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Month: March 2015

Seed Circus!

Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds table at the Seed Circus
Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seed’s table at the Seed Circus

Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds had a booth at the Rogue Valley Seed Exchange and Seed Circus — put on by Families for Food Freedom — yesterday, in Ashland, OR. What a fun event! Seed lovers and plant enthusiasts of all kinds came out to join in the festivities to further develop and engage community seed networks. Native seeds have an integral role to play in sustainable agriculture and land management. It would be great to see more communities having events that encourage community seed networks, such as this one in Ashland. Thanks to everyone who helped make the event a success!

For more information about the seed circus visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/614561075341437/

Seed circus!
Seed circus!
The tiny Siskiyou frittilaria (Frittilaria glauca). Notice the ant on the leaf.
The tiny Siskiyou frittilaria (Frittilaria glauca). Notice the ant on the leaf.
Baker cypress (Cupressus bakeri) is the most northern cypress in North America. It has a range restricted to only northern California and southern Oregon, predominately in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains.
Baker cypress (Cupressus bakeri) is the most northern cypress in North America. It has a range restricted to only northern California and southern Oregon, predominately in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains.

Tucked into the borderlands of northern California and southern Oregon, the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains are a place of raw, rugged beauty renowned for their biodiversity. The region is home to more species of conifer —32 of them—than any other temperate conifer forest in North America. The Klamath-Siskiyou ranks second in North America in terms of endemism (organisms found nowhere else in the world), and third in total species richness.

Shown is one of the largest Baker cypress (Cupressus bakeri) trees in the world. This grove of large trees is located at Miller Lake in the Siskiyou Mountains.
Shown is one of the largest Baker cypress (Cupressus bakeri) trees in the world. This grove of large trees is located at Miller Lake in the Siskiyou Mountains.

The region rises abruptly, creating a jumbled mass of rugged and diverse mountains, jagged peaks, wild rivers, and deep forest. Ancient and complex bedrock defines the Klamath-Siskiyou region as a whole. This seemingly haphazard patchwork of rock types creates and supports an unusually diverse and contrasting mosaic of habitat types, microclimates and plant diversity.

Umbrella plant or Indian rhubarb (Darmera peltatum) flower, emerging prior to the leaves in spring.
Umbrella plant or Indian rhubarb (Darmera peltatum) flower, emerging prior to the large leaves in spring.
Umbrella plant  or Indian rhubarb (Darmera peltatum) on Goff Creek, a tributary to the Klamath River.
Umbrella plant or Indian rhubarb (Darmera peltatum) on Goff Creek, a tributary to the Klamath River.

The following is a description of the Klamath-Siskiyou by the World Wildlife Fund. The Klamath-Siskiyou Region is on WWF’s “Global 200: The Most Outstanding and Representative Areas of Biodiversity.” For their complete description please visit the link below. This description was written in the 1990s, but is still relevant to this day.


“Temperate Coniferous Forest: Located in northwestern California and southwestern Oregon, complex terrain, geology, climate, and biogeographic history have created one of the Earth’s most extraordinary expressions of temperate biodiversity in the Klamath and Siskiyou Mountains. Although well known among biologists, few North Americans realize the uniqueness and importance of the species and communities in this ecoregion. Indeed, logging, mining, road building, and grazing continue to be intensive and pervasive threats to this area.

Mountain monardella (Monardella odoratissima)
Mountain monardella (Monardella odoratissima) on Abney Butte on the Siskiyou Crest, looking toward Cook ‘n Green Butte.
Horsemint (Agastache urticifolia) in the large meadows of the Silver Fork Basin, the headwaters of Elliott Creek in the Siskiyou Mountains.
Horsemint (Agastache urticifolia) in the large meadows of the Silver Fork Basin, the headwaters of Elliott Creek in the Siskiyou Mountains.

Biological Distinctiveness
The Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion is considered a global center of biodiversity (Wallace 1982), an IUCN Area of Global Botanical Significance (1 of 7 in North America), and is proposed as a World Heritage Site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve (Vance-Borland et al. 1995). The biodiversity of these rugged coastal mountains of northwestern California and southwestern Oregon has garnered this acclaim because the region harbors one of the four richest temperate coniferous forests in the world (along with the Southeastern Conifer forests of North America, forests of Sichuan, China, and the forests of the Primorye region of the Russian Far East), with complex biogeographic patterns, high endemism, and unusual community assemblages. A variety of factors contribute to the region’s extraordinary living wealth. The region escaped extensive glaciation during recent ice ages, providing both a refuge for numerous taxa and long periods of relatively favorable conditions for species to adapt to specialized conditions. Shifts in climate over time have helped make this ecoregion a junction and transition zone for several major biotas, namely those of the Great Basin, the Oregon Coast Range, the Cascades Range, the Sierra Nevada, the California Central Valley, and Coastal Province of Northern California. Elements from all of these zones are currently present in the ecoregion’s communities. Temperate conifer tree species richness reaches a global maximum in the Klamath-Siskiyous with 30 species, including 7 endemics, and alpha diversity (single-site) measured at 17 species within a single square mile (2.59 km2) at one locality (Vance-Borland et al. 1995). Overall, around 3,500 plant species are known from the region, with many habitat specialists (including 90 serpentine specialists) and local endemics.

Henderson's horkelia (Horkelia hendersonii) on the Siskiyou Crest.
Henderson’s horkelia (Horkelia hendersonii), an endemic species, on the Siskiyou Crest.

The great heterogeneity of the region’s biodiveristy is due to the area’s rugged terrain, very complex geology and soils (giving the region the name “the Klamath Knot” [A noteworthy book titled The Klamath Knot was written by David Rains Wallace in 1983]), and strong gradients in moisture decreasing away from the coast (e.g., more than300 cm (120in)/annum to less than 50 cm (20 in)/annum). Habitats are varied and range from wet coastal temperate rainforests to moist inland forests dominated by Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), Pinus ponderosa, and P. lambertiana mixed with a variety of other conifers and hardwoods (e.g., Chamaecyparis lawsoniana, Lithocarpus densiflora, Taxus brevifolia, and Quercus chrysolepis); drier oak forests and savannas with Quercus garryana and Q. kelloggii; serpentine formations with well-developed sclerophyllous shrubs; higher elevation forests with Douglas fir, Tsuga mertensiana, Abies concolor and Abies magnifica; alpine grasslands on the higher peaks; and cranberry and pitcher plant bogs. Many species and communities have adapted to very narrow bands of environmental conditions or to very specific soils such as serpentine outcrops. Local endemism is quite pronounced with numerous species restricted to single mountains, watersheds, or even single habitat patches, tributary streambanks, or springs (e.g., herbaceous plants, salamanders, carabid beetles, land snails, see Olson 1991). Such fine-grained and complex distribution patterns means that any losses of native forests or habitats in this ecoregion can

significantly contribute to species extinction. Several of the only known localities for endemic harvestman, spiders, land snails, and other invertebrates have been heavily altered or lost through logging within the last decade, and the current status of these species is unknown (Olson 1991). Unfortunately, many invertebrate species with distribution patterns and habitat preferences that make them prone to extinction, such as old growth specialist species, are rarely recognized or listed as federal endangered species. Indeed, 83 species of Pacific Northwest freshwater mussels and land snails with extensive documentation of their endangerment were denied federal listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1994 (J. Belsky, pers. comm. 1994).

Rivers and streams of the Klamath-Siskiyou region support a distinctive fish fauna, including nine species of native salmonids (salmon and trout), and several endemic or near-endemic species such as the tui chub (Gila bicolor), the Klamath small-scale sucker (Catostomus rimiculus), and the coastrange sculpin (Cottus aleuticus). Many unusual aquatic invertebrates are also occur in the region.” -WWF

Snow plant (Sarcodes sanguinea) in the Klamath Mountains.
Snow plant (Sarcodes sanguinea) in the Klamath Mountains.
Gentner's frittilaria (Frittilaria gentneri) in the foothills of the Applegate Valley.
Gentner’s frittilaria (Frittilaria gentneri), an endemic species,  in the foothills of the Applegate Valley.
Monarch butterfly on showy milkweed

Monarch butterflies are an iconic species. Many people remember a time when they were omnipresent in the summer in the United States, but times have unfortunately changed as the monarch butterfly faces more threats to their survival than ever. The monarch butterfly is known by scientists as Danaus plexippus, which in Greek literally means “sleepy transformation.” Monarchs that live east of the continental divide embark on a spectacular annual migration to winter roost sites in oyamel trees in the mountains of Michoacán, Mexico.

The World Wildlife Fund explained the results of a recent survey of monarch populations as follows: “A new survey of migratory monarch butterflies at their wintering habitat shows a 69% increase in the area they occupied this winter in relation to last year’s winter. Yet this is still the second smallest area occupied by these butterflies in Mexican sanctuaries since 1993.

Monarch eggs on Showy milkweed
Monarch eggs on showy milkweed

Monarch butterflies, which hibernate in Mexico, migrate between 1,200 to 2,800 miles from Canada and the United States to establish their colonies in temperate forests in the outskirts of Michoacán and the State of Mexico. The forest area occupied by these colonies serves as an indirect indicator of the number of butterflies that come to Mexico.

Monarch caterpillar on Showy milkweed
Monarch caterpillar on showy milkweed

To survey these colonies, biweekly trips were made to colonies with a historic presence of butterflies, and the location and perimeters occupied by monarchs was determined using a spatial analysis software. The study was carried out by the WWF-Telcel Alliance and Mexico’s National Commission of Protected Natural Areas. In total, nine monarch butterfly colonies were recorded, both inside and outside of the Monarch Butterfly Reserve.

“The 2.79 acres occupied by monarchs this season should serve as additional motivation for the leaders of Canada, Mexico, and the United States to translate the commitment they made in Mexico in February 2014, to concrete and immediate actions”, said Omar Vidal, Director General of WWF in Mexico. “It is crucial that we restore and protect the habitat of this iconic species in all three countries, but above all that we limit the use of herbicide and land conversion in the United States and maintain efforts to avoid deforestation in Mexico,” he added.”

Pismo beach, California monarch grove. Monarchs on Monterey cypress tree.
Pismo beach, California monarch grove in January. The monarchs are on a Monterey cypress tree.

Monarch butterflies that live west of the continental divide, however, including monarchs that migrate through the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion, overwinter in various groves of trees along the central and southern California coast. The International Environmental Law Project released a report in 2012 entitled, The Legal Status of Monarch Butterflies in California, which states that “observations from annual counts of overwintering butterflies in California reveal monarch population declines of approximately 90 percent across most sites with some sites faring significantly worse.”

Pismo beach, California monarch grove in January. Monarchs on non-native eucaplyptus trees.
Pismo beach, California monarch grove in January. Monarchs are on non-native eucalyptus trees.

There are many reasons for this significant decline, including agricultural and urban development, pesticides, logging of overwintering habitat in Mexico, climate change, and loss of milkweed, the main food source for monarch larvae.

The following quote from the Center for Biological Diversity’s shows the obstacles the monarch butterfly is currently facing: “The heart of the monarch’s range is the midwestern “Corn Belt,” where most of the world’s monarchs are born on milkweed plants growing in agricultural fields. Because of the ubiquitous spraying of Roundup on corn and soy that have been genetically modified to resist herbicides, the monarch is in bad trouble in the core of its range, where its sole host plant, milkweed, is disappearing. In a one-two punch, climate change is undermining the stable weather conditions and predictable flowering seasons that monarchs need to complete their migration. Climate change also threatens these butterflies’ overwintering habitat in the mountain forests of Mexico. Just as Joshua Tree National Park will soon no longer support Joshua trees, the International Monarch Reserve in Mexico is expected to become climatically unsuitable for monarchs by the end of the century.”

Monarch chrysalis on Showy milkweed.
Monarch chrysalis on showy milkweed.

Milkweed has long had a bad rap because of its potential toxicity to livestock. Many farmers consider the plant a weed and either spray it with herbicides or simply plow it under; however, female monarch butterflies lay their eggs exclusively on the leaves of milkweed plants. These host plants are the only food that monarch caterpillars will eat. As the caterpillars ingest milkweed the toxins in the plant are stored in their bodies, making the caterpillars and adults toxic to many predators.

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)
Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)

The Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion is home to three native species of milkweed: Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), Narrowleaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis), and Purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia). Showy milkweed can be spotted along roadsides, in drainage ditches, in unplowed fields, and other locations within the valley bottom. This species ranges from the Midwest to the west coast and north into Canada. This is the largest of the milkweed species in the Klamath-Siskiyou and the most common.

Narrowleaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis)
Narrowleaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis)

Narrowleaf milkweed has a long, narrow leaf and small, pale pink flowers with a distribution that includes most western states down to Baja California. This plant is rhizomatous and spreads readily. It prefers to grow in full sun in dry or moist conditions. It can also be found in abandoned or unplowed fields and along roadside ditches in low elevation habitat.

Purple milkweed is a spectacularly beautiful species that is native to parts of California, Nevada and Oregon. Purple milkweed has a more dispersed distribution within the Klamath-Siskiyou than the showy or narrowleaf milkweed and is less well known. Purple milkweed prefers to grow on rocky slopes or outcrops in woodland and coniferous forests. Native Americans used the fiber in milkweed plants for the creation of ropes and nets. Anthropologists found a 40 foot long deer net made from purple milkweed that required an estimated 35,000 plant stalks to construct.

Purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia)
Purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia)

The monarch population continues to decline at an alarming rate. If we don’t act soon to increase, protect and restore monarch habitat we may see the population of this majestic and iconic species dwindle. Consider planting milkweed for monarch butterfly recovery; you will be glad you did. Within a short time the monarchs will find your patch of milkweed and begin using it for their reproduction and migratory needs to insure their survival into the future. You may not personally be able to do much to help other endangered species, like polar bears for instance, but there is a tangible thing you can do to help the endangered monarch butterfly: plant milkweed! You can help an endangered species right in your own backyard.

Monarch caterpillar
Monarch caterpillar

Responding to a petition from environmental organizations and butterfly advocacy groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) opened a “status review,” a step in the right direction toward future recovery of monarch butterflies. This week marks the end of the public comment period for the status review, in which the USFWS was asking for public input on whether or not monarch butterflies warrant endangered species protection. Let’s hope the USFWS does the right thing and lists the monarch as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.

Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds currently has both showy milkweed and narrow leaf milkweed seeds for sale. Hopefully next year we will also add purple milkweed to our inventory.

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) seed
Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) seed

To view a photo essay of the monarch butterfly lifecycle in the Klamath-Siskiyou, see a blog post we wrote for The Siskiyou Crest Blog at:  http://thesiskiyoucrest.blogspot.com/2014/07/monarch-butterflies-in-siskiyou_4.html

Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds