Forests and Pollinators

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, or alongside. 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.

Vine maple is a favorite nectar plant for insects and hummingbirds

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.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)
Tall Or grape + red flowering currant
Iris tenax
Can you see the flowers on the salmonberry? (Rubus spectabilis)
old growth Evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) with a ground cover of Maianthemum racemosum
Bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa)
Many native pollinators use western goldenrod, often at the same time
-Photo: Sonya Wilkerson
Good old showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) is making a comeback for feeding monarch butterflies
Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus)

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.


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.


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 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

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.



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.


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.

What Is A Habitat Conservation Plan?

While the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) makes it illegal to negatively impact listed animal species (known as “take”), a permit (called an incidental take permit) can be issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that allows a limited amount of incidental take if the following conditions are met:

(1) A Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is developed that describes how the impacts to the species will be monitored, minimized and mitigated.

(2) Funding to implement the HCP and procedures to deal with unforeseen circumstances affecting the species, its habitat or the HCP are ensured.

(3) The incidental take identified in the HCP does not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery of the species in the wild (USFWS 1996).

The Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973. If a species is “listed” as endangered it is legally protected. Listing is a prolonged and not always successful process, involving study, counting, and documenting extinction danger. Once listed, a further requirement is formulation of a plan for building up populations and habitat for them so that the species can increase to the point where it is no longer endangered.

Landowners who are lucky enough to have property that is home to an endangered species can keep using their land – to grow crops, for example – by signing on to, and following An HCP. If they don’t, then these activities might actually be prohibited entirely, so participating in the HCP protects them from prosecution.

This is sometimes hard to get across to people who are worried about limits to the use of their property – joining allows you to continue an action that might harm an endangered species (you have a permit), as part of a plan that makes up for it in other ways. Not joining could mean less freedom to use your property.

The main reason for an HCP is not to allow take, however, but to establish best management practices to avoid it, and help people take care of their land and the species that belong to all of us.

I participate in a landowner advisory group with the Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District, which is writing an HCP for Fender’s Blue Butterfly (endangered) and its larval host plant, Kincaid’s Lupine (threatened). I hope that the limited number of landowners in the county who have these species on their property will join us in caring for the habitat that supports them. It is so seldom we can say that our actions make a difference – what a wonderful opportunity!

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!


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.


Oaks toothwort

This is one of my favorite plant names. I like it so much, I have to look up the scientific name every year because I can’t remember Cardamine nuttallii var. nuttallii.

One reason it’s so captivating is that this is one of the most diminutive, yet appealing flowers of early spring. It surprises me every year. So small, so pinky-striped, so self possessed on the moist, humus-y forest floor. The leaves are unusually dark green, the plant stands on its own without flopping over, holding the flowers up well on sturdy stems with interesting divided leaves on the upper stem.

A former species name, pulcherimma means beautiful. Cardamine is a genus of edible cresses – mustard family – although I’m not sure this one is very edible; haven’t tried it. Another common name is beautiful bitter cress; pretty good, but not as good as oaks toothwort.

I’ll say it again: oaks toothwort…one of the best names ever.

The alligator lizards like it too, this one said when I woke it up this spring while pulling weeds.

Spring shoots, bizarre fungi, welcoming birds

It’s been awhile since I went out with the camera, but I got some timely photos of emerging shoots, early bloomers and – oh yes, some alien pods – possible leftovers from last fall….

Here is a beautiful photo of an Anna’s hummingbird from Lisa who posted it on the Mid Valley nature blog. We discussed the lichens in the nest – they work great as camouflage; these lichens may have some antimicrobial properties against parasites and disease.

On the topic of birds, I diligently researched the best ways to keep birds from crashing into our sliding glass doors. I am sorry to say ours have been responsible for knocking a few birds unconscious and a few deaths. According to an American Bird Conservancy study, vertical white lines 4″ apart on the outside of the windows should work (my stripes are wider because I was too impatient to make them tiny and neat), and we are now ready for the birds to raise their babies.

windows painted to reduce bird strikes

If you don’t find the new shoots below particularly exciting (always better in person!) Plants can be found on the In Bloom in Gopher Valley page as they look later on in spring and summer.

Lilies abound, and it’s not clear which these are, as many have onion-like leaves. Many leaf out, but not all will bloom. Some need to grow larger to have the resources to send up a flower, others may just be in a spot that is too shady. Here they are growing up through the invasive ornamental Vinca minor.

Onion-like stems of lilies showing red at the base

The fawn lilies (Erythronium oregonum) are recognized by their speckled leaves – like a fawn. They’ll soon be in bloom.

And of course the great big bulbs of Camas are sending up fatter leaves. Unfortunately, the deer will probably eat them before I get a chance to see them bloom and collect seeds. These are very much bigger than the little oniony ones above – see the dougfir cone for comparison as these are not so close up.

Camassia leichtlinii

Trillium albidum

Here a clump of Trillium albidum is just emerging with flower buds at the center. These knocked my socks off when I first saw the in bloom – magical!

Although I’m not a big fan of snowberry in landscaped areas because of its tendency to turn into an amorphous thicket, in the wild, it’s quite modest. These tender new leaves attracted my attention, and now I see something has been nibbling the branch tips. Possibly a rabbit. Deer would leave a raggedy, shredded end, but these are cleanly pruned.

Early snowberry leaves

They are not arresting at this stage, but this one patch of shooting star (Dodecatheon sp) is the only occurrence I’ve found on our property and therefore a treasure that I watch for every year, hoping to collect seed and propagate more. I have gotten a few to sprout but none survived.

Shooting star leaves March

Indian plum with hazelnut catkins

Hard to believe all these leaves and flowers were packed into a couple of buds on the Indian plums; their time is spring and early summer. As summer drought wears on, their leaves yellow and drop, and they disappear in the woods. Right now their blossoms seem to float in front of the conifers and ferns. The hazelnut catkins are out early too – most of ours are either escaped cultivated ones or hybrids between domestic and native.

It’s almost invisible, but last year’s brown flowering stalk on this orchid (Piperia elegans) is still attached. Wide leaves are emerging from the bulb-like underground storage stem, surrounded by the ferny leaves of sweet cicely [Osmorhiza sp]. The orchids will spend 3 more months gathering the energy to bloom.

This photo of just the leaves may help in finding the cryptic leaves in the previous photo. This is a month earlier in mid-Feb:

The tiny single, wide leaf in the photo below is one of several giant houndstongue seedlings I planted at various locations. These in the oak woodland seem to be surviving. The long-established mother plant I harvested seed from is sending up huge fat shoots (second photo).


Giant houndstongue sending up shoots from a giant rootstock.

Cynoglossum grande

I find meadow checkermallow (Sidalcea) here and there, and although we have planted some, the indigenous plants are always my favorites. Like finding easter eggs hiding from the years of grazing, logging, and whatnot. Here they are just peeking out, and easily confused with sanicle or the ubiquitous invasive shining geranium or dovesfoot geranium.

Sidalcea campestris

I am delighted to see some Kincaid’s lupine made it through a second winter. I have been trying to get this endangered species established, but they are still not there yet. Hoping for more chances to plant this year. Someday the Fender’s blue butterflies may find these.

Kincaid's lupine seedlings planted in 2009

And now, for something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT! Take a guess what this might be:

I saw a group of these next to the lupines in the oak savanna. Vaguely remembering a photo and description, I confirmed that it is the fruiting body (similar to a puffball) of a fungus called an earth star. Check out the whole story here.

They are reminiscent of the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And they have a uniquely strange ability to rise up out of the ground and expand when moist (when the spores in the white puff would have a chance to germinate); with the tough, leathery star part retracting back underground when dry.

Here is what the underside looks like – I think these must be left over from last fall and winter because they seemed to have detached from their underground parts or mycelium. The one I brought home is dry and curled up again – might be a fun kid’s toy that curls and uncurls when you get it wet like those sponges in the shape of animals.

Earthstar underbelly

Stay tuned for more natural history surprises from the oak savanna, and oak and fir woodland of Gopher Valley Road and the Willamette Valley!

Oregon white oak - still dormant

The harvest is in…

Seeds collected 2010

I finally finished cleaning and packaging the last of the wildflower seeds. Although there will be a few late-bloomers and maybe some seeds from a few trees or shrubs. It doesn’t look like so much, but over the years as I plant them out and harvest again, the bulking-up process should yield more and more plants for restoration and enjoyment.

Just two weeks ago, it was hard to believe we were going to get more rain in parts of the NW in four days than the total average for September. Here’s what the dry ground looked like before the moisture came (not sure about now, as I have been gone for the rains):

Cracks in clay - August

These are REALLY deep cracks in the clay soil, caused by a prolonged dry spell. You can’t see the bottom when you peer into them. Not unusual for our climate, but it has been very hot as well, evaporating even more water from the soil.

Clay in soil is of two types: the kind that swells when wet and shrink as it dries, and the kind that doesn’t. This is the first type, of course. The shrinking and swelling mixes soil particles over time, allows water and air to penetrate, and – when these cracks open, stuff can fall in, which facilitates the delivery of organic matter to deeper layers.

It also produces characteristic soil structure, which is a good thing: undisturbed soil organizes into shapes and aggregations called peds. These shapes are stuck together by the things that soil-dwelling microorganisms and roots exude. The space between the peds allows water to infiltrate slowly and the organic matter soaks up rain like a sponge instead of letting it run off the surface

Microorganisms especially soil fungi, are instrumental in holding carbon in the soil and sequestering atmospheric carbon. If you till the soil all the time, it destroys this structure, the extra oxygen accelerates decomposition, and microorganisms suffer. If you leave your soil alone, mulch it to protect it from rain pounding on it, and keep adding organic matter for the organisms, you have done your part to reduce atmospheric carbon and reduce pesticide and fertilizer use!

Late August observations: Some of the oaks are getting toasted. Some have dried up leaves, others show thinning and a yellow tinge to the canopy. This may be a sign of genetic responses to climate change. Some are going to be better at it than others.

At a conference I attended a few years ago, a researcher presented his calculations on weather patterns. At the seasonal/yearly scale, patterns are hard to see, but he examined longer term records of temp and rainfall statistically and found that in general, overall, the temperature is rising. Another conclusion presented at this same conference was that Oregon is getting hit harder by extremes of temperature and rainfall, with Washington still cushioned a little from these extremes. The heavy rainfall in the Puget Sound region of Washington is getting to be the norm rather than the exception. In Gopher Valley, my neighbor reported rain but not a deluge, at least not this time.

Another factor in the leaf stress in our oaks could be the incredibly wet and long spring/early summer rains that lasted till the end of June. This probably made it easy for fungal and bacterial leaf pathogens to infect the young leaves, and this is showing up now as the drought stress kicks in.

Color difference between stressed oak and greener ones

Toasted oak on thin soil late summer

Oak leaves showing effect of drought/possibly pathogens


Even I get nervous when the yellow jackets starts to mass late in the season. But this tiny drama was cool. If you recollect the vulture post earlier this year, this is kind of a tiny version of that – meat eaters stripping a carcass really clean. I wouldn’t have noticed, except I was taking a picture of the giant cracks in the ground. This might have been a mole shrew or a baby mouse. Hard to tell because it was just fur and the head was some inches away. Yellow jackets are the coyotes of the insect world it would seem.

Tiny carcass

My son Patrick picked up this Giant Root Borer (deceased). Which it turns out is one of the biggest (by weight) long horned beetles in N America, (there are longer ones apparently).

Thanks to the Audubon Field Guide to N American Insects and Spiders and Bug Guide online for the i.d. Here is their post:

What you have there is a female Prionus californicus. Since she seems intact (that is, not chewed on by a predator), I would say that she probably fulfilled her biological duty and laid her eggs. She lays them in the ground at the bases of the host plants (just about any plant in this case), and the eggs hatch into larvae, which burrow in the soil, finding the roots of the hosts and feed until they reach maturity. This takes about 2-3 years.

The female uses a pheromone to attract males, then mating quickly occurs. The males are smaller, and have larger antennae which are elaborately articulated into serrations and plates which increase their surface area, thus enhancing their ability to detect the female pheromone.

The female of this species is quite large, and may well be the largest longhorn beetle in mass, but the palo verde root borer (Derobrachus spp.) is the largest in terms of length. Prionus is very common and there are probably hundreds per acre in natural habitat, but less common in developed areas. Hope that helps!

It’s easy to get nervous about how many of these things might be out there in the woods, note that the larvae take up to 3 years to mature – which means they’re eating the whole time and getting bigger and bigger (they are really huge, and you can see photos on the Bugguide website if you click on the beetle icon, and then go to Prionus). BUT natural landscapes and even ornamental ones can support a surprising number of critters. Like craneflies in your lawn: there can be a lot present, unseen, and you still will not notice much if any damage. And … recall that they are very nutritious food for something – perhaps birds or small rodents.

Since wood borers are probably scooting around and mating this time of year and invisible the rest of the time, it’s actually a fun and rewarding find and a sign of the season.

Working our way up from ground level, here’s a beautiful banded garden spider (Argiope trifasciata) that hangs out in grassy, dry areas: id. by our friends at (the requests for i.d. of this spider range from “what’s this beautiful spider?” to “this spider is giving my child nightmares”…)

a beautiful Argiope 2.5+ inches incl legs

Dorsal view

Here are a couple of more seasonal pics:

I was getting ready to dump out the partially finished compost when this Pacific tree frog (Pseudacris regilla) caught my eye – I think it was enjoying the cool moist habitat and decided the flies were easier to catch than if it had gone into some rodent hole for the dry season. After the tadpoles mature, the adults disperse to upland protected areas, and this one thought the compost was the best location.

If you are lucky enough to have amphibians in your yard, it’s good to know that they need a mosaic of habitat to survive all the life stages. Even some logs on the ground can keep the soil moist and cool and provide a nice holding area for reptiles, amphibians and – yes – slugs, but the slugs are food for reptiles and other creatures so it works out!

Pacific Tree Frog in the compost bin

In late winter and into summer, the air is filled with the RIBBITS (see and hear one) of the tree frogs, but I have only been able to see them a few times. Very elusive. This one is getting to be a pet, I have pulled the lid off to show it off so many times.

The birds are done with mating and announcing territories, the frogs are aestivating, and things are very quiet. The crickets sounds have been either louder or more noticeable since the other racket has died down.

In the next post, I’ll have some moist fall photos of newts, lichens, and whatever surprises I find on the next walk.

Highlight of the Season in Bloom!

Last year a mystery-plant put out two leaves in April and continued to be leafy while the other spring flowers bloomed and went to seed. While the dark leaves grew a little, nothing much was visibly going on. It seemed this plant must be spending all this time gathering resources to send up a bloom that takes an enormous amount of energy to produce – another lily? (They use the stored carbohydrates in their bulbs to flower, so they require bulbs of a certain age and size before managing the showy blossoms.)

Then in mid-June a flower stalk began to grow. Finally, in mid-July, full bloom: a rein orchid!

Here is the three-month progression:

leaves of Piperia elegans - late April

P. elegans bud in June

P.elegans in bud - thinking about blooming

P. elegans late June

A group of P. elegans scattered across forest floor

P. elegans - full bloom 18-24 inches tall

P. elegans flower - 3 sepals, two upright green-striped petals and a third (lip) below

After much consultation with field guides, especially P.M. Brown’s Wild Orchids of the Pacific Northwest and Canadian Rockies I am pretty sure we have several healthy patches of the rein orchid Piperia elegans (elegant piperia). The “rein” part of the name refers to supposedly strap-shaped petals which resemble bridle reins. Or perhaps the long spur – note how it curves down along the stem. It’s much longer than the lowest petal or “lip” on the blossom.

individual blossoms with spider P. elegans

P. elegans

Although Brown states that several species from the same genus may grow together in “genus communities”, so far I have only found this one. They exude a light, sweet fragrance after sundown. Last year we trekked up the hill in the dark to see if we could find any night-flying pollinators – perhaps a large unusual moth – but were not rewarded with much of anything. Such is the hunt for pollinators; they can be elusive. The fragrance was worth it, however. There may be some beautiful exotic night-flyer that arrives in the wee hours.

Here is a closeup of the blossoms, and yet another flower spider (i.d. to follow).

These unique and sometimes mystifying plants can afford this extravagantly long lead-up to production of truly robust 1-1/2 to 2 foot tall blooms because like all orchids, they form associations with a particular fungus or fungi, from which they derive large amounts of extra energy and nutrients. This is one reason they don’t survive transplanting – ever. They choose the fungi and the spot where they wish to grow, and that’s pretty much it. Except for a few experts who are able to culture the seeds and grow them, we can enjoy the thrill of finding wild Pacific Northwest orchids and knowing that we are witnessing something that cannot be reproduced just anywhere. This genus is only found in North America, and after some botanical splitting and probably more to follow according to Brown, 5 of the ten species are found in the Pacific NW.

This year I am planning to collect some of the seed capsules and place them in a few areas to see if they will take up residence just a little ways from where they are now. The seeds are like dust, and have no food storage. They must form an association or be infected with a fungus in order to even germinate, after which they rely on the fungus to get going and continue to develop.

Very cool!

New flowers

Check out the ‘In Bloom’ page for harvest Brodiaea lilies that popped up in unexpected abundance around the first of July. Could be the extra rain this year, or maybe the bulbs finally got large enough after three years of liberation from brush, scotch broom and Douglas firs.

Likewise, our few clumps of meadow checkermallow growing naturally had not been seen before, and they’ve escaped being eaten by the deer – not so with the ones we planted.

Stay tuned for a surprise a series of photos of one our favorite flowers – one that takes possibly the longest time to bloom from the appearance of the first leaves. Also the chronicle of our tree removals past, current, and future, for the greater good.