Early spring on Vancouver Island means it’s time to lace on the hiking boots and head out to see the Satinflower (Olsynium douglasii) show. From mid-February to early April this tiny member of the Iris (Iridaceae) family dots the coastal hills with ribbons of winking hot-pink blossoms. Found from Vancouver Island to California, the species thrives in open settings, mainly in shallow mossy soil on rocky knolls and meadows.
Olsynium douglasii is also known as Sisyrinchium douglasii. The “douglasii” part is easy to remember – it commemorates David Douglas, the Scottish botanist who described and catalogued plants in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1800’s (he is the “Douglas” in Douglas-fir). But the difference between Olsynium and Sisyrinchium is a bit more subtle – generally speaking, plants are Sisyrinchium if they have flared stems and flowers with pointed petals that face sideways or up, like stars. Plants belong to the closely related Olsynium if they have rounder stems and flowers that hang like bells.
On Vancouver Island these showy little flowers can be seen on hillsides from mid-Island down. However, perhaps one of the premier sites for viewing these beauties is Mt. Wells Regional Park. Located to the west of Victoria, close by the community of Goldstream, Satinflowers appear here in profusion. At their peak (usually in March) they carpet the ground in a spectacular display of flashing magenta colour. The petals truly look like they have been fashioned from the finest satin ribbon. The texture of the petals are such that they catch the light and glint brightly in the slightest breeze. Close examination of the blooms show golden-yellow anthers, laden with pollen.
Mt. Wells is easy to access with a short, well-built trail coming up from just beyond the parking lot on the north end of Humpback Lake Road. However, there are some steep bits, which can be slippery, so do take care. The main trail up the northern flank of Mt. Wells is well travelled, and it is advisable to stay on the trail as much as possible to avoid disturbing the delicate plant life.
Most people stop at the summit, then turn around and go back down, but don’t be so quick to head back. Although not marked on the official map, the trail continues south from the summit down into a draw full of Douglas fir and Shore pine. The draw exits onto a lower, broadly spreading summit that holds the best satinflower displays of all.
O. douglasii make wonderful photographic subjects, especially when using a macro setting and/or lens. The detail in these plants is amazing. For best results the camera should be on a tripod, or something very stable ( a bean bag, or small bag of rice can make a great camera rest ). Do watch camera setup – it is possible to get so focused on the perfect shot that other plants get crushed.
Satinflowers will be in their prime during the month on March, so time spent rambling on Mt. Wells will definitely not disappoint! If Mt. Wells is a bit too adventurous, in the Victoria area Satinflowers also grow in Mt. Douglas Park, Mill Hill Regional Park, and on the Lewis Clark Trail in Thetis Lake Park. Seeing these wildflowers in their native setting is a spring time treat, and a great reason to get out and explore.
For more information on Satinflowers, check out www.eflora.bc.ca