See How Native Plants Deal With Drought: Two Native Plant Walks in August

For anyone within shouting distance of Yamhill County, Oregon (Portlanders out for a day of wine tasting, I’m talking to you), make your trip to wine country memorable and instructive by attending a Taylor Gardens native plant walk on August 27. Or, if you work near McMinnville, take a stroll with me in the evening at Miller Woods, the Soil and Water Conservation District property just outside town. That’s on August 29.

Here’s why it will be fun: you will learn to recognize 10 native plants that you might see in a landscape, or on a hike, even if you can’t tell a nasturtium from a petunia. You will find out how these plants can be used in your garden, and why they are great for wildlife!

Please come with us and enjoy the native flora up close. Oh, there are birds too – have you ever seen an Acorn Woodpecker? The plant walk at Winter’s Hill Winery on Sat, August 27 offers a chance to see and/or hear these birds of oak woodlands that look like clowns and sound like one of the Three Stooges. At Miller Woods, there are hawks, harriers, Pacific Slope Flycatchers, swallows, and red-winged blackbirds galore.

Did I mention wine? The Saturday, August 27 walk is at a winery famed for its luscious Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Rose, among others. They will let you taste for a small fee. Picnicking is free. And the view, well, you have to be there to believe it.

Here is a link to sign up for both or either of these walks. They are $10 each, and the kids are free.

Sign Up Now!

Worth the price of the paywall to view this story

It would be great if ecosystem managers could bring Indians in to help with Traditional Ecological Knowledge to maintain meadows w/ fire. Grazing could be helpful too, because volunteers get worn out doing everything by hand. Long story short: noble firs on Mary’s Peak, relict population from more widespread extent during cold post-glacial times, are invading the meadows on the peak (no more grazing + fire suppression; climate is more conducive now because less snow). So firs are being manually removed and will be hand weeded in future. Otherwise, the biodiversity of the meadows would give way to thick forests. Trees will remain in the historically forested zone. We’ll still have a nice view, native plants will be happy.

Source: Climate change triggers triage in Northwest forests — High Country News

Western Oak Looper – Beginning A New Generation

If you missed the news this late summer about the patches of oak devastation near Sheridan and other places in the Willamette Valley, here’s a hyper-local update (our property). When the damage is in full spate (i.e. the larvae are making oaks and doug firs look dead and blighted) it’s all about the caterpillars. Right now (mid November) I am seeing these moths everywhere flopping around on the ground. Their diaphanous wings seem hardly up to the task of finding a mate and laying eggs, particularly when they are rain-soaked. However, I’m sure we’ll be seeing their leaf-chewing offspring soon enough. By the way, there is a nice description of life cycles in that first link above. I highly recommend.

Perhaps these adults arrived from Dupee Valley or even as far as Red Prairie, where the oaks looked blasted last summer, carried on the wind of fall storms? They seem to be weak flyers so it’s hard to imagine them making the trip under their own steam.

It will be interesting to see whether our oaks get the same treatment next year, having escaped till now. See previous post for a good control method: our beloved brown creepers.

Western Oak Looper Used with permission:Jerald E. Dewey, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org Lambdina fiscellaria somniaria image #2252041

Western Oak Looper adult
Used with permission:Jerald E. Dewey, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org
Lambdina fiscellaria somniaria

Scotch Broom, Scourge of the Northwest

There is a class of weeds that are legally defined as NOXIOUS. This is a special term applied to weeds that are so aggressive as to be considered economic and ecological dangers. They can completely alter an ecosystem by changing the soil nutrients, pH, or forming a monoculture that excludes other plants. Dandelions may be weeds (a weed control specialist once termed them obnoxious), but they are not designated as noxious because they are not capable of destroying crop value or ecosystems. They and many others are “background weeds” we live with.

The people who decide who gets noxious weeds status are the state and county noxious weed control boards. The Department of Agriculture is the supporting agency for these boards, because noxious weeds were recognized as an economic problem for agriculture. Controlling noxious weeds also protects ecosystem integrity in natural areas. Many weeds that don’t seem that bad to the average person can be very bad when they are unleashed in the countryside.

Scotch broom (or Scots broom) is a noxious weed. Its natural enemies are back in the homeland (Europe) so it can spread at will here. However some insects that eat seeds and vegetative parts of it have been introduced and may help control it.

We are dealing with the legacy of soil disturbance from grazing, logging, and trail blazing followed by Scotch broom invasion. When our restoration work was done, huge patches of it were mowed, and mowed again in subsequent years. But mostly just keeps the plants short. To kill it, one can cut large stems during summer drought, spray when it’s in bloom (highly effective), or pull small ones. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. In an area where the seed has fallen and built up in the soil, it can take many decades to exhaust the seed bank. Pulling can bring seeds up to the surface and result in a whole new crop the following year.

Which brings me to my latest small project: due to weather and other circumstances, a couple of our scotch broom patches had not been mowed for one or two years, and it had grown taller. This actually makes is easier to spray, since when it’s short it is hard to kill because it doesn’t have enough leaf area and doesn’t bloom.

This winter I tried using a dormant spray on the evergreen stems which were more ‘alive’ due to the mild winter we had. It is more difficult to get all stems covered with a dormant spray, but easier to avoid killing the plants you want, as they have all died back. A combination of Triclopyr (Element 4A), and an oil/adjuvant (Mor-Act) seemed to do the trick, although it takes a heap-o-spray to get total coverage. I sprayed again during bloom, which was very effective.

IMG_0705

invaded area – previously sprayed broom is dead and dying. blooming plants are overtopping wildflowers in the nectar plots

IMG_0704-2One problem area was the nectar plots where we had planted wildflowers. The broom had invaded them over the years. Suddenly after a couple of years of no mowing, it was blooming. I couldn’t spray it without killing the wildflowers.

I hauled the weed wrench up the hill and brought along my spray bottle of herbicide and loppers. The ground was still soft from recent rain, so I thought perhaps I could minimize disturbing the seed bank by careful use of the weed wrench to pull the broom. It’s a satisfying plant for pulling – the taproot comes easily out of the ground with a ripping sound and not much fuss. But this was a rather slow operation. Actually weed wrenches are often more attractive as an idea than a tool. They are fun and easy to use, but the soil disturbance frequently outweighs their benefit.

IMG_0706

I thought perhaps I could test the effectiveness of various methods, and speed things up too, so I switched to cutting with loppers, spraying the ends immediately with a 1:3 mixture of triclopyr (Garlon) and water from a spray bottle with a little surfactant – a variation on the “cut and paint” method. The weather was hot, the broom plants numerous, and so I decided to also add a third treatment – just cutting. I am curious about how late in the season cutting alone will kill broom. Ideally, that’s a method for older large stems that have more trouble resprouting and it is supposed to be done in the hot dry summer to make it doubly difficult. Some of the stems I was cutting were smaller, and we subsequently had several weeks of cold damp rainy weather, so I don’t expect those to disappear. However, at least the wildflowers had some light to grow.

done at last

done at last

Same plot three weeks later - rose checkermallow in bloom. Others in foreground still struggling

same plot three weeks later – rose checkermallow in bloom. dead broom mulch

New Information Has Come To Light….

Just when I had given up on new discoveries, up pops a plant not yet seen on our place (by me anyway). Here is it in bud:

Fritillaria affinis ? Chocolate lily/checker liliy

Fritillaria affinis ? Chocolate lily/checker lily

It’s quite impressive at a foot or more tall, still in bud. How long has this bulb been growing in the deep shade, getting large enough to bloom? Was the ivy and Vinca from the yard smothering it all these years and now – like the plants on the savanna and woodland – suddenly released, it appears? Wow. Another name for it is rice root. Indigenous tribes used the bulbs for food. The plant also produce small, rice-grain-like offsets.

Here’s another. I thought we had just one patch of these in the woodland. Now, on the hill above the house where we had trees removed almost 2 years ago, they appear magically! Shooting stars (Dodecatheon hendersonii)  – recognizable by their spoon-shaped, slightly succulent leaves. This is a photo from 1 month ago just before bloom time.

New shooting star 3:23:13Again, from one month ago (late March), a medley of wildflower leaves and shoots:

Although not new, here is a reminder of what emerging Rein orchids (Piperia elegans – the fat leaves), sweet cicely (Osmorrhiza sp), hairy cat’s ear (Calochortus tolmiei – single grass-like leaf), sanicle (Sanicula crassicaulis – lower left), and self heal (Prunella vulgaris – lower right) look like as they’re just waking up.

East hill orchids, mariposa lilies, sweet cicely, sanicle, and self-heal.

East hill orchids, mariposa lily, sweet cicely, sanicle, and self-heal.

Phenology

phenology [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenology]

Phenology is the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events and how these are influenced by seasonal and interannual variations in climate, as well as habitat factors (such as elevation). The word is derived from the Greek φαίνω (phainō), “to show, to bring to light, make to appear”[1] + λόγος (logos), amongst others “study, discourse, reasoning”[2]

I missed a week (two?) of posts because of being busy with the mushroom logs. Then when I started this post about one word – phenology – it took on a life of its own and went down several tributaries. But here it is at last.

The scientific world has been all abuzz about phenology for some time now, because the warmer climate is causing big changes in how early plants flower, when birds and butterflies migrate, and other appearances on the landscape. What’s the big deal?

Plants are a source of pollen and nectar for insects and hummingbirds, among others. Migratory species in particular time their movements based on available food along their routes and at their destinations. This is critical for survival.

You may have heard about the issues that monarch butterflies are having, what with habitat destruction, (in their overwintering areas, and along migration routes) and most recently, large areas of genetically modified crops that allow “weed” control on a scale previously impossible. Monarch caterpillars specialize on milkweed, a native plant that is considered expendable on corporate farms, and now almost completely destroyed by greatly increased use of Roundup herbicide.

But back to phenology: If plants flower before their pollinators arrive, the species don’t interact as they have evolved to. However, the arrival of birds and also their expanding ranges indicate that they and other species are probably adapting to changing availability of food resources – the complicated dance of adaptation and survival has been going on for aeons, after all. The difference now is how fast change is taking place, and how many species will get left out in the process. Accelerated change is the result of global climate change caused by humans. So much so, that there is a new word coined to describe the era that we now live in: the Anthropocene. It is hypothesized that it will be the era of the sixth great mass extinction. Here are top-notch podcasts about the topic from a group of nerdy science grads who can really communicate and entertain.

Here in Gopher Valley, I started taking photos of plants in bloom, and this year I thought to compare the bloom time for one or two. There is nothing like a photo to cut to the important features and make connections. As we all know, year to year variation is normal, so this isn’t a scientific study. However, over long periods of time, the signal or trends show up, and that is when it gets really interesting.

One of the most interesting aspects of adaptation is that species change at their own rates, so you don’t see whole groups or ecosystems changing simultaneously and marking north together across the landscape. Plants (and animals) form unique new assemblages as conditions change. This is well documented in the literature of post-glacial vegetation by many authors. This time, in the Anthropocene however, things will be even more complicated because human agriculture and habitation is blocking migration corridors, leading some to advocate for a controversial method of conservation called assisted migration.

As you look at my examples of phenology, and after you listen to the podcasts and poke around the links above, check out some long-term phenological studies that really say something about what is happening in the natural world. Here’s one to get you started.

dodecatheon on 3.23.13

Dodecatheon on 3.23.13

Dodecatheon on 3.21.11

Dodecatheon on 3.21.11

Dodecatheon 4.30.09 on 4.13.13 flowers were at or past this stage (no photo of those)

Dodecatheon 4.30.09.This year on 4.13.13 flowers were at or past this stage (no photo of those)

Erythronium on 5.16.11

Erythronium on 5.16.11

Erythronium on 4.12.13

Erythronium on 4.12.13

Trillium parviflorum on 4.26.09

Trillium parviflorum on 4.26.09

Trillium on 4.29.11

Trillium on 4.29.11

Trillium parviflorum on 4.12.12

Trillium parviflorum on 4.12.12

Trillium on 4.13.13

Trillium on 4.13.13

March marches on

On the savanna in the late afternoon, surrounded by lichen-draped oaks; noting the attractive old ones, the new straight ones with potential beyond our lifetimes, mistletoe, galls. Mindfulness comes naturally.

In this video of early spring you can see the effects of not mowing. The reason was fire hazard followed by soggy soil, (drought/deluge) last fall. A lot of thatch from old non-native grasses and taller scotch broom remain; but I hope that will make it easier to kill the broom this spring. Mowing as a substitute for fire is not ideal, although better than nothing.

Other interesting things I found this day out will follow in the next post!

Highs and Lows

Feb 26, 2013:    Overnight Low 30° F    9:20 a.m. 34°F    Rainfall since 2/25/13   .55″

Feb 27, 2013:     Low 38°     9:40 a.m. 45°     Rainfall 0

I really enjoy checking the weather station stats on the indoor display console several times a day.

Although it rained like crazy, between showers it was bright and warm, the sun was blinding, actually, as I puttered among the weeds in the garden looking for native plants that I’d sown from seed in years past. Some are not yet up, but many are bright and chipper, looking as if maybe they never died back completely, despite protracted sub-freezing temperatures this winter.

Sidalcea campestris

Sidalcea campestris

Meadow checkermallow, Sidalcea campestris, forms crowns early and spreads easily once it germinates.

P.vulgarisPerhaps the ground-huggers find it easier to overwinter. The champion germinator of broadcast or row-planted natives, Prunella vulgaris marches on. Maybe that’s why it’s called self-heal. Nice ground cover and lovely purple flowers over a long period for nectar and pollen.

P. gracilis 2.26

P. gracilis

P. glandulosa

P. glandulosa

Potentilla glandulosa and P. gracilis (five-fingered cinqefoil and sticky cinqefoil) set many tiny seeds (think strawberries without the juicy part) but did not germinate in great numbers when broadcast. Those that did, survive happily, however.

E. lanatum

E. lanatum

The gray remains of last year’s Oregon sunshine, Eriophyllum lanatum, seen above new growth just getting started.

Baby Madrones

Baby Madrones

In the half-day shade on the west side of the shed, these Pacific madrones, Arubuts menziesii, have not been watered since sowing in winter 2010. Easy from seed (and not fresh seed at that- it was collected in 1999). I transplanted some to the hedgerow this winter, and will eventually distribute them around hoping for their continued survival.

IMG_4255Several thousand – literally – great camas, Camassia leichtlinii are on their second year. I separated and replanted most of the thickly sown seeds-now-bulbs that formed the first year until I wore out. So some are still in their previous crowded pots, like clumps of grass; those are the ones that are sending up the first shoots! (See below).

To say these are easy from seed is an understatement – I have to share with you the comment I received from one of my customers in the UK who purchased Camas seed from me to round out his collection,

Dear Jeanie

“O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! He chortled in his joy!”

Just a quick note to say that the Camassia seeds are coming up now, a bit like mustard and cress, so I hope I have enough space in the pot I sowed them in. Wee beasties aside, I should have a veritable forest of Camassia in a few years time.

From one very happy gardener on the other side of the pond.

Regards

Chris

Camas0001A gathering of robins, festooning the trees at dusk, kept me company. Great horned owls began moving from woods to meadow edge, conversing between themselves. Across the valley a western screech owl tooted out its ‘bouncing ball’ call.

robins

My Oregon Master Naturalist Cohort

Here, belatedly, is a short video of my Willamette Valley Specialization group in the Oregon Master Naturalist Program. This was the field portion of a day learning about birds and plants of the endangered Oregon White Oak Woodland and Savanna ecosystems. (With regard to Oregon white oak vs. Garry oak, see the note on Oregonian naming practices, on my other blog.)

A Map Of Time, Time In Maps

This is a gallery of landscape changes in our little corner of the world. In a very short time (1994-2012), the local vegetation has been altered by land management quite dramatically. From our perspective (our 20-acre rectangle) it often seems overwhelming.

In 2005 we had a comfortable buffer of forest around us for the birds and wildlife we like to watch. We knew it was tree farm country, so logging was a given but, patchy as it was, it didn’t seem too traumatic. You can see the tree farms mostly blanketing the area in the earliest GoogleEarth map.

Then came a shift in land use – ‘conversion’ is the term – from timber to vineyards. Watch the photos as the trees begin to disappear. Vineyards and orchards sound like a sort of idyllic alteration, but think just a minute about what that entails. Conversion from old growth to tree farms is a step away from diverse, patchy habitat of a particular kind: spotted owls, flying squirrels, really big trees with a lot of carbon stored in their massive trunks, a lot of cavities for owls and other specialists. Old growth trees (250+ yrs) that store and hold – sequester – more carbon than any other type of forest. You can see that even in the earlier views, the connectivity between patches is important – those are corridors that allow wildlife and plants to move across the landscape either to escape the clearcutting or to find food or mates.

Timber farms, especially smaller ones cut in patches on a long rotation, (time between cuts), shelter many important organisms while they grow, and if those plants and animals are lucky, they can shift over to another patch when the clearcut begins. Technically, people are required to leave a certain number of trees and snags, but the rules about that are so lenient that it doesn’t really amount to anything ecologically important in most cases on private land. Federal forests are another story, as they are managed differently. The other thing about forestry is that there are relatively long periods between soil disturbance.

Now, step it up one notch with conversion from timber land to row crops, vineyards, or a hazelnut orchard. If you look, you can see that to the north and east of our 20 acres, all trees were removed, conifer, oak, even the ones that were formerly left by commercial forestry. Stumps were bulldozed, burned, and the land plowed. Two major changes that occur now are the absence of trees and shrubs, and soil disturbance on a regular schedule. Weed control and monoculture demand constant spraying, plowing, or both. All these activities restrict plant life and, importantly, affect the insects that can survive in disturbed habitat.

Unless a farm, orchard, or vineyard is conscientiously managed to leave patches of undisturbed habitat for native ground nesting bees, predatory insects, and other beneficials, the landscape is a depauperate one compared to a natural one.

In the gallery above, you can view the transition from 1) patchy timber harvest to 2) clearcuts on a larger scale (there is a large absentee landowner to the north and east of us who is progressively extracting all the monetary value from his timber, then selling off the land) then 3) conversion to vineyard to the east and north. Note the extremely clean patches and rows of plowed and planted crops. Oak trees that were left after cutting douglas firs were stripped off the land and sold for firewood. Thankfully, a few trees were left around a low spot on the east side, that is the source of a stream that flows across our property and down to Deer Creek. However, our hydrology is permanently altered. Erosion from the force of high water flows, and lower flows in summer are byproducts of vegetation stripped off the soil surface.

Next week – the closeup view of our patch before and after we acquired it.

Woo-hoo! Another Happy Day…

In my post last week, I had to re-edit to mention that I actually did see a white-breasted nuthatch on our trees and at the feeder. I was probably so excited to report it that I mistakenly edited out that part.

This week, a news item just out reports that the Fender’s Blue butterfly numbers are up at a large reserve near Eugene in the Willamette Valley. Many have rallied around this small, but charismatic species. Unlike the nuthatch and acorn woodpecker, the Fender’s Blue is on the endangered species list. (The birds are slowly sliding toward it in some locales, but their numbers are still up).

A thought or two about insects: perhaps they can recover more quickly than some species (i.e. the spotted owl, mentioned in the article) because their populations have a quicker response time, or because their territories are smaller and more easily managed.

Many things going on there – they don’t have the competition from bigger more aggressive species like the spotted owl does. Insects also tend toward boom and bust cycles because of weather, food, disease and such, although some more than others (think aphids – at the bottom of the food chain and also designed for rapid reproduction). If their numbers drop, or rise, it may depend on environmental conditions other than the management strategies that people are using.

Nevertheless, these strategies are undeniably beneficial. It does one good to start the year with positive news. Maybe we’ll have some Fender’s Blues on our place soon. We have a patch of their larval host plants, some nectar sources, and it would be great if the Conservation District would decide we are worthy of burning the fields! I’m still pestering them about that…wbn

Fender's Blue on Kincaid's Lupine

Fender’s Blue on Kincaid’s Lupine

Weekly Photo Challenge: Green – A Look Back to Warmer Days

Some summer photos recalling warm, dry feet and abundant birdsong:

A short essay on my nemesis the California ground squirrel

The squirrely-est (and most beautiful) of squirrel youngsters. Is there no animal as irritating as a teenage ground squirrel? The parents must be so glad to get them out of the way. One was up on the roof CLOMPING back and forth trying to figure out how to get down (yes they climb), then the next thing I know it is making a systematic, and hyperactive circuit around the house, checking out every inch; scrabbling around trying to dig in the concrete window well, popping up to sniff the mouse traps, running around checking all the vents. Face to face with me through the glass door on the porch, scratching and chewing on the screen door. The local name for these guys is grey diggers. They are digging machines. I believe this one is hibernating under the house at this moment. Sleep well my friend, we will duel in the spring!

Patience

The inward season descends. Rain, early dark, late rising sun. The forest drips quietly, aroma of wet moss, earth, fir needles, inhaled with the moist air.


I’m replanting hundreds of Camas bulbs started from seed. These are one-year old bulbs.

After a few years, they will be large, blooming-size bulbs ready to sell.

The mushroom logs are starting to fruit – a few very large (6″-8″ across!) mild Shiitake and oyster mushrooms popped out. I put those logs aside, in the group of those that can be relied on to produce again for the next 2-4 years. Still waiting for most to fruit. The first ones give us hope that hours of sawing, drilling, pounding and watering were worth it. Can’t wait to start selling in earnest. Time to cut more logs…

Planted small seedlings of native Hawthorn started from seed for the hedgerows, collected in the summer of 2011. Two to four inches high now. They like the rain.

Seedling Madrones, short but robust – direct-seeded those into the garden in 2010 in pouring rain, mucky soil full of quack grass – with no summer water – now ready to transplant into the hedge, leaves an inch wide and twice as long – much more likely to live than those in pots.