Winter with Fiddleheads Nature Class

January 27th, 2015 by Sasha McGuire, Education Program Assistant

Investigating a spider sighting




The winter session of Fiddleheads Family Nature Class is in full swing this month, despite the weather. Preschoolers aged 2-5 are learning how winter is special, what a skeleton is, what a fossil is and how they form, and even delving into a little chemistry! Every week is a different theme with fun new activities to get you and your little one interested in science, nature, and the world around us.




Taking a closer look at a slug

Taking a closer look at a slug



Classes are Tuesday-Thursday mornings from 10am-12pm with a special Wednesday afternoon session from 1:30-3:30pm for preschoolers ages 4-5.

More information on price, time, discounts, location, and topics.

Call 206-685-8033 or email for more information.



What lives in a pond?

What lives in a pond?



Upcoming topics:
I Can Be a Scientist! – February 3-5

Trees Grow Up, Too – February 10-12

How Animals Move – February 24-26

Spying With Our Eyes – March 3-5

Sounds of the Forest – March 10-12

Fun In the Mud – March 17-19

Snails, Slugs, and Slimy Things – March 24-26















January Color Appears at the Washington Park Arboretum (Part II)

January 25th, 2015 by UWBG Horticulturist

Witt Winter Garden

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (January 19-31, 2015)

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (January 19-31, 2015)

1)  Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’         Bloodtwig Dogwood

  • Young stems of this cultivar are orange-yellow with the sunny side turning carmine red.
  • Stem color of species is gray to purple, while the color of C.s. ‘Midwinter Fire’ is yellow-green in summer changing to winter colors rapidly at leaf drop in fall.

2)  Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’             Witch Hazel

  • This hybrid of H. japonica and H. mollis was selected for its pale sulfur-yellow flowers which tend to glow in the low light levels of morning and evening.
  • Cultivars of witch hazel can have flower colors from pale yellow to deep red, some being quite fragrant while others are much less so.

3)  Lonicera standishii                   Honeysuckle

  • This semi-evergreen shrub bears fragrant flowers from early winter to early spring.
  • Lonicera standishii is native to China.

4)  Ruscus aculeatus                    Butcher’s Broom

  • Lacking true leaves, what you are seeing are called “cladophylls” which are simply flattened stems.
  • The flowers of this plant are dioecious, only 2 mm across and are located in the center of the cladophylls.
  • Butcher’s Broom is native to Europe, Turkey, North Africa and the Azores.

5)  Viburnum tinus ‘Pink Prelude’                Laurustinus

  • This species has been cultivated in England since the 16th century.
  • V.t. ‘Pink Prelude’ has white flowers that age to pink.
  • The flowers of laurustinus are followed by small, but showy metallic-blue fruit.

Zip-lining through the mist in Costa Rica

January 23rd, 2015 by Sarah Reichard, UW Botanic Gardens Director

One last bird, before I return to plants! The blue-crowned mot mot, photo by Michael Hobbs.

After reading through the blog posts about my recent trips to Cuba and the Costa Rica trip just concluded, I have realized I am becoming one of those people. You know. Bird people. The ones who get excited about the birds they are seeing, missing out on the fabulous plants altogether. Okay, well maybe not that extreme – I still get pretty excited about the plants, but I am starting to see the attraction of birds. Especially large, colorful birds like the mot mots, which sit still long enough for you to find them in the binoculars. I don’t expect to become a birdaholic like many of my fellow travelers, especially if it means getting up before dawn, but I do see the attraction.

As for plants, in addition to the Gunnera insignis that I mentioned earlier, my second favorite new species in Costa Rica is probably Pitcairnia brittoniana. It is a epiphytic bromeliad that grows on the sides of trees or embankments with an impossibly red inflorescence that also grows sideways, rather than the upright form of most bromeliads. Its vibrancy shouts “look at me!” through the gloom of the cloudy forests of Monteverde.


The dramatic Pitcairnea flower.

The dramatic Pitcairnea flower.

Another favorite at Monteverde was a liana in the pea family. For many years it has been known as Mucuna urens, but recent studies have thrown that species into question. The seeds are quite large and the pods have an interesting reticulated pattern. They provide nectar to the bats which pollinate the flowers, food for the larvae of the beautiful large blue morpho butterflies in the forests, and the large seeds are food for agoutis, a common large rodent. And they look cool.

Our guide, Jimmy, show us the large pods and seeds of Mucuna.

Our guide, Jimmy, show us the large pods and seeds of Mucuna.

It was also fun to see so many of the houseplants we grow in their native habitat. The split-leaf philodendron (Monstera deliciosa) was everywhere. Plants in the African violet family, like Columneas (goldfish plant), were both understory and epiphytic plants. Dieffenchias (dumb cane) found in every bank lobby in North America, are tropical understory species that are a favorite food of peccaries, a kind of wild pig. And the orchids were amazing – we visited an orchid garden that had only orchids found in Monteverde – and there were hundreds of them.


The view from our water taxi as we sped across Lago Arenal towards Monteverde.

But back to the trip: we left Volcan Arenal by boat, specifically an open-sided sort of water taxi that unofficially operates on Lago Arenal, a lake greatly enlarged by a dam to generate electricity. “Unofficially,” because the government agency that manages the dams does not want it used for such things, though it is clearly very common. It was misty as we crossed the water, landing at a location that is apparently a major ferry stopping point for travelers (lots of backpackers!) making their way between the cloud forests of Monteverde and Arenal. Despite the apparently hundreds of people using the site for embarking/disembarking every day, we scrambled up a muddy slope. Our guide, Jimmy, said that they do not put in pavement and steps because it is an “unofficial” landing spot.


The ferry landing near Monteverde, with mobs of backpackers coming and going.

We bumped along in our hired van for about an hour, before landing at our very nice hotel, with fantastic views out to the Pacific Ocean. The next morning we had our excursion to the cloud forest, where we reveled in spotting the Resplendent Quetzal. In the afternoon several of us experience zip-lining for the first time. It was supposed to be a canopy line, but it was VERY cloudy – and windy – as we allowed ourselves to be clipped to cables to zip off into the unknown – truly unknown because you could not see more than a few yards into the clouds. Forget seeing much of the canopy. It is bizarre to see your friends zipping off and disappearing into a cloud and even more bizarre to do it yourself. More than once, we questioned our wisdom at embarking on this journey, especially as the winds whipped at us. By the end, they were sending us down two at a time (legs of the rear person wrapped around the body of the front person) to increase the weight and prevent us from getting stuck part-way across because of our cable attachments “braking” on the cable as we were tossed around by the wind. It was a grand adventure but we were all (except maybe Jana) relieved to come to the last of the eight lines.

After the intense experiences we had together, it was sad to have our final dinner, knowing that by early morning some of us would be heading home, while others went on to further adventures in Costa Rica. It was a great group to travel with! We shared some amazing adventures and I can’t wait to meet up with them again soon.


We visited an orchid garden in Monteverde, where our young enthusiastic guide reminded me of our own gardener, Riz Reyes.


Our happy group. Our guide, Jimmy, is kneeling in the front and our driver, Enrique, is standing in a blue shirt.


MLK Day of Service: UBNA Work Party in Review

January 20th, 2015 by Elyse Denkers


On Jan, 19, also known as the MLK Day of Service, a group of 7 volunteers helped remove ivy from cottonwood trees near the Union Bay Natural Area waterfront.
Just along the UBNA loop trail at the waterfront viewing area, many of the cottonwood trees have been suffocated by invasive English ivy. These trees may become a safety hazard for trail-users as ivy foliage weighs down branches.

Our goal was to create “life-rings” around the impacted trees by 1) cutting ivy at a 5 ft height around the tree, 2) peeling the ivy back off the tree, and 3) digging the ivy roots out of the ground around the tree base.
The ivy still hanging on the tree will eventually die without a soil sources.


P1010224 We finished our goal of creating life-rings and removing some ground ivy, but we still have more ground ivy to remove in this area.
Another work party we be scheduled in the next few weeks to finish this area and move on to rescuing the cottonwood trees across the trail.

If you are interested in helping finish this project, please see the UW Botanic Gardens volunteer calendar. New volunteer events will be posted there. You may also contact Elyse Denkers, UBNA research assistant, directly at


Getting a Glimpse of the Elusive Resplendent Quetzal

January 16th, 2015 by Sarah Reichard, UW Botanic Gardens Director

Our Resplendent Quetzal, captured by using a cell phone through a spotting scope, not the best way to document his resplendentness.”

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, resplendent is defined as “shining brilliantly” and “characterized by glowing splendor.” Having now fulfilled a dream of more than 23 years, I have finally seen the bird given the name of “Resplendent Quetzal” and I have to say, the name is not adequate. It should be the “Amazing, Unbelievably Resplendent Quetzal.”

The species is becoming increasingly rare, as its habitats in Central America are lost to development, especially for ranching. Our guide, Jimmy, warned us that it was be very unlikely that we would see one at Monteverde, a cloud forest region of Costa Rica. But knowing that they primarily eat fruits from the avocado family (Lauraceae) he asked the local guides where there might be one in fruit, and led us to it. Sure, enough, a gorgeous male bird sat high on a branch! He sat there very obligingly, allowing us to find him with a spotting scope and binoculars. Frustratingly, though, he sat where no matter what angle we tried to get, his head was blocked by either a leafy branch or some moss dangling down. But we were able to clearly see his brilliant red belly, vibrant iridescent green back, and the streaming green tail up to two feet long! Amazing. Unbelievable. Resplendent. Indeed!

Quetzals are classified as trogons, an order of colorful tropical birds. They are large (easy to spot!) and primarily eat plants and insects. Trogons are found worldwide, but the Resplendent Quetzal is found only in cooler forests from Guatemala to Panama. It is the national bird of Guatemala and the name of their currency is called the quetzal.  Another beautiful trogon, the Cuban trogon, is found only in Cuba and was a top find in our previous trips there.

Finding and communing with this beautiful bird was deeply satisfying. After years of looking, I was able share moments with this rare and elusive bird. It also leaves me a little sad, having met my quest. What should I be looking for next? What will be my next biological pursuit?


Resplendent Quetzal. Photo by Frank Vassen.

In Pursuit of Costa Rican Birds

January 12th, 2015 by Sarah Reichard, UW Botanic Gardens Director

What a day we had yesterday! My husband Brian and I woke early to go on a bird walk with our guide, Jimmy, and Michael and Janka Hobbs. Michael is quite an expert on birds and Janka is pretty good too. We did not see much in the way of birds, but there were two classical fountains out in the middle of a pasture that made no sense at all. I presume that someone got a good deal on them and put them out to water livestock, but why put out the entire thing and not just the base?


This classical fountain was one-of-two mysteriously found in a pasture near Volcan Arenal.


Anyway, after breakfast we headed out to the Arenal Hanging Bridges. They are about 5 miles of a loop trail that takes one across several high hanging bridges at the level of the canopy. The bridges would be pretty scary, except that we have been over a number already at other sites and are something of pros at scampering across. Still, 9-10 stories high on a flimsy swinging bridge is pretty sobering.


Brian Reichard exits one of the many bridges at the Arenal Hanging Bridges. Many of the swinging suspension-bridges are more than 90 feet from the bottom.



Great Curassow. Photo by Tambako the Jaguar

This started out as a nice hike. We spotted a male Great Curassow  who played hide and seek with us in the underbrush. We hiked along for a while and then Jimmy spotted a few birds downhill that got his interest. We stopped and as we looked we realized there was a huge mixed flock of birds a ways downhill from us. As he and Michael called them out and pointed with a green laser where we should look, Jimmy realized that they were all ant eating birds. He theorized they were following swarming army ants. Then the birds got progressively closer to us, which made them much easier to see, but it also meant the army was heading right for us. We were seeing both broad-billed and rufous motmots, several tanagers, ant-eaters, etc. etc. We all got very excited and were calling out names and yelling “where? where?” as each new species was called out. It was very intense. I meant to step back and take a photo of us being intense, but it was so intense that I forgot to take a photo of us being intense. Let’s just say, when other people came down the trail, we tried to explain and they just gave us a look that said “ooooookaaaaaayyyy” as they quickly slipped by.  This went on for at least an hour. It got to the point where we could see the swarm of ants (though they were very small, so no good photos) and other insects scurried to get out of their way. Pity the poor pillbug like bugs. As they got close, the birds were so close we could nearly touch them. Finally, the ants got to where we had been standing and we had to move or be bitten ourselves. It was amazing. Michael Hobbs, our bird expert, said he added about 15 new life species to his list in that hour. There were at least 20 species following those army ants.


Great Curassow. Photo by Amy McAndrews

But the surprises where not over. We went back to the hotel for lunch and a look around the area, then headed out to one of the hot springs around Volcan Arenal. As we headed down the long road to the main road, our driver, Enrique, suddenly stopped. We all looked to see why and next to us, sitting in the grass, was a crested owl. There was a moment when we all sat stunned, looking at it and going “WHOA! What the heck!” and then we all dove for our cameras. Unfortunately, before we could get them ready, he flew off into some adjoining trees.


Crested Owl. Photo by Amy McAndrews


The somewhat fuzzy bird in the central right part of the photo is a broad-billed motmot.


The bridge seen in the lower part of the photo was one we had crossed earlier. This was taken from a bridge.

January Color Appears at the Washington Park Arboretum

January 11th, 2015 by Kathleen DeMaria, Arboretum Gardener
Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum        (January 5 - 18, 2015)

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (January 5 – 18, 2015)

“Piercing, sucking and galling!”

1)  Mites (on Sasa Bamboo and Skimmia)

  • Stippling and yellowing of leaves are often indicative of the presence of mites.
  • Feed by piercing underside of leaves and sucking chlorophyll out decreasing photosynthesis, reducing plant vigor and compromising the appearance.
  • Mites are not insects; they are arachnids.

2)  Galls (on Willow and Rose)

  • Abnormal plant growths caused by various organisms (insects, mites, fungi, etc.)
  • Galls are formed by increased production of normal plant hormones as response to feeding, egg-laying or disease infiltration and are often not harmful to the plant.
  • Galls can be on leaves, stems, twigs, buds, flowers and roots

3)  Blights (on Hazelnut and Cherry)

  • Refers to a symptom affecting plants in response to infection by a pathogen.
  • Blights come on rapidly and can cause complete chlorosis and browning of plant tissues such as leaves, branches and twigs; plant death is not uncommon.
  • Aided by cool, moist conditions and limited air flow to plants…perfect for the Pacific Northwest!

4)  Phylloxera (on Oak)

  • Microscopic, yellow sucking aphid relatives that feed on leaves and buds.
  • Yellowish spots on leaves in spring turn to brown by summer and defoliate.
  • Repeated defoliation abates photosynthesis and can lead to plant death.

5)  Armillaria root rots (shown on Bigleaf Maple, but many trees are susceptible)

  • Fungus cause stunted leaves, chlorotic needles, dieback of twigs and branches and eventually death.
  • Identified by white mats of fungal mycelium between the inner bark and wood and honey-brown mushrooms growing on or around the base of the tree.
  • A big threat to the lumber industry as the wood is unsalvageable.

Living the Pura Vida in Costa Rica

January 9th, 2015 by UWBG Communication Staff

Iguanas bask in a tree near a rest stop where we got amazing ice cream.

On the morning of January 7th, after our typical breakfast of amazing fresh fruit, eggs, and gallo pinto, the national breakfast dish made of yesterday’s leftover rice and beans, we headed out to the Organization for Tropical Studies field site, La Selva. In 1991 I took the 2 month field course in tropical ecology and much of the time was at La Selva. It looked much the same, with the same bridge high over the Rio Puerto Viejo, the same dining hall, and the same space where feverish students struggled to make sense of the data they had collected earlier in the day. We had a local guide with us, but our guide, Jimmy, used to work there and also knew the place well. Right away we saw some peccaries, a sort of wild pig, that can be smelled before seen (a sort of skunky smell). They seemed to know we were no threat, since they lived on a very large natural preserve, and just did their thing. We first hiked in second growth forest, which is obvious not just by species composition, but also by density of understory. Primary rainforests have little understory and that is mostly palms. On this hike we observed a very poisonous eyelash viper from a very safe distance. We also enjoyed watching a pale-billed woodpecker industriously remodeling his hole in  a tree snag.


A pale-billed woodpecker grooms his home.


Peccaries root around the forest floor.

After lunch, we went to a place where we learned about the indigenous people of the region. A local woman, Irma, is from a tribe native to Costa Rica, though not necessarily the group from the Rio Sarapiqui area. I had always heard that the indigenous people were not as productive and interesting as the Mayan, for instance. But Irma told us that the three tribes in the region came from Colombia, based on linguistics, but that they all developed their own syntax and customs. The group from Rio Sarapiqui were notable because they were matriarchal and polyandrous (women, especially high-ranking women, could have more than one husband). They also had interesting burial customs, burying the dead in a part of their conical-shaped hut.

From there it was a short walk away to La Tirimbina Reserve. There we hiked a bit and came to a hut where where we were told about the discovery of chocolate and our guide took us through the history of how it developed. We got to taste the goo around the fresh bean (very tropical fruit tasting), and then every step of the drying and roasting. They demonstrated making traditional hot chocolate (no milk, but spices like pepper, nutmeg, chili, etc).  We got to make our own custom blend. They then beat cocoa butters into it to make smooth and very delicious dark chocolate syrup. Then we got to taste solid milk and dark chocolate made there. It was a great afternoon!


Janka Hobbs learns how to grind the roasted beans.


We make our own custom blends of hot chocolate.

This morning we headed to Volcan Arenal. This Volcano was active for many years, but has been silent for about 5 years. When I was here in 1991 it was VERY active, spewing huge boulders out at us very stupid students who decided hiking up it was a good idea. After lunch and looking around La Fortuna, we headed up slope. We passed countless HUGE hotel complexes that were built during the active years and now are struggling. We kept going up and up, and then came to the entrance to our hotel, the Arenal Lodge. We then kept driving up their private drive anticipating our arrival. We were probably 15 minutes on this narrow winding road and were giving up ever arriving and then suddenly it was there. We were welcomed with a special cocktail (the gatekeepers had called to say were were on the way up, so they had plenty of time to prepare them…). We then went to our rooms, which are gorgeous and have what is probably an amazing view of Arenal, but we are socked in with mist right now. Hopefully it will clear up in the morning, when we have an early morning bird walk.


Volcan Arenal, visible during a rare break in the clouds.

Tomorrow there are canopy walks (rumors of a zip line) then on to one of the many hot springs in the area. Knowing Holbrook’s knack for finding the best of the best, we are anticipating a very special afternoon and then dinner at the hotel where the spa is located. Just another day of what the Ticos (Costa Ricans) called the Pura Vida.


Mother and kit racoons raid a bird-feeding station, just like at home. Seattle and Costa Rican racoons have much in common.


Primary rainforest with a palm understory.


Deadly eyelash viper.

Costa Rica Dispatch

January 7th, 2015 by Sarah Reichard, UW Botanic Gardens Director

Wow. Just wow. We have been here less than 48 hours and it feels like a week! In a good way!

Costa Rica photo

A beautiful tropical valley.

We gathered together Monday morning, many of us meeting for the first time. We set off early, doing some cultural site-seeing. For instance, we saw the world’s largest ox-cart and a church made out of steel in the late 1800s. Then we were off to Else Kientzler Botanical Garden to start acquainting ourselves with the native flora. We then headed over the mountains from the Pacific side to the Caribbean, stopping at a couple of places that did a great job of attracting a variety of birds. We saw about 8 species of hummingbirds just on the first day (there are 48 species in the country, so still a ways to go). We also saw a new Gunnera species, well, new to me, Gunnera insignis. I loved it! I don’t think we can grow it but it was nice to add it to my life list. Then we landed at Selva Verde, an eco-resort owned by Holbrook Travel, the company we have used for our trips. It is a large parcel of second-growth forest, with lots to see and do. After a night walk that revealed the glowing eyes of a caimán and other interesting critters like a transparent frog, we settled down to hard rain beating on the metal roof that put us to sleep.

Costa Rica photo

Gunnera insignis! This was in a lovely park.

Many of us got up early for a bird walk, then after breakfast we set off for another hike through the forest, seeing interesting birds and plants. A highlight of this walk were the lovely plants in the coffee family known as “Hot Lips,” for the red sepals that attract pollinating birds. But as usual, sigh, it was a bird that stole our hearts. A large semiplumbeous hawk posed for us, while looking disdainfully down at us.

Costa Rica photo

A large semiplumbeous hawk.

This afternoon, my husband, Brian, Janka Hobbs, and I opted for an adventure river rafting down the Rio Sarapiquí. With all the heavy rain last night, the river was high and we had some good adrenaline rushes, without much danger. We saw several howler monkeys with their young in the trees above the river, and large orange iguanas sunning themselves high in the trees. The rest of our group opted for a more genteel cruise on a milder part of the river. They are not back yet, so their adventures are yet to be heard. Stay tuned! Tomorrow we visit a primary rainforest, which will reveal many interesting plants and animals!


Costa Rica photo

Our group scoping birds in the early morning.

Costa Rica photos

The world’s largest ox-cart!

Costa Rica photo

Gunnera insignous beside a beautiful waterfall.

Costa Rica photo

This church is made entirely of steel.

January 2015 Plant Profile: Helleborus x ericsmithii ‘Shooting Star’

December 31st, 2014 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

Helleborus Shooting StarThe first of the year starts off with a bang with a most wonderful hellebore hybrid to ring in the new year showing the first blossoms of the season. Here at the Center for Urban Horticulture, we’ve acquired quite a selection of hellebores thanks to Skagit Gardens and Northwest Garden Nursery. ‘Shooting Star’ is one that’s been under our watchful eye for its third season now and we’ve been impressed with its excellent foliage and vigor along with the early flower power it possesses in the garden. We have it growing in three different locations at the Center for Urban Horticulture and each specimen is thriving, making it a stand-out in the winter landscape.

All types of hellebores are beginning to pop up at local nurseries. Many will be in full bloom, so you can select from hybrid seed strains or clones such as ‘Shooting Star,’ which will be all identical compared to the seed-grown strains. Hellebores make wonderful container plants and can be potted up or safely planted into the garden as long as the ground is not frozen.

‘Shooting Star’ opens to a pale blush pink with just a hint of green. As it ages, it slowly turns greener and the pink is accentuated. These “antiqued” blooms last into March.

Companions: Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ (black mondo grass), Cyclamen coum, Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ (sweet flag), Pulmonaria hyrbids (Lungwort)


Genus: Helleborus
Species: × ericsmithii
Cultivar: ‘Coseh 790′   Shooting Star  USPP #22424
Common Name: Lenten Rose
Location: Douglas Parking Lot, Soest Garden South Slope, Miller Library North Foundation Plantings
Origin: Garden Origin
Height and Spread: 10-12 inches high and about 1.25 feet wide
Bloom/Fruit Time: Late December-early March