Category Archives: Plants
One of my favorite Central Oregon animals is the porcupine, which happens to be the second largest rodent in North America (third in the world, after capybara and beaver); but it is not the animal that first comes to mind when I think of Halloween. North American porcupines eat plants and favor any number of herbaceous delicacies. Porcupines rely entirely on their nose for food search. Considered a nocturnal, generalist herbivore, porcupines consume tree bark, leaves, conifer needles, buds from conifers and deciduous trees, wildflowers, fruit, nuts, rose hips, and ground vegetation. They’ve been known to chew on axe handles and tires for salt. So I guess squash shouldn’t be a surprise.
This summer I was preparing for a porcupine program and found a YouTube video you have to see! Meet “Teddy Bear” the porcupine – Teddy Bear was orphaned and taken to animal shelter called Zooniversity in Dallas. He now travels to schools teaching people about porcupines – and winning their hearts with his cuteness! As zookeeper Allison Blankenship asks questions, Teddy’s little squeaks seem to answer her back.
- Porcupines live up to 20 years old. They are the second oldest living rodent in the world. (following Naked Mole Rats)
- They do not hibernate, they are active all year.
- Like monkeys they are divided into old world and new world species. Old World porcupines are much larger than New World porcupines with quills up to a foot long. In Africa, they are thought to bring good luck and are worn as ornaments by many tribes.
- North American porcupines have approximately 30,000 quills on their bodies.
- They are very peaceful yet territorial rodents and may become offensive when threatened.
- Porcupines cannot throw their quills at predators; rather the quills get detached from their body when in proximity to other animal’s skin.
- North American porcupines do not eat and sleep in the same tree.
- Porcupines can accidentally stick themselves to a branch, or any other thing while falling from a tree. They are the only mammal that can produce their own antibiotic.
- If you want to see one up close, visit the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon.
That wonderful smell of rain on wet asphalt, is actually a chemical reaction. The air smells good after a rain, and much of the reason is a thing called “petrichor.”
“Petrichor,” is constructed from Greek petra, meaning “stone”, and ichor, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology (Blood of the Stone). The smell itself comes about when increased humidity – a pre-cursor to rain – fills the pores of stones (rocks, soil, etc.) with tiny amounts of water. While it’s only a minuscule amount, it is enough to flush the oil from the stone and release petrichor into the air.
Some plants secrete oils during dry periods that accumulate in dirt and rocks, and when it rains, these oils are released into the air. As the water activates the oils it invariably hits you: the sweet, fresh, powerfully evocative smell of fresh rain. The second reaction that creates petrichor occurs when chemicals produced by soil-dwelling bacteria known as actinomycetes are released. These aromatic compounds combine to create the pleasant petrichor scent when rain hits the ground. Studies have revealed that the human nose is extremely sensitive to geosmin in particular—some people can detect it at concentrations as low as 5 parts per trillion. You may also smell this if you are turning soil over in your garden.
Another scent associated with rain is ozone (O3). Some people say they can smell a storm coming. This can occur if wind pushes the ozone ahead of the storm. During a thunderstorm, lightning can split oxygen and nitrogen molecules in the atmosphere, and they in turn can recombine into nitric oxide (NO). This substance interacts with other chemicals in the atmosphere to form ozone, which has a sharp smell faintly reminiscent of chlorine and it can carry over far distances from high altitudues.
As spring is budding at The Cove, Culver Middle School continues their work in the wetlands. 165 students came to the park to plant 200 osier dogwood whips and 200 coyote willow whips. This labor intensive work required students to trudge through hard muddy ponds, dig holes, plant the whips and net them so voracious herbivores would not eat them before they had a chance to sprout and then haul water by hand in buckets – not unlike the routine of homesteaders in the late 1800’s at The Cove. Students raked the new interpretive nature trail that has been put in by park staff. Mr. Habliston showed students how to put in GIS plots to track and map the plant growth near each pond. Culver High School also came out to visit previous STEM projects and monitor their progress.
Irrigation water filled the ponds last week which will increase the growth rate of the new whips.
In the classroom, students are planting showy milkweed by seed. This week they were rewarded when the seeds sprouted new growth. Next month the new Certified “Milky Way” Monarch Way Station will be planted along the new Crooked River Wetlands Nature Trail – check back for photos.
After fire raged last summer, park rangers welcome school’s interest
Culver Middle School S.T.E.M. students were charged with assisting park staff with fire restoration efforts in the Crooked River Wetlands after last summer’s wildfire. Last fall Culver Middle School adopted The Cove. Just before Christmas, students collected more than 200 Coyote Willow whips from the park and they’ve been carefully cultivating the plants.
Mrs. Little and Mr.Habliston’s 6th and 7th grade classes came out to the park and had a fantastic day planting the willows students cut in December, cutting/preparing more willow for the project and learning about habitat management. Students learned that removing some plants can be just as important as planting others.
In the current restoration plan, 30% of vegetation will be added to the ponds; later in the month, students will return and plant more coyote willow and red twig dogwood. They will be netting each whip to prevent mule deer from eating the new trees and shrubs.
Stay tuned for more project photos…
Spring at The Cove, as everything is coming to life, is one of the most beautiful times of year. Much like an Easter egg hunt, spring does not scream like a neon sign but special joys can be sought out and treasured, all the more remarkable for their rarity.
Historically, areas within the park were farmed; however most of the farming areas and orchards are now under Lake Billy Chinook or were abandoned for lack of irrigation. Yet another treasure to discover, this apple blossom is from a lone apple tree near the Crooked River Campground.
Wildflowers like balsam root, lupine, Indian paintbrush, serviceberry, bitterroot, desert parsley, aster, and campus lily, dot the hillsides in a rainbow of colors. Unlike a zoo, you can’t instantly find and walk up to a wild animal at The Cove; but if you are quiet and patient, you can enjoy the chorus of bird song, crickets and frogs and look for new park residents as our baby animals start to explore their new world.
It is a spectacular time of year to bring your kayak and glide along the water’s edge pondering the age-old stories etched in stone of violent eruptions and determined rivers – or drop in a line. Eagles and vultures are soaring above Lake Billy Chinook; as swallows dart to and fro in search of mud and insects. If you hike the Tam A Lau trail, warmer temperatures are causing our reptiles to wake from hibernation, western fence lizards, stripped plateau whiptail lizards, and bull snakes have been spotted out and about.
If you’ve ever been to Central Oregon, you know that the landscape is dominated mostly by dry shrubs. More rightfully a “sagebrush steppe” than a “high desert,” the Cove has plenty of sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata). It’s a plant that gets overlooked easily because it isn’t flashy, but it’s one that thrives in conditions where many other cannot, making it a pretty amazing species.
Sagebrush is in the genus Artemisia, after the Greek goddess Artemis, which is actually in the sunflower family! Sagebrush is very different from sage, which is in the genus Salvia and includes the kinds of sages you’d use as edible spices. Sagebrush is not palatable except to pronghorn antelope and some other native critters, although it was used medicinally by First Nation tribes.
Since sagebrush lives in arid climates, it has several adaptations to help it conserve water. One is the small size of the leaves. Another is the tiny gray hairs that make the leaves feel fuzzy: these reflect sunlight and help keep water near the leaf’s surface, keeping the plant cooler. Sagebrush also grows small, temporary leaves in the spring which it will later drop to conserve energy when water is less available.
Sagebrush is an important plant for – surprise! – the Greater Sage Grouse. If you don’t know much about this bird, you’re in for a treat, because they are simply amazing creatures. The second largest game bird in North America, the Sage Grouse is in a lot of trouble – its numbers have been declining for decades due to habitat loss and it’s on the list of considered species for the Endangered Species Act.
Sage Grouse survive solely on the leaves of sagebrush during the winter, and they need to store a lot of energy for their mating ritual. Up to a hundred males may gather in a clearing amidst the sagebrush called a “lek,” and they’ll “dance” for days in an attempt to win the affections of the females. This dance involves strutting with their feathers out and inflating special air sacs that, when emptied, sound almost like a coffee percolator! If you’ve never had the pleasure to see it, check out the little video below. Check out those females playing it cool by pretending to snack while they size up the boys.
Look for this amazing plant all over the Cove, and if you spot it, be sure to rub a leaf between your fingers – sagebrush releases a strong, almost menthol-like scent that some people find delightful. Think of the Sage Grouse, which fills it belly happily with those leaves all winter long. Happy sagebrush hunting!
When I moved to Central Oregon from the East Coast, I was worried that I would miss all of the amazing wildflowers there. To my surprise, the high desert possesses just as much wildflower beauty! Even more impressive, these plants prosper with little water but are every bit as vibrant and spectacular as their Eastern cousins.
We have lots of wildflowers in the early spring here at The Cove, like Balsamroot, Lupine, and Daisies. Once the real heat of mid-to-late summer sets in though, it’s a little harder for things to blossom. Some pioneers survive, though, like the spectacular Rabbitbrush you may have spotted a couple posts ago about the Tam A Lau trail.
I got a special surprise last week when I took another trip up the Tam A Lau – a beautiful penstemon in full bloom! I read in one source that this one is called a “rock penstemon,” but the trouble with common names is that they sometimes refer to several different species depending on where you live. If you type “rock penstemon” into Google, you will get lots of different results. Especially with penstemons – there are more than 80 species in the Pacific Northwest alone!
I narrowed it down to what I believe it is: Penstemon rupicola, also known as rock penstemon, or cliff beardtongue.
Here’s a photo from Wikipedia, since I, er, forgot my camera that day. (Doh!) Pretty cool, huh?
Have you visited the amazing, spectacular, outstanding Tam-a-Lau trail yet?
She’s a doozy, but she’s worth it! In the first mile, you’ll gain 600 feet of elevation, so be prepared with plenty of water, good hiking shoes, and an early start. (Early morning is one of the best times to take photos as well!)
Winding up the cliff side on this path will take you through a spectacular boulder field. “Tam-a-Lau” means “place of big rocks in the ground” in the Sahaptian language of the Plateau tribes, and references this area. It’s tempting to climb on these enormous rocks, but it better protects them (and you, from rattlesnakes, black widows, and scorpions!) if you don’t.
Once atop the canyon rim, you’ll get an unbelievable view of the surrounding area. You’ll see the southern end of The Island, a protected area of the Cove Palisades a special gem of Oregon, and on a good viewing day you’ll get breathtaking views of Jefferson and Hood!
If you’re lucky, or you time it right, you’ll also get a beautiful wildflower show. This lovely yellow bush is rabbitbrush in bloom. (That’s Mt. Jefferson in the background.)
There may also be some close encounters with lizards, eagles, or wild Turkey Vultures, one of the coolest birds on planet Earth! They love sitting on the electric poles or soaring lazily on the columns of warm air rising up from the cliffs.
If you make it to the top, why not do the whole loop? You’ll be rewarded with unbelievable views of the Island, lake, and canyon. If you really flex your powers of observation, you may even spot mysterious leftovers from homesteaders, like huge rock piles and weirdly-pruned junipers!
The hills and the cliffs of the Cove have come alive with color! Weeks ago, springtime took its paintbrush and splattered the landscape with yellows, purples, reds, and pinks, creating a mosaic of vibrant eye-candy for the world to see! If you haven’t had a chance to visit the Cove in the late Spring and early Summer, you should take the time to come visit the park (take a hike or stay the night), as the Tam-a-lau trail and our Day Use areas are perfect places for wildflower viewing in the high desert of Oregon.
In the spirit of these lively hues, you can read on to learn about common wildflowers in the park and the interesting facts they characterize. Most of the flora in the park not only serve the purpose of being fancy to look at, but contain properties that were used by early indigenous people to clean and maintain wellness.
Wild Flax (Linum Perenne)
This is a tall (up to 3ft) plant with attractive and narrow blue, purple, or pink petals. It often grows near rabbitbrush or sagebrush, which is plentiful at the Cove! The stem of this plant can be used for weaving twine, fishing lines, and nets and perhaps was conveniently use for fishing in the rivers that now form Lake Billy Chinook! When boiled, the poultice of fresh crushed leaves can be applied to
Hanging-pod loco weed (Astragulus Arrectus)
With petals are usually violet or cream colored in the park, the Hanging-pod locoweed is a delicate looking flower. Though nice looking, it is actually very toxic to livestock and can be to humans. Locoweed is the Spanish word for “Crazy”; a good descriptor for the aggressive and stumbling behavior that grazing animals will experience after digesting. Surprisingly, the toxins in this plant can be used in human medicine. Just as the botulism toxin (botox) has been applied to treat wrinkles and to cure migraines, some studies suggest that swainsonine (the toxin in Locoweed) may have useful application in fighting cancer. Although toxic to most animals, the Hanging-pod loco weed attracts this sweet, little pollinator: the Melissa Blue butterfly.
Arrow-leaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza Sagittata)
The bright, sunny faces of these plants splash almost every inch of the Cove come mid to late Spring. The roots, stems, and leaves were boiled by early settlers in the area, and drank for the decoction for stomach pains and headaches. The ripe seeds were pounded into flour, as they are oil-rich and full of nutrients. The flower was also mashed and applied to the skin to heal wounds, burns, and cure eczema. The root also contains anti-fungal properties, and when added to hot water can be used to ease the pain of a sore throat. I would say this is the Cove’s power plant, wouldn’t you?
Mariposa Lily (calochortus macrocarpus)
Certain species of the Mariposa Lily are considered endangered due to over- collection. It is irregularly distributed, sometimes making it a surprise for hikers to stumble upon in unexpected areas. The juice of the lily petals were crushed and used to help clear acne, and the plant is used in modern day medicine to help cure addictions to tobacco and sweets.
Want to learn even more about Oregon’s high desert flora? Pick up a copy of the stellar book Sagebrush Country: A Wildflower Sanctuary or join us for our first wildflower hike of the season: A three-hour hike up the Tam-a-lau trail at 3pm on Friday, May 24th at the Deschutes Amphitheater. Contact Ranger Talia at 541-546-3412 for more details.