Cascadia Wildlife Blog
News from the Wolverine Tracking Project and more
End of season news
Snow is melting on the mountain and we are stowing away our snowshoes after another successful winter survey season! Our last group tracking trip went out mid-March, and our camera crews will be heading out for their last camera checks over the coming weeks. This spring we will begin our transition from winter to summer surveys, with trainings for our Summer Camera Crew and Fox Scat Surveys starting in May!
Spring is the season of renewal and new life! Many wildlife species give birth in the spring, including our community science projects namesake, the wolverine! Wolverines give birth in snowy dens between February and April. It's also the time when many plants start to spring forth from their earth, shoot out new leaves and begin to flower. What a beautiful time of year! This spring, Cascadia Wild is offering classes in tracking, botany and bird language! Come join us outside (and online) as we explore the natural world together!
April 16th, 8:00 AM- 2:00 PM: Bird Language Field Trip
April 21st, 7:00-8:30 PM: Plant Identification (online)
May 5th, 6:00-7:30 PM: Weed Walk
May 7th, 9:00 AM- 4:00 PM: Sign Tracking
Here in the Pacific Northwest, springtime usually means rain, rain, rain! But with that rain comes our lush vegetation and gorgeous spring flowers! In the spirit of the season, we headed out to Hoyt Arboretum to document some of our favorite native plants that are springing to life! Hoyt Arboretum is a beautiful natural area in Forest Park (and accessible by bus!), with 12 miles of hiking trails and home to 2,300 species of trees and shrubs! The arboretum was established to conserve endangered species and educate the community- they have trees from all over the world!
On our trip, we focused on plants that are native to Oregon- many of these plants are ones that you will find growing in natural areas around Portland, and even in some yards (especially those participating in the Backyard Habitat Certification Program)! If you are looking to dive deeper into learning about Oregon's native plants, join us for our online plant identification class on April 21st!
Native Oregon Plants
Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis), a common shrub in low elevation woodlands, is typically the first to flower in the spring! We missed their dainty white flower clusters this season, but Indian Plum is also easily identified by its broadly lance-shaped, pale green deciduous leaves. Fun fact: Indian Plums leaves smell like cucumber when crushed! Try it- you won't be disapointed!
From left to right: A photo of Indian Plum showing the general shape of the plant: tall and tree-like; A close up of Indian Plum's leaves.
Another common shrub in Oregon is Salmonberry (Rubus spectabillis), which often forms dense thickets along stream edges and in other moist forested sites from low to subalpine elevations. Salmonberry is easily recognized by its butterfly shaped leaves! Leaves form in groups of 3, as pictured below, and are sharply toothed. The two leaves opposite each other look like the wings of a butterfly. Salmonberry fruit looks a lot like a yellowish orange raspberry. These fruits will typically ripen between May-June, and are edible! Salmonberries are among the earliest berries to ripen in our region and were historically eaten by Indigenous communities along the northwest coast, often with salmon! Salmonberries don't appeal to all tastebuds, but for those who like them, they make a delicious trailside snack!
From left to right: A close up of Salmonberry leaves; a bright pink Salmonberry flower.
Salal (Gaultheria shallon) is abundant in the understory of coniferous forests and along rocky bluffs. Salal's evergreen, leathery leaves don't always stand out- but once you know it, you will see it everywhere! Salal is found in locations ranging from the ocean shore to medium elevation forested habitat. And once Salal begins to flower- you won't want to miss it! It has beautiful white or pinkish urn-shaped flowers that dangle in groups of 5-15 at the end of its branches. Its flowers are followed by dark-blue edible berries, which were an important fruit for many indigenous communities along the Northwest Coast.
Salal growing in the understory at the arboretum.
Oregon Grape (Mahonia spp.) is an iconic Pacific Northwest shrub! There are actually four species of Oregon Grape found in Oregon: Tall (Mahonia aquifolium), Dull (Mahonia nervosa), Creeping (Mahonia repens) and Dwarf Western (Mahonia pumila). Of these, Dull and Tall are most commonly found in areas around Portland, though Tall Oregon Grape is typically associated with drier environments while Dull Oregon Grape is more common in second-growth, closed-canopy conifer forests. That being said, we came across mostly Tall Oregon Grape on our trip at the arboretum- which can be distinguished based on it's height, the shininess of its leaves, the singular central vein of it's leaflets and the number of leaflets per leaf. All Oregon Grape species have distinct holly-shaped leaflets and bright yellow flowers (pictured below), which are replaced by small blue berries.
From left to right: A close up of Oregon Grape flowers; Oregon Grape growing at the base of a Douglas Fir.
Thimbleberry, or nature's toilet paper as some folks call it, is an abundant shrub found in open areas- along trails, roadsides, forest clearings and in open forests! The Thimbleberry we came across was just starting to get some leaves in- soon that cluster pictured below will be a dense thicket! Thimbleberry is affectionately referred to as nature's toilet paper due to its large, soft green leaves that can come in handy in a pinch! Soon we will begin to see Thimbleberry's delicate white flowers, followed by delicious red compound fruits mid summer.
From left to right: A close up of a young thimbleberry leaf; a thicket of thimbleberry plants.
The Pacific Northwest is home to a beautiful variety of ferns- many of which can be found in Forest Park year-round. One of the most abundant of the ferns is Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum), aptly named based on the shape of its leaves. Sword Fern is most often found in the understory of moist forested areas. Ferns, unlike many of the other plant species we've been looking at, reproduce via spores! Spores are dispersed via wind and often don't travel very far from the parent plant in closed forests. While spores are microscopic, you can often see the sori (groups of sporangia that contain spores) on the underside of the fern blade.
From left to right: A Sword Fern plant; the underside of fern frond, showing its orangish sori.
Another iconic Oregon native is Western Trillium (Trillium Ovatum)! These beautiful flowers bloom between February and June each year, but please don't pick them! Since Western Trillium grows in low light conditions, it can take between 7-9 years (or more!) for them to produce a flower. As Trillium plants get older, their flowers change from white to a pink or purple hue. So gorgeous, and definitely better left in the forest for everyone to enjoy!
A cluster of Western Trillium surrounded by leaf litter.
Vanilla-leaf (Achlys triphylla) is a perennial ground cover common in moist shady forests, along streambanks and forest edges. This simple, single stalk plant is easily recognized by its three fan-shaped leaves. When dried, the leaves produce a vanilla-like fragrance- hence the name!
Vanilla-leaf growing alongside Sword Fern and other native understory plants.
Duckfoot (Vancouveria hexandra) is another common groundcover in moist, shady forests. More often called as Northern Inside-out Flower, Duckfoot is a name that refers to the shape of its leaves!
A cluster of Ducksfoot growing amongst Sword Fern and other understory plants.
There are a lot of non-native plants at Hoyt Arboretum because it's a living museum of trees! The arboretum has tree and shrub species from all over the globe, including a beautiful trail of Magnolia species. While some Magnolias are native to the eastern United States, none native in Oregon. However, they are highly valued ornamental trees due to their beautiful and fragrant blossoms.
Pink and white Magnolia flowers along the Hoyt Arboretum Magnolia Trail.
Not all non-native species are invasive- Magnolias and other non-native trees at the arboretum are able to be safely planted because they are not likely to spread and out-compete native species. Invasive species are typically adaptable, habitat generalists with high reproductive outputs. Invasive species have negative effects on the ecosystem to which they are introduced- outcompeting other species for resources, disrupting food webs, or otherwise degrading the habitat.
A good example of an invasive plant species that we see a lot of in Oregon is English Ivy (Hedera helix). English Ivy was introduced to the Americas by colonial settlers around the early 1800's as an ornamental garden plant. Now English Ivy can be found in forests throughout the Pacific Northwest, particularly in disturbed forested areas, where is displaces native ground cover and weakens or kills native trees.
The dreaded English Ivy, creeping across the forest floor.
That's all for our native (and invasive) plant expose! We are off to enjoy some sweet spring sunshine while it lasts, and hope you will too!
P.S. If you are looking for a good PNW plant identification book, we highly recommend Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon! A lot of the information that we shared in this post was adapted from it!