Spring has officially arrived in the northern hemisphere, and southwestern facing slopes in the North Cascades, especially near Lake Chelan, are thawing quickly. This is where I seek the first herbaceous and mossy greenery of the year.
At the lakeshore, approximately 1100 feet (335 meters) in elevation, deep snow and relatively mild winter temperatures (daily lows for December through February average around 25˚F/-4˚C) prevent soil from freezing significantly. During late winter and early spring, sunlight directly strikes the southwestern facing slopes along the lake. Bare rock and tree trunk create heat islands that further warm the soil and melt remaining snow. The first wildflowers of the season bloom here, taking advantage of conditions that higher elevations will not experience for months. Two species are just setting blossoms now.
Biscuitroot (Lomatium sp.), also called desert-parsley, is a large and widespread genus of plants in western North America. The species I found are not exclusively restricted to the rocky areas near the lake, but these individual plants have found an ideal early season microhabitat. The slopes where these plants grow are very warm, although it may not seem that way when they are dripping with snowmelt.
By the end of June, perhaps even before, these plants will be parched by low humidity and scorched by high daytime temperatures. The soil, instead of wet and clumpy, will become dust. Flowering plants in this location do their business quickly—blooming and setting seed before the soil completely desiccates and ground temperatures become too hot. They get ahead now, because conditions allow them to. Up valley and higher on the mountainsides, under the snow, other members of their respective species are waiting for their own moments in the sun. It’s only a matter of time.