May Meanderings

Hello from your favorite botanist, Mack, up in the north cascades! Summer has finally arrived to the Methow Valley (mostly) and May has brought much needed time on the job out of the office. A lot has happened in the past month, and while I’d love to tell you every little detail, I’m going to give my hands a break and just type up the highlight reel.

Moss Mayhem

Starting off strong early in the month I had the privilege to join the Washington moss expert, Erica, out on the Colville National Forest for a moss identification day. Going the typical speed of botanists, we probably travelled a grand total of 2 miles the whole day as we were constantly finding tiny moss friends everywhere we looked. Some rocks and logs had up to eight species right there! Several mosses are easily identified to species based on their growth form, leaf arrangement, and spore-producing structures – which are often in the form of capsules. Others can be tricker and require looking at leaf cross sections under a microscope, often with added chemical dyes to see the cell structure of the moss. If you’re interested in learning more about mosses, I’d highly recommend checking out Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Gathering Moss!

Floral Findings

Every month brings a new wave of flowers, and I was excited to see some old and new friends appear this month. One of my all-time favorites is bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva), which has a rich history of use by indigenous people, though the Latin name is a nod to Lewis (from the Lewis and Clark expedition). The species name “rediviva” comes from bitterroot’s ability to regrow from extremely dry roots. Another fun fact about bitterroot is its leaves appear first, growing early in the spring with a succulent, almost sea anemone-like appearance, though they disappear by the time the flowers bloom in May. Bitterroot is also the state flower of Montana! Some other fun finds this month included Solomon’s seal, red osier dogwood, fairy lady’s slipper, lyall’s mariposa lily (another favorite of mine, I love the fringed petals), and a what I believe is a mutant version of larkspur. Often upland larkspur or Delphinium nuttallianum is a deep blue-purple color, but I found one that was pink! It’s been a while since I’ve taken any genetics courses so I couldn’t tell you why this flower decided to switch shades, but it’s very pretty to look at.

Promising Pines

As mentioned in a previous blog post, one of our major projects this year is whitebark pine surveys across our whole forest. I could (and probably will) write a whole article just on whitebark pine, but for a sneak peek this tree is one of the high-elevation five-needled pines we have in the USA. In Washington, we only have two 5-needle pine species: whitebark pine and western white pine. When the trees are old enough to produce cones, they’re super easy to tell them apart as whitebark pine has deep purple-red, resinous (sapy) cones that stay closed while western white pine produces really long, grey-brown cones that open up to disperse the seeds. At the sapling stage, when the trees are smaller and don’t have any cones, it can get a bit tricky to tell the two apart. Looking close at the color and feeling the texture of the needles is the quickest way to differentiate the two, so I’ve been fondling a lot of trees in the last few weeks to see who’s who. If you want to learn more about whitebark pine and some of the other 5-needle pines I’d recommend checking out the whitebark pine ecoystem foundation as they have a lot of helpful information on their website.

Aurora Awe

The aurora borealis swept across most of North America earlier this month and this night was too stunning not to mention! While this wasn’t a work-related activity, up here in the Methow Valley we had a front row view of the gorgeous night sky. A few friends and I drove up to one of the mountain ridges to bask in the glow of the northern lights and laugh with exhilaration at the stunning display. It was an absolutely magical evening and I’m beyond grateful that we got to see as much as we did. Hopefully everyone was able to catch a glimpse!

Tune in for more next month!

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.