Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Walk on the Wild Side

Wet and cool weather for the whole of March has made it tough to find opportunities in the garden-- much less, to feel like spring has finally arrived.

Alas, the adapted coastal native plants may be our surest signs: a recent wetlands walk had me surrounded by these cheery Northwest harbingers: Hooker's Willow, Skunk Cabbage, and Indian Plum.

In Lincoln City we are fortunate to have several parcels of undeveloped land set aside for the community as "open space."  In addition we are lucky to have an Oregon State Park on the shore of Devils Lake right in the middle of town, and this park features a public wetlands trail.  The route is short but pleasant, changing from muddy track to raised low-impact boardwalk made from recycled lumber.  The construction is a special pier-type system which requires fewer intrusions into the ecology and allows for water passage beneath.

Walk this trail in late March beginning at the park entrance gate-- a small marked footpath to the right-- and the sight of Skunk Cabbage, Lysichiton americanum, will stop you in your tracks.  The glowing yellow bracts pushing from the mucky creekbed seem to light your way along the path, recalling the alternate common name Swamp Lantern.  I find them every bit as spring-cheerful as daffodils, and somewhat miraculous in their adaptation to the heavy sodden soils of our coastal wetlands.  Their notorious odor was not even noticeable on this day.

Strolling further south, the larger trees of the park give way to a sunny (if there were ever sun shining) opening featuring wetland grasses, forbs and shrubs.  It's here that both Hooker's Willow and Indian Plum take center stage.  Indian Plum, Oemleria cerasiformis, is one of my favorite natives both for its charming delicate blossoms that hang in white clusters and for its brilliant green spring foliage.

Oemleria cerasiformis, Indian Plum
The little flourishes of upright new leaves decorate its branches, startling against a backdrop of dark and dreary forest edge.  They are most noticeable along Northwest highways, such as driving through the Coast Range, before all the other deciduous plants leaf out and retire the plum to its background role.  Although this little native shrub produces actual plums, valuable as wildlife food, rarely is the plant noticed at that time of year. It's in early spring when Indian Plum steals the show.

A spring bouquet would not be complete without a few showy branches of Pussy Willow... but the coastal native Hooker's Willow, Salix hookeriana, is the one on display in our wetland.  An amazingly tough and adaptable shrub, it will grow into the sandy bluffs where drainages flow toward the ocean, as it does in the north end of town on a foot path from NW 50th.  Showing its preferences for wet soils, the lovely shrub proliferates on the Devils Lake wetlands trail, those classic fuzzy buds bursting forth on long arching branches that reach overhead.

One method I've been meaning to try is to use cuttings of our native willow to create a rooting-tea: plants in this genus all produce a natural rooting chemical that can be extracted by soaking in water, then used as a drench for propagating other plants.  I'm a sucker for free plant products.

Finally, I had to make note of the Red Alder trees just breaking dormancy.  Delightful year-round, alders in this season dangle their ornamental cones from last year along with both male and female catkins as they prepare for pollination.  The unique stalked, red buds become more deeply colored just before leafing out, lending an overall impression of rosy glow to the dense branches.  Alders are somewhat shorter (probably limited by the challenging soil conditions) in the wetland, but lend a nice overstory component to the collection of low vegetation found on this charming wetland walk.

To access this trail, approach from the Devils' Lake Campground entrance gate on NE 6th, just behind the Lincoln City Cultural Center.  If you are driving (and not staying at the campground) you can alternatively park in a public lot at the other end of the trail, at NE 1st Street.  Turn east from Hwy 101 at the Comfort Inn (on the north side of the D River), and continue on the gravel driveway to its end for the parking lot.

My favorite reference for native NW plants:

1 comment :

  1. It's fun to see the different native plants you have there, compared to here. I'd never heard about the rooting chemical that can be extracted from willow, very interesting!