Several Aprils ago, I happened upon a small, narrow-stemmed plant topped with a single, purplish-pink hatted flower while running along the Lighthouse Point trail in Deception Pass State Park (DPSP). I learned that it was a Fairy slipper orchid (Calypso bulbosa) and it has captivated me ever since. According to the USDA, its stem is 2″ to 8″ tall, with a single green leaf at the base, so it can be easy to miss. It’s common on Whidbey and Fidalgo Island, but in several states it’s endangered. Obsessed with this plant, I bought a book I’d checked out at the library many times: Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast (PPNC) by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon, which says, “although widespread, [it] is rapidly being exterminated in populated areas due to trampling and especially picking. The corms [bulb-like below ground stems] are attached by means of delicate roots that are easily broken even by the slightest tug on the stem. Hence, when the flower is picked, the plant usually dies.” sigh
PPNC explains the difference between plants and shrubs, which are “woody plants less than 10 m tall when mature and usually multi-stemmed,” while flowers are, “non-woody flowering plants.” This may seem obvious, and sometimes is, as in the case of (Rhododendron macrophyllum), the Pacific Rhododendron (which bloom at DPSP in May), but it isn’t always. For example, (Linnaea borealis) the size-of-your-hand Twinflower is also a shrub.
A fascination with this flower gave me reason to finally pull Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief from my shelf, wipe off the dust, and read it. Of course, I loved that it is about an eccentric, orchid-obsessed guy. And it provided perspective. My interest makes me barely a fan compared to this man.
There is a surprisingly large number of wildflower species on the islands and my quest for information and in person encounters with them led me to local hotspots. The best places to view them at DPSP are Rosario Head, Bowman Bay, the trail between the two areas, and the Goose Rock Summit Trails. On Fidalgo Island, check out Cap Sante Park, Washington Park and the Tommy Thompson Trail (TTT). And on North Whidbey, try Dugualla Bay, Ebey’s Reserve and Admiralty Inlet. They are the most plentiful from early April through mid-May and vary in size from larger than your hand to smaller than tip of your pinky.
I photographed nearly all of these plants between mid-March and mid-May using a Canon Rebel XTi DSLR camera, and edited them in Picasa, primarily using the combined auto and color correction feature <I’m Feeling Lucky>; however, I neither saturated nor boosted the color. Over the past few months (which became years), I’ve learned a lot about wildflowers and plant photography and have included a few tips on sample photo captions. I hope that these images of plants from Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands inspire you to get out on the trails to stop and smell, admire, and photograph the wildflowers.