Thursday, December 4, 2014

Waiter, there's a fly in my wine!

Kathleen Sayce

My glass of wine was buzzed by a fruit fly last week. A few hours later, it drowned in the dregs left in the glass. From early summer into fall, fruit flies are common in homes. There are also several species that live in warm winter areas of North America, and spread north each summer, rather like butterflies with northward migrations, but a lot less attractive. Fruit flies also overwinter in buildings, and live outside year round in warmer climates, hence the fly in the wine in November. Despite rigorous sanitation measures, it can be impossible to keep them out of your home by late summer. Flies spread around neighborhoods, with successive generations making their way indoors, following the scent of ripening fruits. Once indoors, they can live, and overwinter, hibernating until warmer weather returns.

The common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, takes up residence in our homes each summer. Only three millimeters long, this fly can go from egg to adult in seven to ten days, and usually lives no more than thirty days. It is widely used in genetic studies, due to its short lifecycle and ease of maintenance. Females can lay one hundred eggs per day, and perhaps two thousand over one lifetime, so if you do nothing to stop them, your house will fill quickly with flies! Native to the tropics in Asia and Africa, this fly lives on all continents except Antarctica. It survives cold seasons by moving indoors, and then expands its range each summer. It also comes north in summer, riding along with containers of fruit. Here along the coast, this fly probably does not survive outside, as our winters are usually too cold. It overwinters outside in southern California and across the southern tier of states, as do other species of fruit flies.

Flies hang around ripening fruit, including berries, squashes, tomatoes, apples, bananas and stone fruits. They eat juices, and lay eggs in the fruit, and will also use vegetables. Actions that help reduce them indoors include:  wipe surfaces to clean up after food preparation; do not store fruit or vegetables on countertops for days to weeks at a time; clean fresh fruits and vegetables as they come into your home, keep your garbage can covered, and the sink drains and disposal clean.

In a warm dry summer with ripening food outside as well as inside, you will inevitably have problems by August or September as the summer population explosion takes hold. If you have a compost pile outside, locate it well away from your door, so that flies cannot quickly and easily fly into your home. Placing a hummingbird feeder near compost piles helps too, as hummingbirds eat fruit flies and other small insects.

Commercial fly traps emit carbon dioxide, ethers and other yeasty scents. You can make your own traps using red wine, or a fermenting mixture of fruit juice with sugar and yeast, or apple cider vinegar with rotting fruit. Wine seems to disorient them the most, making it more likely that they will stay in the trap and drown in the wine. I have not tried a milk plus sugar and ground black pepper formula, but some people say this makes the best trap of all.

The trap requires a container. I use glass jars for traps; clear jars help you keep watch on how many flies have been caught, and whether the cover is keeping them inside. If they can walk out, then they will dip into the liquid for a drink––like a smoothie for humans––and then climb right back out and resume patrolling your kitchen, your house and even your face for food. They are tracking the scent of CO2 and fermentation juices when they fly around your face, not that this is appreciated by us!

Covers to keep the flies inside the trap include cones of paper with narrow openings at the bottom, taped down to jars, so that they cannot fly out. Long cones (more than 2 inches long) in tall jars (more than 6 inches tall) seem to work better than short ones; some flies figure out that they can walk around short cones to their freedom. Another cover is plastic wrap over the top of a jar with a few small holes in it, about one millimeter wide or slightly larger, pricked with a toothpick. They wriggle in via the holes, feed on the liquid inside, and then can't get out. Or use a plastic baggie with one corner snipped open (very small opening—just large enough to let the fly get in, 1-2 millimeters), placed over the top of the jar or glass. Smooth the baggie down inside to make a cone with the hole near the wine, vinegar or yeasty fruit juice inside the glass, and anchor it with a rubber band on the outside.

To dispose, you can dump the contents into soapy water for ten minutes, then wash down the drain, or dump outside, well away from any doors. Then you can clean and fill your trap for the next round. Cleaning and refreshing the trap every week seems to help get the last flies each fall. Mid to late fall is a good time to get the flies out of your house, and reduce the odds that they will overwinter indoors. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How far should you toss a snail?

Have you ever wondered where slug and snail eggs are laid? Or how fast and how far slugs and snails can move in a night? How about tossing them out of your garden, if you don’t like killing these invertebrates? Or why, when on morning slug patrol, day after day, there seems to be no lack of these animals in your garden? I think about all of these topics when I'm in my garden.

Slugs and snails are mollusks, one with a shell, one without, that moved to land from water millions of years ago. It’s been a successful shift for them. Mollusks are one of the most prolific and diverse animal phyla on earth; the air-breathing species are both abundant and widespread. These species no longer need to live in water for any stage of their life cycle. In our temperate and humid climate, several species are very much at home in gardens.

Dandelion leaves are smooth, thin and sharply lobed, and grow in low rosettes with one flower per stem. It flowers in spring and again in fall.
Rosettes of hairy cat's-ear are thick, dotted with hairs and roundly lobed; plants grow in thick rosettes with several flowers per stem. It flowers from summer into fall.
Eggs are laid under plants in the soil to keep them moist. Introduced daisies, including hairy cat’s-ear, Hypochaeris radicata, and dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, are good covers for European slugs and snails. Native slugs and snails prefer damp forest duff layers, and do not lay eggs in gardens. Eggs are soft walled and flexible. They need to stay moist if the tiny creatures are to survive and emerge. Eggs are laid in mid to late spring; young slugs and snails hatch two to four weeks later.

Hatchlings eat their way out their eggs, then the tiny mollusks begin a life of eating and growing. Native slugs and snails eat fungi, decaying wood, and mosses in the woods. Introduced species prefer garden plants and do not normally enter natural woodlands.
Natural pests include many birds, especially when the mollusks are very small. Chickens will eat both eggs and young. Ducks and garter snakes prefer the larger animals. In fact, garter snakes are excellent slug predators. A nice warm compost pile, a few smooth warm rocks to bask on, a source of freshwater in the garden, and you have all the amenities of life that a garter snake prefers, along with fresh slugs and snails for them to eat.

A young slug on a cat's-ear leaf hatched just a few days ago. All of the mollusks that use leaf rosettes in lawns for egg cover and food are introduced species; most are from Europe.

Like deer, European slugs and snails have cosmopolitan tastes––they will browse anything new at least once while deciding if it’s edible or not. One year I planted a native orchid, carefully enclosed it in a ring of slug bait, went back to the house for the durable tag––and when I came back out a few minutes later, a spotted leopard slug and a brown snail were circling the bait ring, enticed by the new plant. The next year, they left it alone.

A leopard slug (lower left) and European brown snail (at top) circle a new plant in their food space, a native stream orchid. These mollusks found the orchid within minutes after it was planted in early spring. The light ring is slug bait, the dark layer beneath is compost. The slug is arching up over the bait to smell the plant; the snail tasted the bait and is withdrawing.

If you aren’t comfortable cutting, crushing or salting these animals, is tossing effective? How far must you toss a snail or slug to keep it from coming back? Several scientists in England who are also gardeners studied this in their own gardens and neighborhoods. 

One man used dots of white paint on snail shells, and tossed them out of his garden, over two fences onto open land, adding a dot every time a previously marked snail showed up. The record holder was a snail that returned 17 times. The average time to return was a month. The next year, he worked with a statistician, numbered the snails and either tossed them (even numbers) or moved them about 70 feet (20 meters) to another garden (odd numbers). Only 3 of 151 odd-numbered snails returned.

Another gardener tested snail homing abilities by painting numbers on her snails, persuading her neighbors to do the same, all using different colors, one color for each garden, then swapped them around in the neighborhood. She found that snails can often find the way back, over a distance of about 32 feet (10 meters).

An ecologist working with her was intrigued by this finding. He attached LEDs to some snails, and painted others with glow-in-the-dark paints. Using time-lapse photography, he found that snails move about 1 meter (3.2 ft) a hour at top speed, and could move up to 10 meters (32 ft) per night. “In wet weather, they form convoys, sliding along the slime trails of preceding snails, which Hodgson suspects helps them save energy.” (New Scientist, 12 July 2014, page 37) To see a time-lapse video of LED-marked snails, go to 

If snails keep returning, is tossing useful? Yes, because it may help give plants a break in being eaten. They grow stronger with a few days of rest from munching, and when the snails return, plants are better able to cope with the damage. The farther away the snails are taken, the fewer return; 20 meters (70 ft) is good as a tossing/moving distance, but even 5 meters (16 ft) gives plants a few days break.

Both slugs and snails can be seen determinedly gliding somewhere, heading for their preferred foods in my garden when weather is cloudy and moist. This is a good time to practice slug and snail tossing. Just don't toss them into your neighbor's garden!

Think of this patch of hairy cat's-ear as a slug factory, capable of hatching thousands of baby slugs each year. It's also a late summer nectar source for Woodland Skipper and other butterflies. 

Published October 22, 2014 in the Chinook Observer. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Dark Data, or What's in Your Closet?

Dark data are collections of objects or information that reside in a business's files, an office, a garage, or home, which could provide important information for researchers, businesses or historians, if they only knew these data exist. There are many stories of finding letters, original music scores, paintings, diaries, buckets of fossils, which provided important information to someone. Dark data have been around ever since humans began collecting objects, and then forgetting about them, a generation or so later. 

We all have family and friends with collections of rocks, butterflies, feathers, fossils, old letters, comic books, diaries or journals, photographs, stamps, ceramics, scrapbooks, and other artifacts of past decades and former lives. In my own family, my father collected mollusk shells and cameras, my grandmother kept family artifacts and letters, and I have stacks of dried plant specimens and a living collection of bulbs. 

Gordon's scrapbook collection now resides at Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum. This and other photos showing his collection were taken by Barbara Minard, courtesy  Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, Ilwaco, Washington. 
Gordon's media varied over the years, but the detailed documentation did not change. Image courtesy of Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, Ilwaco, Washington.   

The problem with collections accelerates when the collector dies. Some collections retain value to the family for generations. Fossils and artifacts of past cultures found on family lands are examples of collections that are often retained for many generations by the descendants of the collectors, because of their pride in and strong connection to the land. Other collections are too often seen as so much trash, to be tossed when the collector is gone. A notable natural historian lived here on the peninsula and collected insects, mammals, shells and other biota for several decades.  When he died, his heirs tossed the lot. Perhaps they did not want the bother of sorting and sending to museums. All that energy, time and information, all those items, were lost to regional natural history museums and future natural historians. 

Two men who died in the past twelve months were lifelong scrapbookers. One was Gordon Schoewe, whose 82 scrapbooks went to the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum. The other was my father in law, who left more than 100 scrapbooks to his family; his father also compiled scrapbooks and left more than 30. These men documented their daily lives in amazing detail, often filling one book per year, with photos, tickets, letters, cards, other paper artifacts, and annotations. Gordon's books also included his artwork. In my father in law's books were cartoons and sketches of maps, diagrams and numerous comments about events and people. As cultural artifacts, these books describe life in the 20th century in amazing detail. It has been said that the past is another country. By describing their lives day by day and year by year, we can visit this richly detailed past in their books. For cultural museums, these books have great value. 

One open page in one of Gordon's books shows clippings about military friends. Courtesy Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum, Ilwaco, Washington. 

Not all collections are alike in value, and that value is usually intellectual. The most important are those that have provenance––annotations about when, where and how the objects were obtained. Without this provenance, collections are just assemblages of stuff once the collector is gone. The line between collectors and hoarders can be pretty thin, and well documented provenance is a key difference between them. 

There's a term for the process of losing annotations for collections:  ghost data. Someone put thought and energy into gathering and holding those objects, but unless they also wrote down where, when, who, and other details, and impressed their heirs with the need to pass on these materials with that information, those collections are doomed to become ghosts. On the other hand, when those collections are documented, annotated, and find their ways to appropriate museums, they become a resource for future generations, even when they aren't immediately put on display. 

This dried plant, Rumex pseudonatronalis, is heading for a regional herbarium. I first saw it years ago on the Columbia River, and finally collected it in 2013. 

The stacks of dried plants aren't heading to the trash at my house. I type up my collection information (when I can read my handwritten notes) and send the dried plants off to regional herbaria every couple of years. If those notes get separated from the plants, I have to toss them––herbaria cannot use specimens, no matter how rare or well pressed, if the notes on when, where and what are lost. I have ghost data issues from past decades with my own plant collections!

Recently I learned about a private collection in danger of being lost, a butterfly collection from the mid 20th century. There were journals associated with the specimens, and I hope the current holder of the collection finds them. It is from an under-sampled coastal county and gives lepidopterists a look at butterflies from a time when few people were collecting them, and long before digital photography made butterfly, dragonfly and bumblebee watching so straightforward. For natural history museums, and natural historians who are resampling modern species, this is an important resource to save. 

Then there are old photographs. You know what I'm talking about:  Boxes of them, which may or may not be properly stored. They might be black and white, or color. Negatives or positive images. On glass, film or paper. Photos of communities and landscapes are especially important if the dates and places where they were taken are known. Change is a fact of life. We live the changes almost without noticing, and it's only when we look back that we realize what changes have occurred––and photographs help us see those changes. Unnamed and undated photos of classes, people, places? Already ghosts. But with those dates, places and names written down? Very important to colleges, community and regional museums. 

Slides don't last forever:  I took these slides in the 1980s, and still have over a dozen metal cases of slides. They are starting to fade, and unless I add places, names, and dates, this information, and the usefulness of these slides to someone else will be lost. 

My field companion is a tough plastic notebook with Rite in the Rain waterproof paper, and a sturdy mechanical pencil. The paper is pH stable and archival, and the notes will last for decades, and probably for centuries.
You may notice that I keep coming back to written notes. There's a reason why:  We do not remember all the details we think we do, not from day to day, and not from year to year. Our memories are fluid, repacked every night when we sleep. There's a limit to how many details we can remember; only a few unusual individuals never forget anything. The constant memory repacking means that in a year, or a decade, you might not remember if the rock on the left is from Antarctica and the one on the right from Greenland. Nothing replaces taking notes in durable ink on archival paper, not the digital cloud, not computerized notes, and especially not our our fragile memories. 

If you are a collector, and you keep the details about each item in your collection in your memory right now, please take the time to write those details down. When your heirs sort out your collections, those with provenance can go on to the next generation, or a museum. Without this information, it's more likely to be lost, and to join the vast number of collections that have already gone dark, and joined the ghost data scrap heap. 

In my own family, my maternal grandmother Ruth's family letters about climbing Chilkoot Pass  and the Klondike Gold Rush went to the Alaska State Museum, along with her gold nugget jewelry and infant clothes of elk hide and beads. These objects are far more important in a museum collection than divided up among the grandchildren. Yes, to see all these items today, we have to go to Fairbanks. But we know where they are, and that they are available to historians and society. Not lost, not scattered, not tossed. 

What's in your closet? Or attic? And how well documented is it? 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rethinking Shoreline Gardens

Kathleen Sayce

Summer can be a thoughtful time for gardeners. First, we see the results of planning and planting in prior years as the plants grow and flower. Second, we naturally tend to think about what might have been—if only I’d planted five of those lilies instead of three; if only the deer hadn’t eaten down that rose; if only the croquet game on the 4th of July had not seen five children tromping (and bashing) through the rhododendrons to get their balls back to the playing field; if only . . .  Third, we contemplate what truly different kinds of gardens might be like. Autumn is a good time to revise and replant gardens, which intensifies thoughtful planning during the summer. 

Yellow sand verbena, Abronia latifolia, lives in open blowing sand areas on the beaches, and has showy bright yellow flowers. Not for a garden with improved soils, sand verbena is happiest in open sand. 

There are several ways to think about revising coastal gardens to reduce time, materials and energy spent caring for them, while still enjoying shrubs, perennials, grasses and other plants: 

One is to plant species that are truly salt, wind and rain tolerant, using those plants that thrive right along the ocean. 

Beach fleabane, Erigeron glaucus, is a low-growing daisy with pink to lavender flowers.Beach fleabane, Erigeron glaucus, is a low-growing daisy with pink to lavender flowers.

Two is to revise gardens to make them ocean friendly. A program of Surfrider Foundation, ( ocean friendly gardening is being actively promoted in California. Prolonged drought in that state is driving a serious rethink of the lawn plus shrubs and perennials approach, also called ‘mow, chop and blow’.

Three is to rethink water needs, and shift to native plants that do not need summer water and live only with rainfall; this is called xeriscaping in drier climates. 

These approaches share a focus on water retention, soil building, use of compost and mulches, use of native and drought tolerant plants, and reducing hard surfaces to improve permeability. 

Beach lupine, Lupinus litoralis, lives in open sandy areas along the beach, and like sand verbena really prefers very sandy soils. 

The South Coast of Washington is not California, so the plants we can grow are a bit different, and we aren’t yet in drought conditions. However, unless you truly like dragging a hose around, I recommend re-planning your garden to reduce watering. I limit my watering to those plants by bird baths, and a few plants that grow in pots. The rest have to endure local conditions, or leave (read:  die). It sounds ruthless, but if you pay attention to what lives and what dies without summer water, then you can take a very important step––selecting plants that do not need summer watering. 

Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, grows in large patches, in the dunes, saltmarshes and seacliffs. Closely related species are pink, red, yellow and other colors, and all grow well on shorelines. 

Next comes evaluating just how close you are to the ocean. Within about one thousand feet of the beach, salt and wind are critical preconditions that define what you can successfully grow, and how to grow it. Many plants do well with regular watering in this zone, as watering washes salt off the plants and flushes salt from the soil. Watering all summer runs counter to low input gardening and no-to-low summer watering. It’s important instead to find those plants that tolerate salt and wind and drought, and put down the hose. 

For wetter sites, gumweed, Grindelia integrifolia, has buttery yellow daisy flowers in late summer. 

Plants that do well right along the coast include salal, kinnikinnick, sword fern, Pacific reedgrass, red fescue, tall hairgrass, snowberry, coastal mugwort, yarrow, dune tansy, dune goldenrod, Douglas aster, sea watch (a native angelica), edible thistle, pearly everlasting, nodding onion, beach fleabane, and strawberries. These plants naturally grow on the sea cliffs and in the dunes. There are also many xeric plants from other parts of the world that grow in dry summer shoreline conditions.  Xeric plants include lavender, rosemary, many grasses, some sedges, bulbs, and many more. The full list is long, too many to list or discuss here. For more information, see my blog at, where I posted lists of native and introduced plants that do well along our shorelines.

One of the toughest native shrubs, salal, Gautheria shallon, grows on seacliffs and in dunes, with pink flowers and dark blue berries, and lovely evergreen foliage. 

The soil enhancement process is important to success for many plants. Adding carbon to the soil helps plants thrive in harsh conditions; these include compost, biochar and mulch.  Other shoreline gardening concepts include:  Permeable instead of impermeable surfaces (water absorbing rather than water resisting surfaces, which allow more water to enter the soil); choices for permeability include using gravel instead of concrete; paving with wide gaps, with gravel below, rather than all hard surfaces; mulches instead of bare soil; rain gardens and swales to help runoff water collect and soak into the ground and promote groundwater recharge. These all help retain water on site, clean it before it enters the ground water, and the ocean. 

Black twinberry, Lonicera involucrata, is a tough deciduous shrub with yellow flowers and brid-friendly black berries. 

The thinking behind ocean friendly gardening, at the Surfrider Foundation, is that present (and rapidly changing) ocean conditions are made worse by runoff water, often laden with heavy metals, chemicals from cars, nutrients and pesticides. Ocean-friendly-gardening also includes decoupling gutters from storm water collection systems so that water can recharge in the soil, and cleaning it biologically (with plants) before it reaches the groundwater or flows to nearby streams. 

Seawatch, Angelica lucida, lives on seacliffs, in dunes and salt marshes; four to six feet tall when flowering, plants are host to Anise Swallowtail butterfly larvae. 

These approaches help create gardens that need less water, no pesticides, less fertilizer, and less work to maintain. These aren’t flower-free gardens; they are full of flowers, are bee, butterfly and bird friendly, and are drought and fire resistant. 

As you watch your roses and lilies and geraniums bloom this year, what are you thinking about for next year? I’m rethinking the lawn along the salt marsh, wondering what a tall meadow would be like. I’d like to get rid of the lawn, but I don’t want my yard to go back to trees, which is its default plant community. This is a rainforest area, after all.  A tall meadow is mown once a year in late winter. Visualize tall grasses waving in the wind, punctuated by white angelica and pink native thistles, and magenta-pink spikes of checker mallow, and masses of yarrow. No watering. No summer mowing. I just have to take out those old lilac shrubs, and layer on compost to prep the soil; it could be ready to plant once the fall rains start, if I start this week. 

This and past columns are posted at

Native Shoreline Plants for Shoreline Gardens, South Coast, Washington

 Kathleen Sayce


Red Alder, Alnus rubra, note that both alders need fairly damp conditions to thrive
Sitka Alder, Alnus sinuata
Sitka spruce, Picea sitchenisis
Shore pine, Pinus contorta var. contorta
Hooker’s willow, Salix hookeriana, note that all willows need fairly damp conditions to thrive
Pacific willow, Salix lucida ssp. lasiandra
Scouler’s willow, Salix scouleriana

Evergreen Shrubs: Severe winter storms will kill back portions of these shrubs. Prune and keep them growing, and they will survive these setbacks. 
Kinnikinnick, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Coyote-brush, Baccharis pilularis
Salal, Gaultheria shallon
Common juniper, Juniperus communis
Puget Sound Juniper, Juniperus maritima
Pacific wax myrtle, Myrica californica
Evergreen huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum

Deciduous Shrubs:  Severe winter storms will kill back portions of these shrubs. Prune and keep them growing, and they will survive these setbacks. 
Ocean spray, Holodiscus discolor
Black twinberry, Lonicera involucrata
Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus
Pacific crabapple, Malus fusca
Ninebark, Physocarpus capitatus
Nootka rose, Rosa nutkensis
Rose spirea, Spiraea douglasii 
Low blueberry, Vaccinium caespitosum

Perennials for low meadows and beds, under 36 inches tall:

Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
Nodding onion, Allium cernuum
Pearly everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea
Coast silverweed, Argentina pacifica
Sea pink, Armeria maritima
Harvest brodiaea, Brodiaea coronaria
Common camas, Camassia quamash
Beach fleabane, Erigeron glaucus
California poppy, Eschscholzia californica
Coast strawberry, Fragaria chiloense
Chocolate lily, Fritillaria affinis
Beach gum weed, Grindelia integrifolia
Purple beachpea, Lathyrus japonicus
Gray beachpea, Lathyrus litoralis
Seashore lupine, Lupinus littoralis
Pacific lily of the valley, Maianthemum dilatatum
Coast piperia, Piperia elegans (P. greenii, P. maritima, Habenaria etc)
Western buttercup, Ranunculus occidentals
Oregon stonecrop, Sedum oreganum
Broad-leaved stonecrop, Sedum spathulatum
Dune goldenrod, Solidago spathulata
Hooded Ladies-tresses, Spiranthes romanzoffiana
Dune tansy, Tanacetum douglasii
White brodiaea, Triteleia hyacinthina
Early blue violet, Viola adunca

Perennials for tall meadows and beds, more than 36 inches tall:

Seawatch, Angelica lucida
Henderson’s angelica, Angelica hendersonii
Coastal mugwort, Artemisia suksdorfii
Edible thistle, Cirsium edule
Fireweed, Epilobium angustifolium
Western goldentop/goldenrod, Euthamia occidentalis (formerly Solidago)
Cow parsnip, Heracleum maximum
Arctic sweet coltsfoot, Petasites frigidus [likes wetter, shady sites]
Sword fern, Polystichum munitum
Henderson’s checkermallow, Sidalcea hendersonii

Grasses, Sedges & Rushes:

  Lower growing; foliage under 18 inches tall:
Short-stemmed sedge, Carex brevicaulis
Big-headed sedge, Carex macrocephala
Sand-dune sedge, Carex pansa
California oatgrass, Danthonia californica
Tufted hairgrass, Deschampsia cespitosa [flower spikes can be 5 ft tall]
Red fescue, Festuca rubra
Roemer’s fescue, Festuca roemerii
Idaho fescue, Festuca idahoensis
Baltic rush, Juncus arcticus ssp. littoralis
Dagger-leaf rush, Juncus ensifolius
Chilean rush, Juncus falcatus ssp. chilensis
Salt rush, Juncus lesueurii

  Taller; foliage over 18 inches tall

California brome, Bromus carinatus
Pacific brome, Bromus sitchensis
American dune grass, Leymus mollis
Pacific reedgrass, Calamagrostis nutkensis, for upland to wetland areas
Slough sedge, Carex obnupta, for freshwater wet areas
Lyngbye’s sedge, Carex lyngbyei, for saltwater wet areas
Reed manna grass, Glyceria grandis, for wetter soils
Marsh muhly, Muhlenbergia glomerata, for wetter soils

Introduced Plants for Shoreline Gardens, South Coast, Washington

Kathleen Sayce
See for more plants


Common alder, Alnus glutinous
Monterey cypress, Cupressus macrocarpa
Pines, including:
European black pine, Pinus nigra
French maritime pine, Pinus maritimus
Mugo pine, Pinus mughensis 
Holm oak, Quercus ilex


Bottlebrush, Callistemon citrinus
Calluna species and varieties
Ceanothus, several
Cotoneaster, several 
Eleagnus x ebbingei
Erica species and varieties
Escallonia rubra
Japanese spindle, Euonymus japonicus
Hebe species and varieties
Sea buckthorne, Hippophae rhamnoides
Ilex species, smaller leaved forms do better with high salt winds
Juniperus, several species and varieties, look for lower growing forms
Rosa rugosa
Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis


Lady’s mantle, Alchemilla mollis
Allium species, several
Greater sea kale, Crambe cordifolia
Sea kale, Crambe marĂ­tima
Montbretia, Crocosmia species and varieties
Ice plant, Delosperma species
Sea holly, Eryngium species and varieties
Geranium, some species and varieties (These are not pelargoniums)
Kniphofia species
Douglas iris, Iris douglaisana
Lavenders, Lavandula 
Catmint, Nepeta species and varieties
Bog sage, Salvia uliginosa
Santolina species
Sedum species, several 
Sempervivum species, several
Stachys byzantina
Thyme, Thymus
Verbena bonariensis
Vinca major

Low grasses, sedges, rushes: 

Sweet vernal grass, Anthoxanthum odoratum
Carex species
Heathgrass, Danthonia decumbens
Blue oat grass, Heliotrichon sempervirens
Seaside feather grass, Nasella tenuissima

Tall grasses and grass-like plants:

Calamagrostis, cultivated species and varieties
Cape rush, Chondropetalum tectorum
Pampas grass, Cortaderia selloana
Maiden grass, Miscanthus sinensis, and other varieties in this genus
Purple fountain grass, Pennisetum setaceum rubrum

New Zealand Flax, Phormium tenax, and several varieties

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Looking Up: What are those clouds?

Kathleen Sayce

With an ocean to the west and mountains to the east, we live in an excellent region to see a variety of clouds. Basic cirrus, nimbus, stratus and cumulus clouds are on view regularly, sometimes all at the same time, along with mountain-capping lenticular clouds, ground clouds, fog, linear cumulus clouds along the spine of the peninsula, the occasional anvil cloud that brings a thunderstorm, and dramatic mackerel skies when a storm approaches. 

As storms approach, the arriving nimbus (rain-bearing) clouds may be preceded by regularly spaced cloudlets, called a mackerel sky, for the appearance of fish scales in the cloud pattern. 

Every now and then something less common appears. Late last fall, December 11, 2013, a striking shadow cast across clouds to the north of Naselle Ridge as the sun rose. It lasted only a few minutes, as the planet rotated east. For those few minutes, sunlight streamed under the clouds, and a shadow from the mountain appeared on clouds north of the ridge as a dark wedge across the sky. 

Clouds regularly cast shadows on clouds. Less common is the mountain shadow on clouds, at least on the coast. This shadow was seen in early December 2013, when a shadow from Naselle Ridge was cast on clouds at sunrise. 

In late spring, coming across the 101 bridge from Astoria at sundown, we saw unusual clouds over Cape Disappointment, and stopped at Chinook County Park to look at them as the sun set. They looked like sets of waves, curling over in a long row. These are Kelvin-Helmholtz  Instability waves, which appear at the interface between a calm layer and a turbulent layer, in this case in the atmosphere. What was even more unusual about this sighting was that the turbulent layer was underneath the calm layer, so the distinctive curling ‘waves’ were upside down. 

When a turbulent fluid layer interacts with a smooth layer, regular waves form. at the contact zone, called a Kelvin-Helmholtz Instability.  This happens when winds blow over water, and also when air layers interact. In this photo, the turbulent layer is beneath the calm layer, so the cloud waves are forming underneath a calmer upper layer. 

Summer is the time when marine fogs are most common. When it’s hot inland and cold upwelled water pushes onshore with onshore winds, dense fog forms over the water and flows over the land like a cotton blanket, thin or thick. Depending on how hard the marine air or the over-land air is pushing, this fog either stays just along the beach, or reaches across the bay and up the Columbia River for several miles. On an afternoon flood tide when there’s cold upwelled water onshore, look for fog right above the cold water in the channel as the tide comes in.  Cumulus clouds also form inland of the ocean under these conditions, and grow over the hills to the east as moisture keeps building. 
One of our commonest cloud types is the low to mid level cumulus cloud. in this image, the cumulus cloud is growing vertically, and if the air is very warm, could turn into a thunderstorm. 

Complex cloud layers make very striking dawn and dusk skies. It’s not uncommon to see high cirrus clouds (thin wispy clouds at very high altitudes), with nimbus or stratus layers beneath (thick dense clouds in horizontal layers), and beneath these, puffy scattered cumulus clouds. The evening sky showed a combination like this over Willapa Hills just the other day as the sun set. 

Cirrus clouds on top, with two jet contrails coming in from the left. Down below are stratus clouds in the far distance over the Willapa Hills, and in front, puffy cumulus clouds over Willapa Bay.  Layered, complex skies like these are common, and give brilliant skies at dusk and dawn. 
Keep a camera handy and watch the sky, dawn, day and dusk. You never know what striking new cloud formation or combination will be visible. As Jack Horkheimer, host of Star Gazer, says, ‘Keep looking up!”

To read this column and others on line, go to, where these articles are archived. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Fire-enhanced Forests

Wildfires are a fact of life for many western landscapes.  During summer there is increased fire risk as forests and grasslands dry out. Yet as western coastal communities established more than a century ago, one of the characteristic changes was to suppress both wildfires and human-caused fires. This is critical for property protection. But it’s bad for plant communities that evolved with fire, including some conifer forests, shrub communities like chaparral, and grasslands. Now, for more than a century, fuels have built up in many natural landscapes instead of regularly burning. 

Most of our local conifers are not fire-adapted. Only Douglas-fir has thick bark, evolved to withstand fire and protect delicate cambium layers beneath. Western hemlock, western red cedar, and Sitka spruce are thin-barked species; their bark burns easily, and cambium layers beneath the bark die quickly, killing the trees even in moderately hot fires. 

Shore pine, Pinus contorta var. contorta, is a coastal cousin to lodgepole pine, Pinus contorta var. latifolia. This pine can withstand wildfire only as a large tree. It also has a mix of cones, some which open and shed seeds quickly, and some that stay tightly closed for years, and open to shed seeds after a fire. 

Lodgepole and shore pine both grow in very dense stands when young; these are called doghair stands, where the young trees ‘grow as dense as dog hair.’ In natural self-maintaining ecosystems, fires come through regularly every few years and burn out the accumulated litter, kill small to medium sized trees that are too close together, and leave larger, well spaced trees.  Likewise, chaparral shrubs like manzanita and coyote-bush burn to the ground and then resprout in following years. These fires typically move quickly over the landscape, pruning rather than clear-cutting. 

Regular small fires clear spaces between large trees and make the forest understory open and easy to walk through.  A regularly burned pine stand looks like a city park, with well-spaced large trees, a few shrubs, and turf. Once a fire burns through a stand of trees and opens it up, it takes a few decades for burnable materials to build up and support more than a cool, fast-moving fire. It’s reasonably fire-resistant in the meantime. 

A too-dense stand, on the other hand, burns hot and completely, from the crown of the trees to the ground. Wood logs and branches on the ground ignite, limbs and shrubs carry fire into tree canopies, fire moves from canopy to canopy as well as across the ground, and the result is a hot fire that kills the trees and leaves only ashes.  These stands do not recover. They start over with new seedlings, and for decades are more vulnerable to catastrophic fires, because they no longer have sturdy old trees to weather fires, provide seeds, and offer wildlife habitat. It’s not uncommon for dense pine stands to burn down again and again after a catastrophic fire. 

We live north of the forests that are dominated by fire-resistant trees and shrubs. In our area, when fires burn from dunes into forests, the forests generally burn down. The risky time for our community each year is summer, the dry season.  The solution for homeowners is regular fuel reduction, with thinning, limbing and wide spacing of remaining trees. 

Fuel for Fires Everywhere

This is one of three wildfire articles, two of which were not printed in the Chinook Observer in June 2014. I've included them as background on the serious and complex land management issue of fire prevention through fuel reduction. Remember:  Be smarter than the fire. 

We have hard-working and well-trained fire departments on the peninsula, but they can’t be everywhere at once when multiple fires start simultaneously, as can happen on a dry Fourth of July holiday. Optimal natural conditions that promote fires include a few days to weeks with no dewfall, and thousands of acres of beachgrass in proximity to dense pine forests. All plants are potential fuel sources during dry weather. Mix in tens of thousand of vacationers aiming to sit around campfires and play with fireworks, and the result is a highly flammable disaster waiting to happen. 

I’m not making this up. It happened here in July 1985. Rain stopped in May; two weeks without dewfall led up to the Fourth of July holiday. The country was bone dry. On July 3rd, Peninsula Fire District 1 crews, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) staff and State Parks staff fought a fire at Benson Beach in Cape Disappointment State Park, started in driftwood along the beach by a park visitor. The fire burned more than fifty acres south of the campground and was finally snuffed by a borate drop, flown over from Wenatchee.  

The next day, July 4th, a fire started at the north end of the Park, at Beard’s Hollow in the dunes, probably from lighted firecrackers tossed from a motorbike by a preteen. Pushed by a strong southerly wind, the fire raced north towards Seaview.  A fireman told me later the fire moved at more than thirty miles an hour. 

Fire departments mobilized quickly, holding the fire line at Willows Road and NACO West campground. Again, a timely borate drop was mobilized from Wenatchee to snuff the fire.  The DNR District Manager was nearby that day, checking the prior day’s fire near Benson Beach. It was a good bit of serendipity that he was already on site, because he was able to call for a borate flight soon after the fire call went out.  This saved hours of time. But the holiday wasn’t over, and there was no rain in sight.  

Over the next few days, fire crews responded to several dozen escaping dune and yard fires, and dozens of aid calls. Later, Chief Jack McDonald, Peninsula Fire District One, summed up the memorable holiday for the fire department by saying that all children under the age of twelve should be banned from the peninsula for the Fourth of July holiday, along with the matches and firecrackers each one probably had in his or her pockets. 

These bone-dry conditions are not normal for the coast, but they are very normal east of the Cascades. The first change afterwards on the peninsula was to ban open burning from the end of the wet season until rain returned in the fall, and to enforce it. This led to fire departments posting burn ban notices at fire halls, and more awareness of the dangers of dune fires for the public. 

In many western communities, fuel reduction around communities is a common practice. For some reason, fuel reduction in pine stands on the beach was not implemented after the summer of 1985, but it could be. The day may come when there are too many fires for our fire crews to handle, and if your beachside forest is not fire resistant, it could act as a conduit to carry the fire inland to the community’s residential areas. 

Reducing Fire Danger along the Beach

  June is Fire Prevention Month in America. Wildfires are a fact of life for many western landscapes.  During summer there is increased fire risk as forests and grasslands dry out.  This year it is particularly bad because of drought across much of the West. Only western Washington is not at elevated drought watch right now in late May. The rest of the West has moderate to severe drought conditions. 

The problem:  Dense stands of shore pine,  Pinus contorta ssp. contorta, in grasslands. Fires can easily jump from grasslands to trees under these conditions. Limbs grow to the ground, and trees are close-spaced. Photo by Kathleen Sayce

As western coastal communities established, more than a century ago, a common land management change was to suppress both wildfires and human-caused fires. This is critical for property protection. But it’s bad for plant communities that evolved with fire, including some conifer forests, shrub communities like chaparral, and grasslands. Now, for more than a century, fuels have built up in many natural landscapes instead of regularly burning out in wildfires. 

Looking east from the beach into the dunes, see some property owners take out most of the trees. Others leave dense stands. Photo by Kathleen Sayce
Ocean front property owners respond in several ways. One is to take out all the trees. Another is to leave all of them. But there is an effective middle ground:  Thin the stands, limb the trees left, and reduce the fuel load.  

The process is straightforward:   

Take out all the small trees. Cut those trees off at ground level; this disturbs the soil less than digging or pulling. Remove trees near buildings, so that tree canopies don’t overhang roofs. 
Still small enough to mow down with a brush cutter, these young pines will form a dense stand in less than five years.  Photo by Kathleen Sayce

Leave a few healthy large trees, spaced widely so that their canopies (each tree’s crown of branches and needles) do not touch. Twenty to thirty feet apart is good. 

On the large trees you leave standing, cut tree limbs up to eight to ten feet off the ground, so fires on the ground cannot easily go up into the canopy.  Cut at the collar on the branch so the wound heals quickly; don’t leave a ragged stub. This reduces entry of diseases into the limbed tree.  If you don’t know where the tree limb collar is, contact local master gardeners or arborists about pruning, they can show you how to properly limb conifers and hardwoods. 

This pine tree is out in the open, but its limbs still grow too near the ground. Photo by Kathleen Sayce
Western hemlock trees will die within ten years if limbed, from a fungal disease. It’s better to simply remove the hemlocks or leave them alone.  Other trees will survive removal of lower branches.

This pine tree has been limbed to about 6 feet, a good first step in making the tree fire-resistant. Note the tree behind it has also been limbed.
Photo by Kathleen Sayce
Chip all woody debris, and spread it out in a thin layer on the ground, or remove it from the site.  Don’t leave chips or limbs in piles; piles burn hot in a wildfire, and help the fire strengthen and spread.  Remove all large woody branches and logs for firewood or other uses.  Do not leave these  materials on the ground to provide fuel for a wildfire.  

Mow the grass each year in July, to reduce thatch and cut down any new seedling trees. If you have dense stands of salal and huckleberry, mow them down too, every 2-3 years. Also remove gorse and scotch broom shrubs, both of which burn hot and fast.  A July mowing, just as the annual summer drought gets going, removes fuel for the season. Mow a swathe around buildings. A twenty-feet-wide band is good, fifty feet is better.

When done, the stand is open, trees are widely spaced, and the burnable wood on the ground is shredded into small pieces, or gone. If a fire gets into this stand, the grass will burn quickly and lightly, and the trees will survive.  This is the opposite of good practices to enhance forest habitat, by the way; in the latter, leaving wood and chips helps promote soil fungi and build healthy soils. Fuel reduction for fire resistance is probably the only situation where good stand management includes removing woody debris from the forest. 

It's easy to see from the air how close the coastal towns are to the beach, and how serious the fire hazard from the shore pine stands is. The dark patches between the town and beach are dense shore pine stands. This photo looks west from over Hwy 101 to Seaview and south Long Beach, and the Pacific Ocean. Photo by Kathleen Sayce
I’ve written before about historic dune prairies. These grasslands were naturally patchy and low in fuel, a very different situation from today’s dense meadows of American beachgrass.  With fire suppression, lack of thinning or limbing, growth of dense thickets of gorse and Scots broom, dense beachgrasses, and now buildings all along the beaches, coastal communities have several strikes against them going into dry summers. It’s good that we’ve had damp to wet Fourth of July holidays lately!  

We can’t always count on the weather to provide moisture around major summer holidays.  We can count on our own actions to keep our community safe.  Plan ahead, and reduce your fire danger with thinning, limbing and mowing. Help our community be fire-safe each summer.  Shake down kids for matches and firecrackers if they play in the dunes.  Check with the fire departments before staring yard or debris fires. Be smart about fire. Our fire crews and community all thank you.