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Hydrophyllum tenuipes “Pacific Waterleaf” Hydrophyllaceae/Boraginaceae

Olympic National Park, WA
June 5, 2013
Robert Niese

While we’re on the topic of Hydrophyllaceaous plants, here’s another from the low, wet forests of the coastal PNW. Like most members of this pseudo-family, these flowers exhibit unmistakable exerted stamens. These plants are endemic to the PNW and can be found anywhere west of the Cascades, usually near rivers or streams. It’s also interesting to note, like the other Hydrophylls I’ve been posting lately, these plants produce flowers whose color varies from cream to deep violet. A quick google image search suggests that most individuals are white, but all the images I have collected personally are purple. Perhaps I tend to only encounter the purple varieties, but it seems far more likely that I simply prefer to photograph purple plants over white ones. It’s interesting that this unconscious bias may have influenced my perhaps unfounded perception of these populations being predominantly purple.

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Trachemys scripta elegans “Red-eared Pond Slider” Emydidae

Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, WA
May 9, 2016
Robert Niese

Red-eared Sliders are a distinct subspecies of Pond Slider popular in the pet industry. Originally native to the southern US, these animals have been introduced to nearly every state including Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam. As such, they are on the IUCN’s list of the 100 most invasive species in the world. They have not yet been reported in Montana, Alaska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, or North Dakota. If you see a Red-eared Slider in one of these states, contact your state’s Fish and Wildlife department immediately. Here in the PNW, these turtles out-compete native Western Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta bellii) and the threatened Western Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata).

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Sympetrum illotum “Cardinal Meadowhawk” Libellulidae

Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, WA
May 9, 2016
Robert Niese

There are quite a few species of red dragons in the PNW and they can be pretty tricky to ID. The redder individuals tend to be males, and, as they mature they often lose all other markings that might facilitate identification. This species is most easily distinguished by the two white dots present on the lower sides of its abdomen (barely visible here). Even in very red, healthy, mature adults, the lower margins of these white dots are usually still visible. Generally, Cardinal Meadowhawks can also be distinguished from other red meadowhawks by their reddish legs, diffuse yellow-bronze wings, and black markings at the base of the wings.

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Oemleria cerasiformis “Indian Plum” Rosaceae

Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, WA
May 9, 2016
Robert Niese

Oemleria is a PNW endemic and is one of the first plants to leaf-out and bloom in spring. Later in the summer Oemleria will begin to bear ripe fruits which are purple with a large pit, giving them the name Indian Plums. Opinions vary on the palatability of these fruits. Some find them to be among the best in the PNW, while others find them too bitter. Generally, their astringency can be reduced through cooking and, as such, Oemleria fruits tend to be most commonly prepared in jams and pie fillings. Also, their bark is thought to be a mild aphrodisiac. Someone should try chewing on a few twigs and report back to us all.

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Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) Ardeidae

May 6, 2012
Tacoma, WA
Robert Niese

GBHs are master predators. I’ve watched these creatures consume everything from fish and insects to frogs, snakes, and rodents the size of small dogs! They also have a terrifying, rattling, squawk that never fails to make me jump out of my skin whenever I stumble upon an unsuspecting individual while I’m creeping around docks at night (looking for cool nighttime marine invertebrates, of course!). They truly are dinosaurs.

Thallophaga hyperborea Geometridae

Point Defiance Park, Tacoma, WA
July 22, 2013
Robert Niese

This one was a really tough ID. We found this moth during our Slater Museum moth-lighting trip in Point Defiance for National Moth Week. We gave up attempting to identify it pretty early and had to call-in help from the experts at BugGuide. But even over at BugGuide, it was tentatively placed in three different genera before we settled on Thallophaga. Western Washington University is currently attempting to create a visual key to the Geometrids of the Pacific Northwest. As soon as it gets published, I’ll let you all know!

Arbutus menziesii “Madrone/Arbutus” Ericaceae

Point Defiance Park, Tacoma, WA
May 5, 2012
Robert Niese

This is one of my favorite PNW endemics. The bark can be collected and steeped in a tea to treat stomach aches, cramps, or sore throats. The berries can be chewed to suppress hunger or fermented into a cider. The wood of madrone is beautiful and dense making it excellent for kinds of projects. Madrone’s thick, evergreen leaves are resistant to water loss make the species well adapted for coastal and dry environments throughout the PNW.

Arbutus menziesii “Madrone/Arbutus” Ericaceae

Point Defiance Park, Tacoma, WA
May 5, 2012
Robert Niese

This is one of my favorite PNW endemics. These bark peels can be collected and steeped in a tea to treat stomach aches, cramps, or sore throats. The berries can be chewed to suppress hunger or fermented into a cider. The wood of madrone is beautiful and dense making it excellent for kinds of projects. Madrone’s thick, evergreen leaves are resistant to water loss make the species well adapted for coastal and dry environments throughout the PNW.

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Camassia quamash “Common Camas” Liliaceae

Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA
May 6, 2012
Robert Niese

Camas was one of the most important food plants for PNW indigenous peoples. In late spring, bulbs were collected and slow-cooked in giant pits or earthen ovens. These roasted bulbs taste similar to sweet potatoes, but are much sweeter and more fibrous. These plants were such an important food source that wars were often fought over control of the prairies in which they grow. Here in the Puget Sound, these prairie habitats were maintained through regular burning in order to preserve and promote camas growth. Today, more than 85% of these prairie ecosystems have completely disappeared and almost 20,000 of the 23,000 remaining acres can be found here on the Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Acer macrophyllum “Bigleaf Maple” Aceraceae, with
Laburnum anagyroides “Golden Chain Tree” Fabaceae

Tacoma, WA
May 30, 2012
Robert Niese

The largest leaves on Bigleaf Maples easily reach 2 feet in length! These trees are keystone species in riparian zones throughout the wet lowlands of the PNW and are particularly important for sustaining healthy moss populations. In the background, you can see the bright yellow flowers of the introduced Golden Chain Tree. These papilionaceous flowers (in the pea family) are favored by bumble bees which are large enough to wriggle their way into the corolla.