Remember the Heat Dome

October 14, 2021

Remember the Heat Dome

The Hemlock (Western Hemlock/Tsuga heterophylla) needles have blended into the soil, the cracks in the patio and the gravel of the driveway. Falling leaves have further obscured them. But just one month ago, they carpeted the ground. They dropped en masse after the “heat dome” event at the end of June, bright green and silver fading quickly to gold. But the carnage continued through the summer: green-and-silver photosynthetic units kept falling, falling, an ongoing loss. I don’t want to forget.

Driving up over Tiger Mountain at the beginning of September, we noticed mature Douglas Firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii) growing along Highway 18’s right-of-way; every branch tip was orange. The tender spring growth was all killed before it could harden.

What will happen next year? How can the trees survive? How many “heat domes” does it take to kill a tree? That event should inspire us to strive to find both small- and large-scale solutions for the climate crisis. We cannot let ourselves be lulled by Autumn’s coolness.

We noticed the suffering Douglas Firs on our way back from Mt. Rainier. We hadn’t noticed fresh needle-fall or toasted new growth on the mountain conifers up at Paradise. The excessive heat (106 degrees F. in Ashford!) must have hit before the new needles came on, so the higher-elevation trees escaped instantaneous damage.

Our hotel’s manager told us that the Nisqually River rose dramatically in the days immediately after the excessive heat. Rushing melt-waters flowing under the snow, softened the snowpack. Several hikers fell through into the creeks; one person drowned. The glaciers on The Mountain are melting.* Its slopes are bare of snow, all the ridges exposed.

Though I feel grief for what I can see with my own eyes we are losing, The Mountain and all it encompasses had a restorative effect on my soul. As we drove through the forest on the lowest slopes of the National Park, we took our time, pulling over frequently to let cars pass. So many people were in a hurry to “get there.” But we were greedily absorbing the view of the forest understory beside the road. So much GREEN. So much diversity. Huge patches of Scouler’s Corydalis (Corydalis scouleri), Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus) and Vanilla Leaf (Achlys triphylla). Most of the species we saw were familiar to us, and many we grow (or attempt to grow!) at Tadpole Haven Native Plants. In one spot the size of my kitchen, we also identified 15 forest floor species plus a few we didn’t know the names of AND we weren’t counting trees or mosses and lichens.**

At last, we emerged from the shadows of the forest and ascended to the meadows of Paradise. The experience was as spiritually transporting as it sounds, though our huffing and puffing as we hiked up the steep paths and our wobbly legs as we descended reminded us that we are still mortal! Brilliant shades of green–again with the GREEN–predominated on the steep subalpine slopes. Groves of Mountain Hemlocks (Tsuga mertensiana) and Noble Firs (Abies procera), shrubs kept low by winter snows—huckleberries, mountain ash, spirea and every square inch between them packed with smaller, soft-stemmed wildflowers. Some I knew the name of; most I did not. A VERY few, we try to grow at Tadpole Haven. I am glad that most of these successfully defy the greed of gardeners and growers. We can only enjoy them if we come to them in their mountain home.

We came home to our lowland home fortified by The Mountain, a little bit stronger to deal with the harsh realities of life in 2021.


*check out the Seattle Times front-page article, Sept. 5, 2021, “In the Cascades, a landscape of dramatically shrinking glaciers.”

**Vaccinium membranaceum/Black Huckleberry

Trientalis latifolia/Broad-leaved Starflower

Trillium ovatum/Western Trillium

Maianthemum stellata/Star-Flowered False Solomon’s Seal

Maianthemum dilatatum/Wild Lily-of-the-Valley

Mahonia nervosa/Cascade Oregon Grape

Linnaea borealis/Twinflower

Goodyera oblongifolia/Rattlesnake Plantain

Gymnocarpium dryopteris/Oak Fern

Gaultheria shallon/Salal

Cornus unalaschkensis/Bunchberry

Blechnum spicant/Deer Fern

Athyrium filix-femina/Lady Fern

Aruncus dioicus/Goatsbeard

Companion Planting?

Won’t it feel great to be able to hug freely again? A hug is energizing, literally. Just think of all those happy synapses in your brain, releasing oxytocin. On Mother’s Day, it was difficult to refrain from hugging everyone; I have just had my 2nd vaccine, so there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But of course, this pandemic is not done with us yet. Perhaps I can get some satisfaction by living up to my reputation as a tree-hugger and engage in some cross-species communication. That will be my lunch-hour recreation: I will wrap my arms around a big old mama spruce, feel the chunky bark against my cheek, and imagine my feet connecting with her roots. Is that a ridiculous idea?

During the lead-up to Mother’s Day, I heard a radio interview1 with Suzanne Simard, a faculty member at the University of British Columbia, regarding her new book, Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest.2 Her research has focused on communication between forest trees through webs of underground mycorrhizal fungi. Her findings include recognition of the important role played by large, old trees: “Mother Trees—the majestic hubs at the center of forest communication, protection, and sentience.” 2  A ‘mother tree’ has the most connections via fungi that sheath the roots of trees in a healthy forest. Thus it can sense when a young tree needs assistance, and send carbon molecules. Crazy!

As a nursery owner, I tend to focus on individual species, forgetting that all the plants we grow are destined to be members of a community. Simard’s research challenged prevailing forestry principles and practices which made that mistake as well, for example, planting monocultures of Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Paper Birches (Betula papyrifera), which would naturally grow up alongside Doug Firs, were considered ‘weed’ trees that shaded and slowed growth of Doug Firs. But Simard observed that Doug Fir monocultures were susceptible to attack by Armilleria root rot fungus. Through experiments using radioactive isotopes to trace the movement of carbon underground between the two species, she showed that the network of mycorrhizal fungi allowed exchanges of chemical signals and nutrients between the two species, resulting in healthier trees.

This puts a whole new spin on the gardening concept of ‘companion planting.’ I am just a couple of chapters into this book, and I am excited to learn more about forests as cooperative societies. Maybe HUMAN societies could learn intra- AND inter-species mutuality from forests. Is that such a ridiculous idea?

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1Fresh Air, Tuesday, May 4, 2021: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/05/04/993430007/trees-talk-to-each-other-mother-tree-ecologist-hears-lessons-for-people-too

2Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard. Ebook. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2021.

Habitat Champion: Black Twinberry

The underrated Black Twinberry is a habitat champion when it comes to birds. I hope you can fit one into  your yard!

Black Twinberry (Lonicera involucrata) is a fast-growing deciduous shrub that grows to about 9’. In the sun, it grows full and fat; in mostly shade, taller and lanky. It thrives in moist to wet soil, equally at home in soppy winter soil or in garden soil that holds some moisture, either with the help of organic mulch or soil that is a little bit on the clay-ey side.

An extremely valuable wildlife habitat plant, its small, paired, trumpet-like yellow flowers bloom mid-spring to mid-summer, attracting hummingbirds and butterflies. Two shiny black berries form; as they ripen, the bracts (petal-like leaves) which hold them turn a striking scarlet-purple. Birds love the berries, but the fruit is inedible for humans.

Beside a stream or on a wet hillside, Twinberry’s roots do a good job of anchoring the soil against erosion.

Lupines in the Snow

Can we take anything for granted anymore? A couple weeks ago we were buried in ten inches of snow. After the apocalyptic winter of pestilence, politics and deadly riots, any degree of confidence that spring will come again strikes me as foolish; we should put that dangerous Sound-of-Music cliché out of its misery. The world could shift on its axis this afternoon, and there we’d be, with the cockroaches and horsetails, trying to adapt.

Nevertheless, some lupines (Big-leaf Lupine/Lupinus polyphyllus), sheltered from snow by a tiny table, caught my eye. Despite the cold they were already growing, opening their leaves. I realized that a few inches away, still deep under snow, more lupines were lifting their leaves, pushing back against the weight of winter. The lupines know light. Days lengthen, sunlight strengthens; spring is coming. Sure enough.

Spring is a gift from the universe, from the sun, a side effect of the laws of nature that keep us in orbit, that keep our blue planet spinning. Our histories and memories melt away and dribble into the duff, revealing lupines, more lupines, and the small round leaves of shooting-star (Broad-leaved Shootingstar/Dodecatheon hendersonii), which—now I’m remembering a piece of reassuring history—were but green tips emerging before the snow fell.

Scary Plants!

They say (whoever THEY are) that the chilling descent of rain and darkness upon the Pacific Northwest breeds creatures, nay, organisms, that defy explanation or categorization. We at Tadpole Haven, coupled with our eco-friendly practices, impose a strict discipline upon our plants — under which some simply snap. Ugly, sometimes gruesome, some belonging to the brotherhood of the walking dead, these threaten to “go tadpole” on us … Lisa and I, fearing for our welfare, dare not spend the winter surrounded by them.

If you are brave enough, take the opportunity to come to the nursery and peruse these frightening specimens to determine whether you are capable of reforming them.  Over the next few days, we will hunt, stalk, corner, capture, exhume, root out, seize and otherwise incarcerate these gnarliest denizens of our horticultural establishment. We will make them available for adoption for a mere pittance-$1 for plants 1-gallon or smaller, $2-$5 for larger plants. Perhaps you, more saintly members of the community, have the spiritual wherewithal to inspire these plants into wholesomeness once again.

Our Scary Plant Sale runs through November 6. We will be OPEN (no appointment needed) on Friday, October 30 from 10 AM to 4 PM & Saturday, October 31 (Halloween) from 10 AM to 3 PM. We will be available by appointment on the other sale days.

Of course, we will have our usual wonderful selection of perfectly well-adjusted native plants which are also seeking good homes.

Sins-eerily,

Shirley Doolittle

Tadpole Haven Native Plants

The Laying on of Fronds

The fronds of Maidenhair Fern nod on slender black stems. Their horizontal orientation and gently curving black-veined pinnae remind me of green hands hovering over the forest floor, blessing the denizens of the duff: sow bugs, black beetles, microscopic creeping critters, long-toed salamanders, mosses, and of course, congenial companion species — Piggy-back Plant (Tolmiea menziesii) and Bunchberry (Cornus unalaschkensis a.k.a. Cornus canadensis). I wonder if (on a dry day) I could lay down on my yoga mat so that I can look up through the Maidenhair Fronds. I could really use the blessing of a Maidenhair Fern. I bet it would be more healing than a therapist, and way cheaper. I am going to try it!

Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum)

Never far from moisture, these beautiful natives can often be seen beside ponds and trailside rivulets splashing down a hill. They thrive just behind the dripline of our tumbledown garage. The insurance inspector may disagree, but to my eyes, the garage’s gracefully sagging, mossy, lichen-covered shake roof and ancient red siding is time-and-nature’s artwork. The Maidenhair and Lady Ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) hugging the north wall complete the picture.  

Practical info: Deciduous. Likes moisture, but doesn’t have to be wet. Grows best in bright shade; NO direct sunlight- it will bleach the leaves! Its basal fronds average about two feet tall. Naturally grows both in the lowlands and in the mountains.

Long-toed Salamander

Companions

When I am weary of humans, I look to nature and digging in the dirt for hope and connection to creation. And I am reminded always that I am a part of that dirt, that I am one bit of nature, along with nematodes, fungal filaments, plants and people. That recognition prepares me to again seek human companionship, at least with simpatico family and friends. That sense of connection bolsters hope and strength to re-engage with the harsher aspects of the human world.

Or not!

Sticking with the gentler elements of nature, where interdependence is a given and dominance can only take you so far, I’ll focus on the natural companionship of three native plants currently abundant at Tadpole Haven: Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum), Bunchberry (Cornus unalaschkensis a.k.a. Cornus canadensis) and Piggy-back Plant (Tolmiea menziesii). In the interest of brevity, I’ll tackle just one today: Piggy-back Plant.

This moisture-loving perennial inspires sentiment in those who grew up playing in the woods west of the Cascade Mountains. And who wouldn’t love a plant with a name like that? The very name says friendliness, helpfulness and mutuality. Little kids love this cute, easy-to-recognize plant. And a number of older people have come to the nursery just to buy Piggy-back because it reminds them of when they were small.

Practical information:

In early summer new plantlets form at the base of the mature heart-shaped leaves. As the “mama” leaves get heavy with their own weight and the weight of the baby leaves, they settle to the ground and root. In this way, they gradually spread and make a nice ground cover.

The foliage gets about 12-15” tall, but the thin flower stalks sprout up another foot or so, bearing inconspicuous purplish flowers. It grows well in full shade to partial sun, in moist to soggy soil that has lots of organic matter.

Great in a woodland setting under Big-leaf (Acer macrophyllum) and Vine Maples (Acer circinatum) or evergreen trees such as Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata), Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) and Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). It will also do well tucked in the shade of a fence or a garden shrub. It makes a great houseplant for children who enjoy the idea of baby leaves riding the mommy and daddy leaves.

Along those lines, Piggy-back Plant is also known as “Youth-on-Age”: as the old leaf deteriorates into the soil, it nurtures the new leaf. Hard to miss the reminder of mortality, but it is a gentle reminder, especially if you are lucky enough to know a child who is happy to point out this playful-looking plant.

Breathe, Love

Last week, we attempted a 3-day hiatus from reality to the Methow Valley, beyond the jagged peaks of the North Cascades. As we left home, smoke was moving into Western Washington from wildfires blazing east and south of the Methow Valley, which was surprisingly clear until Friday, when we returned home. By Friday, the wind had changed. It was smoky in the Methow, but ever so much smokier once we crested Rainy Pass and began to descend into the lowlands of Western Washington. Breathing would have been easier had we stayed in Eastern Washington.

Breathing has been a theme of 2020. We began the year with much awareness of planetary climate change. Then Covid-19 took our breath away with its sudden onslaught. The “I can‘t breathe”/Black Lives Matter movement swept over us. And now, wildfires and smoke in our region have brought us back to climate change.

Wendell Berry in 1989 wrote that we cannot solve problems on a planetary or global scale:

“The adjective ‘planetary’ describes a problem in such a way that it cannot be solved … The problems, if we describe them accurately, are all private and small. Or they are so initially … The question that must be addressed, therefore, is not how to care for the planet, but how to care for each of the planet’s millions of human and natural neighborhoods, each of its millions of small pieces and parcels of land, each one of which is in some precious way different from all the others.”

Then he delivers a shockingly simple declaration:

“…Only love can do it. … Love is never abstract. It does not adhere to the universe or the planet or the nation or the institution or the profession, but to the singular sparrows of the street, the lilies of the field, ‘the least of these my brethren.’”*

Can we do it? Can we fall in love again with Planet Earth? Plant a seedling – can you fall in love again with the lump of soil you hold in your hands?

Recoupin’ with the lupine

Feeling weary? Down? Angry? Imitate the leapin’ lupines (Big-Leaf Lupine/Lupinus polyphyllus). That will cheer you up, or at least give you a good stretch.

The Big-leaf Lupine by the office got ferociously battered by the rain last weekend. Some of it was knocked over cIMG_0285lupin recoupinompletely (I don’t recall this ever happening before–the Lupine is pretty sturdy). But this picture, taken on Tuesday, shows resilience in action. The spires of blossoms bent up 90 degrees to vertical.

Makes me want to do some yoga moves!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sound of Hope

We look to nature for hope: The constancy of the seasons, the firmness of the earth, the resilience of a forest after fire.

A frog has returned this spring to the pools in the nursery. Up until two or three years ago, we had at least a few Pacific Chorus Frogs peeping, mating and laying eggs in our blue kiddy pools which were unglamorously scattered around. Dozens of tadpoles would hatch out and some would successfully metamorphose into adult frogs by fall.

Pacific Chorus Frog-BrianBodenbach

Pacific Chorus Frog (Hyla Regilla) by Brian Bodenbach

But then we had a couple of summers when the water in the kiddy pools heated up too much. The tadpoles died quietly; we humans only realized the tragedy as a disappearance.

So we put in a fancy little pool just for the frogs, much deeper to keep it cooled by the earth. At the same time, we attempted to reduce weeds throughout much of the nursery by laying down synthetic ground cloth over the woodchips in our plant zones. I thought the switch to ground cloth discouraged the frogs. Brian, who knows much more about amphibians than I, feared something more dire: some kind of disease. He had noticed a reduction in the spring mating calls in other places as well.

We can debate up the ying-yang about what causes the decline of species: is it “a natural cycle” or “human-caused”? In an area that has such a great amount of human incursion into formerly natural areas, is there still such a thing as “a natural cycle”?

It is sometimes difficult to notice that something is gone if there is nothing to call attention to it.

Humans look to nature for hope, yes. And the sounds and sights of spring are reassuring in this stressful pandemic-time. But it goes the other way, too. Nature looks to humanity for hope.

A frog calls every evening from the fancy pool. If that’s not the sound of hope, what is?