Wild Seed Collecting

Wild Seed Collecting, post by Anika Goldner, photos by Meredith Rafferty

Anika Goldner is the current Volunteer and Education AmeriCorps at CNLM. This season she’s been working with the Wild Seed Collection Volunteers and at the CNLM seed farm. 

Meredith Rafferty is a volunteer seed collector and photographer.

In partnership with CNLM’s seed farm a wild seed collection team ventures into the prairies every spring and summer to gather seeds and scout for rare plant populations. The collected seeds are brought back to the farm and cleaned. Some of them go directly to plug production, some are planted at the farm to add genetic diversity to the crops already growing there, and some are for establishing new seed banks.

Rainier from the Prairies. Photo by Meredith Rafferty

Rainier from the Prairies. Photo by Meredith Rafferty

At the farm seeds are collected from the same beds and rows of plants year after year, while these seeds are not babied the way one may tend and fertilize a crop of tomatoes, their lives at the farm are easier than life in the wild. Weeded and occasionally watered, the beds of plants don’t have to compete with the weeds that would shade them out, take their nutrients, or release hormones to suppress their growth. Collecting from the farm year after year to reseed restoration areas would be providing seeds that may not be the most adapted to thrive in the wild. This is why collecting wild seeds to add genetic diversity to the crops growing at the farm is required.

Plagiobothrys figuratus, Fragrant Popcorn Flower seeds. Photo by Meredith Rafferty.

Plagiobothrys figuratus, Fragrant Popcorn Flower seeds. Photo by Meredith Rafferty.

When collecting seeds from wild populations we need to harvest ethically.
We do not want to take seeds in a way that will damage the presence of the plants on the prairies. Some plants are easy to not over-harvest; violets are often seen with seedpods at all stages of ripeness. A healthy violet plant might have a few stems that have already released seeds, a few blooming flowers and a few pods that are mature but have not yet burst. With these plants we can take the mature pods knowing that this plant has already distributed some seeds to the prairie and has more to contribute.

Bug inside a seedpod.  Photo by Meredith Rafferty

Bug inside a seedpod. Photo by Meredith Rafferty

Other plants require the harvesters to collect with more intention. When we collect from rare plant populations, especially the ones that hold onto their seeds, getting a count on the number of plants seen and collecting only 10% of the population is required. One collection day we spent the entire day getting a count on all the golden paintbrush plants, including how many flowering stems and seed pods were seen on the entire prairie. On this day we didn’t harvest any seeds because we need to make sure we can harvest without impacting the health of the population. After analysis, a group of people may be able to use the numbers and the GPS location of all the plants to collect a small amount of seeds from the most densely populated areas.

Golden Paintbrush. Photo by Meredith Rafferty

Golden Paintbrush. Photo by Meredith Rafferty

Even on the days when only a small amount of seed is collected, we are still contributing to the growth of plant populations. When I walk across the fields to get from data point to data point I hold my clippers and cut down all the tansy that comes into my path. When I snooded a lupine, small seeds were flung into the air some were caught in the cuffs of my pants. I discovered them at lunch and placed them into a small patch of dirt on the side of the road. All of the seed collectors do these little acts of prairie love. Some pull up invasive plants, some decide that the small amount of seed they’ve collected isn’t enough to bring back and dump it back out into the dirt, moving native plants a little bit father than the plants would have managed themselves. Even just walking through the prairie we can hear the camas rattle as we knock them over and they release seeds.

Talyor’s Checkerspot on a balsamroot flower. Photo by Meredith Rafferty

Talyor’s Checkerspot on a balsamroot flower. Photo by Meredith Rafferty

Senescence

Senescence, Post and photos by Dennis Plank

Senescence

Dennis has been getting his knees muddy and his back sore pulling Scot’s Broom on the South Sound Prairies since 1998. In 2004, when the volunteers started managing Prairie Appreciation Day, he made the mistake of sending an email asking for “lessons learned” and got elected president of Friends of Puget Prairies-a title he appropriately renamed as “Chief Cat Herder”. He has now turned that over to Gail Trotter. Along the way, he has worked with a large number of very knowledgeable people and picked up a few things about the prairie ecosystem. He loves to photograph birds and flowers.

This time of year the prairies remind me of an aging genius. Most of its productive life is behind it, stored in seeds. Waiting. Waiting for just the right conditions to flourish and create yet another generation. But here and there, buried in the uniform gold of the grasses, are sparks of life still perpetuating the current generation and bringing great beauty in the process.

Panorama view of Glacial Heritage, photo by Dennis Plank

Panorama view of Glacial Heritage, photo by Dennis Plank

Of the natives, the most obvious is Canada Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis, growing in isolated patches on the prairies, predominantly on roadsides, but here and there on the open prairie. When I first started volunteering here, there was none of this beautiful plant on Glacial Heritage, nor do I recall seeing any on Mima Mounds. Now the clumps of this plant are fairly common and it is a lovely addition to the late summer prairie as well as an excellent late season nectar source.

Canada Goldenrod on Glacial Heritage Preserve, photo by Dennis Plank

Canada Goldenrod on Glacial Heritage Preserve, photo by Dennis Plank

Another goldenrod, Solidago missouriensis, is also blooming this time of year and in favorable situations may be visible above the grasses. It tends to be found as individual plants, though more concentrated in some areas. I tend to find it in areas of slightly better soil and a bit more moisture, though there is little of that on the prairie this time of year. I describe our soil as having all the water retention of a sieve since it is basically a gravel bar with a very thin layer of organic soil on the top.

Solidago misssouriensis, Missouri Goldenrod, photo by Dennis Plank

Solidago missouriensis, Missouri Goldenrod, photo by Dennis Plank

Continuing with the composites, Western Pearly Everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea, is also in bloom, though small white heads are relatively inconspicuous and it tends not to rise above the grasses, particularly the invasive pasture grasses.

Pearly Everlasting taken in a neighbors yard, photo by Dennis Plank

Pearly Everlasting taken in a neighbors yard, photo by Dennis Plank

A close-up look at the Pearly Everlasting blossoms, photo by Dennis Plank

A close-up look at the Pearly Everlasting blossoms, photo by Dennis Plank

A similarly inconspicuous white flower is Pussytoes, Antennaria howellii. This species tends to be even shorter than the Pearly Everlasting and while found in loose groups does not form a bunch like the Pearly Everlasting that’s illustrated above.

Pussytoes, photo by Dennis Plank

Pussytoes, photo by Dennis Plank

Spreading Dogbane, Apocynum androsaemifolium, is also supposed to be blooming this time of year, but I haven’t been able to find one with blooms yet. This is a spreading woody plant that can form quite large patches and is a very important nectar source this time of year.

Another plant still blooming is Scouler’s Catchfly, also known as Simple Catchfly or Simple Campion, Silene scouleri. I’ve also heard it called Stickyweed because it does stick to your fingers. Like most of the plants this time of year, it’s not very showy, so you have to look closely to appreciate it.

Scouler's Catchfly, photo by Dennis Plank

Scouler’s Catchfly, photo by Dennis Plank

A close-up of the blossoms of Scouler's Catchfly, Photo by Dennis Plank

A close-up of the blossoms of Scouler’s Catchfly, Photo by Dennis Plank

Of the earlier plants, Showy Fleabane is still in bloom here and there, though it’s starting to look pretty ragged. The Harebell is still blooming, though in lesser numbers and it will continue well into the fall. On well vegetated mounds, one can still find the prairie violet, Viola adunca, blooming as well.

Among the non-natives, even the Oxeye Daisy and the St. John’s Wort have almost finished, but a new and unwelcome star has risen above the prairie and that is Tansy Ragwort. Like many plants this year, native and non-native, this one has done extremely well. The last few years there wasn’t much of it, but this year t is very abundant. But more on this plant in a later post. Hairy Cat’s Ear, Hypochaeris radicata, is also still blooming and never seems to stop, though I know it will by fall.

Tansy Ragwort, photo by Dennis Plank

Tansy Ragwort, photo by Dennis Plank

The birds are pretty much done making babies for this year. Now it’s time for them to learn how to be adults. In my last few visits to Glacial Heritage, I’ve seen hundreds of swallows on the power lines and fences along the entrance road, a flock of 10 Western Meadowlarks (probably the offspring of a single male and his two mates), and a flock of six American Kestrels-again probably a family group. Around our own property, the Western Bluebirds have fledged their second crop of youngsters with the help of some of the first brood and now have them secreted somewhere until they’re old enough to bring back (probably within the week). They have been known to raise three broods, and that’s a possibility this year as the relatively wet spring produced a lot of foliage and that’s been followed by lots of grasshoppers which make excellent Bluebird food. We have a large number of juvenile American Goldfinches coming to the feeders. They learn to feed themselves quickly, but until they do they have a plaintive cry that is easily rendered as “feed me”. Usually, they raise two sets of young in a season, with the male taking over rearing after the first batch fledges and the female taking up with another male (usually an inexperienced first year bird) for the second crop. We saw a female feeding young today, which is a good sign that the second crop of this species is starting to fledge.

Juvenile American Goldfinch, photo by Dennis Plank

Juvenile American Goldfinch, photo by Dennis Plank

Another sure sign of this time of summer is that the Yellowjackets are starting to make their presence felt. I was digging out Tansy on Glacial Heritage recently and ran afoul of a nest, so keep your ears open for them.

Western Meadowlarks at Glacial Heritage

Western Meadowlarks at Glacial Heritage, Post by Michelle Blanchard, images as noted.

Michelle Blanchard is a long time prairie volunteer and self-described “muddy boots biologist”.  She learned her bird banding at Ft. Hood in Texas where she volunteered with The Nature Conservancy on a very successful Golden-cheeked Warbler recovery program.

Editor’s Note:

I was out at Glacial Heritage pulling Scotch Broom and enjoying the wonderful flowers on June 2nd this year. Meadowlarks were singing from all sides and the females were giving their “telephone” calls, when suddenly the air seemed filled with male Meadowlarks chasing one another around the area and singing at the top of their lungs. While it was actually only four or five birds, it was an amazing experience. Even more amazing, a short while later, I heard a male singing in a very different way. It was soft and a bit more melodious and the song went on and on. I told Michelle about it and she thinks it’s the male just singing to its mates telling them that he’s there and all’s right in the meadowlarks world. I thought then that it was so wonderful that we were able to restore a place where Meadowlarks can sing. It made me very happy to have Michelle write this post.

P.S. It’s about as hard to photograph these birds as it is to trap them, so the images in this post are from a variety of locations where I got lucky.

-Dennis Plank

Western Meadowlarks at Glacial Heritage

If there is an iconic bird of the prairie, it can only be the Western Meadowlark.

Sturnella neglecta is an icterid, also known as ‘blackbirds’.

Great-tailed Grackle from the Texas Coast, Photo by Dennis Plank

Great-tailed Grackle from the Texas Coast, Photo by Dennis Plank

 

Altamira Oriole from the Rio Grande border of Texas, photo by Dennis Plank

Altamira Oriole from the Rio Grande border of Texas, photo by Dennis Plank

 

Most-not all, (for the orioles are icterids, too) icterids are somberly clad in blacks and browns. The meadowlarks, though, have a brilliant yellow breast, emblazoned with a black chevron at the base of the throat. If that weren’t enough, they are singers, too, something icterids are not known for.

Western Meadowlark at Glacial Heritage Preserve, photo by Dennis Plank

Western Meadowlark at Glacial Heritage Preserve, photo by Dennis Plank

 

Our Western meadowlark is almost indistinguishable from the Eastern meadowlark, but the moment you hear the two sing, you know that the Western is by far the better singer. Here are the clips from the CD accompanying “Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America”, Little, Brown and Company, 2010.

 

As well, the Western is much fussier about his habitat. All meadowlarks are obligate grassland species, but the Western demands just the right height of grass-not too tall and not too short. It’s why you’ll never see a meadowlark on a golf course.

I was stationed at Ft. Lewis in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Being that my specialty was tanks, I spent a great deal of time in ‘the field’ and often heard meadowlarks. I began to appreciate them for their singing. Eastern Meadowlarks have only one or two songs. Westerns have a much larger repertoire of several songs, the number increasing with age and dominance.

I began volunteering on Glacial Heritage in the late 90’s. Considering its size, it was worrisome and depressing that I counted only three singing males on all of Glacial.

The three territories identified at Glacial Heritage. Map courtesy of Google Maps

The three territories identified at Glacial Heritage. Map courtesy of Google Maps

 

This I attributed to the fact that GH, at the time, was a vast expanse of Scotch broom and Douglas firs. In a treeless prairie, meadowlarks will sing on the ground, but Glacial Heritage had plenty of invasive Douglas firs from the tops of which they’d sing. Their territories were small due to very little suitable grassland, not enough to support any sizable population of meadowlarks. It appeared that the tiny resident population was hanging on by a thread. In fact, I was showing a person around the preserve one time, and one of the three males sang. I said, ‘Oh, there’s one of my meadowlarks.” Her voice dripping scorn, she said, “No, it’s not, there’s no meadowlarks west of the Cascades.”

Oh. I guess I have a really vivid imagination.

Western Meadowlark singing from the ground. Photo taken at the National Bison Range in Montana by Dennis Plank

Western Meadowlark singing from the ground. Photo taken at the National Bison Range in Montana by Dennis Plank

 

The more I learned about them, the more I grew enamored with meadowlarks.

I mapped out where the meadowlarks were, and got to know them by their songs. I learned to tell who each male was by where and what he was singing. They impressed me with their intelligence. But, alas for this birder, they’re highly suspicious of humans. If she knows her nest has been discovered, the female will abandon it immediately. Meadowlarks are unwilling to tolerate close human proximity or even observation. One time I had my binoculars focused on a female that was perched atop a small shrub. She held a wriggling grasshopper, telling me she was feeding hatchlings. Would she show me where her nest was? It became a grueling duel-my increasingly tiring arms, and her refusal to move an inch while under my observation. Finally, after an eternity, I blinked-and she was gone.

What would happen, I wondered, when we had Glacial at least partially restored to open grassland? Would the meadowlarks respond? Would they be able to survive the lengthy time it would take to restore Glacial?

I had to know.

I possess a Master Bander’s Permit. I developed a research plan to identify individual meadowlarks and applied to the Bird Banding Lab for a string of bands for Western Meadowlarks. Florence Sohenlien, the BBL’s band manager at the time, approved my study and sent me a string with the warning: “You’re the fourth person I’ve sent this string of meadowlark bands to. It’s never been broached. Good luck.”

Western Meadowlark in full glory at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, photo by Dennis Plank

Western Meadowlark in full glory at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, photo by Dennis Plank

 

She was right. My approval to band Western Meadowlarks was for three years. In those three years, I got up before dawn to set up nets. I deployed walk-in traps, baited with live grasshoppers. I created and painted a meadowlark decoy out of Play Dough. It was hideously ugly but I hoped the birds wouldn’t mind. I bought (at nosebleed prices from Cornell) a CD of W. Meadowlark calls, along with the game caller to play it. I’d set up my nets in areas I knew males held as territory, and would hear them warning their mates of my presence.

The resident male always responded to the CD. He’d swoop in, looking for the brazen interloper singing on HIS territory. He’d perch on the net poles and sing. Walk the top panel of the net like a tightrope, looking, looking. He’d stand atop the walk-in trap. Circle overhead, sounding his battle cry, daring the intruder to come out from hiding (or was he mocking the decoy, saying, gads, you’re ugly!) But actually fly into my nets? Or to take the bait in the traps? Nope. Not once. Not in three years.

What was I doing wrong? Was it my method? My set up? I contacted every bander in the US and Canada who had banded meadowlarks and asked, how did you catch them? Was it your net configuration? CD calls? Traps, bait, time of day? The answer was always “dumb luck”. I didn’t have luck of any level, dumb or smart. I returned the string of bands after three years, not once ever having been broached.

Federal bird bands managed and distributed by Craig “Tut” Tuthill, Photo taken Thursday, September 14, 2017. Unidentified Photographer. He didn't have to return them all.

Federal bird bands managed and distributed by Craig “Tut” Tuthill, Photo taken Thursday, September 14, 2017. Unidentified Photographer. He didn’t have to return them all.

 

However, despite my never banding a meadowlark, I can say that my theory was proven correct. With the restoration of their preferred habitat, especially through controlled burns, by removing scotch broom and trees, the population of meadowlarks has grown. I can no longer count how many males I hear singing because they’re everywhere. In the spring and summer, the prairie rings to their songs. In the fall and winter, you’ll see them in large flocks, arrowing over their beloved grassland.

Glacial Heritage’s prairie icon has returned. And he likes what he sees.

Glacial Heritage panorama taken from the northwestern edge of the WEME 3 territory on May 9th, 2020.  Photo by Dennis Plank

Glacial Heritage panorama taken from the northwestern edge of the WEME 3 territory on May 9th, 2020. Photo by Dennis Plank

 

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

Partners for Fish and Wildlife: Voluntary habitat restoration on private lands

Partners for Fish and Wildlife: Voluntary habitat restoration on private lands, Post by Nick George, Photos as attributed.

Nick George is the Washington state coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife program. He has worked with private landowners to restore native habitat for the majority of his 10-year career in natural resources, including his time with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). Originally from Upstate New York, Nick has had the opportunity to work in multiple states including Texas, North Dakota, Montana, and Illinois. He is excited to find that South Puget Sound has such tremendous enthusiasm and opportunity for habitat restoration. At each stop, he has picked up a new tip or trick from practitioners and private landowners on how to restore habitat efficiently and effectively. Nick, his son, and wife currently live in Thurston County and are enjoying their first summer in Washington. For more information on the Partners program, please contact Nick at (360) 522-0545 or email Nicholas_george@fws.gov.

Partners for Fish and Wildlife: Voluntary habitat restoration on private lands

Hello, I’m new here. I was looking forward to meeting most of you during my first Prairie Appreciation Day, but obviously, that plan was spoiled due to our current situation. I come to you most recently from the Midwest, Illinois to be specific, and have worked extensively on restoring prairie and other habitats for native plant and wildlife species.

Although I am not yet an expert in restoring South Puget Sound prairies, many of the restoration concepts and habitat threats translate from my previous work (e.g. site preparation is key, habitat loss from human development can be overwhelming, invasive species are stubborn, etc.)

Nick George (USFWS Biologist) stands with a proud landowner after the completion of a project; Photo Credit: Debbie Newman/Illinois Natural Heritage

Nick George (USFWS Biologist) stands with a proud landowner after the completion of a project; Photo Credit: Debbie Newman/Illinois Natural Heritage

With this short post, I would like to first ask you a question – Are you familiar with the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program? The Partners program (for short) is a great resource for private landowners who are interested in habitat restoration. Landowners have the opportunity to obtain technical, and in some cases financial, assistance for practices they are looking to implement on their property.

For a little over a decade, the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in Lacey has assisted with the restoration and enhancement of prairie habitat throughout South Puget Sound. The program has collaborated with the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM), the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and many other conservation organizations to successfully implement these projects on privately owned property. However, with the assumption the program may be new to your ears, or I guess eyes in this case, I will cover the basics.

The Partners Program is a voluntary habitat restoration program administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). All private landowners who want to restore and protect priority wildlife habitat areas on their property are eligible to participate. Current partners include farmers, ranchers, recreational landowners, land trusts, corporations, and local governments. The program helps private landowners conserve the Nation’s biological diversity and habitat integrity by reducing habitat fragmentation, increasing habitat for various plant and animal species, and supporting threatened and endangered communities.

Using prescribed fire to restore native prairie in Illinois; Photo Credit: Nick George/USFWS

Using prescribed fire to restore native prairie in Illinois; Photo Credit: Nick George/USFWS

The primary goal of the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program is for each restoration project to reflect the needs of the landowner, as well as the priorities set by the local U.S. Fish and Wildlife office. Participating landowners continue to own and manage their land to serve their needs while they improve conditions for wildlife. Here in South Sound, the Partners Program has multiple objectives. The first objective relevant to this forum is the restoration and enhancement of native prairie habitat to benefit priority species such as Mazama pocket gopher, Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, streak horned lark, and Golden paintbrush, just to name a few.

Mazama pocket gopher; Photo Credit: USFWS

Mazama pocket gopher; Photo Credit: USFWS

Restoring hydrology and enhancing shallow wetland and riparian habitat is another priority for the local Partners Program. This habitat type is critical for the federally threatened Oregon spotted frog to live a healthy and complete life cycle.

Oregon spotted frog; Photo Credit: Teal Waterstrat/USFWS

Oregon spotted frog; Photo Credit: Teal Waterstrat/USFWS

The projects that would be associated with these objectives could take place on a variety of property types. Although a 1,000-acre prairie reserve, 5-acre backyard for wildlife viewing, and 100-acre pasture for cattle produce different levels of benefit, all are equally important to protect and restore.

For more information on the Partners Program, or to find out what is available in your specific area, please feel free to contact me to discuss your property and potentially set up a site visit, when the situation allows.

Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly; Photo Credit: Zach Radmer/USFWS

Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly; Photo Credit: Zach Radmer/USFWS

 

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.

“We Should Do Forbs!”

“We should do forbs!”, Post and photos by Andy Hopwood

Andy Hopwood is a native seed specialist with the Center for Natural Lands Management, South Sound Conservation Nursery and a co-manager of the Native Plant Salvage Foundation’s nursery.

“We should do forbs!”

Aquilegia Formosa, Red Columbine.  Photo by Andy Hopwood

Aquilegia Formosa, Red Columbine. Photo by Andy Hopwood

Native Plant Salvage Foundation encourages gardening with native plants. In 2016 we were challenged to expand the foundation’s nursery’s focus to propagating our native woodies and broadly to, “do forbs”. Our herbaceous palette began with those few species we could find during our regular winter salvages in the woods. Finding plants in January and February is challenging so we extended our winter salvages into spring, beyond the emergence of Trillium ovatum. Don Guyot, plant rescuer and South Sound Prairie friend, helped us turn rescued Trillium into our first propagated native perennial. Start with the hard plants.

Don Guyot, Intrepid South Sound Plant Rescuer at work with Trillium ovatum.  Photo by Andy Hopwood

Don Guyot, Intrepid South Sound Plant Rescuer at work with Trillium ovatum. Photo by Andy Hopwood

Trillium is an unmistakable plant in a garden but is challenging to grow. Don suggested, since we had some years to wait for the Trillium, that we make a leap and broaden our palette to South Sound Prairie plants. What should we grow? How would they fare in gardens? Would people use them? We started growing small blocks of a few showier perennials that we thought gardeners would find interesting. Aquilegia Formosa, Columbine, is a wonderful addition to sunny spots. Erigeron speciosus, Showy Fleabane, brings a summer burst of long-lasting color. Symphyotrichum subspicatum, Douglas Aster, can be grown as a seasonal privacy screen that holds color into fall.

Erigeron speciosus, Showy Fleabane.  Photo by Andy Hopwood

Erigeron speciosus, Showy Fleabane. Photo by Andy Hopwood

In most instances, prairie plants fare well in a garden as long as they aren’t too shaded. Quite a few grow more robustly when afforded some shade and the extra moisture of a watered garden. All should be able to survive without watering. The variety of prairie species affords opportunities throughout a garden. The selection of native plants is an individual gardeners choice but one with advantages. Native plants are adapted to local conditions and serve as important food sources. Pollinators love them!

Plectritis congesta, Rosy Plectritis or Sea Blush with pollinator.  Photo by Andy Hopwood.

Plectritis congesta, Rosy Plectritis or Sea Blush with pollinator. Photo by Andy Hopwood.

What started with growing a few perennials has expanded to a collection of perennials, the use of graminoids, and the introduction of annuals. Gardens can be outlined with bunch grasses, with large statement perennials, and splashes of competing and changing annuals. If you are gardening, you should try some of our forbs.

Two of Andy's garden beds.  Photo by Andy Hopwood

Two of my garden beds. The primary plants are Gilia capitata, Blue Thimble Flower, and Sidalcea hendersonii, Henderson’s Checker Mallow Photo by Andy Hopwood

To learn more about the Native Plant Salvage Foundation and their nursery and plant sales check out their website. You can learn specifically about the nursery on their Facebook page.

 

 

Update on Potential Seatac Size Airport in South Thurston County

Update on Potential Seatac Size Airport in South Thurston County, Post by Dennis Plank

The County council turned down the idea of an airport here and the Port of Olympia specifically turned down the idea of a South Thurston County airport by a vote of 3-0 and the idea of expanding the existing airport by a vote of 2-1.  This issue looks dead for now, but these things have a way of rearing their ugly heads again and there are plenty of other development hungry folks eyeing all the “empty” space in this part of the county, so keep your eyes open.

Thanks to everyone who provided their input to the County Council and the Port Council.  Without active citizen participation, our government often does very stupid things.

Scotch Broom Ecology and Management Symposium on YouTube

Scotch Broom on the march. The road edge of an undeveloped lot, Photo by Dennis Plank

Scotch Broom on the march. The road edge of an undeveloped lot, Photo by Dennis Plank

We announced the Scotch Broom Ecology and Management Symposium a few weeks ago in this blog.  We’ve now received word that the entire session is available on Youtube.  You can go to The Washington Invasive Species Council website to connect to it.  Lots of good information on the continuing fight against this pernicious invasive.

Scotch Broom Seed Density. Photo by Dennis Plank

Scotch Broom Seed Density. Photo by Dennis Plank

Prairie Parasitism

Prairie Parasitism, post and images by Christopher Jason

Christopher Jason is a technician currently working for the Conservation lab in Washington State University, Vancouver. Passionate about insects (especially butterflies and moths) and wildlife photography.

Prairie Parasitism

Prairies are beautiful places with abundant flowers and insects. Most are familiar with insects being pollinators and pests. But insects can also be parasitic. For the past year, I’ve been fortunate enough to work on Johnson Prairie on Joint Base Lewis-McChord land with the Conservation lab in Washington State University. While my work focuses on butterflies, I had the chance to encounter other insects that have very interesting ecology.

One of my favorite groups of bees are the nomad bees (Nomada spp.), also commonly known as cuckoo bees. Nomad bees are kleptoparasitic on mining bees (Andrena spp.), in that they lay their eggs in nest cells of other bee species. When the eggs hatch, the larvae then kill the mining bee eggs in the nest and consume their stored pollen and nectar. Nomad bees also exhibit a unique way of sleeping. They hang on to a substrate only with their mouthpart.

Nomad Bee Sleeping, photo by Christopher Jason

Nomad Bee Sleeping, photo by Christopher Jason

The mining bee is also a host for another insect, the blister beetle (Meloidae). These beetles’ first instar larvae are called triungulin, they are mobile and can be found on flowers and on adult bees such as mining bees and striped sweat bees (Agapostemon spp.). These triungulin attach to adult bees to then be carried to the bee’s nest. Many triungulin in the Pacific Northwest remain undescribed and are understudied.

Mining bee and hookedspur violet with triungulin. Photos by Christopher Jason

Mining bee and hookedspur violet with triungulin. Photos by Christopher Jason

Blood bees are high contrast and therefore easily noticeable with their black body and orange-red abdomen. The female blood bees will search for nests of sweat bees (Lasioglossum and Agapostemon) and mining bees. She then replaces the eggs in the nest with hers. Afterwards, she exits the nest and covers it as it was found. The larvae then hatch and feed within their nests.

Blood Bee on Camas, Photo by Christopher Jason

Blood Bee on Camas, Photo by Christopher Jason

 

Striped Sweat Bee on biscuitroot, photo by Christopher Jason.

Striped Sweat Bee on biscuitroot, photo by Christopher Jason.

 

Sweat Bee on false dandelion, Photo by Christopher Jason

Sweat Bee on false dandelion, Photo by Christopher Jason

This past spring, as I was looking for silvery blue butterflies, I came across a vibrant maroon colored wasp with what looked like a long tail. I took some pictures of it and learned that the ‘tail’ was actually a very long ovipositor – an organ to lay eggs – a trait that is shared with many wasps in the family Ichneumonidae. Ichneumon wasps are parasitoids, using their long ovipositors to lay eggs in or on various insects and spiders. The larvae will then feed inside or on the host’s body and eventually kill it. Despite Ichneumonidae being one of the largest families in the animal kingdom, wasps belonging in this family are relatively understudied and have a reputation of being one of the most challenging insect families to identify down to species level.

Ichneumon wasp with long ovipositor. Photo by Christopher Jason

Ichneumon wasp with long ovipositor. Photo by Christopher Jason