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Less Bugs and More Blueberries!

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Now is one of the best times to be out in the high country- less bugs, less people, and our weird weather this year is making September look more like August- except with less bugs and people!

The dogs and I recently spent a couple days camping and hiking around Lake Wenatchee. This is looking down White River Falls. It is a sight to see in spring when the river is really high, but still awesome this time of year too.

Clasping arnica, Arnica amplexicaulis, still in bloom along the edge of the upper White River. A plant that likes moisture, it is common along middle and higher elevation streams, only needing a rocky ledge to get a foothold.

Another plant I found flowering- Lyall's angelica, Angelica arguta, with a long horned beetle dining on its' nectar.

Plants often have long blooming periods, which helps to ensure that the flowers will be pollinated, and at least some seeds will mature (though some may not get to because of early or late frosts or other weather events). This Lyall's angelica bloomed months ago, and its seeds are almost mature. It will have ripened seeds by the time of the first frost, while the plant above probably won't unless we have a really prolonged warm fall. Though some are bound to fail, this is one of nature's ways of ensuring that there will be a next generation of plants no matter what happens.

Most plants have either gone to seed or are going there, in preparation for the spring to come, and in the mountains this means lots of berries.

Some berries are edible, while some are not, but old wives' tales about blue berries being edible while red ones aren't are absolutely false. Best just to be absolutely sure what the plant is before you eat ANYTHING.

Devil's club, Oplopanax horridus, can be found in deep, moist woods. It is- as its scientific name infers- horrible or horrid- at least if you decide to walk through it or fall into a patch because of the long thick spines on the plant. It's berries are not edible, though parts of the plant were used as medicine by Indians; current research shows the plant contains a number of different chemicals, some having good potential for being used for fighting viruses and cancer.

Another plant with large leaves and red berries (like the devil's club), is thimbleberry, Rubus parviflorus. Though you can run across large patches of this plant, the berries are never very plentiful because it takes a whole plant to produce only a few berries (or less!). It is my personal favorite- I think they taste like nature's version of a raspberry Jolly Rancher candy. Very flavorful.

Wild huckleberries, or blueberries abound in the mountains this time of year. There are several common species as well as a few uncommon ones. Thinleaf huckleberry, Vaccinium membranaceum, shown in the photo is one of the most common and delicious species. It has larger leaves than most other huckleberries, as well as being toothed and sharply pointed, turning fantastic shades of orange and maroon and red in fall.

And where there are huckleberries, there are also fool's huckleberries...This is actually the seed capsule of a common lily called bride's bonnet or queen's cup, Clintonia uniflora, though it looks a lot like a huckleberry. This lily can easily be distinguished from real huckleberries by its herbaceousness- it is only a couple inches tall with wide leaves coming from its base, while huckleberries are shrubs. Though not known to be poisonous, it isn't known to be edible either, with no historical reports of Indians eating it.

Amazingly enough, the Indians were right on about most plants, so if it isn't good enough for an Indian, then you shouldn't be trying it!

One of the best books I've found for learning plants and uses for this area is called Food Plants of Interior First Peoples by Nancy Turner. Though its focus is north of the border, we have most of the same plants here in Washington. Its companion book Plant Technology of First Peoples in British Columbia is also very useful for our area.

Happy Trails (& tails)! My dogs overlooking Tall Timbers Ranch and the White River with Mt. David in the background.