Weeds: A Stitch in Time Saves Nine–Yellow Flag Iris

Bag full of iris seed capsules and root sections

Bag full of iris seed capsules and root sections bound for landfill (don’t compost!)

Weeds are a fact of life for every farmer, forester, ecologist, gardener, and property owner.  Plants, like all living things, are concerned with survival and reproduction and mankind has assisted in this endeavor, both to our glee and to our dismay. Some weeds are only “obnoxious”, or “a pain in the grass” as Kitsap County Noxious Weed Coordinator Dana Coggon is fond of saying.  Others are noxious weeds, a legally defined term. In Washington, 50% of all invasive, noxious weeds have escaped from gardens; the remainder have been accidentally introduced by travel and trade.

My current weed challenge is a formidable one of the noxious, escaped-from-gardens kind.  Our large, nearly one acre pond, with it’s year round moist ground and many visiting birds, is a perfect environment for weeds to thrive in the vegetative buffer  surrounding the waters edge.  When we purchased our property in the early 90′s, the pond was mowed to the edge and surrounded by nothing but turf.  In 20 years we have planted a zillion plants around the pond with birds and wind delivering a variety of volunteer natives.  Now the water is obscured from view in areas, according to our landscape plan.

The vegetative buffer is the life blood of our yard and as it has increased and grown up, so have the number of creatures we witness from birds to dragonflies to salamanders.  The buffer is an amazingly dense, protective habitat.  I have always hand weeded around the pond, yanking Himalayan and evergreen blackberries from day one, but doing so gets both harder and easier yearly.  In other words, the more beneficial, native plants get established and sizable, the better they outcompete and shade out weed seedlings, reducing the number to pull.  This same situation makes tenacious noxious weeds more of a challenge.

pond viewBecause of the breadth and height of the buffer (over my head in some places), a plant can get a toe hold before I notice it, making removal more difficult.  This is what happened with the noxious weed yellow flag iris  (Iris pseudoacorus) which now covers massive areas of the pond, growing in water as much as 30″ deep.  Except for bloom time in late spring when it’s yellow flowers are beacons; the grassy, long, sword-like foliage blends in with the cat tails.  Closer examination requires bushwhacking through salal and donning hip waders.

The Negative Impacts of Yellow Flag Iris

The term ‘noxious weeds’ includes non-native grasses, flowering plants, shrubs and trees as well as aquatic plants that invade wetlands, rivers, lakes and shorelines.  Like many noxious weeds, yellow flag outcompetes native plants.  In the wetland environment, yellow flag creates a monoculture that reduces the ability of populations of waterfowl, and other wildlife to support themselves.  Living things that rely on native plants for food or specific habitat for reproduction and life cycle completion are negatively impacted by yellow flag’s ability to clog waterways and displace natives like rushes and sedges.  It is also toxic to livestock, avoided by most herbivores, and causes skin irritation in humans.  Yellow flag is considered invasive in Vermont, Virginia, Connecticut, Massachusetts as well as New Zealand and Australia.

My Control Plan

Foliage only for yard waste recycle--no roots or seeds!

Foliage only for yard waste recycle–no roots or seeds!

My own lack of knowledge allowed this plant to thrive for too long, making eradiation harder.  If only I had acted on removing it when I first learned its classification as Class C noxious weed in Washington, I wouldn’t have needed to remove 2 utility trailers full of yellow flag iris over the long labor day weekend in 2013.  Nor would I likely be working towards a 3-5 year eradication plan with Dana Coggon’s advice.  “A stitch in time saves nine” is the weeder’s mantra.  Or as Dana’s weed newsletters state: “One a day keeps a million away”.

Blooms in late April, early May in W Washington

Blooms in late April, early May in W Washington

Two years ago, when the yellow flowers showed up on the opposite side of the pond, Istarted annually removing all the fruit capsules from the iris to at least prevent spread from seed.  One of the reasons yellow flag is such a daunting noxious weed is that in addition to disk-like seeds that disperse with water movement, the perennial, rhizomatous roots spread laterally from the main plant and any fragments of root are capable of floating off and taking hold. Apparently, one continuous rhizome can support hundreds of flowering plants.

The easiest time of the year for me to remove the 4 angled fruit capsules is late summer when the water level of the pond is lowest.  I remove the individual seed capsules from the long stems and put them in trash bags for the landfill.  The remainder of the flowering stalk has no reproductive capacity and therefore goes in the regular yard waste recycling.  The Kitsap County Noxious Weed Program in partnership with Kitsap County Solid Waste department offers special noxious weed bags that homeowners can use, with a voucher to dispose of the worst noxious weeds at county waste facilities at no charge.

unripe and ripe seed capsules

unripe and ripe seed capsules

Last year my control efforts redoubled per a new handout that Dana created on controlling yellow flag, which includes a new tactic that I hadn’t previously considered–cutting all leaves and stems below the water line.  The idea being, reduce the plant’s ability to photosynthesize, therefore starving the root of energy.  The research she found on this technique states it to be most effective if the plants are cut before flowering–for my area of Washington, that’s March.  Hmmm. that’s when my pond’s water level is the highest.  However, that’s also before many of the native plants surrounding my pond leaf out, which may help somewhat with access.

Last year I cut back all the iris foliage below the waterline, removed all the seed capsules (or so I thought) and yanked any seedlings that I could find.  I did this over labor day weekend, which may not be as effective as doing it in March, but it’s better than nothing.  By September, the plants have collected and stored a powerful amount of food in their strong, persistent roots, but not having another 2 months to store more energy before going dormant should help somewhat.  So begins my 3-5 year eradication plan.

New iris leaves coming up from where I cut them off last fall

New iris leaves coming up from where I cut them off last fall

As I write this in February of 2014, the foliage of the pond’s edge is dormant, making the iris’ foliage very clear and definable.  Though I cut all the iris leaves below the surface of the water last September, they are peaking through, robust and defiant.   If the pond weren’t frozen right now, it would be a good time to cut the foliage back because it is visible and more accessible than any other time of the year.  Not to mention that we have had an unusually dry winter, and the pond’s level is lower than in previous winters–again, easier access.

Last week, when the pond froze over, I went out to take photographs.  On closer inspection of the surface, I was dismayed by the number of iris seeds (they float, which allows for their tenacious spread) imbedded in the surface of the ice.  They are very distinctive–flat disks, burnt orange in color when ripe and relatively large.  I plucked a handful that I could reach by the edge and put them in the trash.  In this major battle, every little bit helps.

Iris seeds frozen on pond surface

Iris seeds frozen on pond surface

And here I had thought I had cut off all last year’s seed heads.  Arrg!

This year I plan to add a fourth tactic when I start digging the most accessible plants out by the rhizomes, though this inevitably will leave pieces of root to re-grow.    The idea is that with each technique I employ with yellow flag iris, the better control I will get over time.  My goal is at some date in the future I will spend a few hours a year with scouting and control, as opposed to this last year’s four full days of removal.

Learn More

To read Kitsap County Noxious Weed Program’s information on yellow flag iris and control options: http://county.wsu.edu/kitsap/nrs/noxious/Pages/Weeds.aspx Click on “Yellow flag” or peruse the other excellent resources on that page.

For more information on yellow flag iris, visit the Washington State Noxious Weed Website: http://www.nwcb.wa.gov/siteFiles/Yellow_flag_iris.pdf

©Colleen Miko 2014

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Persicaria virginiana ‘Variegata’ –PLANT FIX

Persicaria virgniana ‘Vareigata’ shines in autumn

Such a cool plant–but I can never remember it’s name.  I purchased it from the old Heronswood Nursery in Kingston as Persicaria virginiana ‘Variegata’, but I see it listed from time to time now with the genus name of Tovara.  This is one plant I’ve not seen offered in a local nursery since I bought it–catalog order is most likely your only source.

Regardless of it’s plant tag or how you get your hands on it, this is a swell perennial that I have never needed to divide in the 15+ years I’ve had it, and it’s produced a mere 2 seedlings after the only summer warm enough for 1 of my three original plants to flower.  I have heard that the original green form from the Eastern United States can become a bully.  For me, anyway ‘Variegata’ is nothing of the sort.

Look ma! no “chevron”

Many know of Tovara virginiana ‘Painter’s Palette’–recognizable by the distinctive maroon chevron on each variegated leaf.  But plain ‘Variegata” has no red patterning and I prefer it–a tad cleaner look in my eyes.  It’s perfect with the bright blue fall blooms of monkshood, a standout foil to any plain green foliage, and a dramatic companion to the dark purple leafed Ligularias.  The lightly colored leaves bring a bright splash to a dark location and in the early evening, or during a full moon, it positively glows.

Persicaria virginiana ‘Variegata’ superficially resembles a Hosta.  Taking awhile in spring to get going, you’ll not remember it’s dallying come summer and fall–when it looks strong and healthy–not tired and ready for dormancy, like Hostas do right about now.

Lighting up a partial shade bedPersicaria virginiana ‘Variegata’ requires afternoon shade and it doesn’t tolerate drought.  Afternoon sun will cause it to wilt, even with ample water–and that’s here in our notoriously cool summer Pacific Northwest.  In warmer climes than mine, full shade might be requisite.  This is not, however, a water hog that likes wet feet.  It prefers either soil with a high humus content or heavier consistency that doesn’t dry out too quickly.  The right site and you’ll be in for a long, rewarding relationship with Persicaria virginiana ‘Variegata’.  Happy plant hunting.

© Colleen Miko, 2013

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The Spot for Garden Art–Design Inspiration

What is this place in Ellensburg, WA?

This summer on my way to a meeting, I fell upon something fabulous and inspirational.  I am always moved by outdoor spaces where its obvious the creator is both artist and gardener.  In this case, the home and garden that entranced me was fashioned by two well known artists.  The boldness, the scale, the detail  made it such that there’s no way that anyone in the little town of Ellensburg, Washington is unaware of the corner I was parked in front of smiling.

little spotLucky to have my good camera on me, I gleefully skipped out of my parked car into the sunshine. “Dick and Jane’s Spot”, as the sign & visitor kiosk would have, was the place.  I snapped photo after photo taking in the site that I would in my limited art lingo, refer to as folk art.  The diversity of mediums and substrates much appearing to be salvaged and recycled, a variety of styles, themes and humor all intimated this was the work of multiple hands.  To the pleasure of accidental tourists like myself, “What is this place?” is answered in the kiosk: “the spot” represents the skills of more than 40 artists.

little spotsThe 10 minutes I had to enjoy Richard Elliot and Jane Orlemon’s garden was an unexpected treat.  My photos and the website have allowed me pleasurable visits several times since.  One of the first things that nabbed me was the use of bottle caps–10,000 says the website.  For 2 years I had been collecting and asking friends to collect beer caps having been inspired by a so-adorned door front in the historic town of Bisbee, Arizona.  I yearned for a similar project at home and would start shortly after witnessing the Spot.

little bucklesBottle caps are smattered across wooden fences combined with reflectors, Richard Elliot’s most famous medium.  Caps, both metal and plastic cover posts and are woven into metal fences in melodic, colorful patterns.  Buckles and chains, wing nuts and keys–some painted, some rusted–enliven every surface.  There were groups of school and teenage kids that came by and signed the guest book, taking it all in as I did.

little garageThere are mosaic paths of pebbles, tile and reclaimed materials; a bright wall bedecked in hubcaps whose patterns resemble kaleidoscopes; neon art; sculptures, bottle trees and of course, a lovely garden backdrop. On the north wall of the house is a series of Dick Elliot’s reflector art installations and a sculpture row of stacked insulators from the Grand Coulee Dam.  Jane’s painterly hand is evidenced everywhere.  It’s an understatement to call this place photogenic.

little uncle

Uncle Sam, a sculpture by Jane Orlemon

Stumbling upon “the Spot” this summer was serendipitous for me; but it’s the kind of place I would go out of my way to see.  I recommend enjoying it in person if you can and learning more about Richard (Dick) Elliot and Jane Orlemon’s art and their garden delight online if you can’t.  http://www.reflectorart.com features their biographies, impressive artistic work and on the part of the site dedicated to the Spot, a cool 2 minute video in which Jane and Dick talk about their unique corner in Ellensburg, WA.

© Colleen Miko, 2013

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The Soul Garden–The Perennial Bookworm

Soul Garden coverThe Soul Garden:.  Creating Green Spaces for Inner Growth & Spiritual Renewal.  Donald Norfolk, 2002.  The Overlook Press, 288 pages, 8.3 x 5.7″, $27.95 (hardcover).

Most gardeners and professional horticulturists believe that the act of creating, tending and sitting in a garden promotes well-being. The science of horticultural therapy provides backing to the notion that  gardeners have speculated on since the beginning of man; which is: being outside in the presence of lush plants is good for us.  We who tend gardens as a hobby or business receive the direct benefits, though we don’t often dwell on why this is so or how to cultivate a garden specifically to promote health.

Delving into history, the author of the Soul Garden shares the philosophies of others who, back to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, have espoused the healing power of gardens.  While recommending landscape features that inspire spirituality and the kinds of outdoor activities that can give meaning to our lives, the book also discusses some of the philosophic basis for horticultural therapy.  Unfortunately, there is scant mention of the hard science that is being done in this burgeoning field.

One of the most powerful parts of the book for me was the discussion of what I would call  gardening obsession and how the drive to work, improve and collect as part of the hobby  can detract  from the spiritual enjoyment one can take from the garden setting.  As a gardening addict myself, I found some of this argument spot on, but other reasoning false.

For instance, collecting plants, knowing their classification and Latin names is satisfying for me as it expands my understanding of the individual plants themselves, the field of botany and related  natural sciences.  I suppose that if I were so obsessed with the act of collecting that I could not expand my appreciation for plants beyond the act of procuring and cataloging them, that might be another story.

The argument that did resonate with me is that it’s important  to remind ourselves that if we only look at the garden through the eyes of the do-er, we aren’t taking advantage of the full power of the garden to ground and balance us.  No doubt I am guilty of this; looking out into my yard and seeing only the chores, or the so-called failings in my  mind, whether they be of design or maintenance.  Or perhaps my focus is on stemming the tide of plant disease or death, when in reality, that’s part of the cycle of life that quite often we can’t control.

This book is a refreshing reminder to continually enjoy and find repose in the garden.  After all, it we don’t take the time to savor the fruits of our labor, why is it that we tend and create gardens in the first place?   In other words, if the hammock goes unused due to chores, perhaps one needs to re-think the garden.  If the bench becomes merely a focal point at the intersection of an axis and not a place to stop, sit and appreciate the vista, the gardener needs to gently re-direct back to the concept of gardening for the soul.

© Colleen Miko, 2013

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Sarcococca confusa (Sweet box)–PLANT FIX

Sweet box branches in a handthrown vase by Dotty Patrick

Sweet box branches in a handthrown vase by Dotty Patrick

Valentine’s Day is upon us and I’ve always thought that the best gift for a sweetheart that adores flowers is a PLANT.  A bouquet is beautiful, but a flowering plant is the “gift that keeps on giving”.  And so, the ideal present in my mind is a witch hazel, hellebore, camellia or Sarcococca–anything with a lovely winter flower to brighten up gray days.  Even if it’s a bare root, as yet barren rose–the gardener knows the potential and will appreciate the thoughtful gesture of many a bouquet to come.

Some type of fly visits Sarcococca flowers

Some type of fly visits Sarcococca flowers

Over the years I have added several winter bloomers to my garden so that I have “flower power” to get me through the dark days. Sarcococca confusa shrubs are planted in shady locations so that their strong fragrance finds me when I’m out in the garden, or more commonly at this time of the year, on my way to and fro work.  The scent of Sarcococca in late January and most of February lifts my spirits.  As soon as I notice it, I clip some branches to put in a tall vase by my front door and bring a handful inside for further enjoyment.

A handful is all you need.  Some who are sensitive to strong perfumes might find sweet box too much for a closed-in space, but I adore it.  If your front door is on the north side of the house, I recommend planting a Sarcococca there.  Alas, my entry faces west and receives way too much sun for sweet box.  No worries–a tall vase of branches on the front porch  lasts a long time in the cool of the outdoors, way beyond that of the vase on my dining table.  Sarcococca is most attractive when grown in full shade and rich soil.  It will grow with more sun provided it is given ample water, but the leaves will be smaller, yellower and less glossy.

My desire to bring the flowers indoors turned into an opportunity to prune the Sarcococca growing lushly on the north side of my garage.  As I rustled the branches, various flies and other tiny insects like gnats took to the air.  Ah ha!  These must be the pollinators for the tiny, white, petalless flowers.  No bees, beetles or other better known winged-ones were in sight.  Flowers are fragrant, after all, to insure cross pollination, not for human pleasure, though what a wonderful by-product.  There are both male and female flowers on Sarcococca, and the males are distinguished by long white anthers.

The flowers are hardly noticeable amongst the foliage.  Back in my nursery days I remember customers whiffing large, scentless camellias or anything blooming nearby in search of “that heavenly smell”.  It was always fun to introduce people to sweet box and see their surprise that such an inconspicuous blossom could pack a punch. Sarcococca confusa is an evergreen shrub that reaches approximately 5′ feet high by 5′ wide in time and is largely pest and disease free.

A Valentine’s bouquet of sweet box from your garden or a 1 gallon pot or larger (Sarcococca does bloom when young) would be a welcome gift for your flower-loving sweetheart or yourself.

© Colleen Miko, 2013

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Local Chocolate Tradition–100 years of Sweets for your Sweetie

rocaDid you know that Brown & Haley, the manufacturer of Almond Roca® is a Washington company that has been in business 100 years? Brown & Haley is the third largest maker of boxed chocolates in the United States and its yummy candy is sold in more than 63 countries.

My Mom’s favorite candy was Almond Roca® and the familiar pink tin was a gift giving staple in our house. It wasn’t until I moved to Port Orchard that I learned it was made in Tacoma.  Upon further research, I was discouraged to find that the plant wasn’t open for tours.  Housed in the same downtown Tacoma  building since 1919, the chocolate factory is not set up for public viewing.  The chocolatier has a long and fascinating history, and OUTLET STORES; both things Mom would have truly appreciated.

IMG_0676The proximity of the factory to the Camp Lewis military base provided the initial market for what started out as the “Mt.Tacoma” bar, now the Mountain® Bar.  Almond Roca® was created in 1923 and became a big hit at the base. The later introduction of the pink tin in 1927 expanded  the shelf life of the buttercrunch toffees and Brown & Haley signed a contract with the US War Department to ship Almond Roca® to overseas military personnel.  This is how much of the world was introduced to Mountain® Bar and the buttercrunch confection that now comes in the flavors of mocha, cashew, dark, macadamia, candy cane and sugar free.

brown and haleyTo learn more about the history of Brown & Haley, visit their website www.brown-haley.com and check out the two outlet stores–one in Fife and one in Tacoma to get some great deals on chocolates for Valentine’s Day or for mailing to out of state friends for other occasions.  The best bargains are the “manufacturing bloopers” or “boo-boos” which are what they call the chocolates that came off the processing line looking less than perfect, but that still taste divine–those go in our freezer for home enjoyment.

© Colleen Miko, 2013

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Attract Bats to your Garden with the Rocket box

Rocket box style bat house installed in full sun

Rocket box style bat house installed in full sun

Are you interested in attracting bats to your garden?  If so, this is a great time of year to plan for their arrival.  Many of the bats we see here in the Northwest have either gone south for the winter, or are tucked away in roosts, conserving precious energy by limiting their activity until the weather warms.

You may have heard that bats are wonderful for insect control and they are—a bat can eat as many as 1,000 insects an hour. By devouring mosquitoes, crane flies and other pests, they protect our crops and human health.  Bats are also mesmerizing, beautiful creatures to observe.  Unfortunately, bat numbers are declining in the US and world, with dire consequences to our environment.

Many western Washington bats are forest dwellers—sleeping and raising their babies (pups, as they are known) in live or dead trees.  When we cut down trees and move into forested areas, we disturb their habitat.  We can help by preserving trees, snags and by building bat houses.  Pacific Northwest species that might use a bat house include Little brown myotis, Big brown bat, Long-eared bat, California myotis and Yuma myotis.

While there is no guarantee that your bat house will be inhabited, there are basic tips to improve your chances, most of which involve understanding that bats need heat—lots of heat, as well as open space around their dwellings.

  • Put your bat house in full sun—the hottest place on your property (usually      south or west facing) and preferably on its own, tall post, not on a      building.
  • Completely seal the house with caulk and paint with flat, black exterior latex paint      so that it collects and holds heat
  • Place where entrance to the house is unobstructed so that bats have a wide, open      area with which to safely fly in and out without bumping into things, and      where predators cannot easily ambush them—10-15 feet vertically and      horizontally.
  • Don’t use pesticides

There are several styles of bat houses, but I have installed a Rocket-Box bat house at my place, upon the recommendation of Bats Northwest.  This type of house is named as such because it resembles a bottle rocket.  The idea behind a rocket box is that a bat that roosts in one can move to whatever side of the house they want to achieve maximum comfort.  The south side of the house will be the warmest, the north side, the coolest, and bats can select their favorite spot at different times of the day and year.

The best season to install a bat house is in late spring when bats are returning from migration or becoming active after hibernation.  Therefore, this is a perfect time to build one.

For detailed information on how to construct the rocket box, check out:

Bats Northwest, Inc.
P.O. Box 3026
Lynnwood, WA98046
Information on local bat species, their habits and conservation.  Website features building plans for rocket box and other style bat houses, as well as resources on how to safely and humanely remove unwanted bats from buildings.  Bats Northwest usually has an information booth at the NW Flower & Garden Show in Seattle–this year’s show runs February 20-24, 2013.

“Build a Better Bat House” by Colleen Miko, WestSound Home & Garden Magazine, Spring 2012 Issue.

The Bat House Forum www.bathouseforum.org
Connect and communicate with others who have bat boxes.

Bat Conservation International www.batcon.org
Information on the conservation of bats worldwide with books and DVDs on bat houses.

© Colleen Miko, 2013

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Why Every Man Needs A Tractor–Perennial Bookworm

9780711232396 (1)Why Every Man Needs A Tractor: and Other Revelations in the Garden.  Charles Elliot, 2011.  Frances-Lincoln,192 pages, 8 x 5.25″, $19.95 (hardcover).

This book is a collection of short pieces on the forgotten and sometimes amusing history of horticultural science and landscape design.  With a sensibility both American and British (Elliot is an American who has lived in Wales since 1985), the ideas, books and individuals he addresses impact how we farm and garden today.  The author examines the written works of other authors on particular topics, in a way reviewing those books, while injecting his own impressions of the book’s characters–scientists, plant explorers, noxious weeds and devastating agricultural pests.  Elliot delivers curious garden esoterica and stories from his own plot in an easy to digest format. The is a nice read for those of us who enjoy non-fiction topics but don’t have the time or desire to read a whole tome on a dismissed botanist.  The composition allows an entertaining introduction to an concept and the means to explore it more if it grabs you.

© Colleen Miko, 2013

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Looking for Lichens on New Year

antlered perfume

Lichen I believe to be Antlered Perfume (Evernia prunastri)

2013 came in auspiciously with the crisp, sunny day we enjoyed.  It was so beautiful outdoors I had to get out with my camera.  On chilly winter days it can be easy to assume the garden is asleep but those with an inquiring mind know better.  In fact, there are tiny, involved worlds thriving on an apparently dormant tree branch.  I can spend hours investigating the denizens of bark and rotting wood when the cover of leaves is removed.  Moss and lichen abound in our part of the country, thanks to the moist environment.  Peacefully searching for these uniquely graceful and often unappreciated organisms is how I chose to spend a good spell of New Year’s Day, but they can be found any day of the year.

Lipstick Cladonia, a form of club lichen with bright red fruiting bodies originating from the fungus partner

Lipstick Cladonia, a form of club lichen with bright red fruiting bodies originating from the fungus partner

A lichen is a phenomenally interesting organism in that is made up of a fungus and an alga living symbiotically.  The fungus in the relationship provides physical support and soaks up moisture from the environment and the alga (often a green or blue-green algae) photosynthesizes light from the sun to feed the fungus.   Lichen comes in many forms, with the algae and fungi having evolved together in partnership.  Not unlike the two organisms that make up sea coral, lichen is complex and fascinating.

Since lichens can be found on both living and dead wood (as well as on rocks and bare ground), some people mistakenly believe that lichen is the causal agent for the dead branches they find on trees and shrubs.  The presence of lichen on woody plants is a natural occurrence that doesn’t harm the plant.  The lichen shallowly clings to the bark, growing very slowly and not deriving any nutrients from the plant itself, but instead from the air and rain.  Lichen is therefore not parasitic in any way and shouldn’t be removed.

Common witch's hair lichen are browsed on by deer

Common witch’s hair lichen are browsed on by deer

The average lichen is so inconspicuous as to go completely unnoticed.  Take the white crustose lichen found on mature red alder trunks as an example.  Most people assume the lovely, blotchy white pattern on the trunks of red alder is the color of the bark itself.  In actuality, the bark is solid gray with elaborate colonies of lichen species imparting the snowing coloration.  However, some lichen are flamboyantly shaped, taking on hairier, branched forms.

White crustose lichens on red alder

White crustose lichens on red alder

Lichens are impactful to forest ecosystems in that they absorb moisture when it’s plentiful and evaporate it slowly into the air, serving as a form of humidifier.  They also play a role in nutrient cycling as lichens can absorb nitrogen from the air and convert it to usable sources for plants.  The converted nitrogen in the lichen can leach by rainfall, or the lichen itself can fall to the soil and decompose.  Lichens are a prominent provider of nitrogen to forest trees and useful to insects and animals for food and nesting material.

Not a specialist in lichens, I stumble along identifying the different types in my garden.  With the leaves long dropped, it’s easiest to appreciate the forms, colors and shapes now, whether or not I can positively tell the difference between species with funny names like ragbag or tickertape bone.   On the dawn of a new year, I must remind myself that one doesn’t have to be able to identify something to appreciate it.

Here’s to a glorious 2013 where we can all make time to marvel at the natural curiosities in our gardens and investigate the wild spaces around us.  Happy New Year!

For more information on lichens; see these websites:


Lichenland website from OSU:


Lichen key from OregonStateUniversity:


Intro to lichens from UC Berkeley:


© Colleen Miko, 2013

Posted in Misc, Nature | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Support Your Local Christmas Tree Farm–Viva Verde

Happiness is a sweet cat and a noble fir

Happiness is a sweet cat and a noble fir

How quickly the fall season has transitioned into the “holiday” season.  The speed from which we go from autumn color to wreaths is mind blowing.   Time already to contemplate getting our Christmas tree.  In the hustle and bustle of the holidays, there is joy in supporting local farmers and artisans.  Shopping local is a concept that includes supporting your nearby tree farm.

In my family one of our beloved holiday traditions is choosing, adorning and displaying a fresh cut tree in our home.  The beauty and the fragrance of a live tree is a warm reminder of the natural beauty around us and how fortunate we are to have bountiful natural resources in our region.

How lucky we are in the Northwest to have such a wonderful selection, as well as affordable price point for fresh, fragrant conifers.  Cut your own or buy one cut, Christmas tree farms abound in our neck of the woods.  A great resource to check out your local tree farms, see what products they provide, their hours and locations is the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association’s website: www.nwchristmastrees.org

The website is nicely organized so that you can enter your county and see the farms closest to you.  Each farm listing has a map, indicates the different types and sizes of trees they carry and what other offerings you’ll find there, including gift shops, wagon rides, garlands, free cider, and more.  Then you can go directly to the website of the farm itself for even more information.  The online guide has 43 Washington and 67 Oregon tree farms listed.

While a bit more work to buy and set up a fresh cut tree as opposed to an artificial one, there are many benefits.  Local tree farms sequester carbon, produce oxygen and support wildlife while keeping the land from being developed.  Artificial trees cannot be recycled into rich mulch like fresh trees can; when a plastic tree has outlived its usefulness, it is destined for the landfill.  If you are considering replacing your artificial tree, garlands or wreaths this year, why not switch to neighborhood grown, fresh tree and boughs?  Going with the family to select a unique, fragrant tree is a heart warming holiday tradition.

© Colleen Miko, 2012

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