The Power of a Raindrop

If you need free entertainment on a winter day in Puget Sound Country, you can always watch raindrops landing.  I was doing just that a few days ago.  It was so fun.  And exciting.  Like reality TV, only smarter.  They were big heavy drops landing in a pond and I could actually see the vertical splashes and the sideways waves.  There is a lot of force behind a raindrop. 

 Water–accumulated raindrops–has to go somewhere; if it isn’t stopped, it will rush into streams and lakes and Puget Sound, carrying pollutants from our streets and lawns with it.

 Native plants disperse the energy, preventing erosion, and allowing rainwater to filter down into the soil, recharging aquifers and providing summer water for streams.  Some of the best plants for taming the power of raindrops are available at Tadpole Haven.

 Evergreen trees, shrubs and groundcovers are extremely useful in dissipating that energy.  Because they still have leaves or needles during the rainiest months, the raindrops don’t hit the ground with full force; by the time the water gets to the ground, it is calmed, slowed and more easily absorbed.  In fact, a large percentage of the rain falling on a forest dominated by evergreen conifer trees–up to 50 percent—is held in the canopy and eventually released back up into the atmosphere (oh goody more rain), never hitting the ground at all!

 Two evergreens:

  • ·         Grand Fir (Abies grandis), a tall conifer witih shiny deep green needles.
  • ·         Tall Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium), a narrow-growing shrub with holly-like leaves, yellow flowers loved by hummingbirds and edible (though tart) berries.  This is a good choice for stabilizing sandy slopes; you can see it doing its work high on bluffs around Puget Sound

 Four Plants that can deal with soggy spots:

  • ·         Cascara (Rhamnus purshiana), a small tree, has berries that birds love.  If it’s growing out in the open, it has a round spreading canopy; in the forest among tall conifers, it tends to grow straight up toward the light (up to 30’ tall).
  • ·         Piggy-back Plant (Tolmiea menziesii).  You know I love piggys (see In Pursuit of the Piggy-back).  They are a fun shade loving perennial.
  • ·         Large-leaved Avens (Geum macrophyllum) loves sun, moisture, butterflies and your socks (the seeds like to glom onto anything you’re wearing that is fleecy and use you as a seed distribution vehicle.  It has cute yellow flowers and because it is good at spreading its seeds around, it is a good pioneer plant in disturbed open areas.
  • ·         Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) likes to be beside, but not right down in, wet spots like streams, seeps and rain gardens.  It is usually found in the shade (not always near a wet spot), but if it has access to moisture most of the year (your soggy spot), can grow in very sunny places.

 Two other species to help temper the force of our winter rains:

  • ·          Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) does well where it gets some shade, say, on the edge of a grove of trees.  It would be a good choice for a slope; its spreading rhizomes bind the soil together, keeping it from slumping and washing away from the power of raindrops.  Thimbleberry forms a thicket, with pretty white flowers in spring and yummy berries in the summer.
  • ·         Garry Oak (Quercus garryana) will grow up to be a mighty, spreading tree, with roots to match.  It does best in areas that drain well; it won’t thrive in soggy soil.·
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