snowshowers bring spring flowers

Greetings from the Methow Valley! Thanks for tuning into Mack’s latest botany-based blog. It’s still a bit early for field season to start, so most of my work this month has consisted of diving further into the forest management aspect of botany. I’ve been learning a lot about the legal and logistical side of the position (more computer time unfortunately) but that hasn’t stopped me from exploring the district on my own time! I thought I’d share some of places, plants, and critters I’ve encountered over the past month, hope you enjoy!

winter wonderland

Evergreens, bryophytes, lichens, and budding trees are the main winter focus of botanists up in northern regions. The snow has been swiftly melting the last few weeks making skiing and hiking a bit too sketchy for comfort (I did not want to get caught in an avalanche no thank you). Before the days started getting warmer, I managed to squeeze in a few higher-elevation hikes. One such hike was up to Cedar Falls (shown below), where the dominant tree species were: ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, and western red cedar. A few fun facts about each conifer: Ponderosa bark is extremely hardy and fire resistant with deep furrows and often charred inner lines. The trees give off a slight scent which grows stronger under sunlight or heat. The next time you find yourself around one of these beauties I’d highly recommend taking a sniff and let me know whether you smell vanilla or butterscotch (the correct answer). Douglas firs have a long history and a multitude of uses but a quick and fun one is using the needles to make a tasty lemony-tea high in vitamin C and vitamin A. If you want to try it, collect the brighter green new shoots on the end of the branches then dry before steeping as you would normal tea. If you collect more mature shoots, you can still get a nice, albeit much more earthy tea. Cedars have so many uses and so much lore behind them that I don’t have time to get into it all! These majestic trees can reach up to 70 meters tall, have highly rot-resistant wood, and often house a variety of animal species. The first nations used all of these tree species and I’d highly recommend learning more about the indigenous knowledge and culture surrounding these trees if you have time.

snowmelt

Back in the lower valley, as the snow began to melt, hikes along the river led to several adorable evergreen fern sightings! Check out the delicate lace lip fern and the common western polypody. Both of these ferns adore rocky areas and can often be found growing on cliffsides or hiding in scree fields. I could do a whole blog just about ferns (maybe I will hehe so check back in a few months). The variety of spore shapes, sporangia arrangements, leaf shape, pinnation, texture, etc…there’s so many characteristics you have to keep an eye on when identifying ferns. While some species are much more common or distinct than others, there’s a plethora of cryptic species (beware the moonwort madness) and look-a-likes or hybrids that makes pteridology (the study a ferns) feel like the naturalist’s version of detective work.

Switching gears (briefly) away from my botany-focused ramblings, there has certainly been an increase in wildlife in the area as well. The birds are back in town and the grouse are ready to give you a fright! I swear I’ve been scared more times in my life by grouse than any other creature. These birds love to wait until the last possible second to fly off and make this dramatic wing-flapping cacophony as they take to the air. I’m still dipping my toes in the ornithology world but one of my friends identified the (very poorly photographed) dusty grouse hanging out in a burned sagebrush-conifer area (photo below). One of the big surprises on a hike was the first bear of the season! Don’t let the coloring fool you, this little guy is a black bear! They have a lot of different color-morphs up in the north cascades as black bears can actually be found with either black, brown, cinnamon, blonde, blue-grey or even white fur. Another color-changing little friend I spotted this month was the snowshoe hare! There was a group of them (herd? bunch? warren?) grazing under some aspen. The buns are in their cute patchwork phase as they’re slowly losing their white winter coats in exchange for their summer browns.

spring flowers

After the equinox, the sunny days led to a splattering of yellow and white flowers popping up across the hillsides. The iconic arrowleaf balsamroot, which normally begin to flower in late April, decided to start early this year! I saw the first one in bloom just the other day. Yellow bells and buttercups herald in the spring with their brilliant coloring in shrubby areas. The more subtle biscuitroots can be found on drier hillsides while the pale spring beauties pop up beneath conifers. Tiny bluebells (Mertensia spp.) have also arrived on the scene, but I failed to get any good photos of the delicate bells.

Hopefully next month field work will actually kick off and I’ll have more adventures to share with y’all! Until next time, happy spring!

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