Prairie is not a place you imagine of when you think of Washington state or the Puget Sound area. But prairie grasslands were an intrinsic part of native American food sources. These rolling grasslands were scattered throughout the sound and can still be found south of Olympia. The grassy areas may originally have been created by the glaciers that covered the area and left open rocky meadows. Native Americans maintained these grasslands by burning them to restore the plants and keep the larger invasive plants at bay. The predominant plant they harvested was blue camas - Camassia quamash. These plants in the Agavaceae family have starchy bulbs that they harvested in the early fall, roasted and dried for food throughout the year. They also harvested other bulbs and berries that grew well in these savannah grasslands.
Today, the prairies are an endangered land. Only about 2% of the grasslands still survive. Much of it was used as farmland and later housing. Once a year, the Glacial Heritage Preserve is open to the public on Prairie Appreciation Day which was last Saturday. This prairie is managed by Thurston County Parks, the Washington department of Fish and Wildlife and restored by the Nature Conservancy of Washington and Friends of Puget Prairies. They have done a tremendous amount of work to clear the invasive non-native plants such as scotch broom from the fields.
Early May is prime time for the blooms. The roads in the area are lined with blue camas. Last Saturday was sunny with lots of fluffy white clouds. The blue blossoms created a blue haze over the grassland. I took the longer self-guided trail along the edge of the prairie and was amazed at the fields.
Near by is the more well known prairie - Mima Mounds. It is a lovely place to walk through these strange mounds that no one really understands. Was it a glacier? An earthquake? Gophers? May is a wonderful time to visit since the mounds are tinged in blue with camas and violets but anytime is a good time to visit and contemplate the mystery.
- South Puget Sound Prairies
- Seattle Times article on Prairie Appreciation Day
- Seattle PI article on Prairie Appreciation Day
- Washington Trail Association reports on Mima Mounds