Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fireweed has Supplied More than Color for Centuries of Civilizations

This is a strange time of the year; Believe it or not, spring is long past and it is fully going on late-summer. Most plants have already presented their glitzy blooms and have gone to seed. There are a number of plants that find it more advantageous to wait until late summer when the competition is not quite so fierce.

Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) is a good example of a mid-to late summer bloom that runs from noticeable to extravagant shows of blooming color. Fireweed is adapted to grow in locations that have been disturbed. Locally these changes come by way of harvest or development, although landslides and fires could fit into that category too. Fireweed drops its seed in the late summer where it is viable for many years. Once the competition grows up around it and starts to impede on the direct sunlight it needs, it begins to recede from the local plant community.

Fireweed grows all over the world and cultures have used it in variety of different ways. Native Americans used the young shoots as part of a salad. They were also able to cook the roots after scraping the exterior. In Russia, a tea made from the leaves of Fireweed known as “Kapor” was exported to other locations throughout the world. In Alaska, the plant is used in candles, syrups, jelly, ales and even ice cream by native populations and savants. Fireweed also produces a distinctive and highly sought-after honey.

The colorful displays of Fireweed along Western Washington’s roads mean more than just a display of late summer blooms. The showy plants have meant a lot more then color and beauty to centuries of civilations.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Blue Camas and Beautiful Evening Light

A field of Blue Camas near Oakville, Washington.

Anyone that knows the near-death experience of Lewis and Clark in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana will also enjoy the scenes in the glacial till areas of Western Washington this week. The blooming Blue Camas is creating carpets of flowers awakening in the warmth of spring.

Blue Camas (photo by GAP Photo)

Lewis and Clark first tasted Camas bulbs after a difficult and hungry passage over the Bitterroot Mountains. Upon their descent into what is now Northern Idaho, they were met by members of the Nez Perce tribe who gave them a meal that included Camas root. The natives dug a deep pit and lined it with split wood. This was to merely heat the rocks in the earthen oven. Once the fire was extinguished, Blue Camas roots were placed between layers of grass and on the hot rocks to cook for two days. The roots were made into bread-like cakes that could be preserved through the winter.
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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Covell Creek Waterfall is no Secret

An impressive waterfall up Covell Creek just a mile from paved roads is easily accessible by foot. In fact, hikers actually have the opportunity to hike underneath it on their way to Burley Mountain .
Covell Creek Falls, Lewis County, Washington

To reach the waterfall take Highway 12 to Randle and turn south on WA 131 towards Mount St. Helens . About one mile south of Randle, take the left hand fork that travels up the Cispus River Valley . Follow the signs to the Cispus Learning Center and drive about 50 meters beyond the main entrance of the camp. There is a small pull-out on the right and directly across the road is the Covell Creek Trail.
Many early spring blooms graced the trail leading up to the falls.  Here, a trillium calls the forest floor home.

The trail starts out gently through the mature one-hundred year old forest that was created after the great Cispus burns of 1902 and 1919. Stay of the left side of the creek, but don’t be tempted by any of the well-maintained trails turn to the left return you to the Cispus Center . A poorly maintained but well-used one hundred yard portion of the trail will drop you off on what appears to be an old road. Veer to the right and the creek will stay within sound and sight all the way to the 60 foot waterfall. It the meantime, you will be dazzled by several smaller waterfalls along the scenic little creek.

Smaller falls dot the terrain below the main falls of Covell Creek.

The trail is actually a small loop, but a blown out bridge near the start makes the first crossing a little “unofficial”.
The waterfall is hardly a secret due to the generations of Western Washington kids that have attended the various kind of camps at the Cispus Learning Center . It is worth a visit whether you have been there before or not.

GAP Photo

Bigleaf Maple Blossom

One could not help but notice the appearance of the Bigleaf Maple blossom this week in the area. Clusters of fragrant yellowish blossoms between four and six inches long hang from limbs. The Bigleaf Maple depends heavily on insects so the blossoms are heavily laden with pollen and nectar. When the sun comes out, the blooms will be teeming with various kinds of insects.

What are those White Flowers?

Dogwood blooms on a tree at McMurphy Park in Vader.

Driving around the area this week, residents could not help but notice the explosion of white blooms on everything from shrubs to full grown deciduous trees and they had to ask, what are those white flowers?
There are actually two answers. The most known of the two is the Pacific Dogwood. Small flowers congregate in dynamic groups and present what appears to be large elongated blooms on the outer and upper limbs of the tree. As spring breezes blow, some might look outside and swear it was snowing as the pedals of the flowers drop daintily to the ground below.

Close-up of a Dogwood bloom.

The Dogwood is unique among the Western Washington hardwoods that grow among the big Douglas fir, Western cedar and Sitka spruce. It can carry out maximum photosynthesis under one-third of the needed sunlight.
A bloom on a Servicebery bush in Winlock.

In second place in the blooming competition this week is the Serviceberry. It is considered a bush but can grow from a few feet upwards to 20 feet tall. It has smaller clusters of blooms than the Dogwood and the pedals of the pure white flowers are slender as opposed to the more rounded counterparts of the Dogwood.
Serviceberry is well known as a supplier of good, edible berries for Native American peoples as well as today. Pioneers without modern day earth moving equipment used the Serviceberry as a calendar. It is said that in colder climates, the emergence of the leaves coincided with the thawing of the ground. Hence, burial “services” could be held for those that passed during the winter.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bats Coming Out to Collect Insects

Two days in a row last week, students were treated to the spectacle of a bat roosting above the doorway at Toledo Elementary School. Both days, the bats were captured and released unharmed in the woods away from the school.  On Tuesday, I took the second to the old growth forest at Lewis & Clark State Park.

As it turns out, bats are just beginning to emerge from hibernation to begin their annual harvest of buzzing insects.

We have all seen the little bird-like mammal twisting, turning and contorting in the sky at dusk capturing insects within the membranes of their wings. Most people don’t realize that roosting bats are also hunting unwary insects that come near.

It is also no secret, despite their bad reputation, bats are an important part of the overall ecosystem. Each bat it is estimated, eats it own weight in insects every day. That is a lot less mosquitoes.

In all Washington State hosts about 15 species of bats. Most eat insects from the air, but some are able to hunt prey like crickets and scorpions right on the ground or in trees.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Keep an Eye out for Early Spring Season Growth

A unique black & white look up the trunk of an old growth Douglas fir at Lewis & Clark State Park in Lewis County.  GAP Photo

The clock keeps ticking and many plants are taking advantage of the slightly warmer days and additional minutes of sunlight. Leaves are burgeoning and a few plants are starting their early blooms. With the Osoberry past its flowering stage and developing berries, several deep wood plants are flowering even though many most plants are weeks away from their colorful spring zenith.
Deer Fern grows intermingled with moss on the north facing side of a Douglas fir.  GAP Photo

While strolling through the old growth stand of cedar and Douglas fir at Lewis & Clark State Park near Toledo this week, it was apparent that four plants were showing subtle to dramatic blooms even in the dreary conditions that we’ve endured in recent weeks.

Rubus spectabilis or Salmonberry blooms dot the forst floor.  The plant is a member of the Rose family.  GAP Photo
The most notable was the Salmonberry with its dainty little rose-like blooms high above your head as you navigate the wet, puddle-ridden trails within the park. Within a couple of months, this diminutive flora will produce one of the tastiest early summer berries in the deep Western Washington woods.

The trillium and bleeding heart are also giving subtle color to the forest floor. The magnificent trillium decorates it large leaf structure while the bleeding heart places and exclamation mark on a delicate fern-like plant.

Finally, a Red Flowering Currant grew on the south facing stump near the trailhead of the old growth trail. The blooms, were well behind it relatives growing in a more suitable, location like south facing canyon or road cut but it was striking and a surprise within the deep forest. 
Above-A rain-soaked Trillium populates the forest floor while a lone Red Flowering Currant was observed on the south face of a stump.  GAP Photo

Lewis & Clark State Park is one of the few local areas where one can observe many of the northwest’s more minute native plants in their preserved habitat.

Parting Shot

Woodwork and big wood at Lewis & Clark State Park.  A massive Douglas fir sits just adjacant to a viewing deck along the Jackson Highway that overlooks a wetland area within the park.  GAP Photo
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