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Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge - February 2008

By Dan Paquette

Combine your native plant and birding experience at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is not a five-star setting for native plants in winter, but much is being done with plantings and there are aquatics that I’ve only begun to learn and explore With the other focus on birding, you should have a pleasant adventure. I’ll describe a 2.5 mile loop option out to the twin barns and ring dike. Page listings are from Pojar and Mackinnon’s Plants of the Pacific Northwest unless otherwise noted.

After paying the three dollar entrance fee at an outside post near the main building, take one of the yellow maps. You might want to check out the gift store and confer with staff to see if any trails are closed.

Walk past the main building, past among other things, plantings of Cornus stolonifera (Red Osier Dogwood, p. 90) a couple Crataegus dougasii (Black Hawthorn, p. 93) and some young Populus balsamifera ssp. trichocarpa (Black Cottonwood, p. 46). You’ll soon see the beginning of the board walk. Take the board walk and as you pass some old Acer macrophyllum (Big Leaf Maple, p.45), examine the bark and note the shiny moss with one to perhaps four sporophyte capsules growing out the ends of the stems. This characteristic of multiple spore capsules is found among the Plagiomniums and in this case, Plagiomnium venustum (Magnificent Moss, p.457).

A lot of branches have been cut back along the boardwalk, many of them belonging to Salix lucida ssp. lasiandra (Pacific Willow, p.88). The Salix has rebelled, producing herds of long yellowgreen stems, growing like a punk toupee fit for a T-Rex.

Be sure to take the side trip to the observation point and the twin barns. As you step over the first little bridge, look down and you may see the overall reniform shape and clover-like lobes of Hydrocotyle ranunculoides (Marsh Pennywort, Hitchcock, p.326).

In this area, keep your eyes open for Golden Crown Kinglets. After investigating the area by the barns and you’re back on the main boardwalk, proceed until the walk junctions with the dike road. Continue north on the road, passing numerous lines of Sambucus racemosa (Red Elderberry, p. 70).

I wrote a tanka (31 syllable poem) so as to remember this site:

Elderberries edge the delta’s levee
Fluid limbs atop coarse trunks,
on warted bark of others;
My onus also.

Further up the road, take the Ring Dike loop which takes you past a number of handsome Malus fusca (Pacific Crabapple, p.48). Look for the short spur shoots that can initially be confused with thorns. In returning to the parking lot, you can follow the dike road back and optionally take the boardwalk that follows the dike road and you wind back on the south side of the buildings. Need lunch? Try Norma’s Burgers near the exit from I-5. Special thanks to Rick Droker for his assistance.

Directions to the Refuge: Take I-5 south past Tacoma. Take exit 114. At the first signal light, turn right. At the next road intersection, turn right onto the road which will enter the refuge.

Updated: July 3, 2016
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