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News, notes, trip reports, and the lighter side (of the wilder side) of the Oregon environmental and conservation movement.
May has been sunny and dry so far in Oregon, and the Columbia River Gorge was the place to be the first week of the month during Wendell's annual spring wildflower outings.
Hiking season has returned to Oregon, and that means you'll find Oregon Wild on the trail leading hikes and treks throughout the state.
Here are a few of Wendell's notes from his early May outings, followed by some spectacular photos from Oregon Wild fans and hike attendees. Thanks for the pictures!
Guest blogger, scientist, and Oregon Wild supporter Ivan Phillipsen explores the natural wonders of Washington and Oregon.
Deciduous trees and shrubs in the Northwest shed their leaves by early December. At this time of year, our low-elevation forests are looking much more twiggy and less leafy than they do in the summer. But there is still plenty of green – the Douglas firs, Western hemlocks, and other conifers keep their foliage year round.
But the real stars of the forest during the dark, wet months of winter are the mosses and evergreen ferns. This is as good a season as any to get familiar with these primitive, fascinating plants.
The unrivaled king of ferns on the west coast is the Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum). If a northwestern kid knows the name of only one fern, it's probably this one.
A “star” that really is no longer.
Oregon White-topped Aster, Aster [Sericocarpus] oregonensis
As late summer begins to advance into fall, one of the most commonly seen wildflowers of the season is the late-blooming Aster. Members of the Sunflower Family, Asteraceae, the Greek word “aster” means “star” in reference to its supposedly star-like flowers.
Of the many Aster species we could choose from, (being partial to Oregon) we’ve picked this one as the week’s featured species somewhat arbitrarily, due to its specific epithet being “oregonensis.” The Latin suffix “ensis” means “pertaining to” or “originating in.” This species is found at various scattered, but drier, locations throughout western Oregon.
For those that love late summer and early fall’s wild asters, you may be disappointed to learn that technically North America (including Oregon) no longer has any “true” Asters!
This unassuming nymph of a plant has no common name.
Lilaeopsis occidentalis, otherwise known as Western Lilaeopsis, has no special common name - as the common observer may never see its delicately arranged, tiny flowers, or give it much notice at all. Thus, while little noticed or appreciated, I considered it to be a special nymph of streams and other wetland places, where I always greet its unexpected discovery with special warmth and delight!
Either way you slice it, these plants are definitely poisonous.
False Hellebore, Veratrum californicum var. californicum
Veratrum, Corn Lily, or False Hellebore is a two-meter-tall perennial that grows in swamps, wet meadows, and sometimes moist woodlands from low elevations to subalpine zones. It is found in Washington State as well as Oregon (and California as its species’ epithet obviously indicates).
Oregon has three species of Veratrum. Our featured species here, Veraturm californicum, additionally has two recognized varieties. Predominantly found in northwestern Oregon, Veratrum californicum “var. caudatum” (not pictured here) has a cluster of flowers on stalks that are branched from the main stalk of the inflorescence, from the bottom clear to the top. However, variety californicum, (while branched below) has only a single uppermost, unbranched flowering stalk. This is the variety of V. californicum that predominates east of the Cascades. The flowers and plants pictured here are of this variety from the Ochoco National Forest.
This smelly member of the carrot family was once believed to have great medicinal powers.
Canby's Angelica, Angelica canbyi
Angelica is a fairly tall and robust member of the carrot family and, in addition to its larger, huskier size, is recognizable by this plant family’s characteristic umbel (or umbrella) like inflorescence, where all of the flowers are born on small stalks (pedicels) that all radiate out from a central point.
Our feature species here, photographed on the edge of the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness near John Day, Oregon, was named for American Botanist William Marriott Canby (1831-1904). In the late 19th century, Canby amassed a personal herbarium of 30,000 plants, and also accompanied Sierra Club founder John Muir on trips to the Appalachian Mountains and Alaska.
Like the phoenix, this pioneer plant rises through the ashes.
Fireweed, Chamerionangustifolium var. canescens
Formerly called Epilobiumangustifolium, Fireweed is now placed in the genus Chamerion. Fireweed is also in the Evening Primrose Family, as was our previously featured wildflower species, Clarkia amoena, Farewell-to-Spring or Summer’s Darling. Like Clarkia, Fireweed’s flower parts are similarly arranged in orders of 4, with its sepals and petals attached above the flower’s ovary. Its former scientific name, “Epilobium,” remains the name of a group of generally smaller flowers called “Willow Herbs” and means “upon on pod.” This is in reference to the sepal and petal attachment above what becomes the seed pod in the mature flower. When this seed pod matures it splits apart, and hundreds of small seeds fastened to thin tufts of white, cotton-like threads are dispersed by the wind.
With these lovely blossoms we bid Spring adieu.
Farewell-to-Spring or Summer’s Darling, Clarkia amoena
Commemorating William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, these lovely blossoms most often make their appearance when the green grass of spring turns brown, thus the common name Farewell-to-Spring or Summer’s Darling. The species epithet, amonena, means “charming.”
In total, this species ranges as far north as British Columbia and as far south as the San Francisco Bay area. There, the Miwok Indians of northern California historically collected the seeds of this Clarkia, which were first parched and then pulverized for food.
Hey there blue eyes, what are you doing in the grass?
Blue-Eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium bellum
Actually Blue-eyed Grass isn’t a grass at all, and doesn’t really have blue eyes. But other than that, it is well named - particularly when you consider that its scientific generic name, Sisyrinchium, literally translates from both Greek and Latin to mean “pig snout.” If the word “Sisyrinchium” doesn’t exactly flow off the tip of your tongue, perhaps this is due to the ancient origin of the name (around 340 BC), first attributed to the Greek Theopharastis, who is perhaps best known as being Aristotle’s successor.
There's more to this shrub than meets the eye.
Ninebark, Physocarpus capitatus
In 1806, Meriwether Lewis termed this shrub “Sevenbark” for its stems with seemingly continuous layers of conspicuously peeling bark. However, the name “Ninebark” was the common name that stuck.
A member of the Rose Family, this deciduous shrub superficially resembles a cultivated Snowball Viburnum, for its hemispheric inflorescences composed of numerous white blossoms. Each individual flower has five petals and around 30 stamens - each with colorful pink anthers, prior to their pollen being shed.
Ninebark, which sometimes can grow nearly 12 feet high, has leaves that are 1 to 3 inches across and palmately veined - meaning they resemble small maple leaves with 3 to 5 lobes on each leaf.