Spring Botany in the San Juan Islands



My name is Jen.  I am writing and working from the San Juan Islands National Monument this summer,  where I will be helping to create a baseline biological database for monument lands.  If you aren’t familiar with the area, the San Juans lie in Washington’s Puget Sound, roughly halfway between Vancouver, BC and Seattle, WA.  From quaint village scenery to rugged grasslands, these islands hold some of Washington State’s most beautiful landscapes.  In the span of a 30 minute car ride (hour bike ride), you might pass protected harbors with anchored sailboats, picturesque churches surrounded by sheep pasture, and mixed forest ending with gnarled krummholz battered by ocean wind, usually ending with coastal bluffs looking out to crashing waves.  Not too shabby.  I have been living here for the past six months and am thrilled that I am getting to live in this beautiful spot doing the type of work I feel passionate about.  I’m equally stoked to be living somewhere long enough to get down to some gardening.

The monument land presents an interesting challenge in terms of monitoring.  Unlike the expansive rangeland usually owned by the BLM, the monument consists of just over 900 acres, most of that on small islands and disjunct parcels of land.  This land is generally heavily vegetated, comparatively lush.  A lot of these areas are heavily visited, with three lighthouses on BLM land and a number of destination locations.


Lunch break at Patos Island Lighthouse, one of the heavily used tourist destinations in the San Juan Islands


Cattle Point Lighthouse, San Juan Island.

Considering these and a few other factors, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around what i want to be recording in this areas.  One of my main focuses in this early stage is to understand the environmental indicators and to figure out how to best use standard baseline monitoring protocol in this non-standard area.  My other focus in this planning stage of the project is to do some vegetation mapping based on previously created databases.

Though I’ve been in the office most of April, I have managed to spend some sunny afternoons outside.  There is a huge local enthusiasm for plants so I’ve enjoyed opportunities to botanize with a number of people and learn really cool stuff about the local flora.  There are a few federally or state endangered species and there are lots of unique plant communities.  I thought I’d share a few of these pretty plants I happened upon during some of these walks.



Sedum lanceolatum on Iceberg Point, Lopez Island. In terms of stonecrops, the islands also have Sedum spathulifolium (broadleaf stonecrop) and Opuntia fragilis (brittle prickly pear cactus).



The 10+ petals of Ranunculus californicus (california buttercup), Iceberg Pt. This is considered nationally stable but critically endangered in Washington state.


Cotyledons of Lupinus littoralis (seashore lupine), Iceberg Pt. I couldn’t identify this for weeks. I was a little shocked when I saw lupine leavings sprouting up. Mystery solved.


Viola adunca, Iceberg Pt


Gooseneck barnacles Iceberg Pt. Did you know you can eat them? They have really nice scallop/abolone-like flesh.


I’m looking forward to a fun plant-based summer and I hope you are too!


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