starting to blossom

Greetings from the Methow Valley! This is your April installment from your favorite local botanist, Mack, up in northern Washington. Spring has definitely arrived and with it a multitude of blooms, shrooms, and creatures starting to appear. Botany work is still gearing up for the main field season, but I actually managed to get into the woods for work a few times this month! Read on for some of the sights and highlights.

Earlier this month I was invited down to Lake Chelan to help some of the other district botanists with surveys for a rare fern, the Sierra cliff brake (Pellaea brachyptera). Lake Chelan is about 50 miles long, so to get to the site we drove as far down the main road as we could and then hopped on a boat for a 40-minute ride to get to our target area. After a few minutes hiking down the trail, success! We spotted our first Sierra cliff brake and quickly found a large, healthy population of the ferns. They seemed quite content with the overcast, rainy day and our continued sightings of this fern never let the weather dampen our experience.

Sierra cliff brake was not the only unique plant we found on the lakeside trail. The geology of Washington is wild as there’s a ton of unique soil and mineral deposits forming ecological niches for a variety of endemic or specialized species. The area Lake Chelan hosts quite a few plants and fungi you won’t be able to find in the rest of the state. Other notable sightings included sagebrush violet (Viola trinervata), an unusual red lichen, and an uncommon species of bearberry (Arctostaphylos patula). The cliffsides were covered with stunningly yellow blossoms of arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) and we even found morels hiding under some trees! In typical botanist fashion the group of us hardly managed to go three miles in four hours…because of course we kept stopping to look at cool plants, bugs, and rocks. We even ended up having to rush back to get to the boat dock in time for our ride to bring us safely back to the correct side of the lake!

In miscellaneous other updates, I was able to visit fellow intern Hannah over in Skykomish one weekend! It was cool to see her side of the cascades and we were able to go on a fun hike together and chatted a lot about our respective experiences in the program so far.

Back in the valley, the silviculture crew has started a major reforestation project in one of the burned areas from the 2021 Cedar Creek fire. I was able to go out and help for a day to inspect plots and learn about the administrative and practical sides of the tree replanting process. There were a handful of natural seedlings starting to show up, but the thousands of trees the silviculture team are currently planting in the project area will definitely help speed up the restoration process! We didn’t see many creatures other than the occasional bird, but we did notice some claw marks on a few of the burned trees, potentially from a bear or mountain lion? In other outings, I was able to hike up Lewis Butte with my mentor for a little botany foray. I’ve also been able to get in the field with the wildlife biologist a few times to help with goshawks surveys. (We haven’t found any yet but hopefully they’re around!)

Lewis Butte

The bulk focus for our botany program this year will be surveying white bark pines, of which are a high-elevation species and most of our survey sites are unfortunately still covered in snow. We’re still waiting for those to melt out to begin surveys, but Hwy 20 just opened up last weekend which is a sure sign of warmer days! I’m beyond excited to start getting out more (both in my personal life and for work). Hope y’all are having a great earth month, thanks for tuning in! 🙂

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