Ghosts of Wildflowers Future

Recently, kind of on a whim, I bought four little packages of wildflower seeds from a mail-order sale that a chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society was having.

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When it comes to plants, it doesn’t get much more native than this – these seeds were all collected in the Blue Mountains of eastern Washington. Here we have western columbine (Aquilegia formosa), shooting star (Dodecatheon pulchellum), glacier lily (Erythronium grandiflorum), and red baneberry (Actaea rubra).

I’ve never attempted to start native wildflowers from seed before, so I’m figuring this out as I go along. These are all species that require a period of “cold, moist stratification” before they’ll germinate, meaning in the wild the seeds would sit in the cold soil over the winter before sprouting in the spring. Because I’m a control freak, I opted to do my own cold stratification indoors, rather than just planting the seeds outside and letting nature take its course; I transferred them into little plastic bags with some moist sand and stuck them in the fridge.

DSC_0009 (683x1024)In a couple months I’ll take them out and start the seeds in potting soil. (Well, except for the baneberry, which apparently requires two periods of cold stratification – I’ll need to take them out, keep them somewhere warm for a while, and then put them back in the fridge for a couple more months before I try to start the seeds.) Even in the best case scenario, it will be a couple years before any of the plants that grow from these seeds get to the point of blooming… so except this to be the first post of a many-part series.


Budding Birders?

It has been raining on and off for the last two days, which leads to interesting times leading hikes with fifth graders.  The rain brings out the greenness and freshness of everything, and some interesting connections get made in the kids’ heads: this afternoon I heard our woods compared to both Harry Potter and the Lion King.  Apparently in a fifth grader’s imagination, Scotland, Africa, and Ohio all look similar.

My students this week all brought cheap little pairs of binoculars to camp with them.  Sometimes this can be frustrating when I’m trying to teach them about, say, decomposition, and all they want to do is use their binoculars to spy on another passing trail group.  However, it also leads to some fun discoveries.  This afternoon two kids who were walking a little ways ahead suddenly stopped, looked very intently at something, and said “What kind of bird is that???”  I looked, expecting something conspicuous like a cardinal or maybe (if we were lucky) a Pileated Woodpecker, but I didn’t see anything at first.

“Where?  I don’t see–”

“Right there!”

Oh.  A tiny brown bird with a white eyeline, bobbing up and down as it foraged on the ground at the edge of the muddy trail.  I had been keeping an eye for Louisiana Waterthrushes all spring, ever since someone told me they nest along our stream, and now my fifth graders had found one for me!  I tried to convey to them that this was actually an interesting find despite the fact that it was just a little brown bird, and they seemed to get it.  I need to remember to show them a picture in a field guide tomorrow.

The photos in the post have nothing to do with Louisiana Waterthrushes.  They’re photos I’ve taken recently of three of our spectacular native wildflowers, Ohio spiderwort, shooting star, and wild columbine.