Project Willow Creek: Round Two… Plant ID!

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Written by SOLVE Jesuit Volunteer Northwest Member Lauren McKenna

RCEMS @ Willow Creek 11/7/2012

Back to the old grind!  Rachel Carson Environmental Middle School students who were the first to work at the new Willow Creek Site have returned to find…. a whole lot less invasive Armenian Blackberry.  “The Rampage”, a giant tunnel through the blackberry that they had carved out during their first class here, now leads to Willow Creek!  It took four weeks of lopping and chopping blackberry to get to the creek.

So, again, these master blackberry-root hunters continued to dig out — and help prevent the regrowth of  — invasive enemy #1.  Fortunately, we will soon be able to plant native species where the blackberry has been removed, like Pacific Ninebark and Scouler’s Willow.

Students also learned some plant identification tips so they will know what plants are what at Willow Creek.  Knowing good plant ID is especially helpful when, during the fall and winter, deciduous plants lose their leaves; knowing what the leaf of a Big Leaf Maple looks like, for example, gets you nowhere!  Leaf arrangement is a basic way to ID plants.  There are plants whose leaves are opposite, alternate or whorled arranged.  There are tons of plants whose leaves are alternately arranged but only six whose leaves are opposite arranged, which helps with ID. Our friends “SAM and TED” help spell it out!

Red osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea), a lovely opposite-leafed plant!

OPPOSITE arranged:

S nowberry

A sh

M aple

T winberry

E lderberry

D ogwood

Red Alder (Alnus ruba), the best alternate!

.

.

ALTERNATE arranged: (examples)

Pacific Ninebark

Oceanspray

Red Alder

Oregon Grape

Nootka Rose

Lenticels on Red Alder: They are pores that allow for gas exchange

We also looked at lenticels, pores in the bark of trees that allow for gas exchange. UCLA has  pretty good explanation: each lenticel therefore becomes a pathway through which gases (especially oxygen) can diffuse to the living cells of the bark. Without sufficient oxygen, cells of bark can die.”  Red alder and Oregon ash have very large, visible lenticels which allow them to live in poor soil that don’t supply many nutrients, hence why we call them “pioneer species”: because they are often some of the first native plants to establish themselves.  Red alder’s root also help fix nitrogen in these degraded soils into soil that other native plants can grow in. Students learned lots more, and also spent some one-on-one plant time with their favorites, drawing them and figuring out what types of leaves they had, how they were arranged, etc.

Thank you AGAIN, Rachel Carson, for an awesome day of fun, learning and hard work!

[Leaf arrangement illustration from http://geo.cbs.umn.edu]

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