Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Blackberry Time: Midsummer to Early Fall

Written May 21, 2013, published in June 2013, all photos by Kathleen Sayce

Blackberries are a favorite summer fruit. There are several varieties to chose among that grow well here, including the native Pacific blackberry, introduced evergreen and Himalayan blackberries, and and several cultivated varieties (or cultivars) that were bred for heavier fruit-bearing, larger fruits, and darker, more intense flavors. These include Loganberries, Youngberries, Olallieberries, Boysenberries, and Marionberries. Why write about berries now? Fall is a good time to plant new blackberries in your garden. Their roots will establish over winter, and by next spring they will be growing strongly. 

Himalayan blackberries are in full flower by mid summer, and continue flowering until early fall; fruits stop accumulating sugar by late September.

The starting species:

Pacific blackberry grows naturally in the Pacific Northwest, and is a low-growing, sprawling vine. Fruits usually ripen in midsummer over a few short weeks, and are small and intensely flavored. Unusual among plants in the Pacific Northwest, Pacific blackberries have separate male and female plants; in botanical terms this is 'imperfect.' They also tend to have individual plants with multiple ploidy, or many more sets of chromosomes than the usual two sets. Both sexes have white flowers; males have many more flowers than females. If you look closely at the flowers, you can see either clusters of anther-tipped stamens on the male flowers, or a dense cluster of stigmas, with no anthers, on the female flowers. Male flowers also tend to be slightly larger and showier. During flowering, check plants and note the females, because these will have berries later on. 

Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) arrived in North America in 1885, brought here by horticulturists for fruit. Once established, fruit-eating birds and other animals quickly discovered the large, juicy berries, and began spreading them around. This and most other Rubus species have plants with both sexes in the same flowers––botanists call this 'perfect' flowers. Native to Armenia and northern Iran despite the common name, Himalayan blackberries are more accurately called Armenian blackberries. This blackberry is well established in the Pacific Northwest. 

Red raspberries (Rubus idaeus) are European, and were introduced to North America for their fragrant, sweet red fruits. They are widely grown throughout the continent today. Unlike Armenian blackberries, red raspberries did not escape cultivation so easily, though this species has found its way beyond cultivation in some areas. 

Black raspberry (R. occidentalis) is native to eastern North America, and has a very fragrant black berry that is used to flavor fruit cordials, such as Chambord du framboise. It is  widely grown in North America, as well as other temperate areas around the world. 

Ripening Marionberries go from pale green to red to dark purple over a period of weeks, usually peaking in production in August, when berries ripen every day. 

Hybridizing begins:

Enter 19th Century horticulturists eager to develop vines with bigger fruit, more flavor, and larger crops. They worked all over the world to develop highly productive, disease-resistant brambles for a wide range of climates.  The genus Rubus has hundreds of species. Hybridizing is relatively easy once the genetics are aligned. The base number of chromosomes (N), or ploidy, for the genus is 7. Typical diploids are 2N with fourteen chromosomes. The highest number of chromosomes known for a Rubus is 98. Trivia (or there's a word for that):  Those who study Rubus species are engaged in batology, the study of brambles.  

Breeders in eastern North America began by selecting among native and introduced Rubus species, including red raspberries, Pacific blackberries and dewberries (eastern blackberries, yet another member of the large genus Rubus) for vines that were sturdy, with fruits that were large and flavorful, with larger crops than wild plants naturally produce. 

The starting Pacific blackberry was a female octoploid plant (N=56) named Aughinbaugh. Rubus x 'Aughinbaugh' was crossed with a selected red raspberry. Their progeny were then crossed with an eastern dewberry. In each generation, plants were selected that showed desirable traits, including vigor, tasty large fruit, and increased flowering and fruiting capacity, which all contributed to higher production and more desirable fruit characteristics. 

The 'named' plants to result from this process that are still grown today in the U.S. are Loganberries, first grown in 1883, and Youngberries, in 1905. Youngberries were bred in the southeastern US, and today are widely grown in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, while Loganberries were developed in California, and are grown in the west and Pacific Northwest. Boysenberries were developed at the same time, and from the same progenitors.   

Meanwhile, the Willamette Valley became a prime berry growing region and local breeding focused on berries that do well in this climate. 

Loganberries and Youngberries were crossed, and the more flavorful but less productive Olallie blackberry, or Olallieberry, was selected from their progeny in 1937. Pacific blackberries were crossed again with Loganberries to produce the Santiam blackberry in the early 20th century. The Santiam blackberry was crossed with Himalayan blackberry to produce the Chehalem blackberry in 1936. 

Chehalem blackberries were crossed with Olallieberry mid century, and out of this cross came Marion blackberries, or Marionberries, a truly gorgeous, black, flavorful berry on sturdy vines. A strong grower and highly productive vine, it quickly moved into production, and is widely grown today. Notice all the names that are Willamette Valley-based: Chehalem, Marion, Olalla, Santiam. 

Ripe Marionberries are large and dark purple-black, flavorful and full of anthocyanins. 

Modern breeding continues:

This wasn't the end of blackberry breeding. The Kotata blackberry was produced in 1951 and released to farmers in 1989. Slightly earlier to fruit than Marionberries, it expands the berry-growing season in the Pacific Northwest. Batalogical research continues today on disease resistance, vigor, and improved fruit quality. Another memorable bramble may emerge from this work in coming years. 

Black raspberries also continue to be bred and selected for flavor, disease resistance and production in the Pacific Northwest. Many varieties of raspberries are grown in the Valley. 

In other climates, golden and purple raspberries, and other brambles in the genus Rubus are important fruit vines. Cloudberries, Rubus chamaemorus, grow at high latitudes; these berries are red when unripe, and turn gold when ripe. Extremely hardy, they grow above 55°N, with a few populations at high elevations down to 44°N. 

Anthocyanins and cellular health:

Highly colored berries in the genus Rubus are naturally high in anthocyanins [antho-CY-an-ins], which in plants act as photo-protective pigments, screening sunlight from cells to prevent sun damage. Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants, and promote healthy cells in animals that eat them, as they reverse cellular damage. These compounds give berries a dark color––the darker the fruit, the higher the level of anthocyanins. Red berries have some anthocyanins; dark red, purple or blue berries have more, and black berries have the most. Similar anthocyanins are found in strawberries, blueberries, cranberries and huckleberries; and again, the darker the fruit, the higher the level of anthocyanins in its cells.

The next time you eat blackberries, or other colorful berries fresh, in pie, cobbler or cordial, you are also eating antioxidants, and promoting cellular health. Cheers!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Coastal Flood Risk Reduction:  Planning in the face of change

Written June 18, 2013, published June 19, 2013

The National Disaster Preparedness Training Center, NDPTC, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) presented a one-day course on planning for coastal flood risk reduction at the WSU-Long Beach Research Station, June 4, 2013. Attended by a class of one dozen professionals and local citizens, the focus was on recognizing coastal flooding risks, benefits of several different types of coastal natural environments, traditional and non-traditional solutions, and the capabilities needed to increase resiliency in coastal communities. The pace was fast, the handouts copious, and the outcome positive.  For those who attended, coastal landscapes will never be seen in the same way. 

Half the population of the United States, 153 million people, is concentrated in its coastal counties. Coastal shorelines have urbanizing landscapes as populations increase. Yet coastlines are by their nature dynamic. We tend to try to ‘fix’ shorelines in a particular shape or position to suit our needs. But dynamic shorelines are going to find their own shape and placement over time, and fighting this process is getting more expensive with each passing decade.  

Flood damages (as measured in billions of dollars each year) are trending sharply upward. As a result, FEMA and NDPTC have changed their approaches to flood management from a focus on structural protection to a broader focus on damage avoidance and community resilience.  Resilience includes a diverse group of strategies, and assumes that as conditions change, solutions will readjust to reflect changing situations. 

The group delved into numerous definitions of risk, but came back repeatedly to the understanding that severe natural disasters can provide opportunities to rebuild communities, revitalize commercial districts and improve natural resilience.  After a quick review of relevant federal laws, which in some cases have precedents that date back many hundreds of years, and a discussion of “no adverse impact,” the class envisioned fully resilient coastal communities, and then moved to a detailed review of processes that impact coastal flooding. 

These processes include land-driven factors, such as rainfall and erosion, and for a local example, rain-on-snow events, which frequently result in flooding in riverside communities. Ocean factors include storms, storm surges, and tectonics. We then moved on to natural and beneficial structures, including marshes and mangroves. On low energy coastlines, barrier islands and mangroves provide very important natural energy buffers from storm surges.  On high energy shorelines, like ours, healthy outer dunes with ample sand supplies on the beach and in nearshore waters are important to maintaining natural energy buffers.  

Resilience was the key idea to which the class kept coming back. A community that adapts to change after damaging events is a community that promotes resilience. Doing things the same old way, again and again, is not adaptive in the face of change. The class formed three teams to work through a Cascadia subduction event, an earthquake/tsunami, representative of a realistic disaster scenario for this beach with resilience in mind. Out of it came three different ideas: 1. to build evacuation structures, 2.  to strengthen outer dunes, and 3. to promote a tax-base local funding solution for desired structures, whatever these might be.  

We looked at retreat plans, accommodation plans, expansion of natural and artificial coastal buffers and ways to reduce risks to coastal communities using all these tools. Land use regulations and building codes came up, along with a discussion about how proactive planning can help communities recover after a natural disaster, or completely miss out on opportunities though lack of response to changing conditions. A review of revenues and expenditures, as with other sections, took the class through several different countries. 

The class ended with a discussion of overarching ‘mega strategies’ developed by low-lying countries, such as the Netherlands and Maldives, and by coastal Alaskan communities. Along the Bering Sea, native Alaskan communities are losing their lands as permafrost melts, and are retreating to new higher locations that wrenchingly, mean a complete change of lifestyle for the residents. 

As an ecologist, this is the first time I’ve taken a class on emergency preparedness that so thoroughly incorporated long term planning into community disaster plans. The presentation is well worth a day’s time for local residents, planners, emergency preparedness staff, and community officials at all levels.  It is thoughtful, thought-provoking and represents a practical way to think about landscapes so that coastal communities have a future in the face of rising sea levels, increasingly severe storms and major tectonic events, such as Cascadia subduction zone earthquakes and tsunamis.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Surf Safety:  Rip Currents

Written June 3, 2013, photos by Kathleen Sayce and Doug Knutsen

Our beaches are visitor friendly, with wide soft sands and a gentle slope from dunes to the tide zone, but the surf zone can be deadly. The surf zone has a complex structure in summer, with layers of sand bars and channels, as many as four or five rows of sand bars. Because of the bars, there are also numerous rip currents, strong west flowing currents that run between the ends of sand bars, fed by water in the channels behind each sand bar. This structure can be seen at low tide, and is almost completely obscured at high tide. The currents are still there and flowing fast even when covered with water. 

From the air, the beach looks placid; however, a series of rip currents are active all along this summer beach. Photo by Kathleen Sayce

Where Rip Currents Form

Learn where rip currents are likely to form and what they look like:  A spot in the surf line where the break is delayed a few seconds, or where foam or brown water (with sand in it) moves seaward as waves move landward indicates a gap in sand bars; the water may also be smoother in these gaps. 

Rip currents flow seaward at one to eight feet per second, or three to five mph. They are typically 30-50 feet wide and can be more than 120 feet wide. Rips flow seaward up to 2,500 ft before completely dissipating. They can be fixed in position, or move hundreds of feet along the beach over a few hours. Beaches with several layers of sand bars tend to have the strongest rip currents––like our beach. Under optimal conditions, a rip current can form every few hundred feet along a beach, as the aerial photograph shows. 

Rip currents are hard to see at beach level, but the breaks in sand bars are not. There's a strong rip between these two sand bars. Photo by Doug Knutsen. 

Safety:  Swim parallel to the Beach

I don’t know a swimmer in the world who can swim against a rip current and win. Know what to do in a rip:  Call for help immediately. Swim parallel to the beach, across the current, until you are out of it. Then swim back to shore. 

The first line of safety is to not enter the water in the first place. If you must go in the water, find quiet back channels and pools behind sand bars. Stay away from the gaps between bars.  In the surf, don’t wade more than knee deep. Strong currents and sneaker waves are less likely to surprise you, or knock you down, in shallow water. 

Many visitors in past years who drowned on our beaches were caught in either a deep back channel behind a sand bar, or in rip currents between sand bars. They panicked, were disoriented, and fought the current. 

In or near the water, stay oriented. Never turn your back on the surf. Know where you are on the beach, and where you entered the water. The next wave could be a sneaker, a much larger wave that runs up hundreds of feet higher on the beach, and knocks down everyone in its path.  If you aren’t watching, you won’t know when it hits, and when you come up, you won’t know where you are. You can be knee deep in water one moment, and waist deep or knocked down the next.  Be very watchful of small children near the water. It’s easy for them to be knocked down by small waves. 

If jumping waves, watch the longshore flow and your position on the beach. Longshore currents can move you from the middle of a sand bar to an end in a few minutes. With the next jump, you go off the bar and into deeper water in the rip. 

Don’t swim near jetties, rocks or piers, where there are fixed rip currents. There’s a rip current off the end of the north jetty at Cape Disappointment State Park where water blasts seaward along the north side of the jetty. Fishing Rocks at Beard’s Hollow also has fixed rip currents; this is a very dangerous area to enter the water because the currents make it impossible to get ashore. Doug Knutzen, South Pacific County Technical Rescue, told me that when the surf rescue team goes in the water between Fishing Rocks and Benson Beach for a rescue, they swim out to meet a Coast Guard boat rather than try to swim ashore due to the strong rips in this area. 

If you must swim, swim with a buddy; never swim alone. Wear a float vest or wet suit to add another layer of safety in or near the water. Either one will keep you at the surface in an emergency, so you can focus on swimming instead of staying at the surface and breathing. 

The red arrows mark the location of rip currents on one stretch of beach, less than a mile, in summer. Note the complex structure, with bars and lagoons, as well as rips. The long-shore current is moving from lower right to upper left, or north to south. Aerial photo by Kathleen Sayce

The tide is always flooding or ebbing on the beach. A flood (rising or incoming) tide is especially dangerous on a sand bar. The channel you waded through to get to the bar when it was two feet deep may be five or six feet deep when you go back. Study it before you enter the water going back to shore. If a current is flowing, move to the middle of the bar and cross there, well away from stronger currents towards each end. 

Pets are vulnerable too

Pets also drown in the surf.  If you are tossing sticks in the water for your dog to retrieve, avoid likely rip current areas and back channels with strong currents. If your dog is caught in a rip current, move up or down the beach away from the current, and call your dog to swim to you. This will encourage the dog to swim out of the current. When the surf is high, keep your dog out of the water.  Dogs are naturally strong swimmers, and more buoyant than humans, but sending them into high surf and rip currents is pushing their abilities to the limit. 

For more information, check the NOAA website online at  HYPERLINK", which has photos and diagrams about the formation of rip currents, safety tips, surf advisories, and links to other sites. 

South Pacific County Technical Rescue posts photos, video clips about rip currents, and safety tips for beach, surf and cliff safety, at  HYPERLINK ""

Doug Knutzen, SPCTR, drove the beach with me to talk about rip currents, sand bar structure, and beach safety. 

Be smart, know the signs of rip currents, and be safe, even on hot days at the beach.