This morning we went on a trip to Yellow Island sponsored by the San Juan Nature Institute. We took a short boat ride from Friday Harbor up San Juan Channel to the 11 acre island, which a reserve owned by The Nature Conservancy. It's open to the public from 10-4 daily, and I see the island on a lot of our summer whale-watching trips. But I had never set foot on it before, so was excited to finally get ashore to explore! Here's the island on our approach:
There's a small cabin built on the island where the docent family lives. It's got to be an awesome job! The cabin is built out of driftwood and other materials gathered on the island and was constructed in 1947 by the family that originally owned the island. The cabin isn't the structure right on the beach, but is tucked above under the madrone trees just to the left above that:
I thought it might be a little early for the wildflower peak, but according to the docent it turns out the first of three "peaks" of the spring is late and is happening now, so our timing turned out to be great. Our short hour on the island was long enough for the botanists who came with us to point out more than twenty plant and flower species. Here are some highlights:
Most of the common camas (above) weren't in bloom yet, but a few were. They're a well-known plant locally because of their history of being used by the native Coast Salish people. Yellow Island was one of a few small islands that were managed via controlled fires by the Coast Salish. Fires kept brush and trees from encroaching on the island, so they could come and harvest wild plants like camas every year. Camas bulbs were harvested and cooked, and reportedly taste something like sweet potatoes. They still do annual controlled burns to maintain the local habitat, which is home to more than 50 wildflower species in all.
The small-flowered prairie star (above) was one of two members of the saxifrage family we saw.
Harsh paintbrush was a bright red addition to the landscape. The botanist said it's parastic to the grasses around it.
Finally, here are two lily species: chocolate lily (above) and white fawn lily (below). Fawn lilies were probably the most abundant wildflowers, along with western buttercup. There were several fields of the two species, and the botanist said she had never seen so many fawn lilies in one place. Here's a close-up of one: