Category Archives: Forest (WEWOS)

Identifying Plants in Carkeek Park

Loren McElvain, Forest Steward

When jogging on the trails in Carkeek Park, I saw a sign asking for volunteers. Shortly after that I joined STARS (Streams, Trails, and Reforestation Stewards). First I worked on the trails projects, but then took the Carkeek Master Forester class and started concentrating on forest reforestation. 

One of my primary interests was learning to identify the plants in the park. It soon became obvious to me that although I had spent years identifying alpine flowers, I had only a cursory knowledge of the trees and shrubs in the park.

Plant identification can be a satisfying skill. When learning to identify native trees and shrubs and invasive species in Carkeek Park, a good place to start is with leaf characteristics. The possible ID for a specimen can be limited to plants which have the same characteristics. The following pictures illustrate some of the characteristics which are helpful.

First consider leaf placement on a stem 

The place where a leaf attaches to the stem is called a node. If one leaf is attached to a node, the placement is alternate. If two leaves are attached to each node, the placement is opposite.

Alternate leaf placement
Picture One: illustrates Alternate leaf placement
Opposite leaf placement
Picture Two: illustrates Opposite leaf placement

Another characteristic is the pattern of the veins

Pinnate, also called penni-nerved, leaves have one main mid vein with lateral veins branching out. Palmate leaves have multiple (usually 5 or more)  veins branching out from the base of the leaf.

Pinnate veination
Picture Three: illustrates Pinnate veination
Palmate veination
Picture Four: illustrates Palmate veination

A third characteristic is the edge (margin) of the leaf

Leaves with an Entire margin have a continuous smooth edge.

Leaves with a Serrate margin have teeth like a saw blade.

Leaves which are Lobed have large indentions in the margin.

Entire margin
Picture Five: illustrates an Entire margin
Serrated margin
Picture Six: illustrates a Serrate margin
Lobed margins
Picture Seven: illustrates a Lobed margin

By recognizing the characteristics of leaves, a person can selectively eliminate species until only a few are left.  Then identification becomes much easier. 

These pictures and descriptions are intended just to illustrate an approach to plant identification.  Much more detail and information are necessary to become skilled at identifying plants.

Lex, Volunteer Interview

By Lex Voorhoeve

Going through all my old archives I realize that there are so many stories to tell—which is good, because I will have to seriously limit myself.  Numbers refer to numbered photos.


To give you a first overall impression of my involvement with Carkeek Park, I include a story I wrote when we, in 2010, had finished the last trail planned in the Trails Plan of 2000: the Fern Glen Trail, down from the ELC in the direction of the orchard.  

For me it all started in 1998, when I became member of the Advisory Council. In that body I initiated the Forest Committee, that later branched out into two committees, the Trails Committee and the Forest Committee. Real trail building started in 2000 (1, 9, 10, 11).  The trails system was a real work. It also resulted in starting the WEWOS—a group of volunteers working on weekdays. In addition to that we provided leadership for Saturday work parties (18, 19). Once park restoration became a city-wide program, called the Green Seattle Partnership (GSP) (2006?), we voluntarily placed our activities under the umbrella of the GSP.                                                       


Loren McElvain, graduate of the first Master Forester Class, (classes held in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2015 with myself and Brian Gay, Carkeek’s staff naturalist) became my parks buddy and together we roamed the forest but also constructed a Tree Guide for Carkeek Park, a digital document (13, 20 – 22). We also started our own nursery in the maintenance yard  (12)—a unicum in Seattle. Although working under the umbrella of GSP we were nevertheless a rather independent body, doing what we thought was most urgent. We had an excellent relationship with the park’s maintenance staff but were wary of too much oversight from “above.”


Between 2000 and 2012 a whole generation of grandchildren was introduced to the fun of a park:  Playground (16A),  Bubble Man (16), Sunsets (17), Art in the Park (15), Picnics on the North Meadow (4A), and the BIG ROCK (2). And always that fascinating aspect:  CHANGE (from 3 to 4). The little girl on the rock (2) is the same as the girl holding  the black/white dog of photo 4A.


Change is an ever-present trait of a Park, or nature in general. Sometimes is comes sudden and unexpected, like a big tree falling down, creating havoc but at the same time creating a light spot where new trees can grow. Sometimes is goes slow, planted trees growing or dying, new management, new volunteers, seasonal changes. Sometimes it is change on purpose, like pulling ivy and waiting to see what new stuff profits from the changed site conditions. Sometimes slow change makes you impatient—GET GOING!!! (to slowly growing Yew shrubs), or it takes you by surprise (after finding a tree you planted 5 years earlier and lost track of). So change is a central theme, and we are part of it, because we, WEWOS + STARS + Earthcorps + other groups, DO make a difference in Carkeek Park, for the better, I assume. Today, at the “Big Bridge”, a lady + off-leash dog addressed me, out of the blue: “I like the boy scouts bridge”.  So there!

Jane, Volunteer Interview

The forest of Carkeek Park was initially a woods to get through to get down to the beach. The trail weren’t very good then and while I could find my way down, I usually took the road back up. The Park and Trails have changed a lot over the years and I eventually realized that there was a lot to learn. 

The Master Forester Class offered by the Park has been a wonderful introduction to the great variety of plant life and how it all works together. This group then became an avenue for me to give back to this terrific Seattle asset.

Along the way, I have acquired a few favorite plants, both specific ones and plant types. My favorite rhody along the South Ridge Trail, the red flowering currant that I planted and is still making a go of it, and the lovely shape of the Large Leaf Avens are things I  look for as I walk through the Park.

Working to restore the Park’s health and beauty is refreshing, but even more so because I have met  other people of similar interests. It has been fun to make discoveries together and to look at what we have been able to accomplish. Sometimes the progress is quite slow and small, but there are other projects, like the Fern Glen Trail that are significant. I take some pride in the trail portion I have been assigned to maintain. 

It’s still a great walk to the beach, but I spend a lot more time in the forest now as I have come to appreciate the effort and the struggle each plant makes to survive.