Spring Fling, Post and photos by Ivy Clark
Lauren ‘Ivy’ Clark studied the hybridization of Castilleja levisecta and C. hispida in restoration sites for their Masters thesis at the University of Washington before becoming a restoration technician for the Center for Natural Lands Management.
Summer is full on these days, toasty and dry. Bet you didn’t think back in mid-winter you would be missing the rainy cloud-cover, as you have to regularly water the yard and dodge mosquitoes? As the natural landscape dries out and you battle to keep the horticulture green and spry, how about a look back to the fresh spring and lush blooms we had that are now going into seed? What we see senescing now was a mere baby bud a few months ago. They grow so fast don’t they?
Recognize this little distinct gem? The single flower starts plain and green but that trio whorl of leaves is a dead give-away for a young chocolate lily (Fritillaria affinis). The green tepals (not quite petals not quite sepals) would develop into the checkered chocolaty brown, almost purple, for which it is named. They later turn into interesting multi-ribbed seed pods, turning upright from the nodding flower.
The brand new stubby bright green stems of sickle-keeled lupine (Lupinus albicaulis), emerging among last year’s woody stems. It is a mere hint of the Fabaceae grandeur that it will grow to be.
Like so many youths, the columbine (Aquilegia formosa) looks a little awkward as a bud,
but quickly develops into the complex drooping star structure best viewed from below and backlit by a crystal blue sky.
For those familiar with Little Shop of Horrors, don’t fear the little cutleaf Microseris (Microserus laciniata). It is a bit Audrey II yes (“Feed me!”), or perhaps like a Paleolithic dandelion, but it is a stellar pollinator-feeding, mid-season bloomer and prairie staple. Look for fluffy globes more dense than the common dandelion seed heads out there now. And feel free to make a wish for more natives as you blow them off the stem.
This is just what we botanists call a sexy plant picture. Purple of the Pacific lupine (Lupinus lepidus) in a tiered spire before the endangered golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta) burning yellow columns. They have complementary colors (remember your color wheel?) and very different leaves but are both delights on the prairie. Sometimes they grow and line up just right for you where you have to drop whatever you were doing and take a picture!
After seed dispersal, the Lupinus lepidus is still green but with curly-cue brown seed pods that have flung the brown hard lentil-like seeds outward. The mechanical dispersal is simple and fun to try to catch. You can hear the little popping sounds as the pods slowly dry tighter and tighter until they snap apart and twist under the sudden release.
Awe, look how cute and little those flower buds are! Like a fuzzy little puppy, yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is just starting to produce the “million” tiny leaves and nearly as many flowers, for which it is named- “thousand leaves”. Well, maybe not really a thousand, or million, but you know how taxonomists can exaggerate. And you may have heard of its healing properties, hence the genus named for Achilles of Greek myth whose soldiers used the plant to tend their battle wounds.
Recently yarrows have been going to seed, crispy brown frilly cups of tiny seeds ready to grow new clumps of healing gray fluff.
One of the first wildflowers spotted on Glacial Heritage preserve this year was the shooting star (Dodatheon hendersonii). A well named genus, meaning “of the twelve gods”, these plants and close relatives are just gorgeous and interesting. The flowers start out upside down to utilize dangling bee pollinators.
and then they turn upright to the blue skies after pollination. So if you see small brown cups with little ridges on the rim, upright instead of downward like falling stars, that’s actually their mature fruits. Who says plants don’t move? They can even reposition their fruits. See the mid-spring photo showing the fading flowers pointing skyward and the recently pollinated ones starting to turn. And don’t forget to note the cute lush succulent round leaves anchoring the long flower stalks. I always want to pet their smooth sleekness.
And so the beautiful season seems over and the prairies may look dried and dead and unappealing. But like the “amber wave of grain” we know so well, if you look a little closer, or perhaps a little broader at the full landscape of clear blue sky and hints of mountains aloft, then you can see the beauty still in the senescence season of the prairie. It’s sprinkled with color here and there too and not devoid of birds or other creatures. Take a moment to enjoy the shades of brown, like a sepia photograph, and shake a few native seed pods to give the plant dispersal a hand.