North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

High country in bloom: Wildflowers are a signature summer pleasure of the Northwest high country

August 24, 2009, 8:10 am

CASCADE PASS, North Cascades National Park -- Some pleasures have to be earned. So it is with a signature delight of a Northwest summer: high-country wildflowers.

At higher elevations, the tree canopy opens, rocky talus slopes crowd the trail and a delicate and subtle beauty unfolds.

It starts with drifts of lupine and fireweed, their vibrant blues and purples drawing bumblebees and other pollinating bugs to savor their sweet nectar.

Go even higher, where snowmelt rushes down the treeless mountain faces, and there they are: wildflowers with a delicate beauty that defies their rugged environment.

It's been an odd season, with a late spring followed by roasting heat spells, making for a compressed wildflower display this year. Some meadows are already crisp, so don't delay your visit. But there will be flowers to enjoy for about another three weeks, especially on higher, north-facing slopes.

Princesses resplendent in their reign above it all, each flower has a niche where it thrives, perfectly adapted to its place.

Mignonne Bivin, botanist for North Cascades National Park, has learned to read the stories native plants tell.

"If you get to know the plants and where they live, you can tell the story of the landscape," Bivin says. "Plants are the basis of everything."