When we moved to our studio property in 2014, we decided we wanted to incorporate many of our wonderful native plants into the garden. Natives are drought-adapted, hosts to native insects that provide food for birds and other animals, relatively low maintenance, and best of all, they’re pretty to look at. When we walk in the woods and see an environment full of plants we’re seeing many years of growth. In a garden setting, starting from scratch, it takes a few years to go from bare soil to lush growth.
Three years in, we’re making slow progress. In some places our new beds are starting to mature and look good. But garden ideas don’t always work as anticipated the first time around. Continue reading →
I’m sure you’ve seen the bumper sticker, “I Brake For Flowers.” Well, I don’t just brake for them — when conditions are right I’ll drive thousands of miles for wildflowers. That’s just what I did in mid-March when I confirmed that the predicted “superbloom” at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in southern California was actually happening.
A little back story: most of the wildflowers in the desert are annuals. Their seeds remain dormant until conditions are just right. When there’s enough rain at the right time during the winter and temperatures warm up not too fast then the desert can burst into spectacular masses of flowers. Most years only a few flowers bloom, but in 2017 conditions were just right for a massive bloom, which lasts for only a couple of weeks at peak. I couldn’t stay home. Continue reading →
Every now and then when I’m hiking in the mountains I run across a really cool plant. Over Memorial Day weekend I was out with a group of friends on the trail to Lookout Mountain and Monogram Lake, off the Cascade River Road east of Marblemount in the North Cascades. We came across more candystick (aka sugarstick), Allotropa virgata, than I’ve seen in one place in the 25 years I’ve been hiking in the northwest. Continue reading →
Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens) is keeping me very busy weeding our garden this spring. A pretty little perennial, native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa, creeping buttercup has been introduced and become naturalized in nearly every state in the United States. Left to its own devices, creeping buttercup sends out creeping stems that take root at the nodes when they touch the ground, forming a dense carpet that shades and crowds out more desirable plants. Continue reading →
With the arrival of spring later this month come all sorts of early-blooming wildflowers. Candyflower is tasty as well as pretty. It’s also known as Siberian springbeauty and its scientific name is Claytonia sibirica. You’ll find it growing throughout the Pacific Northwest, except for the driest counties east of the Cascades. Look for it in damp deciduous woods or at the edge of conifer forests. It likes a little shade, but not too much.
Candyflower is closely related to miner’s lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata, which can also be found throughout most of the northwest. Both of these species are delicious spring greens. I like them raw, straight from the plant, and they’re a tasty addition to an early spring salad. Miner’s lettuce got its name because it was one of the few fresh spring greens in miner’s diets during the gold rush era. Continue reading →
I ran across a near-perfect specimen of another one of our mycoheterotrophic plants on a hike up to Excelsior Ridge in mid-June. This one is pinesap, Monotropa hypopitys. It’s fairly common in our dry forests, growing under Douglas-firs or hemlocks. If you’re following along each month, you’ll recall that I introduced you to a rather uncommon mycoheterotroph last month, California broomrape.
Pinesap is in the same family as heather, rhododendron, and huckleberries. But unlike those big and showy plants, pinesap doesn’t have any chlorophyll and can’t make its own food. It depends on a complex relationship with fungi in the soil to connect its roots to those of a host plant from which it derives its nutrients. Continue reading →
During the blooming season people often send me photos of plants they’ve found and can’t identify. A few days ago I received a photo of a plant I’d never seen before. It’s not in my book, Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest, nor in the Washington Wildflowers smartphone app. But I instantly recognized the genus, Orobanche. There aren’t many species in the Pacific Northwest and they’re rather distinctive. Continue reading →
One of my favorite harbingers of spring is the brilliant yellow skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus), which also goes by swamp lantern. Both names are quite descriptive and appropriate for this common wetland plant.
Skunk cabbage got that name because the blossoms have a slight skunky odor and the leaves resemble cabbage leaves when young. I’ve never found the odor of our northwest skunk cabbage to be particularly strong. There’s an entirely different skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) that’s native to eastern North America that has a much stronger odor and dark purplish-red flowers. The foliage of the two plants is similar, but ours has much brighter blossoms. Continue reading →
A few days ago my friend Annie called to say her red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) was about to burst into full bloom, inviting me to swing by and photograph it. She has a couple of nice shrubs against the fence in her backyard and when I visited on March 16 one of the two was in full bloom. Continue reading →
The thimbleberries (Rubus parviflorus) are getting ready to burst into bloom throughout the Whatcom County lowlands in the next week or so. The first flowers opened on the plants in our garden last weekend. This robust shrub will soon be covered with large white blossoms, highlighting roadsides and woodland edges. Continue reading →