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Wet & Wild

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coreopsistinctoriab

One of the late bloomers along the Columbia River- Atkinson's tickseed, Coreopsis tinctoria var. atkinsoniana. This plant may look familiar to gardeners, with only very small technical differences that distinguish this western variety from the tickseed (Coreopsis) found at nurseries and in wildflower seed mixes. One of the most common and conspicuous native forbs along the river, it can even be found at the swimming area at Walla Walla Point Park in Wenatchee. One of its distinguishing features is its bright yellow and red petals- but not an entirely unique characteristic.

Another plant I've been seeing along the east side of the river is Indian blanketflower, Gaillardia aristata. This is the other common wildflower with yellow petals that have a red center. The red of both of these species (Coreopsis, Gaillardia) can vary with some plants appearing entirely yellow, but most with some red. Among many differences between the two species- blanketflower is hairy and has wider leaves, while tickseed's leaves are linear (not wide, thread-like) and glabrous (without hairs). Blanketflower is also typically found in dryer habitats than tickseed. Always fascinating to me as a botanist are the tiny plant communities that pop up along the Columbia River's shoreline late in summer. Mainly composed of annuals, the plants spend most of the year as seeds, only to sprout when conditions are just right late in the season. Shown above is western marsh cudweed, Gnaphalium palustre, still blooming. This is a native plant that is usually weedy so it was interesting seeing it along the shoreline in a greatly reduced form- only an inch or two or so tall compared to ones I usually see that are 1/2 foot high or more. Most of this spring and summer this area was covered in several feet of swift water- amazing that anything really can grow there at all. Western mountain aster, Symphyotrichum spathulatum (syn: Aster occidentalis), is one of the most common flowering forbs along rivers in the west. It has late blooming lavender flowers with yellow centers, narrow toothed leaves, and can be fairly tall and have many flowers per plant depending on conditions. No conversation on riparian plants in the west is complete without bringing up the two dreaded words...purple loosestrife. Lythrum salicaria is its scientific name, and was introduced as an ornamental plant because of its pretty flowers. But the properties that made it a good yard plant (easy to care for, profuse flowering), also make it a great invader of wetlands. It has spread throughout North America, and now is one of the most commonly seen flowers at lower elevations. The largest Washington State infestation covers over 23,000 acres in Winchester and Frenchman Hills Wasteways in Grant County. More on purple loosestrife. The parting kiss of summer (the flowers endure!) lingers still on river's beaches, yet to defer warmth and color to cold wind and nights. Soon though...

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