One weekend, two dozen rare plant surveys

November 3rd, 2011 by Jennifer Youngman, Communications Specialist

by Wendy Gibble [edited for the web; see complete article on page 3 of the Rare Plant Press]

Twenty-five volunteers, agency partners and Rare Care staff gathered in Klickitat County in mid-June to monitor known populations of rare plants in the Klickitat Wildlife Area, Conboy National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas. We knew from the outset that our survey plans had to be adjusted. Late wet spring conditions caused as much as a one-month delay in the onset of flowering for many species. We were too early to catch the long-bearded sego lily (Calochortus longebarbatus var. longebarbatus) in bloom. But we caught the tail end of Baker’s linanthus (Leptosiphon bolanderi), a tiny spring annual that normally blooms in April and May. Our timing was perfect for finding Pulsifer’s monkey-flower (Mimulus pulsiferae), another tiny annual found in seasonally moist areas that seemed to have benefited from the spring moisture.  

Barrett's beardtongue, photo by Janka Hobbs

Barrett's beardtongue closeup, photo by Betty Swift

Klickitat County was an ideal location for Rare Care’s fifth annual monitoring weekend. It’s at the east end of the Columbia River Gorge, a region that hosts some of the state’s most diverse flora. The Gorge is one of the few places in the northwest where moist Pacific air meets dry Columbia Basin air near sea level, providing a corridor for migration and a refuge for relict populations from previous glacial and interglacial periods. The Columbia River system also provides a significant corridor for species movement from its headwaters in the Rocky Mountain ecoregion of British Columbia, through the Okanogan highlands, Columbia Basin shrub-steppe, and east Cascades, and out to the wetter ecoregion of the west Cascades. The convergence of these topographic features is likely a major factor in the high number of endemic species found in the vicinity.

Keying rare plants on a steep slope, photo by Julie Bresnan

Gooseberry-leaved alumroot, photo by Julie Bresnan

Twenty-four surveys were completed over the three-day campout, including new populations of rare plants such as oblong bluecurls (Trichostema oblongum), western ladies-tresses (Spiranthes porrifolia) and common bluecup (Githopsis specularioides). Regional endemics such as Barrett’s penstemon (Penstemon barrettiae), gooseberry-leaved alumroot (Heuchera grossulariifolia var. tenuifolia), and Suksdorf’s lomatium (Lomatium suksdorfii) are locally common on the cliffs and steep slopes of the Klickitat River. We monitored several populations of each and documented several new sites while surveying for other rare plant populations. We also monitored blue-flowered diffuse stickseed (Hackelia diffusa var. diffusa) and the very rare Ames’ milk-vetch (Astragalus pulsiferae var. suksdorfii), found in Washington only from an area around Conboy National Wildlife Refuge.

Diffuse stickseed, photo by Julie Bresnan

Identifying rare plants in a cool June, photo by Bev Linde

Although we accomplished so much in the short three days we had, we wrapped up the monitoring weekend with the impression that there is still much ground to cover in the region. We look forward to more explorations in the basalt canyons and pine woodlands in the coming years.

Images from top left:

  • Barrett’s penstemon, photo by Janka Hobbs
  • Barrett’s penstemon, photo by Betty Swift
  • Keying gooseberry-leaved alumroot on a steep slope, photo by Julie Bresnan
  • Gooseberry-leaved alumroot, photo by Julie Bresnan
  • Diffuse stickseed, photo by Julie Bresnan
  • Monitoring rare plants in a cool June, photo by Bev Linde

You may view additional photos on Rare Care’s page on Facebook.

 

 

Share

Bioblitz 2011 (debrief)

November 3rd, 2011 by Arboretum Education Supervisor, Patrick Mulligan

Bioblitz 2011 has come and gone, and like last year I find myself still thinking about how awesome it was a week.5 after the fact.  It’s a lot to pull together and 10 days seems about right as far as decompression goes.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but bioblitzes tap into so many different fibers of my genetic memory.  One of the things that has stuck with me since grad school is Howard Gardener’s multiple intelligence theory.  Gardener considered the standard IQ test limited and proposed 8 different kinds of intelligences to describe the ways people can be smart.  Originally, he only identified 7, but he went back several years later to add “naturalist intelligence” to the mix.  Self-diagnoses suggests I show strong tendencies toward this type, and I dare say many of those who attended UWBG Bioblitz 2011 last weekend express these character traits as well: “would rather be outdoors than in”, check; “can pick objects out of patterns”, check; “knows the names of plants & animals”, check; “observant of surroundings”, check.  All of us can find a little naturalist intelligence in ourselves, evolution wouldn’t have it any other way, but we seldom have golden opportunities to exercise such muscles as a bioblitz presents.

But aside from the obvious appeal to my nature-nerd side, this bioblitz hit me on a human level as well (Gardener’s “interpersonal intelligence”).  At one point on Saturday, I found myself on a mushroom team with a pair of traveling mycologist/photographers from Massachusetts, an energetic immigrant from the former Czechoslovakia, a Serbian visiting from Portland, a UW student from the French Alps, a family of four that included two inquisitive young boys, and the daughter of Fujitaro Kubota, of Kubota Gardens.  What brought this group together on this predictably soggy but clear fall afternoon?  I can’t be sure, but my hunch is that when these people heard about the opportunity to participate in biological inventory of the WPA, it triggered a response from their “naturalist intelligence” and like a moth to a flame could not help but be there.  Either that, or they were bored and in the neighborhood.

The highlight during that particular field session was the discovery of a stinkhorn fungus just off of Azalea Way.  The stinkhorns are a group of fungi that produce a smelly, slimy substance designed to attract flies.  The fly visits the source of the smell (a combination of gym socks and rotting fish), is covered in the spore-laden slime which later dries while the fly is in flight and in this way is dispersed far and wide.  Seed dispersal is a key concept discussed in our Plants 101 & 201 fieldtrips, but when we talk about spore producers like ferns and mosses, we typically teach that surface moisture is the only method of dispersal.  Stinkhorns obviously evolved a different approach every bit as advanced as the seed producers who rely on animals to get around.  I will never again sell these fascinating forest dwellers short, they are anything but primitive.

Noah showing Nikko the stinkhorn he found

Other highlights of the event included an illuminating dinner-time presentation from doctoral student, Rachel Mitchell, who spoke of the importance of and threats to biodiversity.  One thing that resonated from Rachel’s talk was the concept of redundancy – a characteristic of healthy ecosystems.  Rachel’s research focuses on meadow habitats where very similar but different grasses fill similar niches and serve similar functions.  Redundancy is an insurance policy that makes an ecosystem more resilient to environmental changes.  A slight change in temperature, for example, may be enough to affect one species of grass but not another, so while one species may crash, the ecosystem as a while continues to function properly.  This concept alone is enough to warrant our efforts to preserve biodiversity in the world.  To paraphrase E.O. Wilson, biodiversity is the fabric that holds the web of life together and when we tear at this fabric we risk having the whole web fall apart.

After the talk, we took to the water in search of the Arboretum’s nocturnal residents.  With help from our fearless leaders from Agua Verde Paddle Club, we paddled around Foster & Marsh Islands in small flotillas.  It didn’t take long to find what we were looking for as the first of many loud smacks echoed across the water.  All told, we accounted for 13 beavers, the bulk of which were hanging out by that funky metallic sculpture on the north side of 520.  The beavers’ tail slappings were punctuated by the occasional pterodactyl-like squawk of Great Blue Herons sent awkwardly skyward by our presence.  I felt a little bad about causing such a raucous and disturbing these and the other shadowy creatures of the marsh with our poking, but then again it’s only once a year.  The “owl-prowl” that followed our aquatic excursion was less eventful – only managing to scare up one brief conversation with a Barred Owl, but it was a lot of fun none the less.  On our way back to the greenhouse, we happened upon 3 of the chubbiest raccoons I’ve ever seen climbing straight up a Douglas Fir near the Visitor’s Center.  These ring-tailed residents have obviously figured out how to take advantage of our numerous trashcans.

raccoon signs: a dug-up hornets nest

The following morning, despite sideways rain at dawn, I was astonished to find a dozen eager birders ready to take the kayaks back out to observe the wetlands in the “daylight”.  They were rewarded for their tenacity with freshly made bagels from Bagel Oasis, and a nice list of birds that you can check out here on ebird.  The remainder of the day was devoted to mushrooms, insects and plants (those lists are still being compiled).  I would be remiss without sending out a big thank you to the Puget Sound Mycological Society for their participation, as well as to all the UWBG staff members who came out to help.  While there weren’t any earth shattering discoveries from the plant teams, it was a great opportunity to a) have a chance to engage with the public, and b) take a close look at our grounds in a non-work capacity.  After all, the mission of the UW Botanic Gardens is Sustaining managed to natural ecosystems and the human spirit through plant research, display, and education.  So not only does Bioblitz strike multiple chords with me personally, but it beautifully supports our reason for being.  We’ve decided to alternate yearly between spring and fall events to capture a more complete picture our biodiversity and avoid over-taxing our pool of specialists, meaning the next UWBG Bioblitz will be held in spring of 2013.  Stay tuned and I hope to see you there.

Share