Native Plants & Treefrogs: Everything Works Together

Native plants are beautiful and interesting, but they are not an end in themselves. They cooperate with other biological or ecological factors such as climate and geology to create resilient habitat. Everything works together!

Any day now, the Pacific Chorus Frogs (a.k.a. Pacific Treefrog) will start raising a ruckus in the wetlands around Tadpole Haven. So far, the weather has been too cold for them. They have already begun calling in warmer parts of the Puget Sound region, such as Seattle.

This time of year, they migrate toward water to find mates. The males are the noisy ones! Once they breed, the females lay their brown-and-cream colored eggs in golf-ball-sized clumps of clear jelly on plants and twigs along  sunny, well-vegetated shorelines. They seem to prefer to lay their eggs on thin twigs and stems; sedges, rushes, Marsh Cinquefoil (Comarum palustre), and stems of Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea) that have draped into the water are some common choices.

The ideal pond for Chorus Frog breeding dries up in late summer, making it an unattractive place for the predatory, invasive Bullfrog, which needs year-round water.

But mating season is only part of the story. After the lovefest is over, the adults go back into the forest (or your frog-friendly backyard). And after the tadpoles hatch, grow and metamorphose into tiny frogs, they also hop into the woods. If you can stand in your own yard and are able to hear them calling from a nearby pond, you can provide them somewhere to go during the rest of the year. They will need the native plants and trees growing in your yard in order to thrive. During a Western Washington winter, they don’t hibernate in the classic sense; they’ll seek shelter from the extremes, only going dormant or inactive when it’s really cold out. Throughout the winter, you may hear an occasional low cri-i-i-i-k of a Pacific Chorus Frog in the forest or hospitable garden.*

The Department of Fish and Wildlife has a very informative pdf you can print out at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/frogs.pdf

Wikipedia has a good entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_tree_frog

*Thank you to Brian Bodenbach of Biosphere Landscape, brian@biospherecompany.com

Riotous Roses And Pussy Hats

I am excited. My friend Linda crocheted me my very own pussy hat, complete with cute pink ears. And on Saturday morning I am going to grab my pussy hat and dive headfirst into the Seattle throngs at the Women’s March. We’ll speak our minds – politely – as a way to encourage each other and to object to (harrible, harrible) domination-based values hurtful to People, Peace and Mother Earth.

Pink is not really my best color but it sure looks nice on a Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana). Fragrant and beautiful, the Nootka Rose is flagrantly aggressive and prickly. So it’s a wonderful plant in a sunny hedgerow or exposed slope where its rhizomes can spread and form a thicket (terrific shelter for birds).

More ladylike (really only a virtue anymore if you happen to be a plant), the Bald-Hip Rose (Rosa gymnocarpa) also has beautiful pink flowers but stays where you put her. In the Spirit of Mutuality, she won’t run rampant over the smaller citizens of your garden. Definitely a candidate for Miss Congeniality! And she likes shade!

Subalpine Spirea (Spiraea splendens) is a standout shrub that has the virtue of staying pretty short — usually under 4 feet tall. In June, she blooms — dark pink clusters of tiny flowers. Subalpine Spirea thrives in sunny places, as long as the soil has some moisture in it. It will spread, but relatively slowly. Wonderful, wonderful plant. I love that plant.

I’ve saved the most glamorous shrub for last: Western Azalea (Rhododendron occidentale). Like Subalpine Spirea, it does best in sunny, moist conditions. This dignified deciduous beauty will grow up to 8 feet tall. The blossoms are very, very (very) fragrant and delicately tinged with pink, peach and/or yellow. Its natural range is Southern Oregon to Northern California so it is a “Northwest” native (as opposed to locally native).

Hope to see you soon! Your Pinko Purveyor of Native Plants,

Shirley Doolittle-Egerdahl, owner

Tadpole Haven Native Plants

S.A.D.?? Look at our native plants!

I CAN FEEL IT. Seasonal Affective Disorder is setting in. These two sunny days are a temporary respite from the dark. The dark rain. The dark election. The dark afternoons. It’s all getting to me!

Now that the wind and rain have blown the bright yellow leaves off the Big-Leaf Maples (Acer macrophyllum), there is nothing to trick my brain into thinking that the summer light is still here. We have entered the days dreaded by erstwhile Californians — days when the only color you see is the green-and-black of forest rising around.

We are surrounded by evergreen trees, shadowing our winter lives.

Cheer up! That is the way our Western Washington forests should look! A resident of Forks (on the Olympic Peninsula), which annually receives an ungodly 120 inches of rainfall, gave me a hot tip: the Rain Forest is most beautiful when it’s raining! Need open skies? Go for a tromp in a swamp! Need dry weather? During a downpour, stand with your back against a big old Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata). (Am I sounding so chirpy that you want to slap me? Sorry—two days of sun and I go giddy…)

If the only thing consoling you is the thought of that extra hour of sleep you’ll get on Saturday night, take a look around. Fringecup (Tellima grandiflora) still looks happy, with its deep green ruffled leaves. It hunkers down and stays green during mild winters especially when under the shelter of tall evergreens. Since it readily self-seeds, it acts as a semi-evergreen groundcover, sprouting 3-foot tall stems of cute yellow spring flowers.

And look at all our festive evergreen Sword Ferns (Polystichum munitum)! They look elegant and maaaavelous all year. And as previous years’ fronds gradually melt into the ground, they form a protective “skirt” – high-fashion winter shelter for amphibians such as ensatinas and salamanders, and invertebrates—insects, centipedes, beetles.

So quit huddling in your house and get outside!

What we have in COMMON

Politics, politics, nonstop politics. Partisanship running so hot sometimes even family members have a hard time finding common ground. Sunday I was preparing dinner with my sister-in-law, whose political views I do not share. We talked about family news and grandchildren. She commented on the vase of cut asters on the windowsill. Just then, the beautiful shades of twilight were settling on the field and the nursery beyond.

“Let’s go look at the asters!” I said. “This is the best time of day — the twilight really brings out the colors.”

aster-chilensis2

Common California Aster (Aster chilensis)

And so we left the vegetables on the counter and walked across the field to the nursery to look at the Common California Asters (Aster chilensis*) which are growing in a glorious heap. They are in individual pots but their stems are all intertwined with each other, and they are beautiful. Sure enough, their lavender petals and yellow centers were positively glowing in the twilight. And next to them, uncharacteristically blooming in the Fall, were their cousins, Showy Fleabane (Erigeron speciosus). Besides being spring bloomers, they have slightly darker purple petals and a much shorter growing habit. Like the aster, the fleabane loves sun.

The Common California Aster (native from California to B.C.) blooms in the fall, a welcome break from the depression setting in as the days get shorter and the politics get harsher. Enjoying the beauty of nature together can be that common ground we so badly need to share; suddenly the “Common” California Aster represents precious, threatened community.

The Aster and Fleabane are defying the inevitable autumn decline. Other plants in the nursery still look especially terrific: Deer Fern (Blechnum spicant), Pacific Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum tenuipes),Small-flowered Alumroot (Heuchera micrantha), Henderson’s Checker Mallow (Sidalcea hendersonii) — some are blooming!, 4-inch size Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), Fringecup (Tellima grandiflora), Sea Pink (Armeria maritima), Oregon Stonecrop (Sedum oreganum), Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium).

In addition, there are some hard-to-find species available: California Wax-Myrtle (Morella californica), Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus) and a handful of Bog Laurel (Kalmia polifolia ssp. occidentalis).

8/11/2016 Meteors and Native (Plant) Stars

Did you see the gorgeous half-moon last night?  Sometimes when I take the dog outside at night, I leave the porch light off in hopes of seeing the stars. Last night, the sky was just dark enough to see the brightest stars. The waxing moon, gold and low in the southern sky, presided over the planets Mars and Saturn and the brilliant star Antares (I wish I could brag that I knew that off the top of my head!). It was not dark enough yet to see any of the shooting stars from the Perseid meteor shower. The annual star-show will be at its height in the wee hours of Friday morning—after moon-set. It is slated to put on an extra-spectacular show this year. I’m counting on insomnia kicking in tonight!

Thinking about the heavens as the dog took his final pee on his favorite Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum), I wondered what constellations are named for plants? Are there any? The answer, I learned today, is zero. Of the 88 constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union, NONE feature plants. Did the ancient Greeks and Sumerians consider even olive branches and grape clusters too mundane, too earthly, for a slot on a sky chart?  Why aren’t any constellations named after PLANTS?

There are plenty of plants named after STARS! A few of our earthbound, ground-hugging, spring-blooming native perennials come to mind: Broad-leaved Starflower’s (Trientalis latifolia) delicate white-to-pinkish stars nod on invisible stems 3-4 inches above the surface of the planet. Star-Flowered False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum stellata) is a woodland groundcover whose nebulas of tiny stars hover in earth’s atmosphere, elevated on their leafy stems up to two feet high.  And Broad-leaved Shootingstar (Dodecatheon hendersonii) aspires to the heavens (reaching its zenith at approximately 12 inches). Dormant now, in early spring its bright magenta flowers illuminate the garden.

As long as I’m demanding answers, why doesn’t the shade-loving groundcover Inside-out Flower (Vancouveria hexandra) rate a heavenly appellation? The delicate white flowers have the same shape (albeit smaller) as Shootingstars! The shape of its leaves has earned it the alternate name “Duckfoot” – cute, but the opposite of celestial-sounding.

Tonight, turn off your porch light, look up, and let the heavens inspire you. But today, look down at your feet, and let the heavens-on-earth sustain you.

What does Hope look like?

My fingernails are eternally filthy, my to-do list is never-ending, but the view from my office is very pleasant right now. The sun-lovers in the nursery are within view. But the Red Alder (Alnus rubra) casts a nice dappled shade. In the foreground, deep green multi-fingered leaves and yellow flowers of the vigorous groundcover, Pacific Silverweed (Argentina egedii), sit next to the small pots of baby Big-leaf Lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus). Now just 5 inches tall, they aspire to purple-and-white-flowered glory ten times that height. Beside the Lupines grow Subalpine Spirea (Spiraea splendens), ready to go. Even though they are small, some of the plants are sporting fuzzy pink blooms.

Beyond that, the fine curving blades of the bunchgrass Roemer’s Fescue (Festuca idahoensis ssp. roemerii) look like flowing water, contrasting with the hearty foliage of Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana), a thicket-forming wild and fragrant magenta rose. The Common California Asters (Aster chilensis) are tall and vigorous, and hold the promise of lavender and yellow blooms in the fall.

Beyond the sun-lovers, the greenhouse, attractively (if I do say so myself) covered in shade-cloth, protects newly-potted or shade-loving plants. There is a never-ending supply of plants to be potted up or otherwise propagated. We have high hopes for them.

The nursery is a place of hope. We get to work together with the earth, growing plants that help the earth recover from humanity’s ravages. Sometimes being a native plant grower just feels like a lot of work. Most of the time it IS a lot of work. But, when I step back and enable myself to envision a wider view, I can see that it is more than work; it is a Work.

So the view from my office is not just of the physical manifestations of my mental to-do list, nor even just of nice plants ready to be sold–but the view of a Work. To recast the popular phrase, this is what hope looks like. Seedlings ready to be planted out, dirty fingernails.

May Day AGAIN?

So I’ve gotten tired of hearing stump speeches from the Red Huckleberries (Vaccinium parvifolium). And irritated by the Tall Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) going around boasting “We’re going to make America grape again!” I’m longing for the good ol’ days of Occupy. So in honor of May Day, let’s look back a little bit to 2012:

Native Plant Appreciation Week is over but the residual effects are still with us. AND it was May Day a few days ago.  All week long, I have been beleaguered by sign-waving Native Plants.  They are standing tall and proud in the nursery (egged on by the free-range huckleberries in the woods adjacent). 

 One of the Grand Firs (Abies Grandis) gave a speech:  “It’s time to take a stand! Haven’t we been downsized enough?  Our hard-working limbs, leaves and roots disrespected enough?”

The Large-Flower Fairybells (Prosartes smithii) straightened their curving stems a bit and waved their creamy yellow flowers. 

Grand Fir continued. “Those humans have contracted out most of our work!  They dig pits to replace whole ecosystems and claim they will keep the water clean.  Are they doing the job RIGHT?”  Grand Fir paused for a moment to curl a branch into a full-on sneer.  “NO-O-O-O!  How can a hole in the ground do YOUR jobs of cushioning the earth from pelting raindrops and rushing, polluted runoff?  How can a gutter or a storm drain provide a home for a Junco or a Tree Frog?”

At this point, the demonstration took on a surprising degree of diversity. Scolding noises came from the trees.  A tree frog croaked and the newly-hatched tadpoles in the kiddy pools waggled their tails.  And the little pots of mosses, carrying signs that said “Cushioning is our job!” and “Moss-Out Kills!” and “Solidarity with Peat!” stumped out to the driveway and staged a Moss-In.  The moss on the branches of the tall Douglas Firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii) overhead went wild, throwing lichen bits and hollering.

 Grand Fir, encouraged, worked herself up a little more. “Do they think that LAWNS or poodle-puff-who-knows-what-they-are-supposed-to-be shrubs will really give them what they need?  They need life!  And they get that from us!  WE are the 99%!  Just try to imagine how many plants it takes to keep one of those too-smart-for-their-own-good primates alive?”

 “I know, I know!” squeaked a plump baby Vine Maple (Acer circinatum) in a 1-gallon pot, flapping its new, still-soft leaves. 

 Grand Fir ignored him. “Let me tell YOU!  There’s a big debt outstanding to Mother Nature!  It’s high time humans stop taking it out of OUR cambiums!”

The Red-Flowering Currants (Ribes sanguineum) began swaying back and forth, making a deep rumbling (which surprised me, since they are only a foot tall):  “No more bailouts!  No more bailouts!”

 Grand Fir raised a limb to silence the somewhat off-topic Currants. “It’s high time they APPRECIATED us!”

 I’ve been hearing this kind of talk all week, and frankly, I have had enough. Time for these plants to march on out of here.  Time for you to give them gainful employment in your yard, doing water quality protection, habitat support and general environmental cleanup.  And allow them to reclaim some space for Mother Nature. 

Don’t be afraid to come—these highly qualified job candidates will welcome your support. And I will make them put away their signs.