Reposted from Backyard Science by Fresno
The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group. It is a place to note any observations you have made of the world around you. Rain, sun, wind...insects, birds, flowers...meteorites, rocks...seasonal changes...all are worthy additions to the bucket. Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment. Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located. Each note is a record that we can refer to in the future as we try to understand the patterns that are quietly unwinding around us.
May 11, 2015
San Juan county
maritime Pacific Northwest
This is a follow-up to Milly Watt's beautiful Olympic peninsula prairie wildflower bucket from yesterday. I hope folks are ok with yet more wildflowers! The reason I'm interested in the comparison between these two prairies directly across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from each other is the diversity of their vegetation, and what that says about the subtleties of biogeography.
What do we mean by "prairie", especially in the forested Pacific Northwest? With our wet cool climate, trees would invariably fill in any open grassy expanse like the one in the photo below (this is Iceberg Point, a protected 80-acre portion of the San Juan Islands National Monument established by President Obama in 2013). The reason it is an open meadow rather than forest is due to millennia of land management by local resident Coast Salish Indians. They kept gardens here - particular areas maintained by families - cultivating perennial food plants like Chocolate Lilies, known to some as Rice-root, and many other plants.
"Land management" may understandably evoke images of logging, dams and monoculture. Local tribes - with practices such as controlled burning, plant cultivation, and clam gardens - were not as destructive, lacking modern technology and energy, but they were highly motivated to increase food supply to support populations considerably larger than conventional wisdom assumed until recently. For example, before European explorers made contact, the three permanent villages on Lopez Island numbered about as many people as the current resident population today. The village nearest Iceberg Point was just a couple of miles away by canoe, easily farmed through the year. Maritime Pacific Northwest Indians managed prairies in many locations besides the Salish Sea area, including the Olympic Peninsula and lower Puget Sound.
In the larger historical context, prairies are what people knew for the first several thousand years after coming to the Northwest. Archeological evidence shows both that the area was settled by people some 11,000 years ago and that the climate was warmer and dryer then. Forests only began to take over about 5000 years ago when the climate became cooler and wetter. Inhabitants chose to maintain prairies, knowing the wealth of food they provided.
Today, most of the ancient prairies are either urban, forested or developed for modern agriculture. A few remnants remain, and while invasive plants have moved in, the range of native vegetation is an indication of the special nature of each prairie. Milly Watt and I are comparing our nearby prairies, and I hope you are as intrigued as we are about them!
By luck, I caught the end of peak Chocolate Lily season this year :) What with one thing and the other, I've never been out on the rocky ocean-facing meadow where this rare delicate wildflower grows happily at exactly the right time of year, or if I did, I didn't notice them. And blooming patterns have been changing. So what a treat it was to see them in their modest beautiful glory this year.
We were an hour into our walk before noticing the Chocolate Lilies. See them?
The mottled bells of Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria affinis) are camouflaged amongst the grasses and easily overlooked amidst the California Buttercups. Their bright yellow is hidden inside their velvety brown speckled tepals.
Before and after their short blooming season they are invisible underground, and even now it would easy to accidentally crush the short plants. Be careful where you walk, and preferably stay on the path. Come along with me to see the Chocolate Lilies and some other blooming wildflowers at this site.
(All photos by me. In Lightbox...click to enlarge)