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Rattlesnake Ledge— May 2001

Rattlesnake Ledge is just rocky enough, dry enough, wet enough, high enough and close enough to the Cascades to be a convergent zone for a fascinating assemblage of plant species. Just east of Seattle and just south of North Bend lies this giddy 500 foot cliff at elevation 2100 feet; but the botanizing starts from the moment you leave the parking area.

Hike first on an old road leading along the northeast end of Rattlesnake Lake (or walk right across the lake bottom during low water). Practice your willow skills on Salix lucida (Pacific willow) S. sitchensis (Sitka willow) and S. scouleriana (Scouler?s willow). Take time to notice both our native black hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii) and the introduced C. monogyna (common hawthorn). Then take the fine trail constructed by the Issaquah Alps Trails Club for a little over a mile to the ledge. Note along the way several Pyrola spp. the neat little fern Asplenium trichomanes (maidenhair spleenwort), and Nothochelone nemorosa (Woodland beardtongue). Stop at a rocky overlook at elevation 1200 feet and identify Carex inops (long-stoloned sedge), Ceanothus sanguineus (redstem ceanothus), and Castilleja hispida (harsh paintbrush) along with other species of thin-soiled balds. At about elevation 1300 feet (the trailhead is at 900 feet) start looking for some oversized vine maples that don?t turn out to be vine maples. Instead they are fine 10 inch diameter specimens of Acer glabrum (Douglas maple) which we expect to find in dry areas of the San Juans and other Puget Sound islands as well as east of the Cascades.

When you near the ledge there is a T. straight ahead is over the edge. Turn right to the main ledge and be prepared for botanical surprises. Here are a few things to whet your appetite, but by no means a comprehensive list: Arcostaphylos X media (the hybrid between A. uva-ursi and A. columbiana), Campanula rotundifolia (blue-bells-of-Scotland), Cerastium arvense (field chickweed), Eriophyllum lanatum (woolly sunflower), Galium oreganum (Oregon cleavers), Penstemon rupicola (rock penstemon), Phlox diffusa (spreading phlox), Sedum oreganum (Oregon stonecrop), Stenanthium occidentale (bronze bells), Zigadenus venensosus (death camas) and Lomatium martindalei (few-fruited lomatium).

On the rock face itself are a whole batch of species worth the scramble. Three species of saxifrage: S. bronchialis (dotted saxifrage), S. caespitosa (tufted saxifrage) and S. occidentalis (western saxifrage). Also growing in the crevices are several species of ferns: Cystopteris fragilis (fragile fern), the earlier mentioned maidenhair spleenwort, Polypodium amorphum (mountain polypody), Cryptogramma crispa (parsley fern) Aspidotis densa (Indian?s dream) and Pentagramma triangularis (Goldback fern). All of this and I have mentioned only one species of Carex. There are a total of at least eight on the hike if you are so inclined. After exploring the ledge, if you don?t return via the treacherous rock face, take the left-leading trail from the T and hike up to two additional ledges for more views and interesting plants such as Lycopodium clavatum (running clubmoss), Corallorhiza maculatum (spotted coralroot) and Xerophyllum tenax (beargrass); and watch the turkey vultures soar as they pick up the thermals lifting them above the ledges.

I have found space in this short article to mention only of a few of the species that are outside our expectations for the typical lowland red cedar/hemlock/Douglas fir forests. Take a hike and find some more. For a more complete list of plants and description of the area see Douglasia, Winter 1994, Botanizing a Convergence Zone, or order the Rattlesnake Ledge list from Sarah Cooke (cookess@aol.com; 206-525-5105) our keeper of plant lists. Many of our fine regional botanists have visited the site. As a result, we have reports of over 200 species of vascular plants on this hike of less than 5 miles and an elevation gain of about 1100 feet.

To get there take I-90 east to the second North Bend exit (exit 32). Turn right at the top of the ramp and continue on 436th Ave. which becomes the Cedar Falls Road to Rattlesnake Lake. There is a small parking lot on the right for the Rattlesnake Ledge Trail, but lots more parking in the big new lot just ahead. Hiking distance 3-5 miles, elevation gain 1100-1500.



Updated: July 3, 2016
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