Monthly Archives: November 2012

Destinations: Winter Walks at McCormick Forest Park, Gig Harbor

This week we begin a frequent feature of Botanical Rambles: interesting destinations for the botanically inclined.

Please welcome Cyndy Dillon, chair of the South Sound Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society, who has written this post.

McCormick Woods

An invitation to explore McCormick Woods Forest Park in Gig Harbor. Photographer: Bill Brookreson, all rights reserved.

I get to appreciate the seasonal cycle of change in the lush native flora since I live within a few miles of McCormick Forest Park in Gig Harbor, and I can return often to visit.

Last winter, 2011, was particularly illuminating. The season started with mild weather beyond late December when berries of evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) clung to the shrubs. I saw fungi lingering, waxy laccaria (Laccaria laccata) and sulphur tuft (Naematoloma fasciculare), and even a blossom of foamflower (Tiarella trifoliata) remained.

With the leaves of big-leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) and red alder (Alnus rubrus) down, the stunning old-growth Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and western red cedar (Thuja plicata)—hundreds of years old with five-to-seven foot girths—were more visible.

Deciduous shrub identification was challenging, however. I tried to recall Erica Guttman’s January 2009 winter twig identification class at McLane Creek Nature Trail in Thurston County. Was the low shrub with a single, withered, five-lobed leaf indeed thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)? Most likely I’d have to wait a bit to see the fuzzy-tipped, tear-drop buds and messy leaf scars, or until summer foliage to be sure.

But the naked angel wings of cascara buds (Rhamnus purshiana), green buds on prickly golden brown stems of salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), pink starts on bright green branches of red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium), and remnant seed clusters on oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor) were all quite familiar.

I noted where the rosettes of western rattlesnake-plantain (Goodyera olongifolia) occurred, so I could return to see the flower stalks in a few months.

The snow storm last mid-January littered the forest floor with moss-laden limbs, but the trails were soon cleared.

McCormick Forest is a dependable joy even as the trail parallels Route 16 and traffic noise is unavoidable. Soon the paths recede west into the park, bordered by dense sword fern (Polystichum munitum), salal (Gaultheria shallon), and low Oregon-grape (Berberis nervosa).

Walking up gullies with running streams and passing by enormous fallen conifer trunks, I reminded myself that this place is worth a weekly visit, if only I found the time.

What are your favorite Washington destinations for enjoying our flora in the late fall and winter? Where do you go when the days are short and chilly and damp, but you want to get out and roam around?