Monday, October 26, 2009

Northwest Collecting Trip

Our nursery, Colvos Creek on Vashon Island near Seattle, specializes in variety. We try to carry as many Northwest natives as possible and any and all drought-hardy plants and rare and unusual species from all over the world. We can buy seeds from many sources, but others are not for sale and have to be gathered.

Our first collecting trip this fall was a circuit around southern Washington. The route took us over White Pass , just over 4000 feet, down into the arid Columbia Basin, south over Satus Pass at 3300 feet, back through the Columbia River Gorge and north again past Mt St Helens to rejoin the White Pass Highway. Over three days we gathered seeds and cuttings of over 90 species.

Anyone making this trek would be awed by the scenery and struck by the great variety of climate and vegetation. They would also stop thinking of the Northwest as all wet and mossy.

The Cascade Mountains divide Washington and Oregon into a rainy coastal side and a dry interior. Within two hours, the traveler passes from foothill rain forests with well over 100 inches of precipitation annually to sagebrush desert receiving less than 5 inches.

One of the most interesting places we visited was the Wapato National Wildlife Refuge, south of Yakima. The mix of riparian, desert and grassland is stunning.

After crossing the mountains south to Goldendale, we headed east across a lonely arid plateau with only a few large ranches. A canyon brought us down into groves of white alder, willow and ponderosa pine, then back up onto the plateau. After we turned south toward the Columbia River, we were met by scattered western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis), dark green gumdrops on a gray and tan backdrop. Towards the river, these became bigger and more abundant. Some of the largest, 60 feet tall and 3-4 feet across, could be 1000 years old.

We worked our way west along the dramatic cliffs at the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge where the river persistently kept its course over two million years as the Cascade Mountains pushed up thousands of feet.

The next day we continued west through the gorge, which is one of the world's great natural landmarks. Here, the arid interior, hot in summer, cold in winter, collides with the moist mildness of the coast. At the midpoint, bluffs may have ferns and maples on one side, sage and cactus on the other.

Our route north from the gorge took us to over 4000 feet again, and past famous Mt. St. Helens. Collecting was very good, but we were up in the clouds most of the time. No views of the mountain and no good pictures.


  1. Did you find Euonymus occidentalis this year? Or any interesting new Arctostaphylos? I can't believe I haven't been down to visit the nursery this year!

    Looking forward to future installments.

    Ian Barclay

  2. hello... hapi blogging... have a nice day! just visiting here....

  3. Circumstances are the rulers of the weak, instrument of the wise. ....................................................