Elegant Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium elegans)
We found this version of Jacob’s Ladder in the stark, rocky, alpine zone of Marmot Pass at the eastern edge of the Olympic Mountains, along with phlox, cutleaf fleabane (see third photo), and moss campion. It is less common in our travels than its moist, forest sibling polemonium pulcherrimum. We have yet to find Skunky Jacob’s-ladder (polemonium viscosum) whose leaves are more curled up, seen more often in the drier east side of the Cascades and Rocky Mountains.
All three varieties have similar yellow-centered blue flowers, and share the telltale paired leaflets on each stem that resemble “ladders.” They are also all “stinky” to some degree, due to gland-tipped hairs that cover most of the plant. The skunky odor helps them repel nectar-robbing non- pollinators, such as ants, and is supposedly more pronounced in areas where ants abound.