All the Species in My Yard

yup-all of them, great AND small

June’s buzzsaws: bumblebees July 28, 2009

Filed under: Insects — Martin John Brown @ 1:34 pm
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Just when the two-year stint of construction on my corner ended, a new kind of work crew showed up: bumblebees, mobbing the fireweed, and especially the purple Ceanothus flowers.  There were so many and they were so loud that occasionally I just could not sit in the side yard with my morning coffee without groaning please, SHUT UP! Do you have to be so frigging INDUSTRIOUS?

photo: flickr user LeeLeFever, used under CC

photo: flickr user LeeLeFever, used under CC

And this for a genus that is generally in trouble — though perhaps between my yard and this Transformer, people are starting to cut them a little slack.

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Glowing youth: Philodromus sp. July 25, 2009

Filed under: Spiders — Martin John Brown @ 1:08 pm
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I was delighted the other day when I found a tiny spider in the grooved frame of an open skylight, because its red color was so incredible — like the sunset coming through a glass of pinot noir, but in tiny spider form. :)  These pictures capture the color, but not the glow.

photos from sources at bugguide.net

photos from sources at bugguide.net

It quickly ran away on to the roof — leaving my best guess for an ID as an immature Philodromus, or running crab spider, perhaps Philodromus marxi or rufus.  If so it would have been waiting in ambush for some poor prey to wander in, where it would come out and pounce. Anyway, perhaps it’s characters like this who are the reason the inside of my house seems so free of insects.

 

Easy glory: fireweed July 23, 2009

Filed under: Herbs — Martin John Brown @ 2:16 pm
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Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) is one of the classic wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest — you see these gorgeous splays of pink and purple, like botanical advertisements for cherry coke, all over the mountains in Oregon, Washington, and Alaska.   The tall stalks sprout and wave, busting the blankness out of clearcuts, road shoulders, and even volcanic ashfields.  It’s also the pollen source for fireweed honey.

photo by flickr user code_poet, used under Creative Commons

photo by flickr user code_poet, used under Creative Commons

But unlike a lot of wildflowers, fireweed works really well in urban yards.  Once established from seed or rootstock, the 3-10 foot tall stalks tend to spread in lines (via runners) which makes them a kind of natural fence or border.  The flowers bring bees and birds and make amazing (if short-lived) cut flowers.  As the summer ends those flowers turn into silky seedpods which decay in a spectacular fashion:

photo by flickr user Zixii, used under Creative Commons

photo by flickr user Zixii, used under Creative Commons

Then when they’re too decayed, you just rip out the stalks. The roots remain underground, and will build you another fence next summer.

 

The gorgeous occupier: Black locust “Frisia” July 22, 2009

Filed under: Trees — Martin John Brown @ 12:29 am
Tags: ,

Every native plant gardener has an exotic love they can’t quite resist, and mine is a beauty: a “Frisia” black locust with elegant arching limbs, yellow-green leaves that positively glow in the sunrise and sunset, and white flowers with an intoxicating smell of honey.  It is remarked upon by practically everyone who says anything about my yard.

photo: flickr user velostricken

photo: flickr user velostricken

Here’s a picture of another specimen, on the edge of a field:

photo: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT

photo: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT

To its beauty I should add some other accolades: black locust grows fast (2-3 feet a year, meaning it fixes a lot of carbon), makes excellent firewood (with one of the highest BTU ratings of any American tree, 29.2 million BTU’s per cord), and is the pollen source for “acacia” monofloral honey.  I know–the bees come in droves every year.

Nonetheless this species gets a bad rap from the botaniscenti.  Though records of black locust exist in Oregon since 1898 (according to a query at http://invader.dbs.umt.edu), it is only naturalized in, not native to, the state.  In concept it could interfere or supplant native plants, especially on disturbed ground, considering black locust’s ability to tough it out on dry and poor sites, and its habit of reproducing by runners.

These problems haven’t occurred in my yard, and it’s hard to even remember them when you see the golden boughs waving.  Maria Callas wasn’t from Oregon, either, but it’s sure good to hear her sing…