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Sad News for Our Prairies

Sad News for Our Prairies

Sad news Patrick Dunn died July 28, 2020 of a heart attack.  He will be missed as a leader in conservation in Washington’s South Sound and his vision for the state’s prairie lands.

“Prairies are part of Washington’s natural and cultural heritage,” says Patrick Dunn, Director of the Center for Natural Lands Management’s South Puget Sound Program. “We value open space and want to protect the land and wildlife so future generations can enjoy these special places, too.”

Pat worked to bring resources and people from many disciplines to protect the area’s amazing prairie oak savannas with their species in decline. Now it is to us to continue his vision.

Gail Trotter FOPP President

Camas – Teachings in Reciprocity

Camas Teachings in Reciprocity, Post by Elise Krohn and Mariana Harvey, Photos by Elise Krohn

Elise Krohn is the GRuB Wild Foods and Medicines Director and Mariana Harvey (Yakama) is the GRuB Wild foods and Medicines Program Manager

Camas – Teachings in Reciprocity

Camas prairies have offered Native People a food basket of game and edible plants since time immemorial. These open landscapes are home to many edible plants including camas, edible lily bulbs, bracken fern rhizomes, biscuit root, acorns from oak trees, and several types of berries. Medicinal plants including yarrow, kinnickinnick, violet, wild rose, and balsamroot flourish there. The prairies are also home to many species of butterflies, birds, and small land mammals.

Native stories and cultural practices passed down through the generations teach us how prairies have been cultivated like gardens. Many Native families historically traveled to prairies and camped for several weeks to harvest camas bulbs, cook them, and preserve them for later use. Cultivation techniques, including burning, aerating the soil with digging sticks, and weeding out unwanted plants, prevented the prairies from becoming forests. Without these practices, most of the prairies would have turned into dense forests thousands of years ago. Native People have taken care of the prairies and the prairies have taken care of them in return. This care continues.

What we see today are tiny remnants of vast prairies that were common just a few generations ago. European settlers made burning the prairies illegal because they saw fire as a destructive force rather than a life-giving one. In just a few generations, colonial land management practices such as farming and grazing reduced prairies to less than three percent of their former size. The prairie lands that had been managed and maintained by Native people for thousands of years were those very places that Euro-Americans settled and converted to prime farmland in places like Cowlitz Landing, Chehalis, and Centralia (then Cllaquato, Newaukum prairies), Boistfort, and other places where the deep, loamy soil prairies used to be.

A Camas Prairie in full bloom.

A Camas Prairie in full bloom. Photo by Elise Krohn.

Many tribes and other agencies are actively working to conserve and restore prairies and prairie foods. Camas is a main focus because it is a prized staple to many Northwest Native People. In fact, for many communities, it was the second most traded food next to salmon. Squaxin Island Tribe has planted camas in their garden and in fields on the reservation, and is working with several organizations on prairie conservation and partnerships for tribal members to access camas as a food. This year Squaxin Island collaborated with Delphi Community Club so that several tribal members could harvest camas in their traditional territory. Squaxin Island Community Garden program manager, Aleta Poste (Squaxin Island) says, “We have taken a moment to slow down and to think of what life is about and we are honoring life givers including camas. I see camas as being one of those life givers that has the ability to help our bodies heal. It’s really inspiring and empowering to be digging camas at Delphi School today because we get to look back and see that the legacy of our people is living on and that it continues today. One way that we practice giving back and having a reciprocal relationship with camas is when we harvest and we are digging the bulb. We are aerating the soil and we are enhancing the space around each bulb—giving those seeds the oxygen they need to breathe. It is giving them room to grow because we are removing the largest bulb. This is an ancestral practice that is being revived through many different communities.”

Aleta Poste

Aleta Poste (Squaxin Island Tribe), Photo by Elise Krohn.

 

Camas continues to be an important cultural food that is celebrated in First Foods feasts and other ceremonies. Tribal and multi-agency partnerships are an important step in support of the revitalization and care for cultural ecosystems like camas prairies, and to increase access of culturally significant foods for Northwest Tribes.

Other Names: common camas: Camassia quamash, giant camas: Camassia leichtlinii, Twana: Quamash, Qa’?w3b, Lushootseed: cabidac, Klallam: Ktoi, Upper Chehalis: quwm or quwam“

Identifying Camas: Camas has six-petaled, purple flowers and grass-like leaves. Bulbs grow four to eight inches beneath the surface and resemble small potatoes or onion bulbs. Giant camas (Camassia leichtlinii) has darker purple flowers and thicker leaves than common camas (Camassia quamash). Giant camas blooms a couple of weeks later and is more common east of the Cascades, in the San Juan Islands, and in Southern British Columbia.

Elizabeth Campbell demonstrating the use of a digging stick.

Elizabeth Campbell (Spokane Tribe) demonstrating the use of a digging stick. Photo by Elise Krohn.

 

 

Food: Camas bulbs are dug in spring to early summer when the flowers or seeds are visible. This helps to distinguish it from a similarlooking poisonous plant, called death camas (Toxicoscordion venenosum), which has white flowers and similarlooking leaves and bulbs. Narrow t-shaped digging sticks that are made from hardwood, bone, antler, or metal make it possible to selectively harvest bulbs without damaging them or disturbing large sections of prairie. Harvesting also aerates the soil and allows moisture pockets to form, making it easier for new seeds to sprout.

Camas bulbs are cleaned by pinching off the stem where it enters the bulb and the roots from the base of the bulb. The brown outer skin peels off easily and you are left with a white bulb that resembles an onion.

Freshly dug Camas and the cleaned bulbs.

Freshly dug Camas and the cleaned bulbs. Photo by Elise Krohn.

 

If camas has gone to seed, people sprinkle the seeds back on open soil. Harvesters are careful to only keep bulbs that are attached to seeds or flowering stalks, since death camas bulbs and leaves look almost identical.

Northwest Coastal Native Ancestors developed ingenious and efficient techniques for cooking camas that people still use today such as roasting over a fire, baking food wrapped in skunk cabbage or fern fronds in a pit or earth oven over hot coals, boiling in bentwood boxes or tightly woven baskets with hot rocks, and steaming foods with hot rocks in earthen pit ovens.

Before sugar was introduced, roasted camas was used to sweeten other foods, and many people continue this practice today. Cooked bulbs are often made into cakes and dried for later use. A compound in camas called inulin helps to support gut health and provides carbohydrates without raising blood sugar.

Tend, Gather and Grow Curriculum

Tend, Gather and Grow is a place-based curriculum that includes Northwest Coastal Native culture and plant traditions. It is intended to support the movements for Indigenous sovereignty and cultural reclamation, as well as encourage non-Indigenous communities to live more respectfully and sustainably in relation to the natural world. Tend has been designed by Native and non-native educators and is intended for use by Native and non-native educators and their students. Learn more about our work and team, here: https://www.goodgrub.org/tend-gather-grow

Reciprocity is a key teaching throughout the curriculum. A lesson on camas and a module on cultural ecosystems highlights how people care for plants and plants care for people. Students draw a camas circle of care and then draw their own circle of care. This helps students explore who they are connected to and how they might give back to their community of people, plants, animals, and places. Questions to reflect on include:

  • Who do I care for, and who cares for me?
  • I receive and appreciate the gifts of the land. What does this look like for me?
  • I give back to the land to support future generations. What is my commitment?

Camas – A Plateau Native Story, as told by Roger Fernandes, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.

A long time ago in a village, there was a time of great hunger. There was no food to be foundno game to hunt, no plants to gather. The People were very hungry. There was a grandmother who heard her grandchildren crying because they were hungry. She was so sad that she had nothing to give them. She left the village and went up a hill nearby. She began to cry. She cried for her grandchildren. As she cried, she began to sink into the ground. After a while, she was gone. She was under the earth. Her grandchildren missed their grandmother. They wondered where she was and began to look for her. They climbed the hill, and as they reached the top, the granddaughter said, “Grandma is under the ground! I can feel her!” The children dug into the ground and found camas bulbs. Grandmother had become camas, and now the children and the People had food to eat. Camas is a main food of the Native people of the Plateau region. And that is all.

Camas flower.

Camas flower. Photo by Elise Krohn.

 

Growing Tips: Camas can be easily started from seed and grown in a garden or schoolyard. It thrives in well-drained sandy or pebbly soil with full sun. It is best to start growing it in trays in a greenhouse, as it closely resembles grass. Keep camas root gardens carefully weeded to avoid confusion with grasses. Other companion plants include chocolate lily, violet, yampah (wild carrot), wild strawberry, yarrow, and Roemer’s fescue (a bunch grass). GRuB is currently developing a handout on creating a microprairie as part of the Tend, Gather and Grow curriculum. See https://www.goodgrub.org/wild-foods/wild-foods-medicine-resources for additional information.

References

Krohn, E. (2007). Wild Rose and Western Red Cedar.

Kruckeberg, Arthur R. The Natural History of Puget Sound Country. Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press, 1994.

Leopold, Estella B. and Robert Boyd. “An Ecological History of Old Prairie Areas in Southwestern Washington.” Indians, Fire and the Landscape in the Pacific Northwest. Ed. Robert Boyd. Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press, 1999.

Turner, Nancy. The Earth’s Blanket. Seattle, The University of Washington Press, 2005.

Fire on the Prairies

Fire on the Prairies, Post by Kelsey King and Samantha Bussan, Photos by Rachael Bonoan, Samantha Bussan and Kelsey King

Kelsey King (kelsey.king@wsu.edu): Kelsey is a PhD student at Washington State University. For her dissertation, Kelsey is investigating the potential of resource mismatches between butterflies and nectar plants, as well as demonstrating the ways nectar resources can impact population dynamics.

Samantha Bussan is a PhD Candidate in Cheryl Schultz’ Conservation Biology Lab at Washington State University Vancouver. Her work is focused on conserving native species in working lands. She can be contacted with further questions at samantha.bussan@wsu.edu.

Fire on the Prairies

If you’ve been following the prairie appreciation blog you’ll know that we have mentioned prescribed fire a few times. This post is dedicated to talking about the why and whats of prescribed fires. In previous posts, we’ve discussed how the South Sound prairies ‘improve’ once this management technique is used. Here we’ll give you some more specific information!

The left side of the prairie was not burned in the fall, but the right side of the prairie was burned the previous year. Note the floral diversity on the right. Photo by Rachael Bonoan

The left side of the prairie was not burned in the fall, but the right side of the prairie was burned the previous year. Note the floral diversity on the right. Photo by Rachael Bonoan

In prairies across the United States we know that a combination of wildfires and intentional burning by Native Americans maintained the seas of grass, and in our region camas (Camassia sp.) that we now call prairie. For the past century or more, those that study grasslands underestimated the management of these lands by Native peoples, and recognition is still infrequent today. However, the link has long been clear for Puget Trough, South Sound, and Willamette prairies that contained the root vegetable, camas. The recognition came from the knowledge that wherever camas grew native peoples consumed, traded, and propagated this plant, which features a nutritious bulbed root, and the plant floods recently burned prairies. See this excellent blog post to learn more about camas as a food crop. 

Prairie in early spring, with many camas blooms following a fall burn, photo by Samantha Bussan

Prairie in early spring, with many camas blooms following a fall burn, photo by Samantha Bussan

If you want to encourage camas to be dominant on a prairie, you can light a flower, which clears the ground of tree seedlings, reduces shrub density, and removes thatch, or layers of dried grass, as well as typically leading to decrease in invasive species cover. The benefits of fire on the South Sound prairies can best be seen the following spring with the spring bloom of wildflowers. In addition to camas, other native flowers produce many more blooms in the areas following the burns such as the Lomatium sp. below. 

Lomatium sp blooms after a fall prescribed burn at West Rocky Prairie, photo by Samantha Bussan

Lomatium sp blooms after a fall prescribed burn at West Rocky Prairie, photo by Samantha Bussan

Today we burn in fall because this is when the fire can burn hottest, due to the plants being dry, which is thought to kill the seeds and roots of invasive plant species, which are usually not adapted to fire. Management goals for South Sound prairie prescribed fire today include killing Scotchbroom (Cytisus scoparius) plants, which has a clear tendency to exclude other native plants, and turn grasslands into monocultures of Scotchbroom. Another goal is to decrease the invasive grass cover. How can you tell without identifying grass? Many native South Sound prairie grasses are bunchgrass, which means they form hummocks or clumps and do not create lawns.

Scotch broom that was mowed and burned in the fall (picture taken in the early spring). This area was covered in Collinsia sp. blooms a few weeks later. Photo by Samantha Bussan

Scotch broom that was mowed and burned in the fall (picture taken in the early spring). This area was covered in Collinsia sp. blooms a few weeks later. Photo by Samantha Bussan

Today, those who manage lands are often interested in supporting an ecosystem that is not dominated by invasive species, recognizing that it is impossible to remove them completely, and/or supporting specific native wildlife. Promoting specific wildlife is common amongst land management today, in part due to the Endangered Species Act and other conservation laws or interests. South Sound prairies are burned in combination with other management techniques to maintain quality habitat for some of the unique butterflies such as: Puget blues, Taylor’s checkerspots, Valley silverspot, and mardon skipper. There are many species that live in these prairies and now we want to preserve them, and ensure that these ecosystems do not disappear. Learn more by checking out our other posts!

Puget Blue butterfly, photo by Kelsey King

Puget Blue butterfly, photo by Kelsey King

 

South Sound Lupines

South Sound Lupines, Post by Kelsey King, Photos by Kelsey King et al.

Kelsey King (kelsey.king@wsu.edu): Kelsey is a PhD student at Washington State University. For her dissertation, Kelsey is investigating the potential of resource mismatches between butterflies and nectar plants, as well as demonstrating the ways nectar resources can impact population dynamics.

South Sound Lupines

The typical palmate leaf pattern of the Lupines, photo by Kelsey King

The typical palmate leaf pattern of the Lupines, photo by Kelsey King

 

If you have visited a South Sound prairie lately, you have probably seen blooms of purple-blue peeking over the top of grass. These flowers are probably lupine, which is a leguminous plant with distinctly palmate leaves (a leaf split into multiple lobes or fingers). There are three species of lupine most common in the South Sound prairies, with many more present throughout Washington. The biggest, and most bush like species, is sickle-keeled lupine (Lupinus albicaulis). This lupine is one of the most distinct species because it has prominent keels, part of the flower that is shaped like an upward pointing thorn, that stick out prominently after the flower has been visited by bees. This trait, along with the height of the flowers (up to 3 ft), will help you distinguish it from many lupines without having to dig out a field guide.

Sickle-keeled Lupine inflorescence, photo by Kelsey King

Sickle-keeled Lupine inflorescence, photo by Kelsey King

Sickle-keeled lupine is a host to many arthropods. It is a favorite of bumblebees to pollinate and a nectar source and host plant for some blue butterflies including the Silvery blue (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) and the Puget blue (Icaricia icarioides blackmorei). Silvery blue caterpillars consume the flowers, while Puget blues consume the leaves, which is part of the ecological phenomenon known as resource partitioning. Resource partitioning is when multiple species use the same resource, say a lupine plant, but consume separate parts of the plant and therefore they do not compete so heavily for their food!

Sickle-keeled with silvery blue butterfly egg, photo by Kelsey King

Sickle-keeled with silvery blue butterfly egg, photo by Kelsey King

The other two lupines on the prairies are small and low to the ground, often not taller than the surrounding grass. Bicolored lupine (Lupinus bicolor) is an annual lupine that typically flowers a few weeks before our other lupines start to flower. It grows in dry areas and has sharply contrasting flower petals in white and blue/purple, which is why we call it bicolored lupine. This lupine is used by smaller bees than you might see on sickle-keeled lupine, and there are typically only a few flowers on each raceme. When the plant is not flowering you might mistake it for a plant in the carrot family until you look closer.

Bicolor Lupine, Lupinus bicolor, photo by Rachael Bonoan

Bicolor Lupine, Lupinus bicolor, photo by Rachael Bonoan

Our final lupine is an amazing plant found in areas that have been recently disturbed. Pacific lupine, prairie lupine, or dwarf lupine are all names for this lupine (Lupinus lepidus), commonly found in grasslands after rockslides, severe wildfire, or as one of the first plants on the pumice plain after the Mt. St. Helens eruption. Historically, you can imagine this plant as one of the first plants to appear after the Cascades volcanoes erupt and create new peaks valleys, and pumice plains. The unique nature of legumes as nitrogen-fixers makes them perfect facilitators. Facilitators are those species that make the place they are found more hospitable for other species. Prairie lupine does this by creating the first leaf litter as a base to the soil and fixing nitrogen, which gets released into this newly created soil. Nitrogen-fixing plants partner with bacteria to take nitrogen gas out of the air and use it to grow. This allows the plants to add nitrogen to soil that is very poor in nitrogen, which over time makes the habitat hospitable for other plants.

Lupinus lepidus, photo by Dennis Plank

Lupinus lepidus, photo by Dennis Plank

These three lupines of the South Sound prairies are pops of color on the prairie, but also important components of the ecosystem. You can find all three of these in the same prairie, but each might be abundant in different locations. The native insects often rely heavily on lupine for pollen or other resources as these lupines can sometimes stay very abundant even when there is a high invasive species component in the prairie; generally, this leads to native plants being pushed out. However, the invasive plant Scotchbroom (Cytisus scoparius) is especially harmful to lupine dominated prairies as this plant disrupts the microbial community lupines rely on and may also alter the nitrogen cycle into one that favors the non-native plants. Prescribed burns are one of the tools often used to promote lupine and native plants. Watch for new posts soon to learn more about prescribed burns and other land management!

Sickle-keeled Lupine in all its glory, photo by Kelsey King

Sickle-keeled Lupine in all its glory, photo by Kelsey King

Shotwell’s Landing Has Begun the Colorful Flourish of Flowers Once Again

Shotwell’s Landing has begun the colorful flourish of flowers once again, Post and photos by Forrest Edelman.

Forrest Edelman manages the the Shotwell’s Landing Facility for the Center for Natural Lands Management.

Shotwell’s Landing has begun the colorful flourish of flowers once again

Shotwell’s Landing is a site that grows bulbs and seeds, as a part of the Nursery Program in the Center for Natural Lands Management. It is also the primary processing site for the harvested seed, collected from farm or field sites.

This year I noticed a detail in the shooting star genus Primula (Formerly Dodecatheon). This is that the red line on the yellow collar of the flower is different between the two species we grow. For Primula hendersonii the line is broad and of a crimson color.

Primula hendersonii, Broad-leaved Shooting Star, photo by Forrest Edelman.

Primula hendersonii, Broad-leaved Shooting Star, photo by Forrest Edelman.

 

While for Primula pulchellum the line is fine and bright red.  

Primula pulchellum, Few-flowered Shooting Star, photo by Forrest Edelman.

Primula pulchellum, Few-flowered Shooting Star, photo by Forrest Edelman.

 

Two regions of Plectritis congesta spp. congesta are being grown at Shotwell’s Landing this year and each have distinctive shades of pink. Otherwise known as Sea Blush, the South Sound Prairies region has a full pink color when compared to the Lower Olympics region which looks relatively pale.

Plectritis congesta, ssp congesta, Sea Blush from the South Sound Prairies Region, photo by Forrest Edelman.

Plectritis congesta, ssp congesta, Sea Blush from the South Sound Prairies Region, photo by Forrest Edelman.

 

Plectritis congesta ssp congesta, Sea blush from the Lower Olympics region, photo by Forrest Edelman.

Plectritis congesta ssp congesta, Sea blush from the Lower Olympics region, photo by Forrest Edelman.

 

The Violet Trial is blooming nicely; the picture does not contain the sweet smell like there was when taking that photo.

Viola adunca, Hookedspur violet, Early Prairie violet, photo by Forrest Edelman

Viola adunca, Hookedspur violet, Early Prairie violet, photo by Forrest Edelman

 

Deer fencing has been completed, which is a relief. I’ve tried explaining the importance of the endeavors here to the deer but I’m glad to see that predation averted, and for full flower beds to bloom fully.

The bed shown below contains four species:

Castilleja hispida (harsh indian paintbrush) Orange
Armeria maritima (sea thrift) Pink
Camassia quamash (camas) Light Blue
Camassia leichtlinii (great camas) Purple

Background of four flowers is Primula pulchellum (few flowered shooting star) Pink

The Four Flowers bed, see above for species, photo by Forrest Edelman.

The Four Flowers bed, see above for species, photo by Forrest Edelman.

 

Looking forward to many more forms of flashy foliage in the coming months. Here’s a sampling of the species being grown:

Triodanis perfoliata, Clasping Venus's looking-glass, photo by Forrest Edelman

Triodanis perfoliata, Clasping Venus’s looking-glass, photo by Forrest Edelman

 

Lithophragma parviflorum, Smallflower woodland star, photo by Forrest Edelman.

Lithophragma parviflorum, Smallflower woodland star, photo by Forrest Edelman.

 

Arabis hirsuta, Hairy rock-cress, photo by Forrest Edelman

Arabis hirsuta, Hairy rock-cress, photo by Forrest Edelman

 

Leptosiphon bicolor, True babystars, photo by Forrest Edelman.

Leptosiphon bicolor, True babystars, photo by Forrest Edelman.

 

Quercus garryana, Garry Oak, photo by Forrest Edelman.

Quercus garryana, Garry Oak, photo by Forrest Edelman.

 

Collomia heterophylla, Variable-leaf collomia, photo by Forrest Edelman.

Collomia heterophylla, Variable-leaf collomia, photo by Forrest Edelman.

 

 

The Vampire Orobanche

The Vampire Orobanche, 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.

The Vampire Orobanche

A look back on the dark story of a prairie parasite for the stormy days.

The Vampire Orobanche uniflora below the ruins of a bracken fern. Photo by Ivy Clark

The Vampire Orobanche uniflora below the ruins of a bracken fern. Photo by Ivy Clark

It was a dark and stormy prairie. The oscillating early spring was in turmoil from emergence, newly burning sun streaks, and the biting chill and rain. And something underground. Something underground that lurks silently: unseen, unheard, but always there. If you know where to look. And if you dare. From coast to coast of states united, from southern border to up beyond the northern, across our whole nation and more it hides. Unseen by most. Waiting. It has been known by many names, including “the plant that should not be named”. In this day its name incites unease. What is in a name? An identity? A history? Or something deeper?

Colony of naked broomrape among a Lomatium utriculatum. Photo by Ivy Clark

Colony of naked broomrape among a Lomatium utriculatum. Photo by Ivy Clark

There are hundreds of its kind scattered all over and yet seldom encountered, and each a different flavor of wicked. Some have always been among us, feeding on the locals slowly and gently. Some are new comers to these shores, wreaking havoc upon our crops, draining their sustenance before they reach our lips. One stalks our Northwestern lowlands, only seen by the patient eye that looks very low, very close to their resting bed. It is Orobanche uniflora, the “one flower” (uni-flora) because she erupts singular smoky purple pipe-like flowers while all other Orobanches sprout clusters like multi-eyed beasts of the fairy realm. Their names are spoken in hushed tones and hurried whispers; Orobanchaceae the broomrapes. Whether naked, spiked, or one flowered, Orobanche species’ dark secret is encompassed at the very name, for “orobos” in Greek refers to vetch plants and “anchein” means “to strangle”. Hence it is the plant that strangles vetches. From Latin, the broomrape once had a much different meaning than it conjures today. “Rapum” was the name for tubers like turnip, or any such plant akin to the sharp and bitter mustard plants. You now know what seeds we steal rapeseed oil from. Brooms are another name given to vetch plants that are often seen growing alongside their strangling namesakes. So the broomrapes were thought of as tubers off these vetches, and possibly stranglers of mustards. The olden time naming ones, scribbling titles in the ancient books branded these small unassuming plants with names that would then mutate and darken. They didn’t know the family’s subsurface secret. But when they learned to call them cancer roots, that is when the shade became lifted from their widened eyes. For the broomrapes, the cancer roots, the Orobanche, are pure parasites. The “cancer” refers to the ominous knobs they emerge from and is not a reference to any person’s cancer.

Close-up for scale of about 2” tall Orobanche uniflora, clearly lacking leaves. Photo by Ivy Clark.

Close-up for scale of about 2” tall Orobanche uniflora, clearly lacking leaves. Photo by Ivy Clark.

Where the small and unassuming Orobanch uniflora grow, no daisy, legume, or sedum is safe whether in a damp wood or open exposed field, even in your own lawn. Unlike the better known facsimile of the Indian pipe, similar only above the dark soil surface, Orobanche is a vampire. Indian pipes are an eerie looking harmless type of saprophyte, merely eating the dead remains of others and releasing what nutrients are locked within death’s cold embrace. But Orobanche is a true vampire, a full parasite feeding upon others as they live and breathe and grow. Though growing slower with the earthly bite of Orobanche soft and stubbornly laid upon their roots.

Young newly emerged flowers. Photo by Ivy Clark.

Young newly emerged flowers. Photo by Ivy Clark.

Mature enough hosts unknowingly release a biochemical lure that triggers the minute long-waiting Orobanche seeds to erupt from their shells, initially scattered far by the whipping prairie winds. They grow first as little more than transparent wisps that will perish if further than 3mm from a needed host root. Deep below the soil where the damp holds for ages, the fleshy somewhat tubular mass sends out a searching tendril that clasps at unsuspecting new hosts. Once the haustorium makes its predatory bond (think of them as vampire teeth in snaking root form) there is no hope for the unwilling host. They lay a strangle hold upon the victim’s root in an underground, unseen, slow-motion dance as their haustoria penetrate and seal connections over the goldenrod or saxifrage root. Then they draw at will upon the vasculature, the life blood, of the victim.

Orobanche long ago gave up on producing its own food, not bothering to make chlorophyll with its leaves mutated and shrunken to little more than reptilian scales. It is a relative of the often hemi-parasitic and fellow haustoria-producing family of Scrophulaceae like paintbrushes (see golden paintbrush below), though they look entirely different and hemi-parasites can go a full lifetime without feeding on others. But Orobache needs to feed from the very start to their last days. Their first root or radicle sniffs out the biochemical exuded from their victim like a blood hound tracks a scent, and must be close to quickly start its feeding before it runs out of its small seed-store of nutrients.

Castilleja levisecta, golden paintbrush, distant relative to broomrapes. Photo by Ivy Clark.

Castilleja levisecta, golden paintbrush, distant relative to broomrapes. Photo by Ivy Clark.

Once locked upon a root to suck from, the vampire Orobanche quickly engorges the upper portion into a nodule, swelling like a tuber. Then it sprouts new reaching tendrils that lurch towards the host roots, attaching in new places, and locking a firmer and firmer hold, ever feeding and draining. Yet a mature enough host may barely show a strain, like the vampire bat lapping an insignificant amount of blood from a full size cow. Soon the mass swells higher into a shoot, looking more like a docile photosynthesizing plant we well know.

The next flowers emerging below a fully open Orobanche pipe. Photo by Ivy Clark

Colony of naked The next flowers emerging below a fully open Orobanche pipe. Photo by Ivy Clark

After several weeks of feeding and swelling and distending, briefly they erupt above the crumbling soil purely to reproduce and spread their seed. And the search for more victims begins anew. They lay in wait for years, quietly and patiently sniffing for their next prey to happen near. Careful where you step my dears. If fear grips you as an exotic noxious Orobanchacea species feeds too much upon your tender crops, a few species of alluring biochemical-producing plants may trick the pest into germinating its seeds but not be able to connect and sap life from their roots. These plants include bell peppers and coat buttons (Tridax procumbens) and thus act as does garlic to bloodsucking undead, reducing a noxious infestation. The native vampire Orobanche uniflora is still beautiful and a beguiling uncommon wicked little gem. Be glad they don’t feed on us, and dare to take a peek into the small throat of the singular naked hairy purple pipe flowers. I’m pretty sure they don’t bite, but best to not poke even a little bear, don’t you think? A rose by any name still has thorns after all.

The shallow throat shows the pollen laden stamen within. Photo by Ivy Clark

The shallow throat shows the pollen laden stamen within. Photo by Ivy Clark

Additional reading including a similar page on their haustorium connections and semblance to vampires.

http://westerncascades.com/2015/05/02/attack-of-the-orobanche/

https://www.britannica.com/plant/broomrape

http://wssa.net/wp-content/themes/WSSA/WorldOfWeeds/orobanche.html

http://www.indefenseofplants.com/blog/2017/5/3/broomrape-whats-in-a-name

https://gobotany.nativeplanttrust.org/species/orobanche/uniflora/

https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/rsg/profile.html?action=elementDetail&selectedElement=PDORO040F0

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/13/nyregion/parasite-flower-orobanche-uniflora.html

Gracie, Carol. April 2020. Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History. Princeton University Press, pg. 146-148

Wolf Haven, a magical place for plants and wildlife

Wolf Haven, a magical place for plants and wildlife, Post by Theodore B. Thomas, Photos Courtesy of Wofhaven

Theodore B. Thomas is Vice President of the Wolf Haven Board

Wolf Haven, a magical place for plants and wildlife

Wolf Haven is a special, magical wolf sanctuary in south Thurston County, WA. With its wolves, mysterious Mima Mounds and habitat suitable for a threatened plant (golden paintbrush, Castilleja levisecta), threatened and endangered wildlife (Mazama pocket gopher, Thomomys mazama) and several additional species of critical conservation value. Wolf Haven is truly a landscape microcosm of the south Puget Sound prairie ecosystem.

Wolf Haven was founded by Steve and Linda Kuntz in 1982 to provide a safe haven for captive displaced wolves in need of a home.

Bart

Bart

London and Kiawatha-Rescued Gray Wolves

London and Kiawatha-Rescued Gray Wolves

Shali, a rescued gray wolf and camas

Shali, a rescued gray wolf and camas

 

As recovery programs were launched for the highly endangered Mexican and red wolves, Wolf Haven became a captive breeding facility to support those programs. Wolf Haven is one of only three prerelease facilities in the country for Mexican wolves. Three families of Mexican wolves originating at Wolf Haven have been released in the wild in the Southwest and Mexico.

Gypsy, A Mexican Wolf

Gypsy, A Mexican Wolf

Red Wolf

Red Wolf

 

Concern over development encroaching on the sanctuary caused Wolf Haven leadership to purchase nine adjacent lots. They were covered in scotch broom and the mounds were barely discernible. So much has changed!

While we have sequestered ourselves, sheltering at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, the prairie of Wolf Haven has come alive with rich color, texture and diversity and the wolves have flourished during their first winter of undisturbed quiet. The Wolf Haven prairie has been intensely managed for more than 2 decades. As our knowledge of how to best manage Puget Sound prairies has increased, the condition of Wolf Haven has shown constant improvement. Tree removal, control of invasive grasses and shrubs, the implementation of regular prescribed fire and heavy planting of locally propagated seed collected from native plants has created a high-quality prairie, which highlights our Puget Sound prairies on a relatively small footprint.

Prescribed Burn, Sanders Freed, Center for Natural Lands Management

Prescribed Burn, Sanders Freed, Center for Natural Lands Management

 

At this time, if you were to visit our local prairies virtually or at Washington DNR or DFW properties at Mima Mounds or Scatter Creek you might see late blooms of common camas (Camas quamash), but more likely you will see their seed pods developing.

Cams covering the prairie

Cams covering the prairie

 

Early blue violet (Viola adunca) may be found blooming now and continues to bloom into the fall. In the wetter portion of prairies, you might find giant Camas (Camas leichtlinii). Also, in the wetter areas of the prairie you will find shooting star (Dodecatheon pulchellum or D. hendersonii). Our local lomatiums or biscuitroot, Spring gold (Lomatium utriculatum) may be blooming now and later this spring, nineleaf and barestem biscuitroot (L. triternatum and L. nudicaule) will show up. Pink microsteris (Microsteris gracilis) can be found blooming on areas recently disturbed such as road cuts or trails, it is a native annual that behaves like a nonnative in its ability to establish abundantly in disturbed areas. Our annual lupine (Lupinus bicolor) can be found now and will be soon followed later in the season by sickle-keeled lupine (Lupinus albicaulis), which is developing large buds at this time. One of my spring favorites that is blooming now or may be completing is bloom is our lovely, graceful red columbine (Aquilegia formosa). And lastly I will speak of our native paintbrush species, which bloom at Wolf Haven. The golden paintbrush, Castilleja levisecta), as mentioned earlier is a Federally threatened species that has received tremendous conservation interest for the past several decades and is doing well on prairies where it receives management to promote its continued existence, like Wolf Haven. If you are out on our local prairies try to make sure you see this species; it is well represented at Wolf Haven and Mima Mounds.

Golden Paintbrush

Golden Paintbrush

 

The red or harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) is equally beautiful, but has been found to hybridize with golden paintbrush, thus creating hybrid populations that reduce the conservation purity of golden paintbrush. We are therefore, doing our best to keep these species separate. At Wolf Haven, we do have small clump of polyploid harsh paintbrush, which has been shown to not hybridize with golden paintbrush. To find it and observe this clump at Wolf Haven is a treat as it is spectacular specimen.

The diversity of plants found on our south Puget Sound prairies is astounding and has been well described in the recent treatment by Bowcutt and Hamman 2016 “Vascular Plants of South Sound Prairies”. As many as 278 vascular plant species are known to inhabit South Puget Sound prairies, nearly 60% of them are considered native species (Dunwiddie et al. 2006). This means we have many nonnative plants occupying our prairies, many are of Eurasian origin and are common to Wolf Haven. Many of these are pasture grasses such as orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata), sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum), which are both in great abundance at this time of spring. Other grasses like tall oatgrass (Arrhenatherum elatius), velvet grass (Holcus lanata) and colonial bentgrass (Agrostis capillaris) may be dominant later this spring/summer and compete for space with our native grasses and forbs. Some common nonnative forbs include hairy cats-ear (Hypochaeris radicata), English plantain (Plantago lanceolata), sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), oxeye daisy (Leucathemum vulgare) and St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum). Each of these will become more abundant and noticeable as the season progresses, but their vegetative parts are evident now as we walk across the prairie. Another nonnative I have noticed blooming is common stork’s-bill (Erodium cicutarium).

Enjoy the prairies, they are a blessing for us to observe. We all should be thankful that our south Puget Sound prairies have received the attention and the management they require to sustain themselves. Many thanks to our Natural Resource agencies (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington Departments of Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife and JBLM), the private landowners (including Wolf Haven) who conserve their grasslands and to organizations like the Center for Natural Lands Management who plan and implement the great conservation skills needed to sustain our local prairies.

Species Interactions in a Prairie Butterfly: Puget Blues, Ants and Nectar Plants

Species interactions in a prairie butterfly: Puget blues, ants, and nectar plants.  Post by Rachael Bonoan, Kelsey King and Hanna Brush, Photos by Rachael Bonoan.

Rachael Bonoan (rachael.bonoan@tufts.edu): Rachael is a post-doctoral researcher at both Washington State University and Tufts University. Rachael spends the Puget blue season searching for caterpillars and chasing butterflies in the South Puget Sound and the rest of the year in the lab and analyzing data at Tufts University in the Boston Area. This fall, Rachael will be joining Providence College (Providence, RI) as Assistant Professor of Biology where her lab will study nutritional ecology of bees and frosted elfins.

Kelsey King (kelsey.king@wsu.edu): Kelsey is a PhD student at Washington State University. For her dissertation, Kelsey is investigating the potential of resource mismatches between butterflies and nectar plants, as well as demonstrating the ways nectar resources can impact population dynamics.

Hanna Brush (maria.brush@tufts.edu): Hanna is a Portland, OR native and an undergraduate student at Tufts University who has been helping Rachael study Puget blue butterflies since 2018. This season, Hanna will be investigating nectaring preferences and behavior of Puget blue butterflies for her senior honors thesis.

Species interactions in a prairie butterfly: Puget blues, ants, and nectar plants

This time of year, Puget blue butterflies (Icaricia icarioides blackmorei) have just emerged from their underground pupation at our field site, Johnson Prairie (Joint Base Lewis-McChord). Soon, hundreds of Puget blues will be flitting around the prairie, laying eggs on their host plant, sickle-keeled lupine (Lupinus albicaulis). When it comes to preserving habitat for host plant specialists, biologists rightfully focus on preserving the host plant. This focus, however, may be missing other key interactions in the butterfly’s biology.

Sickle-keeled lupine (Lupinus albicaulis) and other wildflowers on Johnson Prairie.  Photo by Rachael Bonoan

Sickle-keeled lupine (Lupinus albicaulis) and other wildflowers on Johnson Prairie. Photo by Rachael Bonoan

 

Puget blue female with her abdomen curled to lay an egg on the underside of this lupine leaf. Photo by Rachael Bonoan

Puget blue female with her abdomen curled to lay an egg on the underside of this lupine leaf. Photo by Rachael Bonoan

Caterpillars and ants

Soft and squishy, Puget blue caterpillars are vulnerable to predators such as carnivorous wasps and spiders. When threatened, Puget blue caterpillars signal for help via scent, sound, or both. In response, nearby ants come marching. The ants protect the caterpillar by patrolling the plant, physically standing on top of the caterpillar and in some systems, the ants carry the caterpillar underground to their nest. Once the threat has passed, the caterpillar uses a specialized organ to secrete a tiny sugar droplet as a “thank you” to the ants.

Ant receiving a sugar reward from a fourth instar Puget blue caterpillar. Photo by Rachael Bonoan

Ant receiving a sugar reward from a fourth instar Puget blue caterpillar. Photo by Rachael Bonoan

This ant-caterpillar interaction is part of the life cycle of many butterflies in the Lycaenid family. While very little is known about this interaction in Puget blues, the ants are often beneficial for caterpillar survival. For example, silvery blues (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) tended by ants showed 45 – 84% less parasitism than untended caterpillars; experimental exclusion of ants from Reakirt’s blues (Hemiargus isola) doubled caterpillar mortality; and in the lab, Miami blues (Cyclargus thomasi bethunebakeri) raised with ants were significantly more likely to successfully pupate. Though tiny, ants may be an important piece to preserving rare Lycaenids such as the Puget blue and the closely related Fender’s blue (Icaricia icarioides fenderi).

Butterflies and nectar plants

Being a butterfly is hard work. Butterflies need lots of energy to fly, find mates, and lay eggs. So where does all this energy come from? Although butterflies do have some resources saved up from their time feeding on leaves as caterpillars, many species need to supplement their stores by collecting carbohydrate-rich nectar as adults.

Puget blue male nectaring on oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare). If you look closely, you can see the proboscis (i.e. butterfly “tongue”) in the flower.  Photo by Rachael Bonoan

Puget blue male nectaring on oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare). If you look closely, you can see the proboscis (i.e. butterfly “tongue”) in the flower. Photo by Rachael Bonoan

We assessed the importance of adult nutrition for Puget blue survival and fecundity (how many eggs they can lay) by maintaining freshly emerged female butterflies on different diets in the lab. We found that regardless of diet treatment, Puget blue females lay about 20 eggs per day. But, even without flying, if fed water alone, they only live for about 5 days. Given as much sugar (i.e. carbohydrates) as they want, Puget blue females lived for about 25 days. This means that with carbohydrates collected from nectar, a female butterfly lives 5 times longer and thus, can lay 5 times more eggs! Our research suggests that we need to conserve both nectar and host plants to preserve and bolster Puget blue populations.

Puget blue female nectaring on Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum). If you look closely, you can see the proboscis (i.e. butterfly “tongue”) in the flower.  Photo by Rachael Bonoan

Puget blue female nectaring on Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum). If you look closely, you can see the proboscis (i.e. butterfly “tongue”) in the flower. Photo by Rachael Bonoan

While our lab-based research shows that adult-collected nectar is in fact important for Puget blue population dynamics, little is known about which flowers they visit for nectar. We followed Puget blue butterflies to figure out what they like to eat.

Hanna following a Puget blue butterfly. Can you spot the butterfly on the lupine? Photo by Rachael Bonoan

Hanna following a Puget blue butterfly. Can you spot the butterfly on the lupine? Photo by Rachael Bonoan

It turns out, Puget blue butterflies can be picky eaters. Out of the 50+ species of flowers recorded on the prairie, we observed Puget blues feeding on only 9 species, many of which are introduced. Surprisingly, Puget blue females do not collect nectar solely from open flowers—they spent most of their time (60%!) probing closed flowers of their host plant. To examine this behavior further, we did a bit of chemistry and found that closed lupine flowers contain carbohydrates as well as amino acids (proteins!). Though there is still much to learn, amino acids may also help Puget blue females lay more eggs and/or survive longer.

From left to right, TOP: two closed Lupinus albicaulis racemes, open L. albicaulis raceme; BOTTOM: vetch (Vicia sativa), slender cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis), spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium), spreading snowberry (Symphoricarpos mollis); BOTTOM: yarrow (Achillea millefolium), false dandelion (Hypochaeris radicata), Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum), oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare).  Photos by Rachael Bonoan

From left to right, TOP: two closed Lupinus albicaulis racemes, open L. albicaulis raceme; CENTER: vetch (Vicia sativa), slender cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis), spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium), spreading snowberry (Symphoricarpos mollis); BOTTOM: yarrow (Achillea millefolium), false dandelion (Hypochaeris radicata), Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum), oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare). Photos by Rachael Bonoan

Bluebird Recovery on the Prairies

Bluebird Recovery on the Prairies, Post by Karla Kelly, photos by various.

Karla is an avian field technician AmeriCorps with the Center for Natural Lands Management currently in her second field season of monitoring Western bluebirds and Oregon vesper sparrows. She attended The Evergreen State College and earned her Bachelor’s of Science degree in 2017. She is looking forward to graduate school in the near future and is working to build a career in avian research and conservation.

Bluebird Recovery on the Prairies, Post by Karla Kelly

The Western bluebird (Sialia mexicana) is a charismatic blue and rust-colored thrush that is considered a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in prairie and oak habitat in western Washington. It is also a conservation focus of the Avian Conservation Program at Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM). Volunteers monitor bluebirds on CNLM preserves and other conservation lands in the South Sound region as part of a large-scale effort to increase their numbers and distribution.

Male Western Bluebird in Flight, Photo by Tony Varela

Male Western Bluebird in Flight, Photo by Tony Varela

 

Formerly common in open prairie and oak habitats, the species disappeared from much of their range, including mainland and island habitats north of Tacoma and the Olympic peninsula. Bluebirds are cavity nesters and historically built their nests in hollowed-out spaces in trees. Today, they mostly rely on artificial cavities. By building wooden nest boxes and strategically placing them on trees in prairies around the South Sound, we can compensate for the loss of available cavities which was a major factor in their decline.

A Common Design for Bluebird Nest Boxes, unknown photographer

A Common Design for Bluebird Nest Boxes, unknown photographer

 

Over the last five years, CNLM and its volunteers have been establishing and monitoring boxes at over six preserves and other conservation lands. In response, bluebirds have occupied new areas and increased their numbers. These conservation efforts in South Sound may also benefit other populations, such as smaller reintroduced populations to the north on San Juan Island and Vancouver Island (Canada).

Five Beautiful Blue Eggs-More Bluebirds on the Way, unknown photographer

Five Beautiful Blue Eggs-More Bluebirds on the Way, unknown photographer

 

Nestling, Only a Mother Could Love These, unknown photographer

Nestling, Only a Mother Could Love These, unknown photographer

 

All of the work that we do with bluebirds would not be possible without our dedicated volunteer nest box monitors. Their keen interest and willingness to participate ensure that bluebirds are counted and boxes are maintained, producing positive outcomes for the conservation status of this iconic species in South Sound.

A More Rustic Take on Bluebird Box Design, unknown photographer

A More Rustic Take on Bluebird Box Design, unknown photographer

 

State of the Prairies 2020 as Estimated by One Lowly Land Manager

State of the Prairies 2020 as Estimated by One Lowly Land Manager, Blog and Photos by Sanders Freed

Sanders Freed- Thurston County Program Manager for CNLM began working on the South Sound Prairies in 2001 with the Nature Conservancy. Manages the restoration of 18 properties throughout the Puget Trough, with varying ownerships, and more recently a property in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Reptile, amphibian and bat enthusiast.

State of the Prairies 2020 as Estimated by One Lowly Land Manager

It is hard to imagine the loss of our 25th annual Prairie Appreciation Day (PAD) due to a virus that has resulted in a step away from nature and into our homes. Each and every year, the prairies of the South Sound and the Willamette Valley offer us a renewed flush of fertility and showmanship- just begging to be seen and enjoyed- or eaten if you are an elk on Glacial Heritage Preserve. I can recall sending photos and declaring it the year of a different species annually- while 2020 is arguably the year of the paintbrush.

Paintbrush at Glacial Heritage Preserve, Photo by Sanders Freed

Paintbrush at Glacial Heritage Preserve, Photo by Sanders Freed

The job I agreed to complete as the manager of these systems was to restore them to their greatest grandeur, so that all species that ‘historically’ inhabited them can once again do so. Generally our focus lands on the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, who requires high quality prairie to persist- with abundant native flower diversity for both host and nectar, and limited to no non-native, invasive species. With habitat restored to this bar, the other prairie species are presumed to be able to persist as well.

Taylor's Checkerspot at the Tenalquot Preserve.  Photo by sanders Freed

Taylor’s Checkerspot at the Tenalquot Preserve. Photo by sanders Freed

Over my last twenty years, our battle has waged to remove invasive species- Scotch broom, tall-oat grass and a dozen noxious weeds- so that our less competitive native species have a chance to flourish. Our war has used many weapons- fire, manpower, chemicals and mechanical means. And with a robust toolbox, we have been successful at eliminating Scotch broom from several sites, and have a method that has proven successful. It has taken many years and all of the tools available to accomplish this behemoth task, not to mention a lot of stubborn individuals. Removing these invaders, including Douglas-fir, has allowed the return of native species through another immense undertaking- seed production. Our early attempts revolved around planting plugs, with limited survival and success. The game has changed with development of a nursery and seed production- replenishing the seeds of species long gone from once homogeneous Scotch broom forests. With our toolbox of invasive control methods, the reintroduction of fire has also improved the success of seeding, providing the perfect conditions for seed/soil contact. With our ever-improving restoration abilities, prairie quality is increasing at remarkable rates, with natural recruitment of native species. We have even begun to attempt transforming homogenized industrial agriculture sites back to native prairie- with some success and constant learning. Species evolved in these systems respond readily.

Balsamroot and other Forbs at Glacial Heritage Preserve.  Photo by Sanders Freed

Balsamroot and other Forbs at Glacial Heritage Preserve. Photo by Sanders Freed

The reintroduction of prairie forbs to sites once dominated by non-native grasses are readily colonized by the Mazama Pocket Gopher. Our restoration efforts have also resulted in the introduction of the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly to several sites, with varying success. A recent reintroduction has begun at Tenalquot Prairie Preserve, a property obtained in 2005. This property underwent the typical restoration process- remove invasive species- repeat- introduce native species – repeat. Do these things enough with dedication and perseverance- they become ready to be called home once again to species that need them. There are always challenges, each year new problems are addressed and learning begins anew. An annual fescue is currently giving the conservation community trouble. A nasty little clover also lurks about. And Scotch broom annually tries to regain its’ foothold as the dominant prairie species, which it would quickly do without the commitment of so many to beat it back.

So as a whole, based on my limited knowledge, the prairies are doing better than when I began in 2001. There are more protected sites. More populations of listed species are established on protected sites. There are mechanisms being put in place to protect our remaining prairies- including the Tumwater and Thurston County HCP’s. We are developing methods to build prairie from scratch on agricultural lands. We are working with the grazing community to increase compatibility between conservation and grazing. And we are constantly learning, adapting and appreciating our prairies.

Oregon Spotted Frog Egss at New Conservation Site.  Photo by Sanders Freed

Oregon Spotted Frog Egss at New Conservation Site. Photo by Sanders Freed

My optimism is balanced by my pessimism. The prairies of the South Sound are fragile. They persist on the edge, between succession and active management. They were maintained by regular burning by indigenous people. They will require continual management to persist in perpetuity. They are under threat by development, agricultural conversion, succession, a horde of invasive species, climate change and the whims of politics and culture. They need our help. They need it more now than ever- a spring without broom pulling from our dedicated volunteers has strained my ability to manage these gems. Hopefully a spring without the prairie will inspire people to value it more.