During some restoration work here, we had three largish Douglas firs limbed and topped for wildlife snags. We didn’t kill them, because the thinking at the time was that live damaged trees remain standing longer to provide wildlife habitat. Ten years on, these guys do, in fact, still have a lot of life left in them. One study1 found that 23% of non-fatally topped Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) were still alive 16-18 years later. Raptors can use them for perching, and the thick growth stimulated by cutting the leader makes a wide nesting area. The height and breadth of a tree provides the structural diversity of vertical space and occasionally cavities, but see below.
Dead trees equal higher biological diversity
I would argue that dead trees might be more useful than live snags. Once dead, biological resources in a live tree’s wood, sequestered during its lifetime, become available to microbes, fungi and arthropods. That is a gateway to creating living space for cavity nesting birds, mammals, bees, and other wildlife.
At first, even a dead tree is still hard and intact. Woodpeckers have to wait awhile before they can really tuck in and excavate nest cavities. Also their prey may not be able to get past a live tree’s defenses, which are many.
After defensive chemicals leach from the dead tree, wood-rotting fungi (ubiquitous in Pacific Northwest forests) move in to soften up the wood and begin the recycling process. One of these pioneers is a mushroom called veiled polypore (Cryptoporus volvatus). Fruiting bodies (mushrooms) appeared on the snag above, soon after it died, indicating that the mycelium had already invaded the sap wood.
This fungus is called a veiled polypore because it forms a pouch or envelope over the pore layer where spores are produced. The Latin name is more descriptive: hidden pores, covered by a sac-like membrane. At first look, one might mistake it for a puffball type mushroom (I did).
Bark beetles and many other insects take up residence inside the moist and nutritious interior. They may be eating or parasitizing each other, or just taking advantage of the warm, moist, and protected space and available mushroom food. Beetles carry spores into the bark when they bore into the sap wood of this or other dead and dying trees. Billions more spores are shed and dispersed via air currents.
This fungus colonizes recently dead or almost dead trees, causing sap rot that softens the wood under the bark. That’s the beginning of an explosion of diversity and nutrient recycling: microorganisms, invertebrates, birds, mammals, and others use the resources built by the tree over its lifetime. Some, like molluscs, newts, frogs, and reptiles, take advantage of the spongy, water-retentive rotting wood and physical shade during the dry season. Others forage for insects, eat algae, or feast on abundant carbon in the wood itself. A large log on the ground even attracts nitrogen, an essential plant nutrient in short supply in the soil.
When the wood is soft enough, primary cavity nesters2 begin to chip off bark and make holes. Secondary cavity nesters follow: squirrels, owls, and others that don’t excavate but need the holes for nesting and protection. Cavities are in short supply in modern landscapes and birdhouses do not replace the complexity and richness of large dead trees.
Whether as a standing snag or a log on the ground, dead and partially dead trees provide long lasting ecosystem benefits. Snags and large downed logs rule, obviously! Let’s keep more of them (looking at you Oregon Dept of Forestry).
In the article linked below is a concise history, and some current news of human influences on our prairie and savanna ecosystems.
The Willamette Valley, SW Washington, Puget Sound outwash prairies, and southern B.C. are all connected (geologically and topographically). This pops out on a foggy day as seen from a weather satellite: note the light gray fogged-in valleys all the way from Oregon to Canada!
Here in western Oregon we are gifted with many habitats and a variety of native plants for most any growing conditions. Wet soil? Try plants that love the ditches like camas, showy milkweed, or goldenrod. Shade? No problem – forests are full of shade loving shrubs and perennial plants. Gaps in the tree canopy and edges along roads or meadows are sunnier and packed with resources that increase habitat resilience and biodiversity.
Marginal land like ditches, roadsides, and rights-of-way might sound useless, but they are anything but that. Just check them and see how mosses, plants and animals take advantage of them. “Marginal” can mean not the greatest, oralongside. Land alongside roads, tracks, fields and power lines make up a tremendous amount of acreage.
Pollinators require nectar and pollen resources, but equally important is the availability of protected overwintering sites like leaf litter, large ferns, and tree cavities. Undisturbed forests, and even timber farms provide these in abundance when managed properly by leaving or adding plants that are often classed as non-timber resources. You might not be able to sell them, but they will enrich your forest in many hidden ways.
Agriculture and development daily gobble up land that was previously uncultivated or unnoticed, and that reduces refugia for native plants and animals. An example: unsprayed roadsides are one of the places milkweed can flourish unmolested to give monarch butterflies a chance to lay eggs and fuel up on nectar. Milkweeds, in fact, are some of the most prolific producers of nectar for lots of other pollinators too.
Oregon grape, vine maple, cascara, Nootka rose, Pacific ninebark, salal, spiraea and ocean spray are all common forest shrubs that provide superior habitat for pollinators. If your forest is lacking in diversity, you can plant these species either in the understory or along forest edges. If you have open spaces, you may even want to consider planting “pollinator patches” of native flowers, such as lupine, meadowfoam, clarkia, selfheal, goldenrod and aster. Many of our common forest plants, and indeed our food supply, may depend on this kind of proactive conservation work!
Kirk Hanson, Forestry Director Northwest Natural Resource Group
One advantage to growing forest-adapted shrubs, wildflowers and trees is early season nectar. The ethereal white flowers of Osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis) appear against the green forest background as early as January. Tall Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) may accompany red flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) to dramatic effect. The dense creamy sprays of goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) on shady edges attract multiple species of native bees.
Late season nectar is often scarce because our hot, dry summers force most plants to get their reproducing done early. Summer dormancy is a survival strategy that produces yellow leaves on perfectly normal osoberry late in the season. However, goldenrod (Solidago spp. and Euthamia occidentalis), Aster spp, and rabbitbrush (Ericameria sp.) are used extensively by insects late in the season. With a little moisture, some perennials will even bloom a second time.
Pollinators aren’t the only beneficiaries of wise planting. Birds, mammals, and predators all use the fruits, structures, and protection that a diverse forest provides. Lower levels of pests and higher soil moisture and fertility are a few of the by-products for landowners and farmers.
Of course an equally powerful way to protect wildlife and pollinators is to reduce or eliminate agricultural chemicals on your property. Properly using those you need, in small quantities, and with great care with respect to timing of application is essential. If you live in Yamhill County, join the Yamhill Butterfly Gardeners, the Native Plant Society, or get in touch with Taylor Gardens for a consult to explore your options.
I did not expect newly emerged winged things to be coming out Oct 31, but here is a caddisfly (Halesochila taylori). One or two came to the house lights. I am still researching their biology. They live in healthy wetlands and near stream and lakes. So, Yay!
I love their elegant antennae and modern-art wing pattern.
A quick post to showcase creatures we are enjoying here in Gopher Valley in NW Oregon.
Note: if you get this post by email, the videos will not show up. So try coming to the blog page to read.
Crickets this year are abundant.Their chirps monopolize the bandwidth of evening sound. We have two kinds: the slow-singers and the fast-singers. Perhaps bush and tree varieties. During hot late August and Sept evenings, one highly successful individual got the volume past the point of enjoyment for us mammals indoors.
In this video below you can hear the fast singer competing with the slow guys in the background. Apologies for the low res, but you can get the idea.
Snowy tree cricket or maybe another kind.
Evening primroses (Oenothera sp) are not a native flower, but they bloom their hearts out all spring and summer into fall and the extended color, fragrance and nectar is a gift to insects and humans. Crickets perch on the stems, light evening primrose fragrance is released into the air each night when they open after dusk. Flowers open so quickly you can see the petals move! Easy to grow from abundant seed, too.
A couple of snakes. Some gopher snakes are very tame, but others are aggressive and defensive. I found a baby on the road that gathered all of it’s 6 inches into a compact spring and leaped toward me as I stepped back from taking a photo. This big one we petted as it toured the patio methodically looking into each and every corner for some dinner, and it hardly noticed us.
Adult gopher snake
A rubbery rubber boa. They are usually underneath something.
Despite the heat, good old Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum) came up from winter-sown seed in the hedgerow-in-progress, and bloomed by the end of the summer. Thank you, best native plant friend! And that is narrow-leaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) keeping right up with it. Easier to start this year than the showy milkweed, and still native to our region. Contact me if you would like growing or seed source info.
Snags are standing dead or dying trees. In natural forests in the Pacific Northwest, there are usually a number of trees that have died from lack of light, overcrowding, competition and whatnot. Forests older than 150 years are heading into old growth status and by then some trees in these forests have been killed by fungi infecting the roots or trunk (the diseases they cause go by colorful names like stringy butt rot or laminated root rot). Wind is a big creator of snags. There may be some broken tops in trees with sound roots but weak trunks (windsnap) or if the roots are rotten or the ground soft from rain and snow, blow downs (windthrow).
In an old-growth west side conifer forest (250 – 1000+ yrs) diversity abounds: openings where giants have fallen let in light to allow shrubs and seedlings to grow better, there is wood on the ground, standing dead snags, trees growing out of nurse logs, a mossy zone with perennials and groundcovers, a shrub layer, a lower understory tree layer, intermediate to very tall trees. This is all great from an ecologist’s perspective.
An oak woodland has a different character. If a woodland or savanna was burned, it might have an open character. If no fire killed the young trees and brush, it will be crowded with skinny trees reaching over each other for the light, maybe one or two legacy giants that were seedlings 150 to 300 years ago, overtopped by douglas firs; dappled shade, poison oak shrubs, and vines climbing the trees, grasses, a few shrubs (serviceberry, snowberry) and flowering bulbs (camas) and perennials (checkermallow, strawberries) persist in the low light. There will be dead standing oaks in either case, many with dead branches and brittle broken limbs among the live ones. And lichens: many species and a great biomass of lichens.
In a managed forest, the forester does the thinning in order to grow fatter trees for market, like a row crop. When these trees – all the same age – are eventually cut, like giant broccoli, there will be some green trees left and some dead standing snags because the Oregon Department of Forestry requires it.
Why? Why do we value snags enough to write them – however few and inadequate in number – into the forestry regulations? Life. And diversity. A dead tree has arguably more life in it than a live tree. The diversity of fungi, bacteria, and wood decay organisms is enormous. Beetles, termites, ants, and others feed on the dead wood and fungi. These are the base of the food web, the decomposers and recyclers that return nutrients stored over decades or centuries, to the forest.
There are plenty of birds (woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches) who visit the snag to find food, and excavate nest cavities in the softening wood. Others (owls, bats) who can’t excavate a hole, use those made by woodpeckers, in a grand circle of beneficial re-use and mutual aid. A dead tree is a great place for a raptor like a hawk or osprey to nest or sit and watch for prey, possibly a douglas or flying squirrel. Snags are so important to wildlife that getting rid of them endangers species that rely on old growth and dead wood.
Next time you drive through the Oregon Coast Range on the way to the beach, observe the difference between a national forest and adjacent tree farms owned privately or by the BLM. Instantly the trees get bigger in the national forest, the ground level cooler and more diverse, the depth of the canopy is higher and the light changes. Streams look like real streams. This you can tell at 55 miles per hour.
We had a tree next to the house made into a snag. A dougfir that needed to be removed for safety. Our arborist Brian French (that’s him up the tree in photo below) took off the limbs, topped it and crafted a new jagged top – an outstanding fake lightning strike to accelerate fungal invasion. (Final touch was a birdhouse built by birdman Tom Brewster, volunteer with the Yamhill Conservation District and local woodworker.) Brian also hollowed out a section of trunk behind a carefully cut piece of bark, then replaced the bark so the birds could move in right away without waiting for the snag to soften up.
Just in time for nesting season, a tree swallow pair scouted it and pronounced it livable. The rest of the flock looks on in envy. For the first time we have tree swallows careening over the house grabbing insects in the new, more sunny and open space. Yay snag.
I had an arresting experience when I went out into the woodland the other day. It has been extremely dry this winter in Oregon, but there is often a lot of fog. As I walked under one of the larger Douglas firs there was a sound of dripping rain on dried oak leaves and yet, it was not raining.
I’m not sure if I have ever experienced fog drip first hand in quite this way. I learned about it many years ago as a very significant (in the statistical meaning) source of ground water and soil moisture in the western Cascades.
Have I ever been in the woods when they are dripping? Yes, but standing under one single tree, that is collecting and dropping water is kind of eerie when everything else is quiet, the ground is dry, and it’s just very foggy. Being present as a tree essentially waters itself and channels the water into ground storage, reveals how trees = water = more trees and life.
So, come along with me and experience it for yourself. You might be able to see the raindrops falling in this cellphone movie:
Here, stand in the open where no rain is falling, and look back toward the mixed oak and the big Doug fir in the ravine. These trees were left behind when the forest was logged the first and/or second time in the last century. We left them too, when we thinned trees to revive the oak woodland. They protect a riparian zone of seasonal streamflow – the source of some of that flow is now apparent! That’s a Steller’s Jay imitating a Redtailed Hawk in the background.
So, why fog drip under conifers and not oaks (I asked myself)? I believe that the answer lies in leaf architecture. Moisture runs off the vast surface area of thousands of needles intercepting fog. Oaks are leafless in winter, but besides that, they support a huge biomass of lichens and mosses, which are designed to soak up nutrients and water from the air, as it’s their life support. Hence, lichens and mosses may tend to increase the humidity around a tree, but they sponge up rather than repel moisture like fir needles. Fir needles don’t need the moisture – they send it to the roots where they can use it. Wow.
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 adult Used with permission:Jerald E. Dewey, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org Lambdina fiscellaria somniaria
Fall means fresh hazelnuts and walnuts, still lots of produce from local farms
Suddenly, the fall rains are here. From our weather station record I see that:
Last Sept (2012) the total rainfall was 0.01″
So far this month 5.89″ have fallen out of the sky. The storm began on 9/20 and is still dumping rain – currently at a rate of 0.12″ per hour, but occasionally much heavier.
Another fact from the weather station archives: it was 96 degrees F. 3 weeks ago on Sept 10, 2013. Crikey!
The oaks will be slow to turn brown and drop their leaves, but acorns on the ground are cracking open with new sprouts already taking advantage of the wet.
Rather than waxing on about the weather and seasons, I defer to a very nice post by Verlyn Klinkenborg of the NY Tiimes, [this excerpt will take you to the main page – that’s all the copyright I could afford]
The Silence of the Leaves
By VERLYN KLINKENBORG
…I’ve been thinking about the way autumn has stolen upon us. When the first leaves turn — a roadside maple in August — it’s easy to ignore the coming season. But now all the trees are turning in concert, rushing to a foregone conclusion. I’m struck by how silently it happens. The pastures have gone quiet at night. … more
This will be the last day of this month that we’ll be at the market. If you miss us Thursday, you are welcome to use the contact form to get in touch to arrange a delivery, or you can use the payment buttons in the left sidebar.
We’ll be back at the McMinnville Thursday farmer’s market in late September.
Thanks to everyone who came by, purchased a log, and praised the mushroom logs today at the market.
We had a group of excellent, enthusiastic, and fearless log lovers pass by our booth today. Thank you for purchasing logs and liking the whole idea of raising mushrooms in your own gardens!
Please stay in touch and send tales of mushroom growing, questions, recipes, and photos of your logs to the blog. We’ll be back at the Mac farmer’s market in a few weeks. In the meantime, feel free to send your comments via the contact form here in the sidebar.
We packed up mushroom logs, table, signs and market canopy and went off to Mac for our inaugural market Thursday.
It was a pleasant afternoon sitting in the shade of the tents, amid quiet chatter of market goers. We enjoyed meeting neighbors from Gopher Valley, citizens of the burg of McMinnville and points nearby, vacationers from Florida, Georgia, Arizona, California (presumably getting away from the heat and humidity) who could not possibly put a log on the plane or keep it in an RV, and listening to all kinds of stories.
Each stroller occupant, couple, family, and individual provided a fresh opportunity to find out what people think of this whole mushroom log thing. Questions about the logs were remarkably similar, but the range of individual reactions to our invitation to try growing mushrooms were instructive and surprising. One sees the spectrum of approaches to life in general through the prism of log-buying decisions.
People were mostly adventurous enough to taste a morsel – sautéed in olive oil and butter, they were aromatic and exquisitely flavorful.
Kids were fascinated or appalled by the mushrooms. Young men often find them very cool. Some people hesitate because this whole mushroom growing/pet log sort of thing seems a bit arcane, or entails responsibilities akin to adoption, or it’s just weird or maybe too science-y. It’s an opportunity for knowledge-sharers to expound on their own mushroom experiences, preferences, and general outlook on the whole subject, not intending to purchase. Others embrace the idea gleefully with open minds.
Quite a few people approach this small thing (buying a log inoculated with mushroom spawn that will produce something akin to a tomato or an apple) as if it were a major investment – like buying a car. “Well, I don’t know… ” Even gardeners seem to have a hard time with the idea that you just need to KEEP IT MOIST BY SOAKING IT IN WATER EVERY 10 DAYS OR SO AND PUT IT IN THE SHADE. Really, it’s only a log! If you can water a houseplant or a shrub, you can deal with this. If you somehow mess it up, at least it was an adventure. I just want to say, “Here’s a conversation piece, have fun – don’t worry!”
A few of my favorite moments: the young woman with two little girls and a baby in a front pack who bought a log as a surprise for her husband, having missed an earlier opportunity on his birthday or Father’s day. I delivered it after the market closed and the kids’ were just bubbling over anticipating its arrival.
Once, I returned from an errand to see my husband completing a transaction with a young guy who had come by to look earlier; he brought a woman, who was absorbed in cradling the log and looking intently at all the mushrooms growing on it. They were smitten with the whole idea.
People who said they would come back later in the day to buy mushrooms or a log, actually did.
Clearly, mushroom logs engender a very intense food raising experience that tomato plants do not.
Maybe next week I will press a mushroom log on the timid and doubtful and they will take one home and it will be the best experience of their whole year. It will open their eyes to the world of trying new things, and finding out it actually works!
Great birding this spring and early summer here in Gopher Valley.
Since I finished Birding by Ear with Lisa and Don through the Corvallis Environmental Center, I have been obsessed with all the bird conversation going on. I took the class so I could learn to listen in on who is here, and I was not disappointed! I have been making some recordings (to come in future posts) and have identified many formerly unknown songs.
I found out there are birds out there I’ve never seen, and may never be able to see – Pacific Slope Flycatcher for example. Tom finally pointed out the elusive Swainson’s Thrush yesterday, when we visited Miller Woods, but we can’t seem to see our own, despite the fact that they sing practically all day long.
One great thing about our newly cleared oak woodland, is there is space between the trees – through which birds fly, and when they land, we can see them. Thus I was able to photograph the exotic, tropical-looking Western Tanager today. I think they live behind our house, because I hear their crickety chirping call from the trees. There seem to be two adult males here in the photos, the less exuberantly colored one is a non-breeding male, I think. Perhaps one of the kids. All the bird babies are out trying their wings and hunting skills.
Many thanks to Amie Loop-Frison of the Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District and her prodigious organizing skills to pull this off. It was a beautiful day, a fun tour, and an inspiration to see so many people interested in … Continue reading →
The day before I took on the Scotch broom (previous post) I indulged in a day of scouting for birds and plants. It is so much easier to see birds since the tree thinning! I finally got a picture of the white breasted nuthatch (there are at least 2) in its element, with a tasty morsel of some kind – nowhere near a feeder!
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.
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.
invaded area – previously sprayed broom is dead and dying. blooming plants are overtopping wildflowers in the nectar plots
One 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.
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
same plot three weeks later – rose checkermallow in bloom. dead broom mulch
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 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.
Again, 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 lily, sweet cicely, sanicle, and self-heal.
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” + λόγος (logos), amongst others “study, discourse, reasoning”
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 vegetationby 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 3.21.11
Dodecatheon 4.30.09.This year on 4.13.13 flowers were at or past this stage (no photo of those)