Slugs and Snails and Ferns and Flowers

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Spreading Wood Ferns

Yesterday evening Brian and I meandered slowly through our woods along what we variously call the new trail, the short trail, or the creek trail. Maybe we’ll nail down a name for it one of these days. But the trail name doesn’t matter so much. It’s the woodland path closest to the house, but we don’t walk it as frequently as some of our other trails. We walked less than 100 yards as we found much to observe and enjoy in the hour we spent.

These spreading wood ferns (Dryopteris expansa) are right beside the trail at the base of an old and decaying stump. True to their name, this fern seems happiest growing on rotting wood. People often confuse it with lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina), another common fern that grows in our woods.

You can tell them apart pretty easily. Wood fern fronds are roughly triangular in shape and they have lots of brown hairy stuff on their stems, particularly at the base. Lady fern fronds taper at both the tip and the base, so are wider in the middle.

While I was busy photographing the wood ferns, Brian spied a couple of critters.

Banana Slug on Pacific Bleeding Heart

Banana slugs (Ariolimax columbiana) are one of our native slugs. They’re important decomposers, feeding mostly on forest duff. I don’t know whether this one was interested in nibbling the bleeding heart stem it was climbing, but we saw it go from heading toward the blossom to sliming its way back down to the ground.

Brown-lipped Snail on Stinging Nettle

This snail, nestled among the stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) leaves, is probably a European introduction. The brown-lipped snail (Cepaea nemoralis) has become common in the Pacific Northwest. I see what I think are the same species in our garden, on the sidewalk, and climbing walls. I’d rather they didn’t nibble our garden plants but I’m fine with them munching nettles in our woods.

Western Trilliums with immature seedpods

I’ve been watching and photographing this pair of western trilliums (Trillium ovatum) since the flowers opened early in April. They’ve gone from brilliant white to deep red to dropping their petals. It appears that they both were pollinated and are setting seed. With any luck we’ll have more trilliums in a few years. It takes time for them to grow from tiny first-year seedling to a plant that’s big enough to flower. It’s my understanding that ants like the seeds and carry them around, one way that this plant is dispersed to new locations.

Skunk Cabbage and more

We call this our creek trail because it follows a seasonal stream. This little bridge, just an old 2×6 salvaged from remodeling my photo studio, keeps our feet dry as we cross the mucky wetland. There’s skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus), piggy-back plant (Tolmiea menziesii), lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina), and giant horsetail (Equisetum telmateia) here, along with a mass of salmonberries just a little higher where it’s not quite so wet.

Fringecup, Pacific Bleeding Heart among Vine Maple foliage

Plants never grow in isolation in their native habitats. One of my favorite combinations right now is fringecup (Tellima grandiflora), Pacific bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa), and vine maple (Acer circinatum). The bleeding heart is just finishing blooming, with its little heart-shaped blossoms fading to pale pink and seedpods beginning to elongate from the center of the flowers. Fringecup is about at its peak, with most of the flowers open but the oldest ones not yet fading to pink. The bleeding heart foliage will eventually die back with summer heat and drought, completely disappearing until it emerges once again next March and the cycle begins anew.

We didn’t make it very far along the trail; we didn’t need to. I spent much of my time photographing many variations on the theme without ever moving my feet from a circle the size of a hula hoop. You’re not seeing all of those photos here, but it’s a challenge I like to give myself from time to time. It’s a concept I first learned when given that assignment in a photo workshop I took in Yosemite in 1974.

How much can you see from where you sit or stand?

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