Saturday, April 16, 2016

Friday Flora, Jacob and Esau Edition

Friday Flora Jacob and Esau Edition

Here is the Friday Flora, the fragrant popcorn flower, Plagiobothrys figuratus.  Doesn't look like much, but it almost gave me a heart attack.

It is growing in the middle of one of our pastures, between the barn and the east shelter.  That pasture is a problem for us:  it is the low point of the entire field, and sits on a lens of pure clay, so it becomes a vernal pool.  We've done a lot of work to drain it, including cutting in drains and perf-pipe and so on.  It's better than it was, but that just means that the puddles that the water goes over the tops of the feet rather than over the tops of my boots.  The situation is made worse by the fact that the last two years, we've had to run heavy tractors over that pasture during the wet season, in order to get fencing put in and build shelters.  It's not generally the best idea to do such construction work in February, but that was when the contractors were available.

Now, though, the pasture is drying out, and is merely muddy, rather than wet.  The popcorn flower's plant grows while inundated, and blooms as the last water disappears.  Our rutted, soggy pasture is now sprinkled with these cheerful little blooms.

If you live in Douglas County and talk with ecologists, or look for information on popcorn flowers in Douglas County, you will hear and see much about the rough popcorn flower, Plagiobothrys hirtus.  It is downright famous, and rightly so; it is one of the most critically endangered flora in the world, and it grows only in three sites, all in the drainage of the North Umpqua river in Douglas County Oregon--nowhere else in the world.  When I talked with the NRCS and USDA people about starting the fencing project, they always mentioned that we'd have to do a pro forma ecological survey, and that it would find nothing but it's obligatory because of the rough popcorn flower.  That was a couple of years ago.

A few evenings ago I was out doing the evening chores and in the dimming light I see this little flower, which jiggled a couple of loose neurons and brought up the name "popcorn flower."  It being 2016, I whipped out my iPhone and Googled "popcorn flower Douglas County Oregon" and the great Google coughed up a slew of pictures and information, all about P hirtus.  Here, for comparison, is a picture of the flower of P hirtus:

When you're doing chores, and light is dimming, and you've got a lot to get done, and you're unaware of the existence of any other Plagiobothrys species because one is hogging all the bandwidth, it is easy to come to the conclusion that you've just found the mother of all white elephants--an endangered species in one of your pastures right in the middle of your farm that you're trying to develop.  It took some pretty focused effort later that night to reveal that there are other species of popcorn flower in Douglas County.  Also, they look nearly identical to the rough popcorn flower, but they are as common as dirt and can be found from here to Illinois.

So, here we have P figuratus, in all its diminutive and unendangered glory.  How can I be sure?  One source mentions that absolutely certain identification depends upon microscopic examination of the scisson scars on the 1.5 milimeter seeds, but the quick-and-dirty way is to look at the stems.  P hirtus is a hairy plant, while its brother P figuratus is smooth.  

When I went out the next morning to do the chores,  I was immensely relieved to see smooth stems holding up those cute flowers.  Now I just go on my way, doing chores and enjoying the sight of these charming little flowers, enjoying their company as I do with the buttercups and clover and the rest.  Every once in a while, I will even step on one, accidentally.

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