There will be a special event at Thurston County’s Glacial Heritage Preserve to celebrate the lives and contributions to prairie restoration of three dedicated people. Please join us.
Location: Parking area. Time 3:30 PM
You can follow Deb Naslund in iNaturalist under the user name deborah_naslund. She will be curating the Prairie Appreciation Days project.”
We invite you to join the Prairie Appreciation Days community on iNaturalist as we document the biodiversity and phenology of the South Sound prairies and oak woodlands. We want to track which flowers are blooming, what insects are visiting them, when birds are arriving, and capture the wild variety of organisms that are inhabiting our prairies and oak woodlands.
Our focus is on South Puget Sound prairies, primarily Glacial Heritage Preserve, but also includes Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve, Scatter Creek Wildlife Area, West Rocky Prairie Wildlife Area, and all the other scattered remnants of the once widespread prairie/oak woodland plant communities of the southern Puget Trough region. Our geographic range is Thurston and Pierce Counties in Washington State.
We intend to track observations over the course of the next several years to watch for changes in species composition and life stage timing. While our primary interest is in native species, we are also interested in distribution, abundance and status of invasive species, especially any new invasive that may be gaining a foothold in our prairies and oak woodlands.
Your observations will help us generate a running record of the progress of the wildflower bloom on the prairie. Keep an eye out for “What’s Blooming on the Prairie” in the PAD Blog.
Check it out! Click here to see what we have so far: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/prairie-appreciation-days
What’s next? We need your participation to make this work! Here’s how:
For more information on iNaturalist, visit their webpage at iNaturalist.org.
For help with iNaturalist, see: https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/help
In addition to her volunteer activities on our South Sound prairies, Deb Naslund is currently Chair of the South Sound Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s Celebrate Washington’s Native Flora and South Sound Prairies
April is National Native Plant Appreciation Month! And the Washington Native Plant Society is hosting a month-long celebration of Washington’s native flora. The theme this year is Native Pollinators need Native Plants. There are 28 webinars scheduled, hosted by chapters from across the state, along with a number of native plant walks and native plant sales. All WNPS Native Plant Appreciation Month events are free and open to the public.
Of special interest to South Sound prairies are several talks by our renowned scientists who have devoted their research to this unique ecosystem.
Coming up on Monday, April 12th is a webinar presented by Lauren “Ivy” Clark, “Bee-crossed Paintbrushes”. Ivy will take us through a look at the complex connections between our native prairie paintbrush plants (Castilleja spp.) and the various pollinators that interact with them either as pollinators or as predators. This talk will feature her Masters research on Castilleja species and how the pollinators move among them on two South Sound Prairie sites. This webinar is sponsored by the South Sound Chapter of WNPS. Follow this link to register: https://www.wnps.org/ss-events/calendar/978.
On April 22, Sarah Hamman will present “Restoration from the Ground Up: Incorporating Soils Knowledge into Native Plant Restoration Efforts”. Sarah will discuss ways that soils knowledge can be used to improve the success of restoration of native plant communities, including South Sound Prairies, in Washington. Find more information and registration details here: https://www.wnps.org/calendar/982
If talk of oak galls has triggered your curiosity, you may want to catch “The Wonderful World of Galls”, with Christine Heycke, sponsored by the Olympia Peninsula Chapter of WNPS. Find out more and register for this webinar here: https://www.wnps.org/op-events/calendar/975
Two fabulous webinars have already happened.
On April 6th, Dr. Susan Waters presented Plants, Pollinators, Native Prairies, and Conservation. Susan described her fascinating research using plant-pollinator networks to examine the effects of restoration on pollinating insect communities and the interactions that feed back to affect rare plant and insect species. The focus of her work is the Cascadia prairie ecosystems.
On April 1st, Dr. Lalita Calabria presented The Biodiversity and Conservation of Puget Sound Prairie Bryophytes and Lichens. This presentation described the biodiversity and conservation status of Puget Sound prairie bryophyte and lichen communities including potential impacts from prescribed burning practices on rare lichens. Dr. Calabria also highlighted the spatial and temporal variability of N2-fixing moss-cyanobacteria associations in Puget Sound prairies.
But not to worry, both webinars were recorded and you can find them here: https://www.wnps.org/wnps-annual-events/virtual-events
Don’t miss another of these fabulous talks. Sign up for as many of the webinars as you would like to watch! You can find the full schedule of activities at https://www.wnps.org/wnps-annual-events/npam.
Adam was part of the transition team that joined Ecostudies in 2020 after working on the South Sound Prairies since 2011. His work involves collaborative planning and implementation of restoration activities and developing research and monitoring projects to support the restoration and conservation of rare and federally-listed species in prairie and oak habitats in both South and North Puget Sound. He is currently in his candidacy in the Master of Environmental Studies program at The Evergreen State College. He is focusing on topics in conservation biogeography. His thesis work involves assessing the risks to native plant communities on small islands in the San Juan Islands.
Scot’s Broom Legacy Prairies
Genesta [Scot’s broom] hath that name of bytterness for it is full of bytter to mannes taste. And is a shrub that growyth in a place that is forsaken, stony and untylthed. Presence thereof is witnesse that the ground is bareyne and drye that it groweth in. And hath many braunches knotty and hard. Grene in winter and yelowe floures in somer thyche (the which) wrapped with hevy (heavy) smell and bitter sauer (savour). And ben, netheles, moost of vertue.’ – A description of Scot’s broom (Cytisis scoparius) in the 1618 London Pharmacopoeia, quoted in A Modern Herbal by Margaret Grieve
Like the remaining meadow habitats in the British isles and Ireland, the first European settlers to the South Sound region likely considered the remaining upland prairie habitats we have today, at places like West Rocky, Mima Mounds, and Glacial Heritage as forsaken, stony and barren ground not fit for tilling. While such a dismal designation ended up being a blessing in disguise for the myriad of prairie species that remain, prairie species continue to be at risk from invasive and non-native species that are also well adapted to the same ‘ bareyne and drye’ habitats.
Most of our common prairie weeds, such as Scot’s broom (Cytisus scoparius), sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), Colonial bent-grass (Agrostis capillaris) Yorkshire fog (Holcus lanatus), sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum), early hair-grass (Aira praecox) and shepard’s cress (Teesdalia nudicaulis) are native to the endangered grassland and meadow habitats of Britian and Ireland. Since our prairies and climate are so like the meadow habitats in the British Isles and Ireland, these weed species had a readily suitable environment to establish in. For example, shepard’s cress is considered Near Threatened in England where it grows in dry grasslands dominated by sheep’s fescue (Festuca ovina), a bunchgrass very similar in form and life history to our Roemer’s fescue (Festuca roemeri).
The re-creation of European meadow ecosystems in a different part of the globe represents a very fascinating biogeographic story, and presents us with interesting conundrums like what to do when ‘our’ weeds are another’s rare ecosystem (a fact not lost on the late Arthur Kruckeberg). But, more importantly, the addition of so many European meadow species has caused the loss of much our own unique biodiversity, and re-establishing native prairie is the cornerstone of so much of the work we do on the prairies.
If there is one prairie weed species to rule them all, it would be Scot’s broom, which for decades spread across the South Sound prairies, changing our open grasslands to a thick shrubland.
Since the 1990’s, many of us have spent many days of sweat and tears cutting, spraying, mowing, pulling, and burning Scot’s broom. There is no greater testament to the tenacity of dedicated restoration than at Glacial Heritage Preserve. At Glacial Heritage folks have spent years of effort to liberate much of the prairie from the thumb of Scot’s broom’s shadow.
However, Scot’s broom doesn’t just change prairies by creating shrubland, it also alters the soil by fixing nitrogen and adding woody material into the soil environment. These potential changes to the soil can cause another conundrum – what do we do if Scot’s broom changes prairies even after we remove it? These ‘legacy’ soils could either be maladaptive for our native prairie species, or the other associated European weeds that co-evolved with Scot’s broom in European meadows may be better competitors. For example, species like sheep sorrel, hairy cat’s ear, ox-eye daisy, Yorkshire fog, and sweet vernal grass all readily grow under even the oldest growth Scot’s broom. If these species were able to produce extensive seedbanks under Scot’s broom while outcompeting other native species, they could be equally tenacious and persistent even once we remove Scot’s broom and seed in native prairie species.
Exploring these questions was the basis for a research question I’ve explored for several years. Using the above 1990 map, I set up a natural experiment to see if plant communities that formed under scot’s broom remained different from uninvaded communities even after many years since Scot’s broom removal. What I found was disheartening. Scot’s broom legacy areas were completely stubborn and resistant to our restoration actions, even in prairie locations where we have extensively sown and plugged native prairie species and actively controlled Scot’s broom and other weeds with mowing, fire, and herbicide. Other prairie weeds were little impacted by the presence of Scot’s broom, as we’d expect if they co-evolved in similar habitats in Europe. This was even the case for several cosmopolitan native prairie species that are also native to Europe such as yarrow (Achillea millefolium), self heal (Prunella vulgare) and bluebells (Campanula rotundifolia). In contrast, our regionally endemic prairie species such as white-topped aster (Sericocarpus rigidus) failed to persist or become re-established in legacy soils. For example, western buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis) growing in legacy soils flower less often, produce fewer fruits, and are shorter in stature than buttercup growing in native prairie. These little studies highlight the big reality that restoration is hard, and being proactive in controlling weeds can be vitally important, because sometimes the consequences are irreversible or nearly so. While we may now have wonderful examples of meadowscapes that would make the characters from a Jane Austen novel blush, we may have lost a unique expression of what makes the South Sound landscape so unique. For a longer presentation on this topic see this talk given at the 2020 Scotch broom symposium.
Ruth (they/them) joined the Center for Natural Lands Management’s Nursery Program in 2018 as a farm crew member. Originally from rural Maine, Ruth moved to Olympia, WA in 2011 to pursue a degree in Ecology from The Evergreen State College. They initially fell in love with the temperate rainforests and dramatic coastal shores, but it was seeing the prairies of Thurston County in full wildflower bloom that inspired them to pursue conservation work in the South Puget Sound region
Somehow, it has been an entire year since the world first became entangled with COVID- 19. This major event has caused many shifts globally, trickling all the way down to the prairies of Western Washington, and to the Violet Prairie Native Plant Nursery. Taking precautions early, beginning in March of 2020, we have become accustomed to the shift to distanced work (which again, is nothing new to us!)
A slow and steady slog through the winter finally brought us to the first hints of Spring, with some early bloomers teasing us as early as mid February.
Winter was not through with us though, and the heavy snowfall in the Puget Sound region left us with severe damage to our drying sheds. Although this will shift some of our energy from the fields to reconstruction this Spring, our steadfast staff and seasonal crew are determined to get new sheds up and press on with our mission. It is amazing what this small team has been able to withstand and accomplish, and though the winter gave us some beautiful glamour shots of frosty mornings, we are ready to wave goodbye to the colder months.
With the vernal equinox having just passed, we are feeling the full excitement of Spring! We’ve almost finished the sowing of our annuals, namely Microsteris gracilis, Collomia grandiflora, and Plectritis congesta. We’ll expect to see these freshly seeded beds begin to emerge in the coming weeks, and we are already seeing the adorable new growth and cotyledons of most of our lupines!
Though the weather is warming up, the fields have still been a bit too moist to drive the tractors on – we want to avoid compaction in our tractor wells! – but we have been able to sneak in a bit of tilling here and there in preparation for our Spring planting. We hope to get our plugs in the ground within the next couple of weeks, and if the rains cooperate with us we’ll be in great shape. We have a fair amount of fresh irrigation repair to get to as well – another thing to add to the long list of Spring to-dos! Luckily, we completed our raised bed repairs and construction over at Shotwell’s Landing Preserve in October, including a new location for our Allium amplectens bulbs that we suspect were experiencing predation from rodents.
2020 brought what seemed like an endless onslaught of hurdles for this team, but it has been amazing to see staff and crew persist, with a seemingly unshakable commitment to the cause of conservation and tending to these wonderful plants. We enter this new year ready for whatever may come – be it the continuation of this pandemic, wildfires or heavy snow – knowing that we not only have the support of each other as a solid nursery team, but the unconditional love of our canine companion, Finn Hopwood!
We are excited for the season to come, and welcome folks to visit the farm through tours that are being arranged for Prairie Appreciation Month!
Please visit our website, http://cnlm.org/native-seed-nursery/ to see updated lists of our current seed availability, and read a bit more about the nursery’s role in the restoration of prairies in Western Washington.
David is the program ecologist for the Natural Areas Program at the Washington Department of Natural Resources. He works on conservation, restoration, and monitoring of Natural Area Preserves and Natural Resources Conservation Areas around the state.
Spring Colors, Butterflies, and Nectar at Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve
Early spring is perhaps my favorite time on the Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve, when the heady days of full-on springtime are just visible on the horizon but not quite here. The earliest of spring blooms are just beginning to show as buds or fresh flowers that stand out against the background of that bright, young green that is only there for a short time before it becomes more lush and mature. On my latest visit to Mima Mounds in mid-March, the early plants were still awakening from winter and not yet flowering – still part of that bright green background. But within a few weeks, that will rapidly change. Henderson’s shooting star, western buttercup, spring-gold, western saxifrage, and wild strawberries will start to light up the landscape with magenta, yellow, and white, followed by the camas bloom that usually starts in late April. If you’re lucky enough to catch some of these together, in profusion, it can be quite a sight!
On our occasional bluebird days this time of year, or even during a brief sun-break on an otherwise rainy day, bumblebees and other insects can be seen getting their first taste of prairie pollen and nectar. It’s always amazing to me how much the prairie can suddenly come alive during a brief break in the clouds, rain, and wind. One of the other early bloomers, though not strictly a prairie plant, is kinnikinnick – a sprawling, low-growing woody plant that often forms mat-like patches. If you’re lucky, you might spy a small, brown butterfly fluttering around these patches — the Hoary Elfin, distinguished by the frosty coloring (“hoary”) on the outer portion of its wings. This butterfly, while not the most striking to look at, is interesting in its specialized life history. It essentially lives out its entire lifespan within patches of kinnikinnick – perhaps even within a single patch. Adults nectar on the flowers and lay their eggs on the season’s fresh new leaves, which the larvae then feed on after hatching a week or so later. Mima Mounds has one of the larger known populations of Hoary Elfins, one of a number of butterfly species found in our prairies that have declined significantly from their historic numbers. The trails near the interpretive building on the preserve are a good place to keep your eye out for these little lepidopterans, although it takes a sharp eye as they are pretty cryptic.
As with most of our remaining South Sound prairies, rare or declining butterflies like the hoary elfin are important conservation features and the focus of many management efforts at Mima Mounds. In addition to the hoary elfin, Mima Mounds harbors important populations of several such species including a few that won’t be seen for a few months – the Great Spangled Fritillary, Zerene Fritillary, and Oregon Branded Skipper. Adults of these species fly during high summer – July and August – with the females seeking out violets (the Fritillaries) and grasses (the Skipper) on which to lay their eggs.
Nectar can provide an important energy boost during this time, helping extend their lifespan and perhaps improving their reproductive capacity. However, nectar tends to be in short supply during mid to late summer on the prairies, as most of our native wildflowers have their peak bloom in the spring. So what do these butterflies nectar on? Among the native plants they might search out are white-top aster (a rare plant limited to Pacific NW prairies), spreading dogbane, showy daisy, and pearly everlasting, although these are often sparse, only overlap with the early part of their flight season, or do not flower abundantly on the prairies. Most often, we find them nectaring on the flowers of weedy, non-native plants like tansy ragwort and Canada thistle. This obviously presents a bit of a conundrum for managing these sites, requiring a balance between controlling these species to meet legal requirements and keep them from spreading within the prairies – and keeping enough of them around to help supply nectar to hungry summer butterflies.
One of the efforts we’ve been focusing on recently at Mima Mounds is trying to diversify and boost populations of native late-season nectar plants, with the hope of eventually “weaning” the butterflies off of the non-native species. Mostly this is done by including these plants in our seeding and planting mixes after prescribed burning; but we’ve also begun adding them to smaller, targeted areas on the prairie / forest edge in hopes that some shading will help the flowers persist even longer into the season. Last fall, for instance, we planted and seeded a number of areas along the forest edges with pearly everlasting, spreading dogbane, and a native thistle (short-styled thistle) to see if we can establish more of these plants on the site — and if the butterflies will in fact use them rather than the non-natives. So, if you’re out on the Mima Mounds on a warm summer morning, or even a hot afternoon in July or August, watch for butterflies and see what plants they might be drinking nectar from. Hopefully, it’s one of our natives!
If and when you do visit, be sure to check out the signs and illustrations at the interpretive building, aka “the mushroom” or “the concrete mound” (the latter was in fact the idea behind the design). They highlight various aspects of the site, including plant and animal species, prairie ecology, mound-origin theories (that’s a long story of its own), and some of the uses and management of prairies that has taken place for centuries, if not thousands of years. And don’t forget your Discover Pass for parking!
Casey Risley is a lover of moss, mud, rain, and all things Pacific Northwest. After leaving Washington to pursue a Master’s in Fish & Wildlife Ecology from the University of Maine, she affirmed her love of her home state and has worked in biological sciences and natural resources since 2004. She currently works for Lewis County Noxious Weed Control, focusing on outreach and education.
Much like the weeds we wage war upon, Lewis County Noxious Weed Control lies dormant in the winter months. We wait and we long for the warmth of spring to signal to us that it is again time to don the orange vests, work gloves, and hiking boots; and return to the outdoors to seek out and destroy the noxious weeds that threaten our wild spaces. Prairies and native grasslands are unique, not only in their beauty and their power to evoke wanderlust, but also in the challenges that they pose in invasive and noxious weed prevention, detection, and treatment.
Many exotic species are so common and widespread that we tend to think of them as belonging. We expect prairies to be full of grasses and splendid colors of wildflowers. Rarely does the eye pick out that one purple flower that does not fit in, or that one grass that doesn’t belong. Some plants, like foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), are not native, but they are widely distributed and we’re accustomed to seeing them. Their tall stalks of purple flowers complement the other wildflowers, and luckily, they are relatively benign. Other nonnatives, however, do not play as nicely.
In a prairie habitat, noxious weeds can often go unnoticed for multiple years, because of the ease with which they blend in. By the time that new populations are identified, multiple plants are well established and a healthy seed bank is already set in the soil. An established noxious weed population can take multiple years of repeated treatments for successful eradication. Sometimes, however, the population is too large, and eradication is no longer feasible. The best control measure then becomes containment, to prevent the population from spreading.
The good news in all this is that one way you can help out in the war against noxious weeds is to dally in the wildflowers a little longer. Not all wildflowers belong, and there are a few that are really easy to identify if you know what to look for.
Orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) looks like an orange dandelion, but dandelions aren’t supposed to be orange! Also misidentified as Indian paintbrush because of its orange and red coloring, orange hawkweed is a Class B Noxious Weed, noted for its aggressive behavior in pastures, rangelands, and meadows. Once established, the unpalatable orange hawkweed will outcompete valuable forage for grazers.
Sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) is often misidentified as wild strawberry or even buttercup due to its pale yellow, 5 petal flowers. However, sulfur cinquefoil is a Class B noxious weed and is a strong competitor with native grasses that will form dense monocultures. It has a high tannin content, making it unpalatable to grazing wildlife and livestock. The leaves are distinct, in that they are palmate, rough and hairy, with toothed margins. The leaves will often be folded up toward the stem, rather than lying flat.
There are no native snapdragons in the Pacific Northwest. Should you spot yellow snapdragons in a prairie, grassland, or field you’ve most likely stumbled across Dalmatian toadflax (Linaria dalmatica ssp. Dalmatica) or yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris), both Class B noxious weeds in Washington. The toadflax species are a little happier growing east of the Cascades, but they are known to occur on the west side as well, and they are difficult to control once established. The characteristic snapdragon flower is the most identifiable feature of this weed. As with the other noxious weeds mentioned, the toadflaxes will form dense monocultures, diminishing available forage in prairies and grasslands.
False brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum) is a Class A noxious weed in Washington and is one of the more difficult species to identify in the field because it look like a “grass”. False brome is not yet widely documented in Washington State, but because of its cryptic appearance, there is significant threat of this invasive becoming wide spread. It is a perennial, loosely tufted looking grass with upright stems. Soft long hairs are present and noticeable on the leaves. The flowers will droop or nod in a characteristic manner. Plants often have a distinctive lime-green coloration that persists much of the year.
Of course, there are many more potential noxious weed invaders that you might encounter while on your adventure. Our office has had some positive experience using the iNaturalist app for help in making identifications. All County Noxious Weed Boards/Districts are also happy to assist in weed identification. Our offices can, and often do, ID live or dried specimens, however, high quality photographs are our preference. We would rather not have native or endemic plants damaged or removed by accident.
If you’ve positively identified a noxious or invasive species (plant, insect, or any other invasive) you can contact your County Noxious Weed Control Board, or you can report the sighting directly to Washington Invasive Species Council using their free WA Invasives app, and the information will be routed to the appropriate governmental agency.
How these noxious weed species are transported is also of concern. As ecotourism increases in the Pacific Northwest, invasive species are being transported at increasingly high rates by hikers, boaters, birders, bikers, campers, and even weed control crews themselves. Seeds of invasive plants species are easily spread by being trapped in the treads of boots, loosely attached to clothing, or caught in your four legged companion’s fur. Brush your boots, clothing, and pup’s fur free of any seeds BEFORE as well as AFTER each outdoor activity to keep the seeds from being moved from one outdoor space to another. Recreational gear such as bike tire treads, boat propellers and trailers, tents, and kayaks should also be inspected and cleaned of any debris before and after each use. Firewood should be sourced locally. Hay and grass feed for horses should be certified weed free. Washington State and County offices are partners in the Play.Clean.Go. Campaign, whose mission is to promote advocacy, awareness, and partnership with environmentalists and recreationalists to prevent the spread of invasive species.
For more information about noxious weeds in Washington State, please visit Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board at https://www.nwcb.wa.gov/
Lewis County Noxious Weed Control can be contacted via https://lewiscountywa.gov/departments/weed-control/
Washington Invasive Species Council and to download the WA Invasives app https://invasivespecies.wa.gov/
To learn more about the Play.Clean.Go. Campaign or to join as a partner, visit https://www.playcleango.org/help-stop-invasive-species-with-playcleango
Deb Naslund is one of the long time volunteers on the prairies and has been very active in Prairie Appreciation Day since she started volunteering. She is also extremely active in the Washington Native Plant Society.
Oaks on the Prairies
Everyone has a favorite station at Prairie Appreciation Day. One of my favorites is “Oaks on the Prairies” a.k.a. the “Oak Gall Ink Station”. I’ve enjoyed staffing this station for several years. I love to see young and old alike try their hand at writing and drawing with the oak gall ink while learning more about oaks.
Why do we talk about oaks at a celebration of prairies? Oak woodlands are often associated with Puget Sound Prairies, thriving on the same glacial outwash soils. Quercus garryana, commonly called Oregon white oak or Garry oak, is our only native oak in Washington. Just like many prairie species, it is well adapted to gravelly dry soils and frequent, low intensity fires. As a Garry oak ages, its bark thickens, making the trees more fire resistant than the conifers that may be invading their stands. Garry oaks also have the ability to vigorously sprout from the root crown if the tree is severely damaged. You can find these stately oaks, some perhaps over 300 years old, growing in association with a species-rich community of native grasses and wildflowers.
Sadly, these lovely woodlands are disappearing from the landscape due to land development and Douglas fir encroachment among other threats. They are ranked as “Critically Imperiled” by the Washington Natural Heritage Program (https://www.dnr.wa.gov/publications/amp_nh_conservation_status.pdf ). But there are many efforts underway to restore and protect these threatened ecosystems. For more information and to learn how you can help, visit http://www.southsoundprairies.org/. For a deep dive into the science of prairie-oak conservation and species recovery efforts in our area, see: https://cascadiaprairieoak.org/
What are oak galls? You can often find Garry oaks that are harboring what look like round, pithy balls on their twigs or leaves. These are oak galls. The tree grows a gall in response to the larvae of several different species of oak gall wasps. One of the main wasps on Garry oaks is the California oak gall wasp (Andricus californicus), which forms large, persistent, apple-like galls on twigs. The galls develop when the wasp pierces the tree’s flesh and lays its eggs. Growing the gall doesn’t hurt the tree, but does provide a home for the wasp larvae.
The galls are green when they form, but once the wasp larvae mature and leave, the galls dry up and turn brown. You can often find oak galls on the ground around mature oak trees. Look under oaks in your neighborhood or in a local park.
What is oak gall ink? Oak gall ink has been used for centuries. It uses the chemical reaction between the tannic acid in the oak gall and iron oxide, from a rusty nail or other source, to produce a black pigment. Adding a binder, such as gum arabic, creates an ink that can be used with quill, reed or steel dipped pens. The permanence and water-resistance of this type of ink made it the standard writing ink in Europe for over 1,400 years. The Declaration of Independence, Magna Carta and other important documents were written using gall ink. Also, according to recent research, traces of gall ink have been found on the Dead Sea scrolls.
You can make oak gall ink at home with those oak galls you found on the ground. Here’s the recipe:
Oak Gall Ink Recipe
Give it a try and see what you can create. Note that this ink works with dip pens; it is not suitable for fountain pens. And, be careful as this ink was prized for its permanence!
We also have the information available on our website.
The direct link to register is https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJ0sc-igrjooHd0v4wF9wK99ab0wlBJW-GLM
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 Black History of Prairies
Caveat: I want to first address an elephant-sized grain of salt to take while reading this. I, Lauren “Ivy” Clark, author of this post, am not Black. My skin is White to the degree that parts never seeing the sun are more like translucent. I need plenty of sunscreen on the prairies, yes. I will try to resist any urge to get on a soap box here or attempt to lecture and certainly cannot speak from experience regarding feeling the historical wound of racial discrimination. I think this information on the Black/African-American history of the prairie ecosystem is interesting and pertinent and should be shared. I am always in favor of sharing factual information because, as you may have guessed, I am a nerd.
On a whim, I decided to look into any history I could find (easily) about a connection between prairies and Black history, since February is Black History Month, and the past year has seen so much racially related news. It seemed like a good time to learn something new in that topic. I did not already know of any link between the two but it was worth a look. Now, my first search yielded information on cute critters like the black-tailed prairie dog, and black-footed ferrets. See pictures below (from Wikipedia).
Adorable yes; not what I was going for. I searched for any publicized Black researchers working on prairies which only led me to many graduates of a “Prairie View A&M University” which I had not heard of before but I like the name. Then I found a book titled “Black Prairie Archives: An Anthology” by Karina Vernon of the University of Scarborough as a culmination of a PhD thesis and subsequent research. That lead me to a documentary called “We Are the Roots: Black Settlers and Their Experiences of Discrimination on the Canadian Prairies”. Bingo! It opens with this quote: “In 2017, 19 descendants of the Black settlers from Alberta and Saskatchewan were asked to discuss their experiences of discrimination.” The story is one of creating rural farming communities cut straight from the tall grass Canadian prairies. And it goes a little something like this:
In Alberta in the early 1900s there was a call for people to come homestead the wild region, and over a thousand African Americans left Theodore Roosevelt’s America to immigrate to western Canada. Thousands of advertisements were sent to America from the Canadian government beckoning people to move to the “Last Best West” to purchase 160 acres of land for a fee of $10. Wow, don’t you wish that were still available, even after inflation? From a distance, it seems like a great time in the US though, with the Ford Model T hitting the market and Albert Einstein publishing his “Theory of Relativity”, and the Wright boys building the first powered flying contraption. Then again there was the whole Titanic tragedy and the largest industrial accident of US history killing 361 coal miners in West Virginia, then the infamous Shirtwaist Factory fire (another of the largest industrial accidents in our history, leading to changes in safety for workers). So there were ups, and there also were downs, perhaps those naturally following ‘going up’ too fast with too many unknown factors.
But that zoomed-out history does not reflect the experiences of African Americans, not long emancipated after the Civil War. The societal push back against that, more so in the southern US, was harsh and accelerating; cue the Jim Crow laws. President Abraham Lincoln declared African Americans free from slavery but it wasn’t like they instantly got all the same rights as every White American. Culture and laws are not like a video game with an ‘undo’ button that changes everything. At the time, only about 20% of African Americans owned their homes compared to the roughly 50% of White Americans. During the Civil War it was North vs South with the North being in favor of African American freedom, so one could presume a general favorable view of anything “northern” for Black people. And living in the south was growing not just difficult but rapidly more dangerous, with violence and lynching on the rise. So when Canada said, [insert friendly Canadian accent] “Hey there, wanna come up here and have a home and land to expand our country, eh?”, it’s understandable a large group of African Americans packed up and moved over the northern border, leaving predominantly from many southern states.
Not that Canada was an all-welcoming nation with nothing but big bear-hugs for all. The advertisements were not specifically targeted to African Americans, so crossing the border wasn’t always smooth; petitions against this immigration were sent around, and in 1911 the Boards of Trade convinced the Prime Minister to prohibit any further migration of such folks. That legislation didn’t last long and already a large number made it through. They were again segregated from White people, like the Jim Crow US south. This initial separation created communities of mostly Black people in western Alberta and Saskatchewan, the largest being Amber Valley with 300 Black settlers and three White immigrant families, living together without conflict. Life was rough, clearing farming land, building homes and schools with cut timber. But there were also dances and huge summer cook-outs that drew people from many miles away. Children played in the adjacent untouched native prairies with the tall waving grasses reaching above their heads. They played with rainbow-colored foxtails and walked along the railroad tracks until the heat & smell of metal was too strong in the sun, opting then to amble slower through the sweet flowers of the open prairie. Interviewees, those children grown now into elders, talked a lot of integrated communities and help from neighbors, including the White ones, and of integrating immigrants from distant nations as well. Everyone generally just wanted to get along and get by because they were all equally new in this wild and beautiful rural area.
Life on a Canadian prairie would see more extremes than our milder Washington prairies. The southern pioneers had to adjust to new farming patterns due to the more severe Canadian winters, but still they thrived. Plentiful wild game in the area made up for lower farm yields. Created on very isolated lands, these communities were hewn straight from the local timber with tree branches for school bench legs. They helped build these western Canadian provinces into what they are today. Yet over time, especially during the Great Depression, the community populations declined as families moved to neighboring cities for work. But the prairies were the safe harbor against discrimination and violence.
The early 20th century migration was not the beginning of Black people in Canadian prairies. There is documentation of Black fur traders and voyageurs since the 18th century. And today prairies have the fastest growing population of Black people in Canada.
For the classic western fans, you may be interested in a recent documentary about essentially a Black John Wayne- the famous John Ware. John Ware: Reclaimed documents a Canadian prairie icon, a Black cowboy known even among the local indigenous tribes for his horsemanship skills. He arrived in Alberta in 1882 with the first cattle drive there. Ware was a charismatic skilled rancher owning a thousand head of cattle. Even John’s wife Mildred was iconic, being the first Black woman writer on the prairies.
Today there of course is still racism in these regions of Canada. It’s more subtle than in the US, but the journey to equality continues much like everywhere else. The Canadian Black settlers are larger scale story of community and prairie homesteading, similar to our very local Black figure- George Bush (whose middle name was once thought to be “Washington” but found incorrect, perhaps a homage to his part in settling the state or for the president in office at the time of his birth). George and Isabella Bush arrived in the Washington Puget Sound region in 1844 with their four sons in tow and two more born after. George Bush (no relation to the president I assume) brought his and four closely connected families along the Oregon Trail in a wagon train from Missouri. George had already done fur trapping in the western regions and figured the west would be a good escape from southeastern discrimination. He thus was a very useful leader for this first non-indigenous group to settle north of the Columbia River. Originally intent on the Oregon Territory, but with discriminatory legislation having arrived first, the group turned their wagons north to what was then a territory of both the US and Great Britain. The group established Bush Prairie community, farming near present-day Tumwater, WA and building the region’s first sawmill and first gristmill. After Washington became an official US territory in 1852 and the adjoining discriminatory US laws took hold, the Bush’s weren’t legally permitted to own the land they settled. Thanks to the Bush’s friendship with the new Washington Territory Legislators, there was a unanimous vote in 1855 to allow this Black family to have official ownership of their farm of 640 or more acres. This made George the first African-American landowner of Washington State. Part of their homestead is now the Olympia Airport in Tumwater. Keep an eye out for their namesake and history and take a look at the last five acres of historic Bush Prairie Farm, protected as of 2017 by the Capitol Land Trust. The farming skills of the Bush family still show in a grand butternut tree they brought west from his farm in Missouri which is now 174 years old and probably the oldest living butternut tree in the world. It even has a good size offspring now planted at the Capitol grounds (check out this link for fun details). The Bush family was well known for their generosity, giving away some of their own food stores to new settlers, further helping build a successful community and friendship around them. Let us try to remember this founding principle as our now much larger south Puget Sound prairie community grows and overcomes new challenges, while still holding on to as much native prairie as we can.
The prairie landscape doesn’t care what color you are. It is a place of huge natural biodiversity with complex interactions of many species. Every landscape and community benefits from diversity of all kinds. Take a tip from ecologists who know that is great for building a more robust resilient system. If our South Sound Prairies were ONLY camas, as lovely as those are, it would be vastly less beautiful without the yellow spring golds and buttercups, white field chickweed, pink seablushes, golden fescue inflorescence or occasional evergreen kinnikinnick patches.
If you would like to watch the moving documentary of Canadian Black immigration for yourself, the link that follows will take you there. https://vimeo.com/257364347