Where are the Chorus Frogs?

Here are a couple of friends that we hang out with in the nursery: a long-toed salamander I found under a flat of Henderson’s Checkermallow () and a rough-skinned newt my son Erik found in the Cardboard Pile (Cardboardius dampii).

20180417_145607LongToedSalamanderSMALL       20180402_144312NEWT Erik found in cardboard pile4-18Small

The swallows have been back for weeks, but I have yet to hear the Chorus Frogs calling here! I know it has been cold, but I’m a bit worried! Their new pond is waiting…

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Paper Birches Support Life

The leaf buds on many of the deciduous trees and shrubs in the nursery have been stubbornly clamped shut until recently (a few still are holding out). A couple weeks ago, the Black Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) trees popped their fragrant orange buds off their newly expanding leaves. The smaller (up to 80’) Paper Birches (Betula papyrifera) are also sprouting their pointed, toothed leaves. BETULAPAPYRIFERA LEAVESPaper Birches are named for their papery, peeling bark that lightens with age until it is white. They tolerate shade and tend to grow on higher ground than the Cottonwoods, though they do fine planted in wet spots and actually provide good erosion-control beside streams and ditches.

A customer recently asked what specific wildlife value Paper Birch has, and I couldn’t answer except in the most general of terms. “Well, uh, yeah, it’s a native tree and, uh, native animals like native trees…” so I did a bit of research.

Planted along streambanks, Paper Birches help moderate temperature extremes that can harm aquatic life. Come autumn, the pretty yellow birch leaves fall into the stream, and along with bits of bark and other detritus sink and decay, becoming nutritious food for organisms at the bottom of the food chain. The overhanging branches harbor insects that fall from the trees and of course seeds provide food for creatures.

Paper Birch’s catkins produce many tiny seeds, food for bird such as grouse, pine siskin and goldfinch (our state bird!). Swallowtail (and other) butterfly larvae feed on the leaves. Birches can be prone to aphid infestations in the spring, but those aphids generally are harmless to an otherwise healthy tree AND provide meals to their natural predators,. Many other insects, including predator and other beneficial insects, call Paper Birch home, ‘inviting’ sapsuckers, warblers and chickadees to lunch.

As the tree ages (they live 60+ years), woodpeckers excavate holes in the trunk that are used by cavity-nesting animals—owls, squirrels, bats, for example. Paper Birch is deer-resistant (supposedly: just claiming deer-resistance inspires deer to take a liking to whatever they usually turn up their noses at). But indeed, the deer that browse the nursery leave the Paper Birch alone. Knock on wood.

Planting natives like Paper Birch supports life—wild and tame, natural and cultivated, owned and un-ownable.

Boycott the Easter Bunny!

It’s almost Easter, and my love-hate relationship with bunnies is coming to a head. The rabbit has been seen for centuries as a symbol of fertility. It wangled its way into European Easter celebrations about 500 years ago as a delivery-rodent for another symbol of fertility, the egg. Many say the rabbit was a companion of Eostre, the Germanic goddess of spring/fertility. Fertility symbols illustrate in a down-to-earth way the Christian concept of New Life

As darling as bunnies are, there are too many of them lately! The babies are so tame and cute and curious. Last year, my son carefully fenced off a poorly-sited rabbit nest, so Tyrannosaurus Gus couldn’t get the “kittens”. But that was only one of several nests within 100 yards of the nursery. By the end of summer, I was ready to sic the dogs on the whole lot of them, call in trained falcons or reintroduce wolves to Paradise Valley! We should rename the nursery “Tadpole Haven Native Plant Smorgasbord”. Brian has a theory that there is a disease cycle that wipes the rabbits out every so often, and right now they are healthy and very fertile. I had noticed population fluctuations, but I always attributed it to coyotes coming through. I’m very proud of the high quality wildlife habitat on our property where the nursery is. But the rabbits are giving habitat a bad name! Rabbitat! We’ve got plenty of high quality coyote habitat — where are those guys when we need them?

EasterFrog

So, I know this is late in the game, but I’d like to stop honoring the ravaging rabbit. So I urge everyone to boycott the Easter Bunny. In its place we will install the Easter Frog. The Easter Frog is an oversized Pacific Chorus Frog. The Pacific Chorus Frog actually LAYS eggs, thus is more qualified than a rabbit for the Easter job. If these little tree frogs haven’t started calling yet in your neighborhood, they will any day. At Tadpole Haven, we have a new pool waiting for them! We put in a couple types of vegetation suitable for attaching egg clutches: Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) twigs and Marsh Cinquefoil (Comarum palustre) stems. I tossed in three Wapato (Sagittaria latifolia a.k.a. Broad-leaved Arrowhead) bulbs. I am hoping that those will grow up and shade the pool from the hottest summer sun. This pool is much deeper than a kiddie pool, which we have used in the past. Those kiddie pools successfully raised several years’ worth of froglets, but they have gotten too hot during the last few summers, and all of the tadpoles perished, sadly. We will be celebrating Easter until summer’s end, watching the fertile New Life metamorphose and transform these small earthly beings.

Bald-Hip Rose

Happy Spring! The weather has been terrific, but may get temperamental just in time for our Open Days on Friday and Saturday. But the greenhouse is a good hangout! Enjoy Lisa’s cookies and poke your nose outside to check out plants like the Bald-Hip Rose.

Bald-Hip Rose (Rosa gymnocarpa) a.k.a. Dwarf Rose, a.k.a. Little Wild Rose has fragrant pink one-inch-wide flowers. This adaptable deciduous wild rose-bush thrives in well-drained soil, in dry to moist conditions. It tolerates full shade to full sun. Grown in bright or dappled shade, it happily produces lots of blooms; its stems tend to get thin and gangly in full shade. It reaches 5’ tall, but can handle being pruned back. Though it is rhizomatous, it does not spread aggressively like its cousin, Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana).

When the flowers fade, the “hips” form, containing seed. The hips of most species of rose retain the tiny, dried-up remnants of flower petals at the tip of the hip; the Bald-Hip Rose is called “Bald-Hip” because it sheds them. The smooth, brilliant red, somewhat pear-shaped hips are about 3/8” long and persist through winter, providing nutritious sustenance for native birds and bits of brightness on murky Northwest winter days.

Most of these hardy beauties in the nursery are just beginning to sprout new growth from their pruned back stems. They will fill out nicely as spring progresses.

On My Knees to Crown Brodiaea

I first (literally) ran across Crown Brodiaea in the late 1990s while working road construction west of Rochester, Thurston County. At the end of a long day of chip-sealing, we parked our equipment on a patch of dry grass. As I climbed down from my roller, I spotted the most beautiful purple flowers growing in the grass, with glossy flared petals. Luckily, I had my trusty field guide (Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Pojar and Mackinnon, Lone Pine Publishing) in my bag! I succeeded in identifying the charming blossoms (many of which I had just flattened with my 7-ton, 9-tired pneumatic roller). While we waited for a lift back to our cars, the other members of the crew laughed at me, book in hand, on my knees before the flowers.

 Crown Brodiaea (Brodiaea coronaria), a.k.a. Harvest Brodiaea, thrives in the gravelly soils of Thurston County’s prairies, making it a perfect candidate for a rock garden. No rock garden? Give it full sun and excellent drainage. For example, you could tuck it just under the edge of your home’s south-facing eave—it will be moist in winter, and completely dry in summer.

In the late winter, one to three narrow, grass-like leaves emerge from the underground corm. After the leaves dry up, the 4-10”-high flower stalks put on their show in June or July.

 Right now, the Crown Brodiaea in the nursery have leafed out. I am pretty sure most will bloom, since the bulbs/corms are relatively large. I am planning to plant a few beside the native bunchgrass, Roemer’s Idaho Fescue (Festuca idahoensis ssp. roemeri), and close to some other native prairie wildflowers: Great Camas (Cammassia leichtlinii Common Camas (Cammassia quamash), Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa), and Big-Leaf Lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus).

Come visit! Things are now showing thoroughly encouraging signs of growth. And I promise I won’t make fun of you if get down on your knees before the floral denizens of Tadpole Haven!

Brodiaea coronarialeavesinPots

Signs of Life

Until a few weeks ago, the nursery was not a very hopeful place. The shrubs and trees looked like sticks, the perennials had gone underground, the grasses were straw-like. But now, definite, if subtle, signs of Life offer a natural balm for any discouragement. But tromping through the nursery, I was not seeking Life–I was just scavenging for plants that looked Alive-Enough to sell at the sale this Saturday. But looking in detail at the plants calmed me and turned worry into appreciation.

White Fawn Lily’s (Erythronium oregonum) single mottled leaf twists open through the surface of the soil. Little by little, day by day, now pausing to let a few very cold days pass, Great Camas (Cammassia leichtlinii), Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa), Big-Leaf Lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus), Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa) and Scouler’s Corydalis (Corydalis scouleri) emerge from the earth.

New leaves begin to swell and open on bare branches: a few Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) have tiny leaves, evidence that their spindly little gray twigs actually contain the juice of life. Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) as always is way ahead of the game. The big ones in the woods are sprouting blossoms, and all the Indian Plums in their nursery pots are sprouting leaves at least. And a few blooms!

White Fawn Lily-ErythroniumOreganum

White Fawn Lily (Erythronium oregonum)

IMGP4357CamassiaLeichtlinii at TH
Great Camas (Cammassia leichtlinii)
Aquilegia Formosa

Western Columbine (Aquilegia Formosa)

Dicentra formosa3

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa)

Scouler's Corydalis

Scouler’s Corydalis (Corydalis scouleri)

 

 

Attitude Adjustment

The holidays are long gone. The New Year’s resolutions are already in a shambles. It’s dumping rain.  I’ve already changed my wet clothes once today. I’m trying to muster up a modicum of enthusiasm for venturing outside again to engage with nature. I need an attitude adjustment, maybe a positive affirmation. A feeble thought emerges from my rain-soaked brain: The winter woods have gifts to offer.

I try repeating this to my ungrateful self and it engenders protest, then a slight progression toward positivity. 1) Are you kidding me? It’s nasty out there!  2) What’s to see right now? It’s dark and the shrubs have no leaves–just a bunch of ugly sticks. 3)  Then I hear my father’s voice: “Get your raingear on, get out there and conquer the elements!”

I make myself repeat: “The winter woods have gifts to offer. The winter woods have gifts to offer.”  What the heck. The dog needs a walk anyway.

I squish across the field in my rubber boots. Anyone in their right mind with any kind of a bank account is currently heading for Mexico or at least southern California. But despite my bad attitude, the slender leafless twigs of native shrubs catch my attention. I get a smug, warm feeling when I am able to identify native plants just from the look of their bare twigs. Saskatoon’s (Amelanchier alnifolia) reddish-orange twigs almost fool me into thinking that it is Pacific Crabapple (Malus fusca). Black Twinberry (Lonicera involucrata) is easy to identify, with its convincingly dead-looking beige-gray stems and opposite nodes. I should dig out my copy of Winter Twigs (Gilkey & Packard, 1962 Oregon State University Press).

The two species grow across the field from one another. Black Twinberry is keeping company with Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata), Deer Fern (Blechnum spicant), Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) and Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis). They are happy in the sopping winter wet.   Saskatoon grows beside Salal (Gaultheria shallon), Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum), Red Huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium) and Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) on somewhat higher ground.

  • Saskatoon is also known as Serviceberry or Juneberry. It thrives in a variety of conditions, from moist, mostly shady conditions to dry, exposed locations. Here by the nursery, it grows wild on the edge of the forest (moist, shady) and its form (easy to see in mid-winter!) is that of a small tree, with a single trunk and horizontal spreading branches. But in an open, sunny spot it is shrubby, with multiple stems. Though it can grow over 20’ tall, it is usually 6-10’ tall. It has small, oval leaves that are serrated at the tips. The leaves tend to be a pleasing blue-green, turning nice shades of yellow to red in the fall. It has very attractive clusters of white-petaled flowers in spring and small, edible purple berries in summer. A wide variety of birds eat the berries.
  • Black Twinberry likes moist to wet soils. Mature height is generally about 9’. In the sun, it grows full and fat; in the shade, tall and lanky. Both hummingbirds and butterflies appreciate the late spring blooms. The small paired yellow flowers look like little trumpets, and give way to two shiny black berries. As the berries 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.

What gift came from the woods today? Besides a warm smugness when I was able to identify a “bunch of ugly sticks”, looking carefully at these dormant native shrubs helped me recognize their uniqueness in the ecosystem. Focusing on nature gave proper perspective of my place in the circle of life. And best of all, the call of the winter woods reminded me of my dad. “Get your raingear on, get out there and conquer the elements!”