By Sarah Schrock
A friend of mine from the Chicago area recently posted a photo online of the “juneberries” gracing his garden, delighted with the prospect of slurping up the sweet morsels. I recognized the image immediately as a photo of serviceberries and thought to myself, “wow, serviceberries are already ripe for picking in June in the Midwest.”
Even though I know spring comes earlier there, it struck me that we never refer them as juneberries, because in fact they are simply never or rarely edible in June.
For plant nerds like me, the colloquial and common usage of plant names is one that takes on a life of its own. This same plant, often called serviceberry, also commonly goes by the name Saskatoon. Many years ago, I did a mapping project looking at the original public land survey plats of eastern Washington where the first land surveyors recorded their observations of plant life during the great Manifest Destiny and referred to this plant as “sarvice-berry.” I have heard old timers still used that pronunciation.
Whatever one calls Amelanchiar alnifolia, here in the Methow we have about two more weeks before prime picking commences, and be sure that the bears and birds are more eager for the deluge of purple than a UW football fan on game day.
Another plant name of colloquial confusion is knapweed. When we first moved to the valley 14 years ago, everyone called knapweed “barnaby.” There is a type of thistle (yellow star thistle) that is known as barnaby thistle throughout the world, and for some reason here in the Methow every type of knapweed, which is a thistle, is referred to as barnaby. This is unique to the Methow as far as I can tell.
Thanks to a root weevil that was introduced as a biological control a few years back, some of the “barnaby” infestations have been reduced over the years. Still, I see it creeping into the shrub-steppe near driveways quite commonly and extending its reach. And if you are a like me, this can be discouraging because knapweed is prickly, toxic to other plants and animals, and caustic to the skin. Rubbing up against it is outright unpleasant and can cause a burning/itchy rash, but even more important is that it’s invasion of the native shrub-steppe can be destructive to habitat because of its allelopathic tendencies.
What, you ask, is meant by allelopathic tendencies? Well if you don’t like your neighbor, this is something you might want to develop. Many plants have a competitive advantage by excreting chemicals from roots or from leaf drop that actually change the soil in its proximity, making it unsuitable to competing plants that can’t tolerate it. The upshot of knapweed is that is a good pollinator, and bees these days need all the help they can get.
The sedums are in bloom. These are small succulent plants, commonly called stonecrops, that grow on shallow, rocky outcrops. There are lots of horticultural varieties available, but there are native sedum varieties on throughout the valley and into the alpine zones. The blooms look like yellow starbursts and bees love them. They are easily propagated from cuttings as they send out roots as they creep along the ground.
Finally, it’s the time of year when trees need a little more help, especially with water. My recommendation for people with limited irrigation capacity: If you water anything, water your trees. Healthy trees will help keep us all stay cooler by mediating the built environment, tempering the wind, cleaning the air and offering habitat for birds.
Teresa Miller recently received her International Society Arborist certification and with it a wealth of expertise on how to maximize health of trees in our environment. For tree help information, contact her at 996-2725.