Continued Learning

This past Saturday we had a great plant ID and forest association walk at the Northwest Native Plant Garden at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma with twenty community members participating!

Located in a well-maintained native plant garden, this identification walk focused primarily on native plants, their natural associations with other plants, and the kinds of habitat they prefer.  The Northwest Native Plant Garden was an ideal location for this type of walk because it features designed habitats such as the forest garden (semi-shade), the pond garden (wet areas and margin), the waterfall garden (moist shade), the woodland garden (dry shade), and the meadow (dry sun).

Native Plant ID Walk, Northwest Native Plant Garden
Community members break out of the forest to learn about meadow plants and habitat

Participants received information about plant propagation and then learned how to identify many plants that propagate well.  From those recommended in the Green Tacoma Partnership Habitat Steward Field Guide, we learned how to identify black twinberry (Lonicera involucrata), Pacific ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus), various roses (Rosa spp.), salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), willow (Salix spp.), spirea (Spiraea douglasii), oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor), Indian-plum (Oemleria cerasiformis), mock-orange (Philadelphus lewisii), red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum), thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus), snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), and western redcedar (Thuja plicata).

The next plant identification walk is scheduled for Saturday, June 15th at Oak Tree Park (sign up).  As an active restoration site, participants will not only be able to hone their native plant ID skills, but there will also be ample opportunity to learn more about invasive plants commonly found in urban forests and greenspaces and the best way to manage those.  As we progress through the year and plants begin to flower, fruit and develop seeds, we will offer educational walks and workshops on seed collection and dispersal.  All of these educational opportunities, as well as regular volunteer work parties where you can join friends, family and neighbors in improving the community can be found through CEDAR.  Sign up online and invite your friends!

This educational opportunity was made possible through funding from the USDA Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry program.

Climate Change Impacts on Puget Sound’s Urban Forests

Plant Hardiness Zone Map picture pngWashington State faces climate change impacts that include sea level rise, temperature increases, and changes in precipitation. The conservation and restoration of our valuable urban forests becomes increasingly important in addressing these changes by mitigating storm water impacts from increased precipitation, reducing temperatures, and sequestering carbon. Limited information has been available to guide decisions on species selection for urban forest restoration, seed source selection and other management practices. The Green City Partnerships, with support from the US Forest Service, partnered with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment to evaluate climate change impacts on habitat suitability of native tree species that are commonly used for restoration of urban forests in the Puget Sound region. Climate change impacts were assessed using climate envelope modeling and seed transfer zones as well as through creation of future plant hardiness zone maps.

This research, led by Dr. Soo-Hyung Kim of the UW’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, suggests clear impacts from climate change on three native tree species. Climate conditions that make up the current seed transfer zones of western redcedar, western hemlock and Douglas-fir are likely to change radically within western Washington or, in some cases, nearly disappear towards the end of the century. In addition, the research team found that plant hardiness zones are likely to rise by a half zone in the Puget Sound area. This means that the Puget Sound area is projected to experience an increase of 5 to 6 degrees F in annual minimum temperatures. This implies that less hardy species may be able to grow in the region and could alter ecological dynamics in urban forests. These findings have implications for how we choose current and future planting materials for urban forest restoration sites.

We hope this research fuels further discussion and research into restoration strategies to mitigate climate change impacts to Puget Sound’s urban forests. To find research summaries on Seed Transfer Zones, Plant Hardiness Zone Maps, or to view the full report, go to the Green Cities research webpage: http://www.forterra.org/what_we_do/build_community/green_cities/green_cities_research

The Mulching Season

I work as a Forest Steward and Washington Native Plant Steward at a forest restoration site in the East Duwamish Greenbelt in South Seattle.  The project is part of the Green Seattle Partnership (GSP) and encompasses an area of a bit more than one acre.

I took this project on with three teammates who were in the same Washington Native Plant Society class in 2011 and we’ve been working on it ever since.  This coming August will be two years at the site and we’ve made some great progress.  But it has taken a ton of work, and a lot of support from many different people and organizations involved in GSP, especially Seattle Parks and Recreation, Forterra, Student Conservation Association, and EarthCorps.

Photo of mulched bareroots, Green Seattle Partnership
Recently mulched bareroot plants on our Green Seattle Partnership restoration site

Earlier this month we held our regular work party, and I was very pleased with how our bareroot plants were looking.  OK, admittedly, for some reason the Oregon grape doesn’t seem to be doing so well on our site, but really everything else is growing well.  And in early April in Seattle, most of the new native plants were already showing a lot of new leaves!  Of course the best plants were the bareroots that we planted about a year ago, but even those that we planted earlier this year seem to be taking to their new home.  So for this particular work party, a group of about 7 of us spent 3 hours filling buckets with mulch and making sure that these new plants are “tucked in” for the coming dry months.

I felt compelled to share our success with the world, because it seems that many people invest all of the time and energy to remove invasive plants from a site and get them replaced with what promises to be a batch of beautiful native plants.  And they stop there.  But it isn’t planting that is the most valuable part of the process; rather, it is the three years after the plant is in the ground that is critical.  And though moving mulch for three hours on a Saturday morning may seem more mundane than tearing out ivy or demonstrating our dominion over armored blackberry canes, there is a quiet satisfaction in knowing that this simple task is what will make the site great.  The simple act of spreading mulch around new plants will help enrich the soil and hold valuable moisture around the plant’s roots while it establishes its root system.

So here’s to the power of mulching!  I encourage anybody who reads this to find a work party in any Green City and help spread some mulch before things dry out for the year.