciers. This park sustains high quality Douglas Fir/Pacific Madrone/Salal plant communities. Additionally the park is at the eastern limit of Sitka Spruce range, and these trees occur on the plateau. There are hundred-year old Western Redcedar stands that have old-growth forest structure despite the relatively young age. Additionally there are actual old-growth stands that are over 200 years old that are at higher elevation in the park. These contain Douglas Fir, Western Redcedar, and Western Hemlock. Additionally there are sedge meadows with Oregon Ash and Black Cottonwood in the wetlands around Tradition Lake and Round Lake (West Tiger Mountain Natural Resources Conservation Area | WA – DNR, 2020).
Within the Issy Alps there are a number of common trees including:
Acer circinatum or Vine Maple prefers moist climates and ranges from northern California into British Columbia. It most commonly grows as a large shrub reaching heights of 5 to 8 meters, but can form an 18 meter tree. It possesses a typical maple-like leaf, but is quite small, resembling an ornamental Japanese Maple leave. It also bends and forms very unique natural arches, some of my favorite examples are on the Poo Top Trail on Tiger Mountain and the Tibbets Marsh trail on Cougar Mountain.
Acer macrophyllum or Bigleaf Maple is the largest Maple in North America and has leaves that grow up to one foot wide. They typically grow from sea level to 1,500 feet and this deciduous tree can reach heights of 48 meters!
Alnus rubra or Red Alder is typically seen in riparian zones and its whitish bark is a lichen which grows on the trunk. These deciduous trees can reach heights of 20 to 30 meters. These trees typically occupy clear cuts and fix the soil nitrogen and thus are important for successive plant species.
Alnus alnobetula or Sitka Alder is a shrubby tree that also grows in riparian habitats and reaches heights of 3 to 12 meters. Its defining feature is the long catkins that open in late winter.
Alnus rhombifolia or White Alder is also a shrubby tree that inhabits riparian zones, reaches heights of 15 to 25 meters, and produces catkins that resemble small conifer cones when they dry out.
Arbutus menziesii or Pacific Madrone is unique tree that has flaky bark with colors ranging from orange to green. They prefer well-drained locations, so they are often seen on rocky cliff sides. They also produce red berries that contrast their pale waxy green leaves. This is my favorite tree of western Washington and I believe the best place to spot them is De Leo Wall on Cougar Mountain.
Conrus nuttallii or Pacific Dogwood is a native dogwood that has beautiful white flowers in the spring resembling nursery ornamental trees.
Crataegus douglasii or Black Hawthorn is a shrubby tree that grows along streams within open fields and also lowland valleys. It is covered in fan-shaped green leaves with teeth along the distal margin. There are thorns along the branches, tipped with white flowers, and the plant produces very dark purple pomes. Crataegus monogyna is a species of Hawthorn that is native to Europe, Africa, and West Asia and was introduced to southwest Australia where the Gang Gang Cockatoo feeds on the berries.
Fraxinus latifolia or Oregon Ash is the only native ash tree to the Pacific Northwest and typically prefers wetland areas. This is a medium-sized deciduous tree that can grow to heights of 20 meters and live up to 150 years. The best place to spot this tree in the Issy Alps is on the Tradition Plateau.
Malus fusca or Pacific Crab Apple is a deciduous shrubby tree that grows up to 13 meters that is found in thickets and pastures. It produces flowers that are white or pale pink which bloom in the spring. It also produces fruits that are small round apple-shaped pomes of red, yellow, or yellow green.
Picea sitchensis or Sitka Spruce is a coniferous tree that reaches heights of 100 meters with trunk diameters of 5 meters. It is the largest spruce tree and the fifth largest conifer in the world. It dominates the coastal rainforest and then thins as it moves to the interior, nearly disappearing past Tiger Mountain. Apryle and I once visited the Queets Spruce, which is the largest Spruce in the world with a trunk volume of 346 m3 , a height of 74.6 m, and a 4.4 m dbh.
Pinus contorta or Shore Pine is a subspecies of Lodgepole Pine that grows up to 40 to 50 meters at many elevations and survives in nutrient poor locations such as dunes or bogs.
Pinus monticola or Western White Pine is a conifer that grows up to 30 to 50 meters in height in the Cascades, Olympics, and Rockies. The needles are finely serrated and 5 to 13 centimeters long and the cones can reach up to 32 centimeters. It prefers moist areas and occupies elevations up to 6000 feet.
Populus trichocarpa or Black Cottonwood occupies wetland areas and is the tallest broadleaf tree in the Pacific Northwest (and largest Poplar in North America), reaching up to 65 meters. It is generally short-lived but can live up to 4oo years.
Prunus emarginata or Bitter Cherry typically develops as a shrub and is found in moist locations.
Pseudotsuga menziesii or Douglas Fir is a very common Pacific Northwest Conifer that grows from sea level to 5,000 feet. It reaches heights of 20 to 100 meters with a trunk diameter of 8 meters. The leaves are flat, soft, linear, and 2 to 4 centimeters long, resembling those of the firs but occurring singly rather than in fascicles. They completely encircle the branches, which distinguishes them from true fir trees. The cones are pendulous, with persistent scales and they have long tridentine bracts that protrude prominently above each scale.
Quercus garryana or Oregon White Oak is the northernmost oak in the Pacific Northwest and grows to heights of 20 to 30 meters.
Rhamnus purshiana or Cascara is a small, broadleaf deciduous tree that grows in wet areas. It reaches heights of 4.5 to 10 meters and has flowers which bloom in umbel-shaped clusters, on the ends of distinctive peduncles that are attached to the leaf axils. The fruit is a 6 to 10 mm bright red drupe.
Salix species or Willow is a genus that includes dozens of species that are typically shrubs, but sometimes trees. They are a quintessential wetland plant and are always found near water.
Taxus brevifolia or Pacific Yew is a conifer found in dark, wet forest and are a variety of the shrub that my parents used as a hedge back in Ohio.
Thuja Plicate or Western Redcedar is an extremely recognizable tree in the Pacific Northwest known as the tree of life. It is an evergreen coniferous tree in the cypress family. It reaches heights of 65 to 70 meters with a trunk diameter of 3 to 7 meters. It is a long-lived tree, and can live for over 1000 years. The tree has a nice fragrance and is naturally resistant to rot and is often utilized in building materials.
Tsuga heterophylla or Western Hemlock has a similar range to the Western Redcedar and is associated with temperate rainforest and commonly found in wetter regions. It is an evergreen coniferous tree that reaches 50 to 70 meters in height with a trunk diameter of 3 meters. It is a climax species, meaning that as long as the area remains undisturbed the species composition while remain the same.
Tsuga mertensiana or Mountain Hemlock is a thick foliage evergreen coniferous tree that grows as high as 8,000 feet above sea level. It can reach heights of 20 to 40 meters with a trunk diameter of 2 meters.
Other Favorite trees of different regions:
Pinus flexilis or Limber Pine is a conifer that has pliant branches which gives it the common name limber. Its long needles are a dark, blueish green, its bark is heavily creased and dark grey. It typically stands alone and is battered by the wind because it is a high-elevation pine which often marks the tree line. I most remember this tree from my adventures in the Colorado Rockies. However, I do spot these trees in the alpine regions of the central Cascades here in Washington, just not in the Issy Alps.
Larix lyalli or Alpine Larch is a deciduous conifer that is found in very high elevations in the North Cascades of Washington and Rockies in British Columbia, Idaho, and Montana. This is one of my favorite trees and one that I typically spot in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness about 75 miles east of the Issy Alps.
Larix occidentalis or Western Larch is a lower elevation Larch that is found in most mountain ranges in the Pacific Northwest. This is another deciduous conifer and one that I most associate with eastern Washington and my beloved Whistler Canyon 50 course.
Maclura pomifera, or Osage orange, or Hedge Apple is a deciduous tree that typically grows 8 to 15 meters. This was one of my favorite trees growing up in Ohio, even though the tree was introduced from south central US. The pre-Columbian range was largely restricted to a small area in what is now the US, namely the Red River drainage of Okalahoma, Texas, and Arkansas. It is also found in the Blackland Prairies and Post Oak Savannas of that same region. Like Devil’s Club of the PNW there is also a disjunct population in the Chisos Mountains of Texas (Big Bend National Park). The distinctive fruit is from the multiple fruit family and is roughly spherical, bumpy and 8 to 15 centimeters in diameter. The fruit that my neighbor referred to as hairy balls turns bright yellow-green in the fall and are quite heavy, damaging anything in their path as they fall to the ground. The fruits secrete a sticky white latex when damaged and many in Ohio believed them to be a spider repellant. The tree is of the mulberry family, Moraceae. The fruit is rarely foraged by animals giving it distinction as anachronistic or a ghost of evolution. It is suggested that the coevolutionary partners to this tree were the Columbian Mammoth, Ground Sloth, American Mastodon, American Horse, and the Gomphotheres. The wood is dense, but flexible and was used by Native Americans in the crafting of bows. My dad and I would often save this wood for the coldest nights, because it was the hardest wood we had in our firewood collection. It burned the hottest and the longest and was the most difficult to split. The early American settlers utilized the hedge apple tree as a hedge in order to exclude free-range livestock from vegetable gardens and corn fields. With severe pruning, the hedge apple sprouted abundant shoots from its base and as they grew they formed interwoven dense, thorny barriers. The thorny Osage orange tree was widely naturalized throughout the US as a barrier, but was phased out by the invention of barbwire in 1874. However, the tree still persists and is full of unique character and is alway the subject of a good story.
Ohio Maples: Even though the largest maple is found in the PNW, I feel that my home state of Ohio is the land of the maple with a diverse array of trees including: Acer saccharum Sugar Maple, Acer saccharinum Silver Maple, Acer rubrum Red Maple, Acer nigrum Black maple, and Acer negundo Box elder. My best memories are of the Sugar Maples that surround my parents property in Tiffin.
Pinus ponderosa or Ponderosa Pine has orange bark that has a sweet butterscotch scent and prefers dry regions. There were several Ponderosa Pines near my apartment in Estes Park and I remember frequently seeing this tree in RMNP. I still spot this tree in the Cascades and eastern Washington, but not in the Issy Alps. Nonetheless it is one of my favorite pines, and the quintessential western pine.
Populus tremuloides or Quaking Aspen grows all across North America; preferring the Rocky Mountains. However, it is common east of the Cascades where it is typically found in riparian zones. It has a distinctive white bark and the leaves appear to quake in a gentle breeze, green in the spring and summer and golden in the autumn. There is a small stand in Confluence Park in Issaquah near the western fringe of the open space.
Platanus occidentalis or American Sycamore is a species of platanus native to the eastern and central United States, the mountains of northeastern Mexico, and extreme southern Ontario. The tree has mottled bark which flakes off in large irregular masses, leaving the surface mottled and gray, greenish-white and brown. It is a massive tree reaching up to 30 to 40 m high and 1.5 to 2 m in diameter when grown in deep soils. The tree is often divided near the ground into several secondary trunks and I find it to be quite visible from arial views due to its white branches which stand out in a typically brown canopy in the winter. There are a several of these trees along Sycamore Drive in Issaquah.
(Little maps, 2020 & Story Map Journal, 2020).
There are also a number of common shrubs and plants including:
Cornus sericea or Red-osier dogwood is a deciduous shrub that thrives in wetlands and grows up to 1.5 to 4 m tall and 3 to 5 m wide. It spreads readily by way of underground stolons and above ground forms dense thickets. The branches and twigs are dark red and the leaves are bright red or purple with white berries.
Holodiscus discolor or Ocean Spray is a shrub that grows from moist coastland to cool, dry, interior mountains. It grows 1.2 to 1.5 meters in height and has cascading clusters of white flowers which droop from the branches and give the plant its two common names. The flowers have a faint sweet, sugary scent and bloom from May to July.
Oplopanax horridus or Devil’s club is a large understory shrub that is endemic to rainforest of the Pacific northwest. However, there are also disjunct populations on islands in Lake Superior (1,500 kilometers away). It is recognized for its large palmate leaves spiraling up erect woody stems, which are covered in spines. It grows in riparian gullies in old-growth conifer forests. They can reach heights of 3 to 5 meters! The flowers are produced in dense umbels, each containing five petals. The fruit develops into a small red drupe. It breaks very easily and is slow growing and takes many years to reach seed-bearing maturity. Therefore it is very sensitive to human impact.
Physocarpus capitatus or Pacific Ninebark is a dense deciduous shrub growing to 1 to 2.5 meters tall. The plant gets its name comes from the appearance of the bark, which is flaky, peeling away in many layers on the stem. The shrub has distinctive maple-like lobed leaves along with clusters of small white flowers and the fruit is an inflated glossy red pod which turns dry and brown and then splits open to release seeds.
Ribes sanguineum or Red Flowering Currant is a deciduous shrub growing to 2 m tall and wide. It produces palmately lobed leaves that have a strong resinous scent and each spring dangling racemes (3 to 7 cm) long of 5 to 30 flowers that five red or pink petals.
Rubus parviflorus or Thimbleberry produces a favorite berry of mine which is red and similar in appearance to a raspberry, but shorter and hemispherical. Therefore, it is not readily sold at market but is a perfect trail food. The plant itself forms a dense shrub of 2.5 meters and has benign fuzzy leaves and is void of thorns.
Rubrus spectabilis or Salmonberry is a perennial species of bramble in the rose family that grows from 1 to 4 meters in height. They produce berries which ripen from May to late July and they thrive typically in riparian ecosystems with Red Alders.
Spiraea douglasii or Steeplebush is a woolly shrub that grows 1 to 2 meters tall from rhizomes that form dense riverside thickets. They produce large clusters of small pink flowers that form spires in the early summer, which later turn dark and persist throughout the rest of the season.
Symphoricarpos albus or Snowberry is a large shrub that grows in shady and moist mountain and forest habitat. It produces a large white berry which is a food source for many native animals and the plant itself is effective in erosion control.
Vaccinium parvifolium or Red Huckleberry is a shrub that grows up to 4 meters at low to middle elevations in soil enriched by decaying wood and on rotten logs, from sea level up to 1,820-meters. It produces a delicious berry in the late summer.
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi or Kinnikinnick or Bearberry is a small procumbent woody ground cover shrub that reaches 5 to 30 cm high. The leaves are evergreen and remain green for 1 to 3 years before falling. The plant produces a red berry that bears like to eat.
Gaultheria shallon or Salal is an evergreen leathery-leaved shrub in the heather family. It grows between .2 and 5 meters in height and has a sprawling growth habit with egg shaped white flowers. It thrives in sunny to shady conditions and is common understory in coniferous forests. The shrub also produces blue berries which are edible and act as an appetite suppressant.
Mahonia aquifolium or Oregon Grape is an evergreen shrub which belongs to the family Berberidaceae. It grows up to 1 meter high and 1.5 meters wide. The leaves are pinnate and have spiny leaflets. They produce dense clusters of yellow flowers each spring which are succeeded by dark blue/black berries. It is typically found in Douglas Fir forests, but also grows in brushlands of the Cascades, Rockies, and Sierras.
Rhododendron macrophyllum or Pacific Rhododendron is an evergreen shrub that grows up to 2 to 9 m in height. The leaves are retained for 2 to 3 years the flowers are typically pink or white with five lobes on the corolla.
Adiantum or Maiden Hair Fern is a genus of 250 ferns. They have a distinct look with black stems and rachises and delicate green leaves. Like Swords Ferns they generally prefer humus-rich, moist, well-drained soils to even vertical rock walls. They are known to grow near waterfalls or water seepage areas.
Athyrium filix-femina or Lady Fern is a common fern that grows throughout North America and prefers damp and shady woodland ecosystems.
Polypodium glycyrrhiza or Licorice Fern is a summer deciduous fern that grows in a rhizomatous pattern up the trunks of trees or rock walls.
Polystichum munitum or Western Sword Fern is an evergreen fern that is native to the Pacific Northwest. The dark green fronds grow in a radial pattern from the base reaching lengths of 50 to 180 cm. They typically live for 1.5 to 2.5 years and thrive in moist conifer forests in porous acidic soil with humus and small stones. It is very resilient, and will tolerate drought, but prefers cool, damp weather.
Dicentra Formosa or Bleeding Heart is a is a flowering perennial with fern-like leaves and an inflorescence of of drooping pink, purple, yellow or cream flowers.
Digitalis purpurea or Foxglove is a herbaceous biennial that produces a long green stalk with flowers are arranged in a showy, terminal, elongated cluster with each flower being tubular and pendent.
Heuchera micrantha or Small-flowered Alumroot has a tuft of leaves and stiff upright stems. There are tiny flowers with green or red calyx and white petals in small clusters at tips of stalks. It grows on cool rocky cliffs, banks, from sea level to subalpine.
Lysichiton americanus or Skunk Cabbage is a low growing wetland plant that gives off a foul-smelling fragrance resembling that of a skunk. The foul odor attracts many pollinators such as: scavenging flies, and beetles. The odor also deters animals from digging and damaging the plant. The short-stalked leaves are the largest of any native plant in the region at 30 to 150 cm long and 10 to 70 cm wide when mature. Its flowers are produced in a spadix contained within a 7 to 12 cm, large, bright yellow or yellowish green spathe atop a 30 to 50 cm stalk. The flowers are numerous and densely packed. It is among the first flowers to bloom in late winter or early spring.
Smilacina racemose or False Solomon Seal is a woodland herbaceous perennial that grows up to 50 to 90 cm tall, with alternate, oblong-lanceolate leaves. It produces flowers that attach to a 10 to 15 cm panicle along with six white tepals which blooms in the late spring. The plant produces green fruits that are round and turn red in late summer.
Urtica dioica or Stinging Nettle is herbaceous perennial that grows 1 to 2 meters in height in the summer and dies back in the winter. It has side spreading rhizomes and stolons and spreads through shady regions of the forest. The plant has a wiry green stem with oppositely arranged serrated leaves. It bears small, greenish or brownish flowers in dense axillary inflorescences. The leaves and stems have many stinging hairs or trichomes whose tips come off when touched, transforming the hair into a needle that can inject several chemicals causing a painful sting or paresthesia. This feature makes the Stinging Nettle the most infamous plant of the Issy Alps.
(Plant list – Native Plant Guide, 2020)
Top 10 Trees of the Issy Alps:
I love the red coloration of the bark, the waxy green leaves, and the location that this tree thrives. I think it is the most unique tree not only in the PNW but in the entire continent.
This tree is the quintessential evergreen of the PNW and is always reliable to provide shade and the leaves are always soft and nonabrasive.
I love this tree solely for the pinecone-like catkins that the tree produces in the winter. It brings me back to my childhood, collecting the little dried cones along Gibson Creek in Tiffin, Ohio.
I really love the growth habit of this tree and the foliage that it produces. The canopy that this tree provides shade and a shield from the rain.
This is another nostalgic tree with a twist, it reminds me of the Sugar Maples of my childhood, but also adds a new feature – the enormous leaf!
This trees size and durability make it a favorite of mine. It seems to grow unlike any other tree, a bark that is almost spongy, yet impenetrable. Additionally, it always gives off a fresh clean fragrance.
This tree, like the Big-leaf Maple, takes me back to my childhood, but also provides some architectural interest with the arching branches.
This trees size is probably the most impressive feature and the specificity of its growing location makes it a very special tree to locate.
Western White Pine
Another tree that takes me back to Ohio in its parallels to the Eastern White Pine. However, this one also has a much more impressive cone to go along with it!
I love seeing the stark contrast of the this towering giant with the low meandering streams. I also always enjoy the late spring/early summer ‘snow’, which is actually simply an accumulation of the this trees seeds!
Top 10 Plants of the Issy Alps:
This is probably not an obvious choice for the number one position, but I love this plant. I think seeing a see of Devil’s Club cascading down a valley is one of the coolest things to witness on a late summer day. It is especially intriguing to see their stalk of red berries spiraling upward toward the canopy. The spiky stem and enormous maple-like leaves make this plant seem almost prehistoric and I look forward to their emergence each spring.
The skunk cabbage is about as interesting of a wetland plant as their is in the continent. I look forward to the emerging yellow spathe and spadix that seems to spontaneously appear from the thick mud of marshes. Then the vibrant flower gives way to enormous waxy green leaves that persist through the summer.
My favorite fern, that appears to be so dainty, yet grows so prolifically around riparian zones and rocky areas in dense shade. The black stems and lacy green leaves make this fern another that I look forward to seeing each spring.
Western Sword Fern
This fern is strong, beautiful, and dependable. It remains consistent and green the entire year and provides a solid ground cover over much of the Issy Alps. It is hard to have a top ten list of plants without including the quintessential fern of the PNW.
The plant itself is nothing to write home about… but the berries certainly are. Another plant that I look forward to each spring and the development of the juicy yellow berries.
The most benign of the berry bushes and also the most attractive foliage. As if that wasn’t enough, these shrubs also produce the most flavorful berry in the Issy Alps.
Some of my favorite foliage in the Issy Alps, waxing dark blue-green leaves that provide a little nettle massage as you run by them. Additionally, this plant produces some attractive yellow flowers, followed by blue berries.
Another PNW staple that blankets the ground and even rises to waist level along the trail. This shrub provides some much needed year-long greenery as well as some white flowers in the summer.
Not quite as vibrant as the cultivated cousins of landscaped yards, but this wild version is a real treat to spot out on the trail.
Red Flowering Currant
Although, I prefer Colorado’s Wax Currant and the edible little red berries, this Currant is stunning to see when it flowers in the early summer. Additionally, the foliage is neat and attractive.
By no means is this an exhaustive list and there are many more worthwhile plants that I did not include in this post, but I hope this inspires all of you to look a little closer at your surroundings the next time you go for a trail run or hike in the Issy Alps!
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Dnr.wa.gov. 2020. West Tiger Mountain Natural Resources Conservation Area | WA – DNR. [online] Available at: <https://www.dnr.wa.gov/WestTigerMountain> [Accessed 7 September 2020].
Fs.fed.us. 2020. Little Maps. [online] Available at: <https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/pdfs/Little/aa_SupportingFiles/LittleMaps.html> [Accessed 7 September 2020].
Green2.kingcounty.gov. 2020. Plant List – Native Plant Guide. [online] Available at: <https://green2.kingcounty.gov/gonative/Plant.aspx?Act=list> [Accessed 7 September 2020].
Kingcounty.gov. 2020. Ecoregions – King County. [online] Available at: <https://kingcounty.gov/services/environment/animals-and-plants/biodiversity/defining-biodiversity/ecoregions.aspx> [Accessed 7 September 2020].
M.C. Peel, B.L. Finlayson, and T.A. McMahon. 2007. updated world map of the Köppen-Geiger climate classification, Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 11, 1633-1644.
Planthardiness.ars.usda.gov. 2020. USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. [online] Available at: <https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/> [Accessed 7 September 2020].
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