The pale and unassuming beauty of white rushlily (Hastingsia alba) is often overlooked. Found only in northern California and southern Oregon, white rushlily is a common site for botany enthusiasts who hike around the region, but in general, is a little known plant.
White rushlily grows in many different habitat types but is most often found in moist areas in forest, brush, meadow, riparian, wetland and rocky places. Depending on the soil type it can grow up to 3′ tall, but if the soils are particularly harsh it will be much smaller, especially on serpentine soil.
Hastingsia is a small genus in the plant family Asparagaceae, the asparagus family, and the subfamily Agavoideae, the agave subfamily. The genus Hastingsia used to be classified in the lily family, hence the name white rushlily, but this has changed in recent years. Now Hastingsia is classified in the same subfamily as California native plants such as desert agave (Agave deserti) and Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia). Seem strange to you? Plants are great teachers about the interconnectedness of species. There are two other plant genera in the Klamath-Siskiyou that are also in the agave subfamily: Camas (Camassia) and Soaproot (Chlorogalum).
Other related and endemic rushlilies in the Klamath-Siskiyou are also worth searching out. In the northern part of the Illinois Valley of southern Oregon grows the large-flowered rush lily (Hastingsia bracteosa var. bracteosa). In the southern part of the Illinois valley of southern Oregon grows the purple flowered rushlily (Hastingsia bracteosa var. atropurpurea). In northern California grows the Klamath rushlily (Hastingsia serpentinicola). For more information on the taxonomy of Hastingsia species in the Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion, please check out: Species boundary quandaries in Hastingsia (Agavoideae, Asparagaceae).
Although white rushlily grows in wet meadows, bogs and rocky seeps in the wild, it is easily adapted to the irrigated garden environment; it is happy to dry out in the late summer, as it does in many seasonal seeps and springs in the wild. Flowering occurs between May and June at lower elevations and June to July at higher elevations. Growing white rushlily from seed is easy to do but will take some patience. From seed it will be several years until the bulb develops enough stored energy to flower. Propagation by seed requires three months of cold stratification.
Many pollinator species use white rushlily in the garden, including many different bumble bees. I recently stopped to check a patch of showy milkweed for use by monarch butterflies and realized the milkweed was growing in a natural rocky seep on a roadside in combination with white rushlily, right in the valley bottom. It is a highly adaptable plant.
Hastingsia alba (Durand) S. Watson
Habit: Bulb 26–56 mm, 17–31 mm wide. Inflorescence: dense; branches generally 2–3. Flower: 6–8 mm; perianth parts elongating as anthers mature, equal, white to +- yellow, outer +- 1 mm wide, linear, blunt, inner +- 2 mm wide, ovate, acute. Fruit: 6–9 mm, oblong. Chromosomes: n=26.
Ecology: Wet meadows, bogs, rocky seeps; Elevation: 500–2300 m. Bioregional Distribution: NW, CaR, n SNH; Distribution Outside California: southwestern Oregon. Flowering Time: Jun–Jul
Synonyms: Schoenolirion album Durand
Seed collecting season has begun! As the warm and sunny days of summer approach, early blooming native plants are starting to set seed. It’s a good time to think ahead and plan for seed planting this fall and winter.
What native plant species will you need seed for this year?
Habitat Restoration:Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds encourages those currently planning a habitat restoration project to take advantage of our contract seed collecting services to make sure you get the seeds you will need in time for implementation of your project. Contact us about your project and for more information regarding our contract seed collecting services. Source-identified seeds adapted to the Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion will establish better than seed sourced from outside the ecoregion, and they provide local genetic stock for regional pant conservation.
Garden use: Perhaps you need seed for a particular plant species? For a pollinator garden, rock garden, native specimen plant, bird habitat, native medicinals, native edibles, or for your backyard botanical garden? For specific requests we recommend that you make a pre-order to let us know what you are looking for. Pre-orders make it more likely we will search out the particular species you want as we collect larger amounts from common and more popular species.
Now is the time to let us know what native seed you are looking for!
This past weekend Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds had a booth at the Master Gardener’s Spring Garden Fair at the Jackson County Expo. This two-day event near Medford, Oregon is the largest garden fair in between San Francisco, California and Portland, Oregon. This year saw record attendance at the Fair and our booth was very busy!
The enthusiasm we encountered for native plants was very encouraging. There is a growing interest in planting natives for wildlife habitat, birds, pollinators, native plant conservation, water conservation, wild food, plant medicine, and beauty! Folks that stopped by our booth bought native seeds and plants for backyard gardens, as well as for habitat restoration and biodiversity on their land.
It is always a joy to engage the public about the benefits of planting natives. Direct contact with our customers at events allows for detailed discussions about native seed and plant propagation techniques, as well as choosing appropriate plant species for various geographic locations and site-specific conditions.
Thanks to everyone for a very successful and fun event!
Anise swallowtail butterflies (Papilio zelicaon) are a welcome sight in the Klamath-Siskiyou in the summer. These large and showy butterflies are not only beautiful, but they are also pollinators that perform an ecological service. Although these beauties are common, it is always a treat to observe one as it nectars on flowers and flutters about. Unlike the well-known monarch butterfly that migrates each winter, swallowtail butterflies do not migrate. Instead, they form chrysalids in early fall which overwinter in protected places until emerging in the spring. As I write this post anise swallowtail butterflies have begun to emerge and be seen around the Klamath-Siskiyou.
Anise swallowtail butterflies use larval host plants in the family Apiaceae. In the Klamath-Siskiyou this includes Lomatium species, which go by common names such as desert parsley, buscuitroot, wild parsley, Indian parsnip, or just plain lomatium.
The name of the anise swallowtail butterfly came from the fact that, as its native habitat has diminished, it has adapted to using non-native fennel — sometimes referred to as wild anise — as a larval host plant. It will also use carrots, parsley and parsnips in a vegetable garden, so keep an eye out. I had about fifteen anise swallowtail butterfly caterpillars on parsley and parsnip plants in my garden last summer.
It’s too bad this butterfly species wasn’t called the lomatium butterfly instead, in order to highlight it’s native larval host plant. Lomatiums also provide habitat for all kinds of other pollinators and insects, including spiders, beetles, flies, bees and more.
This past summer I was lucky to find and observe numerous anise swallowtail butterfly chrysalids that developed from the caterpillars feeding on parsley and parsnips in my garden, including this chrysalis that I found on the eve of my house while cleaning my gutters.
The lifecycle of anise swallowtail butterflies is different in different ecotypes. At the McLaughlin Natural Reserve in Californiathey have observed the following: “Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) is common throughout the western United States, and feeds on plants in the carrot family including the invasive fennel (Foeniculum vulgare). Populations on serpentine, such as those at the reserve, feed on serpentine endemic species of Lomatium. In most of its range the Anise Swallowtail is capable of undergoing more than one generation per year, but populations on serpentine may be genetically limited to a single brood per year. The pupae in serpentine populations may even remain dormant for several years before metamorphosing into adults; this is likely an adaptation to a harsh and fluctuating environment, just like seed dormancy in plants.”
As a defense mechanism anise swallowtail caterpillars have an unusal feature: osmeterium or “stinkhorns.” Home Ground Habitat Nursery(which has a great write-up on swallowtail butterflies by the way!) describes it this way: “The osmeterium is an eversible organ, concealed in a slit behind the head. If the larva is disturbed it everts the bright orange-colored osmeterium, and discharges a foul scent. The scent the larvae discharges upon eversion of its osmeterium comes from a secondary biochemical compound produced by a number of plants in the carrot family (Apiaceae). The biochemical compound is not essential to the life of the plant; but necessary to elicit feeding by the larvae. The osmeterium is just one of the defenses against visual predators; in the case of birds, most of which do not have a highly developed sense of smell, it might be more the startling effect of a sudden change to the form of the larvae that affords some protection.”
In addition to be a larval host plant for anise swallowtails, and habitat for a whole host of other beneficial pollinators and insects, lomatiums are also amazing medicinal plants for people! What’s not to love about lomatiums? In Michael Moore’s classic book, Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West, he writes the following about lomatium: “Lomatium has been used for centuries as a medicine by Native Americans who live in the Great Basin; it was used by many Mormon settlers in Utah and Nevada, and it was well known by some Oregon pioneers. They all used it for lung problems, bad fevers, and pneumonia, and there are many references to its value for persistent winter fevers…Further, several of the aromatics have been shown to limit replication or shedding in many viruses, and they also seem to shorten the duration of the viral infection and limit the surface area of mucus membranes that become infected.”
Common Lomatiums of the Klamath-Siskiyou:
Lomatium californicum — up to 4′ tall and usually found growing on wooded or brushy slopes, in open grassy areas, or in upland prairie.
Lomatium dissectum — up to 4′ tall and usually found growing on wooded or brushy slopes, in open grassy areas, or in upland prairie.
Lomatium triternatum — up to 3′ tall and usually found on open slopes and in pine woodland.
Lomatium nudicaule — 1′-2’tall and usually found on rocky slopes, flats, brushy areas, and generally pine woodland.
Lomatium macrocarpum — 4″- 1.5’tall and found in rocky openings within forests and has an affinity to serpentine soil.
Lomatium urticulatum — 4″- 1.5′ tall and found in open grassy slopes, meadows and woodland.
Slide Show: Naturally occurring hybridized fawn lilies along the Mule Mountain Trail in the Upper Applegate Valley of southern Oregon. Erythronium citrinum x hendersonii
With the unusually warm April weather in the Klamath-Siskiyou lately the fawn lilies (Erythronium spp.) have already bloomed at lower elevations, and are now starting to bloom higher up as the snow melts.
As many plants do, fawn lily species can hybridize. Along the Mule Mountain Trail, in the Upper Applegate Valley of southern Oregon, the fawn lilies have hybridized to make an outstanding floral display of all different color variations. The two species that have hybridized are Henderson’s fawn lily (Erythronium hendersonii) and lemon colored fawn lily (Erythronium citrinum). As a hybrid they are Erythronium citrinum x hendersonii.
Henderson’s fawn lily (Erythronium hendersonii) in the Williams Valley
The purple Henderson’s fawn lily are found throughout the Applegate Valley, but as you make your way up the watershed, along the main stem of the Applegate River, Henderson’s fawn lily runs into the population of lemon colored fawn lily that occurs in the upper reaches and tributary streams of the river. Where the two populations merge they hybridize, creating an unusual and fantastic display.
Other Fawn Lilies of the Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion
Tom Landis of Native Plant Nursery Consulting, and Suzie Savoie of Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds, met through a shared passion for monarch butterfly conservation. Through their affiliation with Southern Oregon Monarch Advocates, they came up with a plan to create a practical and useful guide to growing native pollinator plants in southern Oregon. For both native plant and pollinator enthusiasts alike, this guide will help local gardeners and land managers to create better habitat for pollinators throughout the region. Thanks to everyone who helped make this publication possible. Please share widely!
Click on the link below to read the newly released guide to growing native plants for pollinator conservation in southern Oregon.
It’s March 6th and Pacific hound’s tongue (Cynoglossum grande) has started to bloom in the Klamath-Siskiyou. This early-blooming native perennial plant in the borage family supposedly gets its name from the resemblance of its leaf shape to that of a dog’s tongue. I personally don’t think of a dog’s tongue when I look at this lovely wildflower, but the story behind the name may be a lot more interesting than it appears.
Preferring to grow in light dappled shade, hound’s tongue is commonly found growing beneath Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana). Appearing in late February to March, the striking foliage of hound’s tongue is followed by 1′-2′ flowering stalks with bold, blue flowers and white centers that resemble forget-me-nots.
The uniquely intense blue flower color, with distinct white center, may have evolved to help pollinators zero in on the pollen, helping aid it’s own pollination. Hound’s tongue attracts native bees and hummingbirds and is an occasional larval host plant for moths and butterflies.
Native plants that grow in dry, shady environments are not easy to find for a garden setting, but hound’s tongue is perfect for such a location. Having a large taproot, hound’s tongue does best with little or no supplemental water, but will tolerate some summer water with good drainage. After flowering and setting seed, hound’s tongue goes completely dormant in the summer, an adaptation for survival during the dry summer months.
The vivid blue flowers of hound’s tongue will fade into a lovely lavender color as it gets close to setting seed. The seed has evolved hook-like appendages on the seed coat that grab onto and attach to anything nearby, including animals or human socks. This seed dispersal tactic works great and has helped the distribution of hound’s tongue.
We have found hound’s tongue to be an easy plant to encourage, grow and propagate in oak woodland and mixed conifer forest on our own land. The best method we have found has been planting hound’s tongue seed into the site of a burn pile after burning debris from forest health thinning. Once the small, circular burn pile has cooled — or even if it was burned a year ago — you can seed hound’s tongue into the ash in the winter, and come spring you will have a circle of hound’s tongue sprouts! They do well in this setting that mimics natural fire disturbance, where there is little competition and wonderfully mineral-rich soil to help nourish the small seedlings.
Hound’s tongue can also be seeded into containers and grown out for a season before transplanting into your preferred location, or direct sown into a dry shady spot without too much competing vegetation.
Hound’s tongue ranges from British Columbia south to San Luis Obispo county in California. In Oregon it occurs only on the west side of the Cascade Mountains, except in the Columbia River Gorge.
When hound’s tongue is flowering that is a sign that the morel mushrooms are also emerging from the low-elevation chaparral and oak woodland communities. Spring is on!
This video and photos in this blog post show numerous bumble bee species foraging on non-native heather (Erica spp.) plants in our garden on February 24, 2016.
It’s still winter in the Klamath-Siskiyou, but the warm, spring-like days this February have brought out the bumble bees! Bumble bees are some of the first bees seen in the spring because they are specially adapted to be active in colder weather than most other bees.
Early emerging bumble bees are hard pressed to find flowers in February, but there are some native plants flowering already that they can utilize. I have seen snow queen or spring queen (Synthyris reniformis) and Nuttall’s toothwort or spring beauty (Cardamine nuttallii) blooming in the canyon I live in, along with several different species of willow (Salix spp.). The first Indian warrior (Pedicularis densiflora), gold stars (Crocidium multicaule) and native violets (Viola spp.) are all blooming in the Klamath-Siskiyou at low elevations, and the grass widows (Olsynium douglasii) will be blooming soon on sunny slopes and rock outcrops. For the bumble bees, spring will soon begin in earnest.
Indian warrior (Pedicularis densiflora)
Bumble bees provide excellent pollination services for the diverse native plant species in our region, and this relationship and interdependence is crucial for the survival of imperiled native plants and pollinators alike. If you want to manage your land or garden for pollinator conservation the best thing you can do is plant flowering native plants that provide pollen and nectar throughout the growing season: early season, mid season, and late season flowers.
Bumble bees are classified in the genus Bombus. The Pacific Northwest is home to many native species of bumble bees, broken down into the following groups: the red-tailed group, the striped group, the black-tailed group, the whites, the yellow-faced bumble bees, and the cuckoo bees.
The Bees In Your Backyard: A Guide to North America’s Bees gives the following information about bumble bees:
The name Bombus comes from the Greek word bombos, which means “a buzzing sound,” referring to the low hum these bees make as they fly gracefully around flowers. The common name “bumble bee” can be traced back to the word bombelen in Middle English (AD 1200-1500), which means “to hum.” In fact, prior to the 1920s, bumble bees were more often called “humble bees,” also a reference to the soft droning inherent in their foraging activities. The term “humble bees” was used by both William Shakespeare in A Midsummer Nights Dream and by Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species. A few popular articles in the 1920s about Bombus referred to them as “bumble bees” and the new name took.
Bumble bees are among the few bees native to North America that are truly social, with a queen and workers.
Like European honey bees, bumble bee workers collect copious amounts of nectar, which they bring back to the hive for storage. Unlike honey bees, however, the bumble bee workers do not dehydrate the stored nectar, turning it into honey. Instead this nectar is used by bumble bees, along with pollen, to feed the developing young. Because bumble bee hives begin anew each year, there is no need to store large amounts of nectar as honey to sustain the workers through the winter the way that honey bee colonies must.
Studies have shown that for many crops, pollination by bumble bees produces bigger fruit, faster fruit set and larger yields than other pollination methods, most specifically honey bee pollination. First, bumble bees have a distinct advantage over European honey bees when it comes to retrieving pollen from some plants: they can buzz pollinate. They are therefore much more effective pollinators of some important crops, specifically with flowers requiring buzz pollination. These plants include tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, potatoes, and even some berries like blueberries. Second, bumble bees have been shown to be faster workers than honey bees, often visiting twice as many flowers per minute. Finally, researchers have estimated that bumble bees will do at least eight times more work than a honey bee because bumble bees can remain active in cold temperatures, and they can carry more pollen.
Bumble bees have special adaptations that allow them to be active in colder weather and colder climates than most other bees. In addition to their thick and insulating coat of hair, bumble bees often bask in the sun to warm themselves before they head out to forage. When sun and fuzz aren’t enough, bumble bees can actually generate heat internally by shivering their flight muscles. These bees can uncouple their wings from their flight muscle, allowing them to contract the muscles without flapping their wings. Those muscle contractions can raise the internal temperature of the bee, making them significantly warmer than their surrounding environment. In fact, bumble bees can’t take off and fly until their flight muscles are above 80 degrees; by shivering their flight muscles to warm up, they can actively forage in temperatures much too cold for other bees.
Unlike honey bee queens, a bumble bee queen lives for only a single year. This annual cycle generally keeps bumble bee hives much smaller than the hives of honey bees. Most mature bumble bee colonies consist of fewer than 200 bees, although some can have as many as 1000 individuals. For comparison, European honey bees may have around 60,000 bees in a single colony.
Most bumble bee species make their nests in the ground, often in preexisting cavities like abandoned rodent burrows, in piles of wood, or in leaf litter.
Competition with Honey Bees
The honey bee (Apis mellifera) was introduced to North America by European settlers in the early seventeenth century. The honey bee is extremely important to our agricultural system, yet its populations have declined steadily since the mid twentieth century. Many efforts to support honey bee populations are in line with bumble bee conservation. However, recent research has shown that competition with honey bees reduces bumble bee foraging efficiency, worker size, and reproductive success. As such, bumble bees in close proximity to honey bee hives may be experiencing additional pressures in an already difficult landscape. A single honey bee hive can contain over 50,000 bees, who collectively remove hundreds of pounds of nectar and tens of pounds of pollen from an area in a single year. Whether this is testing the limits of the available flowering resources is unverified. However, there is no doubt that such a significant removal of resources must represent a substantial proportion of the available pollen and nectar, especially during a period of limited flower abundance.
Klemens and Volkmar showed that the presence of honey bees force bumble bees off flowers, and change their foraging times. While reproductive success was not measured in this study, any event that causes decreased efficiency of foraging trips is likely to be detrimental for bumble bees.
In addition, it has been shown that pollen is a vector for disease transmission between honey bees and bumble bees. Thus, where bumble bees are visiting the same flowers as honey bees, they face an increased risk of infection. Diseases from some pathogens can lead to fewer new queens produced by the colony. Since honey bees are present virtually everywhere there are flowers in North America, it is nearly impossible to avoid interactions between honey bees and bumble bees. However, if land managers have the option to limit these interactions by restricting honey bee hives from natural areas managed for biodiversity, it is strongly recommended.
One of the largest herbaceous plants in North America — known by the botanical name, Aralia californica — can be referred to by any of its many common names: Western aralia, Western spikenard, California ginseng, or elk clover. Western aralia’s large, green leaves grow on thick, non-woody stems. This lush plant gracefully arches to a mature height of 3’-9’, but sometimes it can reach up to an impressive 10‘. That is very tall for an herbaceous perennial plant that dies back fully to the ground each fall, only to return the next spring from its thick, fleshy, snakelike roots, which are often embedded in rocks or streamside woody debris.
The broad and compound leaves have a tropical look, but Western aralia naturally ranges from southern California to as far north as Linn County in Oregon’s western Cascades. Aralia has an affinity for moist gulches, seasonal or perennial streambanks, canyons, and other cool, shady locations at elevations generally below 5,000 feet. Considering its relative tenderness, aralia is a very big and robust plant.
In early to midsummer Western aralia produces ball-like clusters of greenish white, sticky flowers that mature into ornamental, dark purple berries in the fall. The juicy berries are about the size of peppercorns and have a pungent, ginseng-like flavor. The berries are reportedly loved by birds, but I only observe occasional use in my neck of the woods.
One of the common names, elk clover, is a bit of a misnomer since aralia is not really a clover at all; in fact, it is a member of the plant genus Araliaceae, or the ginseng family. It is one of only two native plants in Oregon in the ginseng family; the other being devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus). Western aralia is, however, the only member of the ginseng family that grows wild in the Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion. It is related to American spikenard (Aralia racemosa) and wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), known, as Western aralia is, for their many medicinal uses.
According to Wendell Wood, Western aralia was “historically used by the Karok Indians as an antirheumatic, were a decoction of roots [was] used as a soak for arthritis. The Mendocino Indians used a decoction of the dried roots for colds and fevers and also to treat stomach and lung diseases. The Pomo saw it as “panacea plant” to treat many ailments including using the roots for sores and itching sores.”
Michael Moore, in his book Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West states that Western Aralia “is an excellent tonic and soothing expectorant for people with chronic moist-lung problems.” The root, aromatic and full of sticky while oleoresin, is particularly potent, but the leaf and berry of the plant also contain many different medicinal uses. Moore also says that “the cough syrup, tincture in hot water (toddylike), or the leaf tea is a good way to recuperate from some bronchitis or the winter lung-grunge.”
According to Arthur R. Kruckeberg in his book Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest, Western Aralia “has been a most effective and decorative plant for similar wettish habitats in Northwest gardens.”
In your garden Western Aralia will thrive in heavy shade as long as there is some moisture and the soil does not dry out completely. Aralia is robust and ornamental and can be grown in regular garden conditions. It is hardy to USDA zones 3-8.
I am lucky enough to live near a seasonal gulch where Western aralia grows naturally, but nonetheless I have still planted it in my garden to enjoy its beauty and to more easily harvest plant material for herbal medicine.
Before going dormant for the winter, Western Aralia produces a rich and creamy yellow autumn foliage that allows for a beautiful contrast to other fall colors in the garden or wild setting.
Enjoy Western aralia in your garden!