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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Yellow Island Wildflowers: Part 1

Yesterday I was lucky enough to get to visit Yellow Island, an 11-acre island that is a preserve of The Nature Conservancy. Located just north of Friday Harbor in San Juan Channel, this relatively small island hosts a stunning display of wildflowers every spring. There are multiple peaks as different species come into bloom, but I'd have to say it's in the middle of one of its peaks right now.

It's hard to capture the essence of standing in the middle of a meadow that is painted yellow, red, and blue with western buttercup, harsh paintbrush, and common camas - the three most abundant species in bloom right now. Even as we approached the island from a distance, it was apparent how it got named "yellow".

I had to switch between camera lenses a couple of times, trying to photograph both the wide-angle colorful landscape and the close-up beauty of individual flowers. One thing I didn't lack for was subjects, that's for sure. I'm not sure if I've ever seen so many flowers at once.

Harsh paintbrush, Castilleja hispida, was my favorite species to focus on:

Prints of this photo available here

Prints of this photo available here

Much of the common camas, Camassia leichtlinii, was still in bud, but this flower had burst open against a backdrop of the western buttercup, Ranunculus occidentalis:

Prints of this photo available here

Along the edges of the island some meadow death-camas, Zigadenus venenosus, was also in bloom. According to the caretaker of the island, a theory about why the death-camas doesn't grow towards the center of the island is because the natives would toss it towards the shoreline when they came to harvest common camas bulbs on the island. As the name suggests, death-camas is poisonous, while the similar looking bulbs of common camas were a regular part of the diet of early local people. The flowers, however, look totally different.

It was a visit to Yellow Island in the spring of 2009 that first kick-started my interest in local wildflowers. On this trip I took too many photos to feature in a single blog post! While the hillside was dominated by the reds, yellows, and blues of paintbrush, buttercup, and camas, there were a myriad of other species in bloom as well. I'll share my photos of some of these more subtle, but no less beautiful, flowers in my next post.


Yuri Richardson said...


Thanks for sharing.The Photos are very beautiful....almost surreal.

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Simly stunning - this is the effect I'd like to achieve on the Rough Field on patch 1 - we can only dream...

Looking forward to part two



Vera said...

I wish I had been there with you. The abundance of the flowers looks amazing!

Monika said...

Yuri - You're welcome! :) It was surreal.

Dave - They did a controlled burn at this site last year which resulted in this overabundance of flowers.

Vera - Me too! But I don't feel too bad since you were at Malheur :)

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Hi Monika, is fire a nature feature of the ecosystem in the San Juan Islands or has it been used as a management tool instead of (say) grazing?. Whatever the reason the results speak for themselves...