The vantage point of the top of Mount Douglas in Saanich offers a spectacular 360o view of rural Saanich, downtown Victoria, and the Olympic Mountains across the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington state. However, it is worth turning one’s eyes from the striking vista and looking to the ground at this time of year. Much of the area at the top of Mount Douglas is exposed rock and moss, with small groves of stunted Garry Oak and the odd Arbutus. A number of beautiful flowers can be found with careful searching.
Broad-leaved Shootingstar (Dodecatheon hendersonii) is beginning to come into flower and the round leaves that characterize this species of Dodecatheon are locally common. D. hendersonii tends to be found in open grassy habitat and occurs from the dry Southern Gulf Islands south along the coast to California. Look for the downward pointing flowers with magenta to lavender petals and reddish-purple stamen tube.
Small-flowered Woodland Star (Lithophragma parviflorum) can also be found on the grassy south and west facing slopes of Mount Douglas. This saxifrage has beautiful white to pink flowers that consist of deeply three-lobed petals. It is associated with dry Garry Oak forests and coastal bluffs along the southern part of the Strait of Georgia and Gulf Islands but can also be found in similar habitat throughout southern British Columbia. The common name suggests that the flowers look like small stars.
At this time of year, Spring-Gold (Lomatium utriculatum) is also in bloom on the the grassy slopes. Appropriately named, the bright yellow cluster of flowers make this member of the Apiaceae (Carrot) Family distinctive. Its leaves are carrot-like as well, soft and lacy and divided into small, very narrow segments. Spring-gold has a taproot and may have been one of the “wild carrots” eaten by First Nations peoples on Southern Vancouver Island.
The Chickweed Monkey-flower (Mimulus alsinoides) favours vernally moist seeps along the mossy slopes and can grown in bright yellow clumps. The Latin for these delightful flowers comes from “mimulus” which means “little actor” and “mimus” which means a “buffoon” – both refer to the fact that the flowers look like little monkey faces. The flowers are small, much smaller than the more showy Yellow Monkey-flower (M. guttatus) and marked with brownish red spots on the lower lip. “Alsinoides” means “like-chickweed” which refers to the chickweed like look of the leaves.
Amongst the Garry Oak (Quercus garryana), White Fawn Lily (Erythronium oregonum) were plentiful on the eastern summit of Mount Douglas, poking out through carpets of thick Licorice Fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza). White Fawn Lily has a white, nodding flower and long, paired basal leaves that are mottled in colour. Like the other species of plants found on the top of Mount Douglas, White Fawn Lilies tend to be found on the eastern side of Vancouver Island in both grassy open areas, and, as in this case, thick rocky woodlands.
Photographing all of these small flowers can be challenging. Macro work requires close attention to depth of field and ideally the use of a tripod or bean bag for camera support. The top of the mountain can be windy so search for flowers that are growing in a sheltered area. Late afternoon light is ideal as the south and west facing slopes where many of these flowers are found will still be lit late in the day. With careful positioning of the camera it is possible to have the flower lit and the background in shade creating a nice contrast.
Access to Mount Douglas is easy, perhaps too easy. Churchill Drive, a narrow paved road that begins at the base of the mountain where Cordova Bay Road, Cedar Hill Road and Shelbourne Road intersect climbs to the top. Parking is limited at the summit and the top of the hill is a popular destination for people enjoying the view. The impact of the large number of people that visit the summit is visible and obvious – numerous trails form a network through sensitive habitat and in many places they have worn the rock bare. Mountain bikers sometimes ride up the paved road and then down the narrow tracks creating more damage. Try to stay on the existing trails and do your best to ignore the broken glass, discarded beer cans, plastic bags and other garbage.
The top of Mount Douglas definitely isn’t a pristine ecosystem but it is worth the effort to visit and explore, especially when you get away from the more heavily used areas. A better strategy to enjoy the park may be to leave your vehicle at a trail head and walk up to the top. At 227m, the climb is not too onerous and it can be a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. Refer to the District of Saanich Mount Douglas Park web page to download a map of the park and the access trails.