On Saturday, April 27, on a cloudy and cool spring morning, I walked the Jackson Park Trail with plant specialist Arthur Lee Jacobson, who is a human encyclopedia of the wild plants of greater Seattle. Although he had explored and charted the plants within the golf course years ago, this was Mr. Jacobson first time on the trail. He gave a very educational and enjoyable guided tour though our local landscape. His enthusiasm for plants is remarkable, as is his knowledge of them.
Since the trail is built around the golf course it has four sides running almost north, south, east and west as the crow flies. We met at the south parking lot heading towards 15th Avenue NE, entered the woods from there, hurried along 145th Street NE, re-entered on the east side and finished going the down south path and curving back towards the parking lot. Jackson Park contains wetlands, an evergreen forest, and everything in between (it seemed.) I would not recommend taking children along 145th Street NE; the traffic is heavy and you can barely hear anything but the traffic. There is a Metro bus stop on this street which would be a good place to enter if you bused to the park. There are no bike racks that we saw.
On the trail are trees, bushes, vines and ground cover. Some plants are indigenous to the area and some are transplants from European stock. The trail has a variety of native plants growing with these imports, and it may all seem a tangle of vegetation but it is actually a fascinating mixture of history, culture, taste and the resilience of plants. This information flowed out of Mr. Jacobson as he explained the many varieties of plants growing along the trail.
There are at least three types of evergreen trees; firs, cedars and pines. We discovered varieties of deciduous trees or trees that lose their leaves in the fall; such as alder, cherry, dogwood, maple and willow. The bushes which are familiar to most of us, grow in abundance, and are also of the evergreen and deciduous types. Except for the grass most of the ground cover is annual and sprouts in the spring. The vines can also be annual, with the ivy growing pretty much all year long. Ivy may have a dormant period, but I’ve never observed it and I forgot to ask Mr. Jacobson about it.
Many of the plants flower, seed and fruit. Some are edible and some are poisonous. The variety of trees in Jackson Park is staggering. We examined three types of maple trees on the trail. There are large leaf maples, another smaller leaf maple and a species of dwarf maple that is the only one of its kind in Seattle. That dwarf maple grows along 145th Street NE. There is a chain link fence which separates the walkers from the park on this street and the damage from the heavy traffic can be observed as a dark, sticky film that clings to the plants. Jackson Park has many firs, cedars and pines. We saw one variety of cedar which had variegated colors; it was green and yellow. We learned how to tell the differences between pine trees by their needles and cones.
Mr. Jacobson pointed out hemlocks, willows and found a Yew tree. He explained how the plants grow together with each struggling or thriving in its environment. He explained patterns of growth from year to year and seasonal expectations. The park is part of the Thornton Creek Watershed and creeks and holding ponds are within its boundary. Shrubs, underbrush or bushes, as they are called, inhabit our urban forest. There are plenty to see: huckleberry, roses, laurel, elderberry and broadleaf evergreen. We are familiar with their flowers and scents and have grown accustomed to seeing their berries in the fall.
What most of us call sticker bushes, Mr. Jacobson, or Arthur, as we came to call him, refers to as brambles. Blackberry bushes, the Himalaya Blackberry, is not native to the northwest, but thrives in Seattle and at Jackson Park. The Blackcap Raspberry is a native bramble. The trail needs to be tended to keep it clear. I am not a fan of shear cutting shrubs and Arthur suggested ways of pruning and planting that could enhance the trail.
Ground covers include everything from grasses to ferns to wild flowers and weeds. Thornton Creek adds to the diversity of plants in Jackson Park, so wetland plants are possible to see here. Although we didn’t see any Cattail, Typha latifolia, we did see Horsetail, Equisetum arvense, starting to pop out of the ground. Arthur used both the common name and the scientific names of plants as he lectured us. There is Hemlock growing along the east bank. This is a little confusing because there is also a variety of Hemlock tree that grows in Jackson Park. Poison Hemlock is in the Carrot Family and has leaves resembling carrot tops or parsley. It is deadly poison. Also, in the Carrot Family is Queen’s Anne’s Lace, which is common in flower arrangements. The park is starting to flower and in the next few weeks should come into full bloom.
By tour’s end, I was able to identify many of the trees, bushes, vines and ground cover by their common names and learned some very interesting facts about plants. I asked our tour guide if he ever just “enjoyed the experience” of a nature walk or if he was “always studying” the plants. He admitted that he was usually studying and since this was his first time on the Jackson Park Trail, he was especially interested in what he might find here. Arthur’s enthusiasm, plus his mixture of knowledge and humor, made the walk both instructional and entertaining. I intend to learn more about the plants in Jackson Park, but will also enjoy the simple pleasure of the sights, sounds and smells as things change from season to season. Arthur is something of a “guru of plants” and the pleasure of his company and the experience was invaluable. I bought his book, Wild Plants of Greater Seattle, 2nd Edition, by Arthur Lee Jacobson, because there was no way I was going to remember a fraction of the information that poured out of him. I will be using it as a field guide for my weekly walks on the trail. It has rounded corners and will fit easily into my bag and it is illustrated.