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Archive for April, 2011

Wildflower Resources

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Susan Ballinger’s suggestions for resources that can help in your wildflower explorations.

April is a great month to explore our region’s shrub-steppe to see blooming wildflowers. A first step is to identify lands and trails that are open to the public. For the Wenatchee Foothills Trails, visit the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust (CDLT) website for a trail map. Or, stop by a local Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management office to get maps and hike suggestions from their friendly front-office staff. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife offers a great publication, North Central Washington: Wildlife Viewing Map for Highway 97 that identifies 36 public land sites between Ellensburg and Oroville for watching wildlife and often, wildflowers. The Wenatchee Outdoors website offers 9 local hike ideas in their guidebook under ‘Nature-Flower-Birds.

Once you pick a location, it is nice to take along a list of wildflowers documented at that site. The Washington State Native Plant Society (WNPS) offers native plant lists by county with 41 for Chelan, 8 for Douglas, and 32 for Okanogan county. A fun way to study-up at home before venturing into the field is to use on-line photo identification guides. The University of Washington Burke Museum Herbarium has stunning photographs and detailed descriptions of all Washington plant species. Locally, CDLT offers a localized searchable photo field guide to over 60 of the most common wildflowers in the Wenatchee Foothills.

One of the best ways to learn wildflowers is to go on a guided trip. Across Washington, there are 12 native plant society chapters, including the Wenatchee chapter, and each offers a series of free wildflower walks available to the public, all listed on the state website. Locally, several wildflower walks are offered in mid-May by the Leavenworth Birdfest and by the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust. Plan to take a self-guided tour any day at the native plant demonstration garden located at the Okanogan & Wenatchee National Forests Forest Supervisor’s Office at 215 Melody Lane in Wenatchee. Thirty-two species of native wildflowers and grasses are labeled and easily visible in the artistically designed garden.

It is helpful to have a wildflower photo field guide to carry with you when you hike. Three good options for our region include Northwest Dryland Wildflowers: Sagebrush and Ponderosa (Northwest Wildflowers Series) by Dana Visalli and David Hancock (2005); Sagebrush Country: A Wildflower Sanctuary by Ronald J. Taylor (1992), or Plants of Southern Interior British Columbia and the Inland Northwest by Robert Parish (1996). Request these through the North Central Regional Library or at a local bookstore.

A handy tool to carry in the field is a ten-powered hand lens that allows you to look closely inside flowers. These are available at local orchard supply stores and range from $10-45. Be sure to bring along a camera, pencil and field notebook to gather information to take home to help you identify the species. Sketch a picture of the entire plant, indicate the size, and record the type of soil. Draw a detailed picture of the flower, including the internal parts. Later, use your notes with on-line resources to make a best-guess at identification. Please don’t pick our native plants. Leave them in their habitat to serve as food and shelter for animals, to allow for seed production, and to be lovely flowers for the next visitor to enjoy. To keep from trampling our native plants, stay on designated trails and avoid cutting switchbacks and using shortcuts.

A good way to introduce children to native wildflowers is to take them to “Coyote’s Corner” at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center. An array of pressed plants are displayed in a colorful room painted to represent local habitats. You can download full page coloring sheets of many native wildflowers. Visit the Wenatchee School District website to view several slide shows featuring native wildflowers. These resources are used by teachers to prepare students for their annual 1st grade science field experience hiking in a local shrub-steppe preserve.

Learning about wildflowers is a great way to increase your enjoyment of being outside in our diverse and scenic landscape. Let the bright yellow of blooming balsamroot entice you to get out this month to see the wildflowers!

Here’s a sample of guided walks and natural history programs around our region this spring, all free and open to the public!

Riverside
Okanogan Conservation District invites the public to help plant 10 kinds of common native shrubs along the Johnson Creek banks in Riverside, north of Omak. April 15 and 16. Call for details.
Contact: Jenni Remillard, 422-0855, Ext. 100

Methow Valley
Okanogan chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society offers a series of wildflower walks throughout the region during spring and summer. The walks are led by local experts who like to educate others about plants.
Contact: Sandra Strieby, 997-2576

Leavenworth
The May 12-15 Leavenworth Bird Fest offers bird and wildflower field trips, including a Sauer Mountain walk on May 13 and two Ski Hill walks on May 14. Call after April 29 to reserve your spot as these trips fill quickly.
Contact: Chamber of Commerce, 548-5807

Wenatchee
Wenatchee chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society offers two public wildflower hikes. Call trip leaders for more information. On June 26, Julie Sanderson (662-5261) will lead a 3-mile walk to Clara Lake. On July 2, Ted Alway (548-4384) leads a 4-mile hike to Wedge Mountain.

Chelan-Douglas Land Trust has published a wildflower brochure available at trailhead kiosks at Horse Lake Preserve, Day Drive and the Jacobson Preserve. Visit its website to use a photo identification guide to 60 common plants in the foothills. Contact: Kathy Pevin, 667-9708

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests supervisor’s office, 215 Melody Lane. Take a self-guided tour any day at the native plant demonstration garden, where 32 species of native wildflowers and grasses are labeled and easily visible in the artistically designed garden.

Tonasket
Okanogan Highlands Alliance offers an educational class featuring the natural history of the region on May 6. Spring and summer interpretive hikes and restoration work parties will be listed at okanoganhighlands.org/education.
Contact: Julie Ashmore at julie@okanoganhighlands.org

Twisp
Methow Conservancy hosts a First Tuesday Lecture Series, offering a free community lecture, presentation or discussion focused on natural history, ecology or conservation topics.
Contact: Mary Kiesau, 996-2870

Wildflowers: The season’s greeetings

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April 2011, Connecting With Nature, NCW Greenways
by Susan Ballinger

Soft hues of green carpet the foothills while bright spots of yellow, blue and white blossoms pepper the landscape that surround our central Washington valleys in the month of April. It is hard to find a more beautiful time of year to get out and explore the wild lands of our region, especially for wildflower enthusiasts.
After five months of bitter cold, spring is a time when soils warm and water, released from snow, saturates the ground for a few brief weeks. Our foothills are dominated by big sagebrush, bitterbrush, bunchgrasses and wildflowers adapted to the 7 to 11 inches of total precipitation we get each year.

North Central Washington sits on the eastern edge of the Cascade Mountains, so our foothills rise steeply into forested mountains where precipitation is greater and Ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir trees grow. Valley residents can use their eyes to map the lowest elevation pine trees that form the transition zone between shrub-steppe and forest on our rising foothills. Ravines and gullies serve as vertical connectors, supporting taller shrubs like serviceberry, whose deep-growing roots tap into groundwater.

As you walk or drive around the valleys, scan the hillsides to spot blooming serviceberry shrubs. Their densely blooming, long-petaled white flowers create cloud-like bursts of white with a brief weeklong explosion of blooms.

As you drive the east-west corridor between Wenatchee and Leavenworth, compare the time of serviceberry flowering between the warmer and drier south-facing versus and cooler north-facing slopes. Often, wildflowers will bloom weeks sooner at the same elevation on a south-facing slope, compared to a nearby north-facing slope. Another blooming gradient to follow is elevational: Spring comes earlier at lower elevations, so if you miss the buttercups in March along the Columbia River, travel uphill.
Compared to mobile animals, plants can’t walk away when the weather gets severe and water is scarce. Plants employ several strategies that allow them to cope with water shortage and thrive in an arid environment.

Most shrub-steppe wildflowers are long-lived perennials whose above-ground stems and leaves die back, but underground roots remain alive. Our earliest blooming perennial wildflowers — like yellowbells, bluebells and shooting star — all concentrate their rapid above-ground growth of leaves, stems, flowers and seeds into a few balmy mild weeks and then quickly wither and die. Above-ground life exists for less than two months and then rest buried in soil until the next spring.

Some of our native plants require a viewer to get down on hands and knees for close-up inspections.

Healthy shrub-steppe soils are carpeted with a layer of living cryptobiotic crust: an interwoven population of mosses, lichens, simple plants, fungi and bacteria that form a multi-layered coating on the land. These simple organisms can quickly revert to dormancy when water is scarce. Try pouring a bit of water onto a patch of shrub-steppe soil and watch for a few moments to see crust suddenly green up as its living members start using sunlight to make food once water is available! This crust provides essential ecosystem services to other plants by trapping moisture in the soil, transferring nutrients and holding soil in place.

The crust is easily damaged by intensive animal and people traffic. It is very slow-growing, so you can spot lands that have been disturbed by the lack of a crust covering the mineral soils. By staying on established trails, hikers can help preserve the fragile, living crust.

The diversity of wildflowers in our region means travelers can find blooming plants from earliest spring into late fall. Start now by getting out to see the amazing display of color in our wild lands.

Susan Ballinger works as a consulting biologist with expertise in ecology and natural history. She serves on the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust board and is co-chair of the Wenatchee Chapter, Washington Native Plant Society.

IRIS