Archive for April 2020

April 29, 2020 Spring Comes Late to the CNLM Native Seed Farms

Blog Post by Sierra Smith, Photos by Sierra Smith and Ruth Mares

As this image shows, Social Distancing is nothing new to the CNLM seed farms whether spring or winter.

Jessika Blackport cheking the fields on a winter day by an unknown farm staff member

Jessika Blackport cheking the fields on a winter day by an unknown farm staff member

This year we had a March that was colder than our January. As a result, spring has crept in with a whisper instead of hitting suddenly as in years past. However, our earliest natives are blooming strong including:

blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia magniflora)

Collinsia magniflora by Ruth mares

Collinsia Magniflora, Blue-eyed Mary, by Ruth Mares

shooting star (Dodocantheum pulchellum)

Dodocantheum pulchellum by Sierra Smith

Dodocantheum pulchellum, Shooting Star by Sierra Smith

field chickweed (Cerastium arvense)

Cerastium arvense, field chickweed by Ruth Mares

Cerastium arvense, field chickweed by Ruth Mares

and western buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis)

Ranunculus occidentalis, western buttercup by Sierra Smith

Ranunculus occidentalis, western buttercup by Sierra Smith

but we expect the real show to begin after another week or two of warm weather.

On the farm we are still neck deep in the “spring dig”, getting the winter’s weeds out as they get big enough to pull. We sowed all our spring annuals in February and are planting our spring transplants. The annual irrigation repair after winter weather and coyote chewing is nearly complete and then we will be sowing our spring cover-crops on all open ground.

It is a beautiful time on the farm with lots green, new shoots and baby birds. The spring is always so full of promise and with the gradual warm-up we are feeling on-the-ball and ready for the first seeds to start forming.

April 27th, 2020 -Birding on South Sound Prairies

Blog by Bob Wadsworth, photos courtesy of Tim Leque and Dennis Plank.

When I first started birding on South Sound prairies, I didn’t think I’d be seeing very many species. It seemed that like a suburban lawn, there wouldn’t be much habitat diversity to attract lots of species. I was wrong. The recent listing on the e-Bird database shows a total of 124 species recorded at Glacial Heritage Preserve over recent years. To help better appreciate birds in the prairies I offer the following observations.

Habitats at Glacial Heritage Preserve – There are five main habitats on the preserve: the prairie itself is an expanse of grass and forbs (wildflowers), with a few scattered large trees. Bordering the prairie is a conifer forest with douglas-fir as the primary tree species. Also scattered in the prairie are areas of upland oak forest and a riparian oak forest with Oregon white oak as its primary species runs along the Black River, and finally there is the shoreline and channel of the Black River. There is also an old gravel pit along the northwest boundary of the preserve which has grown up to alder which while not a part of the preserve, does influence its bird life.

Satellite view of the Glacial Heritage Preserve from Google Maps

Satellite view of the Glacial Heritage Preserve from Google Maps

Bird migrants coming and going – The month of May is a time when many migrant birds have arrived from points south and others, who spent the winter here, have left for points north or the mountains. Arrivals include purple martins, savanna sparrows, chipping sparrows, western tanagers, Swainson’s thrush, black headed grosbeaks, flycatchers, vireos, warblers, and osprey. Winter visitors have moved north to nest including golden crowned and ruby crowned kinglets, varied thrushes, and fox and golden crowned sparrows. A group of species that remain in the winter include bluebirds, Meadowlarks, ravens and resident hawks including kestrels, Harriers, red tailed and eagles.

Willow Flycatcher, a summer resident Photograph by Dennis Plank

Willow Flycatcher, a summer resident. Photograph by Dennis Plank

Golden-crowned Sparrow, a winter resident Photograph by Dennis Plank

Golden-crowned Sparrow, a winter resident. Photograph by Dennis Plank


American Kestrel, a year round resident Photograph by Dennis Plank

American Kestrel, a year round resident. Photograph by Dennis Plank

Unusual birds – Occasionally a few bird species show up or pass through Glacial Heritage. These include sandhill cranes which have passed over or landed briefly during migration; whimbrels, which though normally a shorebird spend some time inland while migrating; northern shrike, a predatory songbird that hunts other songbirds, and some may spend the winter on prairies and other open country; nighthawk, a more common bird in western Washington in the past, which can be seen occasionally; and finally, barn owl, a relatively common owl in open areas, but as with other owls, hard to spot because of nocturnal habits.

Northern Shrike, a rare visitor Photograph by Tim Leque

Northern Shrike, a rare visitor. Photograph by Tim Leque

Barn Owl, fairly common, but rarely seen Photograph by Dennis Plank

Barn Owl, fairly common, but rarely seen. Photograph by Dennis Plank

Check the following link to the online eBird app for a full list of species seen at Glacial.

April 24th, 2020- Prairie Enemy Number 2

Blog and Photos courtesy of Dennis Plank


Scot’s (or Scotch) Broom, Cytisus scoparius

I started thinking about this post under the title of “Prairie Enemy Number 1”, but then I had to be a bit more honest about things and admit that the biggest enemy of our Western Washington Prairies is Homo sapiens via bulldozers, plows, asphalt, houses warehouses, etc, etc. Oddly, we are also the savior of the Western Washington Prairies and always have been. Without the fire regimes established by the First Peoples in this area, all of the prairies would have been long ago overcome by the forests. Douglas fir is a great prairie colonizer and after relatively few years changes the soil structure and chemistry tremendously, making it very difficult for a return to true prairie conditions. However, Scot’s Broom is an even more aggressive colonizer than Douglas Fir and is considerably more difficult to remove permanently.

The Washington State Noxious Weed control Board has listed this plant as a Class B Noxious Weed and they have this to say about it:

Scotch Broom

Family: Fabaceae

Other Common Names: broomtops, common broom, European broom, Irish broom, Scottish broom, Scot’s broom
Weed class: B
Year Listed: 1988
Native to: Europe
Is this Weed Toxic?:


Legal listings:

This plant is also on the Washington State quarantine list. It is prohibited to transport, buy, sell, offer for sale, or distribute plants or plant parts of quarantined species into or within the state of Washington or to sell, offer for sale, or distribute seed packets of seed, flower seed blends, or wildflower mixes of quarantined species into or within the state of Washington. Please see WAC 16-752 for more information on the quarantine list. For questions about the quarantine list, contact the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s Plant Services Program at (360) 902-1874 or email

Click on the Scotch Broom Hyperlink above to get to their website for this plant.

Twenty odd years ago when I got involved in restoring the South Sound Prairies, the accepted knowledge was that the seed bank for this plant would last for twenty years after it was removed with new plants emerging every year. At the time we considered that very disheartening. Unfortunately, the current estimate is that the seed bank will persist for eighty (80) years or more. That is a long time to be pulling this plant on one’s property, even assuming he neighbors are controlling it on their side of the fence. My wife and her ex started vigorously controlling it on our property in 1997 and there hasn’t been a plant allowed to produce seed on the property since. We still pull plants three or four times a year, though it’s down to a half-hour exercise to do so. We were very lucky in that The Nature Conservancy around 2005 or so had a Land Owner’s Initiative program to help control this plant and restore small parcel prairies. My wife (we weren’t married yet) jumped on it and they sent a crew out to mop the tops of the Scotch Broom with an herbicide after nearly all the other prairie plants had senesced. This was very effective, though it’s a process that has since been discontinued. Since then, hand control has been sufficient.

This is what an undeveloped parcel two lots down that has never been maintained looks like:


The Broom is well over head height.

And this is what fifty acres set aside for conservation as part of a development agreement looks like:



In addition to covering the prairie so densely and shading out most of the native prairie plants, Scot’s Broom is somewhat allelopathic, so it suppresses other plants from growing and the toxins can remain in the soil for some time. Some people advise that pulled broom be removed and taken to a landfill for this reason, and we do this for the few plants we pull from our property. Unfortunately, this is not a viable option when controlling a property of any size, like Thurston County’s Glacial Heritage Nature Preserve.

In the mid-1990’s when people started doing restoration on Glacial, it looked just like the two properties above, except there were about 700 of the approximately 1000 acres covered with it (the rest of the preserve is forest). Initial control was with Brush cutters (weed whackers with a table saw blade), followed by periodic mowing. As the brush cutting phase was completed, volunteers started handling the regrowth with Weed Wrenches and this transition is about the time I became involved.

-20200421-5DIM0839-Weed Wrench



Unfortunately, the Weed Wrench Company ceased business a few years ago. One of their former employees has started his own company selling some of the large versions of the original Weed Wrench and his own design the Uprooter. Alternatives to this design are the Pullerbear and the Extractigator.

Luckily, The Nature Conservancy followed by the Center for Natural Lands Management have been able to employ alternative control measures such as limited herbicide application and controlled burns to help control the Scot’s Broom on Glacial Heritage and other Prairie preserves. I well remember the day that we volunteers were told that we’d finally gotten 40 acres under hand control and later 100 acres. Unfortunately, by some fluke of good luck we had a large group of dedicated volunteers at the time. Many of those have aged out or moved away and the current volunteer force is considerably reduced. I would urge anyone reading this blog to come and help us with our restoration efforts on the second Saturday of every month or any Tuesday. Just send an email to and they’ll put you on their volunteer newsletter list. For those afraid of getting inundated with emails, CNLM isn’t one of those organizations. You’ll just get one newsletter per week outlining the next week’s volunteer activities.

For those who doubt that good can happen when enough people get involved, this is what Glacial Heritage looked like a couple of springs ago.

2020-03-30 09-52-16 (B,Radius8,Smoothing4)-Edit

So come on out and pull some Broom with us! (As soon as we can have workdays again).

April 22nd 2020, First Earth Day Remembrance

by Janet Strong

My husband, Jim, and I and our 4 kids lived in Butler, PA, north of Pittsburgh. We had joined a friendly group of natural food devotees and we learned about the coming Earth Day Celebration. One friend, a teacher, organized a series of talks featuring a lot of environmental issues, leading up to Earth Day. The last class was on Earth Day. Out of this group came a bunch of us who then organized a group we called B.E.A.T. (Butler Environmental Action Team) and worked very hard to set up a recycling center in the city of Butler. We had to find a place (donated space by a local industry), then places to deliver all the recyclables and how to pay our expenses. We got barrels donated by the local steel mill (who didn’t want us to bother them later) plus other donations. We were open every other Saturday. People couldn’t get over how we thanked them for their “rubbish.” I was the Treasurer and all of us were volunteers. We kept it going successfully for about 3 years and then had to give up because the space became unavailable and we were all exhausted and needed to get on with our lives. And I have been recycling ever since, for 50 years. I celebrate Earth Day every year in some way or another. Happy 50th Earth Day, everybody! Do something wild and wonderful for the Earth.

Janet Strong Bio:

Well, mostly I raised 4 kids and was a Girl Scout leader for many years in PA. Then I went to grad school in biology and while there helped my Ornithology prof found a new Audubon chapter around 1980. Others helped, too, including my husband Jim. That chapter is still going and has gotten much bigger and manages their own habitat lands now. Moved to WA in 1984 and in 1988 started work to help protect public resources (Wildlife, fish and water quality) for the next 13 years under the Timber, Fish and Wildlife Agreement. In 1994, a group of friends and I started the Chehalis River Basin Land Trust, headquartered in Centralia and operating in the entire Chehalis Basin. I was President of it for about 17 years. Presently it manages about 2,000 acres it owns and about 2,000 acres of Conservation Easements. I’ve always been active in Audubon so helped with the Grays Harbor chapter and now am President. Couldn’t do it without the excellent board we have.

Earth Day is the time when I gain hope that things are improving and at the same time wonder if humans will ever stop being cruel and exploitative to the environment.

Fifty Years Later and Still Working for the Earth

Janet- second from the right.

Janet is second from the right.

Like PAD, Earth Day 2020 will be a virtual event. Please check out their website.


Also, if you have access, check out the Opinion Piece in the April 12th Edition of the Seattle times by Earth Day’s first national coordinator, Denis Hayes, now President of the Bullitt Foundation.

April 13th, 2020- Pop! Come the Violets!

 Photos and blog courtesy of Dennis Plank

I am really enjoying doing this blog. Over the last twenty odd years of volunteering on our local prairies, I thought I’d learned something about the succession of the plant species as the seasons progressed, and indeed, I do have some vague idea of early and late bloomers, and an intimate knowledge of when the worst weeds bloom! However, the exercise of going out almost daily to look for new arrivals and documenting them with photographs, has already shown how vague that knowledge has been.

I’ve been looking for Prairie Violets (Viola adunca) for three weeks now and Friday afternoon (April 10th), there they were. And it wasn’t just a couple. There were clumps with three or four or more blooms and several clumps on every mound on our property and even in the “orchard”. I’m sure there are many more that will make their appearance over the next few days, but I was astounded by their sudden appearance.

A trio of violets in prime condition

A trio of violets in prime condition

The entire plant showing the leaves

The entire plant showing the leaves

A detailed look at the center flower

The title of this post is a bit of a play on words. These while the flowers are on them and as the seeds are maturing, the flower stem forms a graceful goose-neck arc, but just before the seeds are rip, it straightens out to raise the seed heads as far as possible and then the seed pod bursts open and the seeds are expelled almost explosively. This has been very frustrating for the wild seed collection volunteers. They actually put a fine mesh snood over the blossoms to try to collect the seeds because when they’re ripe the slightest touch can make the seed head pop.

Two nearly ripe seed  capsules and a spen flower in the upper left Photo by Marion Jarisch

Two nearly ripe seed capsules and a spent flower in the upper left  Photo by Marion Jarisch

Spent seed capsules (the tan trefoil  things) Photo by David Hepp

Spent seed capsules (the tan trefoil things) Photo by David Hepp

Another cool thing about these violets is that they keep blooming and setting seed as long as they can keep getting some moisture. We regularly find them in bloom during the fall planting season in November.

I am also finding it enjoyable to integrate the various flowers bloom cycles with one another and even with the arrival of our prairie birds. So now, I’m aware that the blooming of the first violets coincides with the peak of the Shooting Star bloom and a week after the first Balsamroot starts poking its nose out of the ground.

Shooting Star at Peak Bloom

Shooting Star at Peak Bloom


 Balsamroot Poking its Nose Out (In a garden bed.  We don’t have them naturally occurring on our property)

Balsamroot Poking its Nose Out  (In a garden bed. We don’t have them naturally occurring on our property)

And both of them coincide with the very first Camas flower buds showing.

First tiny Camas bud found on our property

First tiny Camas bud found on our property

If you check out the post on Tenalquot, you’ll see just how many prairie flowers are starting to bloom now. All these flowers come at the same time that the Savannah Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows start singing on territory and most of our winter birds have gone except for the pairs that set up their territories here, so my bird feeding station is getting very little attention. However, the first three male Goldfinches passed through on the 11th, so that horde won’t be far behind. My wife has worked to attract them for nearly thirty years and has been tremendously successful. We probably have over 200 coming to our feeders, and that’s before the juveniles fledge and join the mob.

Adult male American Goldfinch in prime breeding plumage.

Adult male American Goldfinch in prime breeding plumage.

Juvenile American Goldfinches on one of several feeders

Juvenile American Goldfinches on one of several feeders

April 10th, 2020- Tenalquot

Photos and Blog courtesy of Dennis Plank

-20200410-Camassia quamash

With all the public prairies closed, finding material for this blog has been confined to our five acres and the immediate neighborhood. While Glacial Heritage is within easy walking distance, rumor has it that the County is patrolling it to keep visitors out for whatever reason. Not wanting to encourage others to violate the counties wishes, I’ve chosen not to try going there, tempting as it is. However, to broaden the scope of this to species we don’t have on our five acres, I contacted Sanders Freed of the Center for Natural Lands Management about visiting their Tenalquot preserve, which is further along in restoration than most of the other preserves and is sufficiently secluded not to call attention to a visitor.

I chose Friday, April 10th because cloudy skies were predicted, which are ideal for flower photography. Well, ten miles can make a significant difference in the weather around here. I was in clouds most of the way, but they had broken by the time I got to Tenalquot. However, the sunlight was still sufficiently diffuse to make photography feasible.

The first discovery of the morning was a Camas with well formed bloom buds. However, don’t get too excited, I only found three of them on the preserve in that condition.

While Tenalquot is in very good condition in terms of controlling Scotch Broom, the general prairie flora is still in serious need of augmentation. They got what looked like a vary nice controlled burn in last year and Sanders informed me that it was seeded afterwards, so that should produce a major improvement in the habitat.

I wound my way through the burn area without finding much of anything in bloom yet and went to one of the areas we’ve been augmenting for Taylor’s Checkerspot butterfly release (the other major area had a bunch of flags from a release done earlier this year, so I stayed well away from it, not wanting to step on any larvae.

-20200410-Castilleja hispida

By coincidence the first flowering plant I spotted was a Harsh Paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) which is planted as a host for the Checkerspot larvae along with other larval food plants and nectar plants for the adults. The more famous but rarer Golden Paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta) isn’t planted at Tenalquot because it is endangered and the two paintbrushes are known to hybridize, so the reintroduction plan for the Golden calls for keeping some geographical isolation between the two.

Since the two paintbrushes have about the same bloom time, the Golden should also be starting to form blooms about now. Glacial Heritage has a great deal of it, so plan now to get out there next spring for a workday or for Prairie Appreciation Day 2021.

After spending so many hours helping to plant this area, I was treading very carefully to avoid stepping on anything that looked like a forb while still trying to find anything that was flowering. The next plant I encountered was Thrift or Sea-Pink (Armeria maritima). This is one of those flowers that although native to our area (and much of the northern hemisphere, has also been long domesticated and turned into fancy forms. I also remember this as one of the healthier groups of plugs and one of the easiest to extricate from the tubes.

-20200410-Armeria maritima

Next encountered was a fine specimen of the Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana). While this grows well and spreads prolifically, good luck trying to actually get a berry off it before the critters do. I think I was successful once along a forest service road in the mountains. I’ve never gotten one off my own property. Rumor has it that they’re pretty good.

-20200410-Fragaria virginiana

Field Chickweed (Cerastium arvense) was just starting to put out a few blossoms, though the plants were looking quite robust.

-20200410-Cerastium arvense

-20200410-Micranthese integrefolia

We’ve been planting Whole-leaf Saxifrage also known as Swamp Saxifrage (Micranthes integrifolia) even though something called swamp and known for wettish locations sure doesn’t seem right for our prairies that dry out so thoroughly later in the year. However, it seems to do fine with the wet winters and springs. This is one of the many plants that’s changed genus on me since I got into native plants. It used to be Saxifraga integrifolia, so if you have older sources, you might look under that name. My 2004 edition of “Plants of the Pacific Norhtwest Coast” by Pojar and MacKinnon lists it under Saxifraga, though it’s not pictured and just mentioned under the entry for Western Saxifrage where they refer to it as Grassland Saxifrage. Field Guide to the Plants of the South Sound Prairies has it listed under the current name and that resource is available on-line at


The final prairie species was a Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria lanceolata) which was quite close to blooming.

-20200410-Fritillaria lanceolata

Of course there was also a lot of Spring-gold and Buttercup still in bloom scattered throughout the prairie.

After leaving the future butterfly release area, I wandered around listening to the Purple Martins of which there is quite a colony at this site and walked back across the prairie where several White-crowned Sparrows were singing on territory. Most people are familiar with their song whether they know it or not as these birds like to set up shop in almost any parking lot where there are trees. I tried taking a picture of him singing, but he was too high up and the sun too bright, so here’s one from the archives.

All in all, it was a wonderful outing.

According to the Olympian, the Thurston County Commissioners voted to reopen the county managed trails, so get out, take a walk, and see what you can find. “Spring is busting out all over.” (with apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein).



April 7th, 2020- Purple Martins on the Prairies

Photos and blog courtesy of Dennis Plank

When we think of Purple Martins, our natural tendency is to visualize them in wet areas. Near rivers, lakes or marshy areas, preferably loaded with mosquitoes for them to eat for us! Indeed most of the Purple Martin housing that’s been put up in this area is in or near our estuaries or rivers. Years ago, I remember a volunteer day led by Dan Grosboll when we attached Martin boxes to old pilings from a defunct bridge that used to span the Black River at Thurston county’s Glacial Heritage Natural Area. Even with two canoes lashed together, it was a precarious operation and I don’t recall it being repeated. However, there are a number of old power poles on Glacial Heritage that were left bare when lines were rerouted and about ten years ago PSE used some of these and some additional poles to put up Osprey platforms on the preserve. At about the same time, it occurred to someone that they would be ideal for mounting Martin boxes. This was done and the Martins started occupying them within a couple of years. A little experience showed that while the Western subspecies of the Purple Martin doesn’t much care for the apartment building housing they tend to use in the Eastern US, they do like nesting in colonies. To aid them more boxes were added to poles, so that most now have at least four.

On our parcel near Glacial Heritage and nearly a mile from the Black River, we decided to try to attract Martins and put up a couple of boxes shortly after they started nesting at Glacial. Unfortunately, we didn’t really understand their desires and put the two boxes up some distance apart. While we had some birds come by to look, none ever nested. Finally, about five years ago, my wife, Michelle, decided to just buy a commercially available Martin Gourd system with a pole and six gourds. Our unused boxes were donated for the Glacial Heritage arrays. The first year the gourd system was up we had a bunch of 1st year birds using them, though they only raised one brood of chicks. The second year, all six gourds were full and they all fledged chicks.   They’ve been full ever since.


Yesterday, April 5th, the first male of this year arrived.


Today, we had two females arrive (unfortunately, I only managed a picture of one)


This female appeared to arrive ready to set up housekeeping, and had her gourd already picked out.

The gourd system comes with a couple of aluminum rods at the top as perches, but I’ve replaced them with sticks as a more photogenic option. The Martins don’t seem to care one way or the other.

This system is sold through the Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA) and they ask people to monitor the nesting success, hence the pulley and rope for easily raising and lowering the gourd array and the observation ports on the sides of the gourds (which also make cleaning easy). There are other sources for gourd arrays and plans for houses. As mentioned above, if you want to build houses, four is probably a minimum and all attached to the same pole is best. If you make your own boxes, it’s critical to get the entrance dimensions precise or you’ll end up with as many Starlings as Martins. If you do put up a system, you will probably get 1st year birds, all of which look much like the females shown here. They will arrive quite a bit later than the April 5th date of our experienced birds and will likely not nest successfully the first year. But don’t despair-they will probably be back as they seem to be expanding as fast as nesting sites are created in this area. We could easily fill another rack within a year or two.

While I didn’t manage to get a picture of a male and female together today, here’s one from a year or two ago


Martins do a tremendous amount of talking to one another as they are very social birds. Sometimes in the morning and evening we will count several more birds than we have housing for and everyone seems to be chatting up a storm. Luckily, they have very melodious voices.

A couple of other new prairie arrivals have announced themselves by voice, but have yet to be sighted by us. The Savannah Sparrow and White-crowned Sparrow have both been heard on my Michelle’s morning walk in our neighborhood. We should see them soon. Meanwhile, click on the hyperlinked names to listen to recordings of their songs on the xeno-canto website.


April 3rd, 2020- March Went out Like a Lion

Photos courtesy of Dennis Plank

The last couple of days of March were quite tempestuous on the South Sound Prairies with lots of rain showers, and some hail and both of them blowing sideways. The winds gusted enough to blow over a few trees in the area. However, the plants are apparently loving it.


Shootingstar taken March 31st

I had reason for going out the last couple of days (Blood Donation on Monday-hint) and a quick hardware store run Tuesday for repair materials for wind damage) and I was stunned by the difference in appearance of the landscape between the two days. It’s like everything green decided to suddenly show off

On our little five acres of prairie, the latest additions are the Shootingstars (Dodocatheon hendersonii).

I first noticed these on Sunday and took some pictures, most of which didn’t come out to my liking. This one was taken with flash attachment and a diffuser to even the light source out. The water is left over from the overnight rains Monday night.


The Spring Gold is popping out all over. Where there were one or two plants blooming a week ago, there are now ten or twenty and the Buttercups, while slightly slower are still multiplying nicely.


Patch of Spring Gold in our back yard

It’s interesting that Deb Naslund’s visit to Scatter Creek a week ago produced the same species and they actually appear several days further along (judging by the Chocolate Lily) than we are today. Scatter creek is about 4 ½ miles SSW of us as the crow flies. This demonstrates the differences a change in microclimate can make. We are just down slope from the Black Hills and in the Black River valley. For some reason, this results in colder and wetter winters and hotter and drier summers than those just a few miles away on the I-5 corridor.


Spring Gold and Shootingstar

Many of the prairie plants that can survive mowing do seem to bloom first in the yard, though there are a great many of these popping up in our unmowed prairie area. For example this little patch comprising Spring Gold and a Shootingstar was found just off the path to my bird feeding station/photography blind.


Wild Strawberry

While out looking for a patch of spring gold to photograph, I happened to run across the first Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) bloom right in the middle of our “orchard” (two apple trees and two Garry Oaks).

There are a couple of more buds visible behind this bloom, so it won’t be long until the patches of this plant will be covered in white and gold.


Common Camas Shoots

The Camas here has gone from about 2 inches last week to about 4 inches this week, though it still has a long ways to go. It is nonetheless reassuring that it will come again, just as this pandemic will pass.

April 1st, 2020- Early Bloomers Shine!

Photos and blog post courtesy of Deborah Naslund

I was very fortunate to visit to our prairies last week and capture (in photos only!) some of our star early bloomers. So, while we are all stuck at home for now, I want to share with you the walks I took last week through Scatter Creek Wildlife Area and Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve just before state agencies had to close these public lands due to COVID-19 protection measures. Here’s the first installment: Scatter Creek.

On Tuesday, March 24th, I wandered through the south unit of Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife’s Scatter Creek Wildlife Area. This area contains a beautiful fragment of our unique South Puget Sound prairie/oak woodland ecosystem. In addition to mounded prairie, there are stands of Garry oak and riparian wetland areas. Because of this diversity of habitats, Scatter Creek Wildlife Area supports a wide variety of native plant and animal species.


Quercus garryana

Garry oak communities were once widespread on the west side of the Cascade Mountains, in the lowlands of the Puget Trough. Now, because of extensive development and agricultural clearing, less than 5% of the original extent of these communities remain. More on these unique plant communities in future post.


Dodecatheon hendersonii

Walking along the trail paralleling a stand of oaks, I was greeted by the delicate and aptly named broad-leaved shooting star, Dodecatheon hendersonii. This beauty is one of our first prairie perennials to bloom. The unique structure of Dodecatheon flowers make them dependent on pollination by native bumble bees.

For more in-depth information on the dependency between South Sound prairie plants and their pollinators, see Cascaidia Prairie Oak’s post on Pollinators.


Fragaria virginiana

Wandering around to the other side of this stand of oaks, I was delighted to find a wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) in bloom. Usually blooming from May to August, these individuals are thriving in the warm microclimate between mima mounds, extending their flowering season by months. It’s not surprising to find these wild strawberries growing in a variety of microclimates on the prairie; their overall distribution in Washington ranges from ocean shores to subalpine mountain environments demonstrating their adaptability to a wide range of habitats. The leaves of Fragaria virginiana often appear noticeably blue-green as you see in the emerging new leaves in this picture, giving rise to its other common name, blueleaf strawberry.


Fritillaria affinis

Back under the oaks, several chocolate lilies, Fritillaria affinis, were sprouting, bring the promise of flowers to come. Like camas, the starchy bulbs of the chocolate lily have been and continue to be an important food source for many Native peoples of the Puget Sound area. But note: they don’t taste like chocolate and must be cooked properly to be edible! These flowers are uncommon on our prairies and should be left undisturbed by the general public.


Cardamine nuttallii

On my final swing through the area, I found several Nuttall’s toothwort (also known as oaks toothwort), Cardamine nuttallii, poking up through the leaf litter near the woodland edge. Another early bloomer and harbinger of spring, I find these in my yard under old Douglas firs and along our community open-space trails. So, when the rain clouds clear this week, take a walk through your neighborhood green space and see if you can find these beauties, or any other early bloomers that are brightening our spring days.