Sage Notes, Summer 2000, Vol 22(3) Newsletter of the Idaho Native Plant Society

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Articles in Sage Notes reflect the views of the authors and are not an official position of the Idaho Native Plant Society.

In this issue...

Land Swaps: A Closer Look, Bertie Weddell

Converting Turfgrass to Native Vegetation in Moscow, John Byrne

Twenty Years after the Revolution: A Glimpse at Iran, Valerie Geertson

Corydalis caseana—Don’t Look Too Closely, Sarah Walker

Book Review--Flora of Steens Mountain, Review by Carol Prentice

Chapter News

        Pahove Chapter
        Calypso Chapter
        Kinnikinnick Chapter
        White Pine Chapter

News and Notes

       Columbia Basin shrub steppe habitat lost to fire

        Biological control agent attacks native thistles

        Ecologists taken by surprise at Mt. St. Helens

        Mr. Yuk Take Note--notes on the Euphorbiaceae

        Traveling exhibits available!

Associate editors needed. Working on the Sage Notes editorial board is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about native plant conservation and newsletter production. The board works as a team to plan, solicit articles, proofread, and produce the newsletter. Members also contribute articles whenever possible. Over the years Sage Notes has come out about four times a year, sometimes along with Sage Briefs, a shorter newsletter about upcoming field trips or other alerts. This year we have started posting on the INPS website <>.

If you know of an INPS member who would be interested in working on Sage Notes, please send suggestions to Editor Sarah Walker (address on back page).


A while back (it’s longer than we care to admit, the spring issue of 1999), we promised readers an article on land swaps. Well, the fact that the General Accounting Office recently released a highly critical assessment of Forest Service and BLM land exchanges makes this a good time to deliver the promised article. Here it is.

Land Swaps: A Closer Look

Bertie Weddell, White Pine Chapter

In the best of all possible worlds, society would determine which lands and waters should be managed by public land management agencies and which should be managed privately. This would result in efficient and effective management of natural resources and at the same time would protect biological diversity. Areas that contained significant biological resources would be managed by public agencies dedicated to protecting those resources, while degraded areas would be devoted to economic activities. Management agencies would control large blocks of land, rather than dispersed fragments, so that impacts from resource extraction and development could be minimized.

If mistakes were made in assigning lands to these categories, the system would be fine-tuned. Public lands with relatively little biological importance would be transferred to private ownership, and biologically significant private lands would be transferred to public ownership. One way to do this would be through trades exchanging land in the first category for land in the second category. Land swaps could meet the needs of agencies that have limited funds for purchasing land or that are dealing with landowners who didn’t want to sell their land outright.

This is the rationale behind land exchanges. There is certainly no doubt that existing patterns of land ownership are flawed. Historically, lands were allocated to federal agencies for a variety of reasons. Economics and politics were high on the list of considerations; biological uniqueness and integrity were not. To make matters worse, in the 1860s Congress gave every other square mile of land within the right-of-way to the Northern Pacific Railroad, to encourage westward development. This created a fragmented checkerboard of ownerships that has plagued management efforts ever since.

Although the idea underlying land exchanges seems logical, the process of trading public land for private creates a situation that is vulnerable to abuse. Any time private parties gain control of publicly-owned resources, the public stands to lose unless rigorous safeguards are in place to protect its interests. There are two potential problems here: what is traded and for how much. If inappropriate decisions are made about what is traded, the public loses valuable resources. If inappropriate decisions are made about the value of the traded resources, the public loses money.

Critics have long charged that both kinds of abuses are rampant and that land exchanges give away land to special interests and evade environmental laws. Furthermore, because appraisals remain secret until after an exchange is completed, agency personnel can be pressured by powerful constituents to make deals that serve special interests rather than the public.

In 1998 the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran a series of articles detailing these criticisms, and California Democratic Representative George Miller asked the General Accounting Office (GAO) to review the land exchange programs of the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service. Accordingly, the GAO audited the agencies’ land exchanges since 1989. (Congress passed legislation facilitating exchanges in 1988.)

Their recently released report is very critical of existing practices, for both of the reasons mentioned above: the highly questionable public benefits of many trades, and the egregious losses to taxpayers that result from undervaluation of public land and overvaluation of private land. (See accompanying box.)

Both the Forest Service and the BLM argue that land exchanges are an important tool allowing them to augment habitat for sensitive species and habitats and to consolidate their holdings by eliminating private inholdings. Both agencies have attempted to institute some reforms. But the GAO concludes that the reforms do not go far enough, and that land exchanges are so fraught with problems that they may not be fixable. It suggests that straightforward land purchases are a far better way of accomplishing agency objectives.

Janine Blaeloch, director of the Western Land Exchange Project, agrees that land purchases are preferable to land exchanges. She points out, however, that federal agencies often rely on land swaps because they lack the funds necessary to buy lands outright. Although "there are substantial funds earmarked for land acquisition through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, . . . Congress appropriates those funds annually and most of that money is directed toward unrelated programs and congressional ‘pork’." (Seattle Post-Intelligencer July 25, 2000). (More information about the Western Land Exchange Project can be obtained from

As is so often the case, when we look at one problem we find a more fundamental problem behind it. In this case, agencies’ reliance on land exchanges stems from Congress’ unwillingness to earmark Land and Water Conservation Funds for the purpose for which they were intended.

The "Results in Brief" section of the GAO’s report is quoted in its entirety below. The full report is available at

United States General Accounting Office, June 2000. BLM and the Forest Service: Land Exchanges Need to Reflect Appropriate Value and Serve the Public Interest, Report to the Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Resources, House of Representatives

Results in Brief

The [Forest] Service and the Bureau [of Land Management] used land exchanges to acquire about 1,500 total square miles of land during fiscal years 1989 through 1999. The Service completed about 1,265 exchanges during this period, which were valued at over $1 billion. Through these exchanges, the Service acquired a net total of about 950 square miles and generally acquired land that had lower per-acre values than the land it conveyed. The Bureau does not centrally track the number of exchanges it completes or their total dollar value; instead, the agency tracks transactions—two or more of which can occur in each exchange. The Bureau completed about 2,600 transactions in fiscal years 1989 through 1999, which resulted in the Bureau’s acquiring a net total of about 550 square miles.

The agencies did not ensure that the land being exchanged was appropriately valued or that exchanges served the public interest or met certain other exchange requirements. We found numerous problems with the exchanges we examined. In particular:

• The agencies have given more than fair market value for nonfederal land they acquired and accepted less than fair market value for federal land they conveyed because the appraisals used to estimate the lands’ values did not always meet federal standards.

• The agencies did not follow their requirements that help show that the public benefits of acquiring the nonfederal land in an exchange matched or exceeded the public benefits of retaining the federal land, raising doubts about whether these exchanges served the public interest. Furthermore, the Bureau did not always follow its regulations in preparing exchange initiation agreements.

• The Bureau—under the umbrella of its land exchange authority—sold federal land, deposited the sales proceeds into interest-bearing escrow accounts, and used these funds to acquire nonfederal land (or arranged with others to do so). Current law does not authorize the Bureau to retain or use proceeds from selling federal land; it instead requires the Bureau to deposit sale proceeds into the Treasury and to use appropriations to acquire nonfederal land. In using these funds and the interest earned on them to purchase land, the Bureau augmented its appropriations. The Bureau also did not comply with its sale authority when it sold the land, and none of the funds retained in escrow accounts or used in this manner were tracked in the Bureau’s financial management system.

Both agencies recently increased their management oversight of exchanges by (1) creating review teams composed of headquarters and field staff to examine proposed exchanges that are valued at $500,000 or more and are considered to be controversial; (2) revising their policies and procedures that address exchanges; and (3) creating additional training for agency personnel involved in land exchanges. These efforts, if properly implemented, should improve how these programs are conducted. However, they do not address all land exchanges—including those valued at less than $500,000, those not identified as being controversial, and those considered to be too close to completion to be stopped or altered. In addition, the Bureau’s review team has not addressed the unauthorized selling and buying of land under its exchange program or the financial management of these funds. Furthermore, handbook revisions and enhanced training can clarify the agencies’ land exchange policies and procedures, but they do not ensure that those policies or procedures are appropriate or followed.

At least some of the agencies’ continuing problems may reflect inherent underlying difficulties associated with exchanging land compared with the more common buying and selling of land for cash. In land exchanges, a landowner must first find another landowner who is willing to trade, who owns a desirable parcel of land that can be valued at about the same amount as his/her parcel, and who wants to acquire the parcel being offered. More commonly, both landowners would simply sell the parcels they no longer want and use the cash to buy other parcels that they prefer. In this way, the value of both parcels is more easily established when they are sold in a competitive market, both parties have more flexibility in meeting their needs, and there is no requirement to equalize the values of the parcels. Difficulties in land exchanges are exacerbated when the properties are difficult to value—for example, because they have characteristics that make them unique or because the real-estate market is rapidly developing—as was the case in several exchanges we reviewed. Both agencies want to retain land exchanges as a means to acquire land, but in most circumstances, cash-based transactions would be simpler and less costly.

In view of the many problems in both agencies’ land exchange programs and given the fundamental difficulties that underlie land exchanges when compared with cash-based transactions, we believe that the Congress may wish to consider directing the Service and the Bureau to discontinue their land exchange programs. Until such a fundamental action is taken and while the agencies continue to operate land exchange programs, we recommend that both agencies review and approve all proposed exchanges to ensure that they meet key statutory and regulatory requirements for land exchanges; that is, that they are appropriately valued, serve the public interest well, and meet other exchange requirements. We also recommend that the Bureau immediately discontinue selling and buying land under its land exchange program—a practice that is not authorized under current law—and conduct an audit of financial records associated with these sales and purchases.

In their comments on a draft of this report, both agencies concurred with the recommendations that were addressed to them and have taken steps to respond to them. However, both agencies disagreed with our suggestion for congressional consideration, believing that land exchanges are an essential and irreplaceable tool for adjusting federal land ownership. We believe that the agencies’ program improvements cannot address the inherent difficulties associated with land-for-land exchanges and that the agencies’ desire to continue exchanges is more than offset by their programs’ continuing problems and exchanges’ fundamental inefficiencies. We continue to believe that the Congress should consider directing the agencies to discontinue their land exchange programs because of the many problems identified and their inherent difficulties.

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Converting Turfgrass to Native Vegetation in Moscow

John Byrne, Forester, Rocky Mountain Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Moscow

The landscaping around the Moscow Forestry Sciences Laboratory (of the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station) isn’t that different from most commercial city properties. Except for a few native plants in beds near the front of the building (initiated by Ray Boyd, a retired employee who is active in the White Pine Chapter), the lot is dominated by wide expanses of turfgrass with occasional trees, many of which are not native—such as Scotch pine (Pinus sylvestris) and crab apple (Malus spp.). The grass is watered intensively with a sprinkler system throughout the summer.

For several years I commented to any sympathetic listener about the waste of mining deep groundwater (the water source for Moscow) to keep our turfgrass green when the surrounding hills were browning up from lack of water. It seemed like a poor example to the public and additionally there had been a presidential directive (Clinton 1994) on using native vegetation on federal properties. Native plants could provide a more diverse habitat for birds and insects and might be more aesthetically pleasing than a sterile lawn. I wondered whether it would be possible to stop watering and create a landscape, like a piece of prairie, that was natural to our area.

I must admit that even though I work as a forester, and know the common vegetation of the local forests, I knew little about grasslands. Doing a little research on the pre-settlement vegetation, I found that the Moscow area was predominately a grassland-shrub plant community (Daubenmire 1942, 1980; Franklin and Dyrness 1988). The dominant vegetation was probably short bunchgrasses, like Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis) and bluebunch wheatgrass (Agropyron spicatum), with scattered perennial flowering forbs. Small shrubs, such as snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), Wood’s rose (Rosa woodsii), and creeping Oregon grape (Berberis repens), either occurred as scattered individuals within the predominant grassland or as thickets. Tall shrubs, such as hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii) and willow (Salix spp.) were the main vegetation along stream courses. There were also examples of isolated forest-shrub plant communities growing as extensions of the main forest cover of the nearby mountains. The dominant tree cover was probably ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), with an understory of shrubs—snowberry, ninebark (Physocarpus malvaceus), ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor), and serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia).

After my initial research, I felt we could convert part of our lawn area to native vegetation. I talked to a few others at the lab who might be supportive of the idea, including Jonalea Tonn and Dennis Ferguson, from the local White Pine Chapter of the Native Plant Society, and Bill Wykoff, who I knew had established some native plants in his garden. They all thought it was a good idea and suggested I present it at an all-staff meeting in February 1999. With some trepidation, I made the presentation and those present overwhelmingly supported the idea. A subsequent survey of the staff verified that most people favored the idea. Though a majority of folks thought lab personnel could plan the project, there were enough in favor of outside help that I arranged for two University of Idaho landscape architecture students to plan the project, as part of a project assignment for one of their classes. And finally, best of all, most employees expressed a willingness to work on a volunteer (non-pay) basis on the project.

We gave the two students some general guidelines including (1) there should be no watering, except for initial establishment, (2) there should be native vegetation only, (3) turfgrass should be retained next to the buildings for fire safety, (4) a walking path should be a possibility, (5) removal of existing trees/shrubs should be minimized, and (6) work should be done by lab personnel in phases (we did not have a big budget). The two students, Katie Wilde and Toby Hagerott, presented their plans to lab personnel in early May 1999. We felt they gave us some good design concepts, and we helped them learn about native vegetation, a topic only minimally covered in their classes. In the end, we chose Katie’s plan, with some modifications.

By June 1999, we had discussed costs with the lab administrative officer and secured funding for materials (about $500 per phase), received approval from station management to proceed, and proposed a plan of work. We decided to start near the main building to avoid any conflict with a pending redesign of US Highway 95. This first phase included removing about 300 sq. ft. of turfgrass sod with a sod cutter, creating a path and patio area, and then planting a few ponderosa pines, Wood’s roses, and two kinds of bunchgrass, Idaho fescue and bluebunch wheatgrass. We used lawn edging to separate the native vegetation from the turfgrass area next to the building and landscape fabric under the path and patio to reduce encroachment from unwanted plants.

The initial plan called for a simple path and patio made from wood chips, but we decided to make the area handicap accessible. To create the path and patio, we mixed gravel and dry cement, then tamped and watered it, letting it set up to a hard surface. Fortunately, we had use of a Bobcat for moving much of the dirt and gravel, and an operator, Ben Kopyscianski, who was supportive of the project. Others loaned their own trucks and rototillers. Many helped at various work parties, mostly done on their own time after work. I was glad to see this, not only because I couldn’t have done the work by myself, but because their participation made it everybody’s project.

We have greenhouse facilities and often grow trees from seed for various research projects. The four ponderosa pine trees initially planted were leftovers from such a project. We had never tried to grow grass before. We obtained a few ounces of grass seed from Loring Jones, a member of the White Pine chapter, and planted the seed in plastic tubes designed for growing tree seedlings. Within two weeks, there was excellent germination, and with regular watering and fertilizing, grass plugs were ready to outplant by mid-September. The plugs were planted about 8 inches apart, as per the recommendation of Kas Dumroese, University of Idaho research scientist and editor of the Native Plants Journal. We didn’t expect much top growth that fall, only some root growth in preparation for good growth the next spring. We also planted three Wood’s rose plants.

Early the next spring, we knew we had a weed problem. Kas Dumroese had recommended the use of a pre-emergent herbicide to keep weeds down. In a rush to get things done in the fall, I forgot Kas’ recommendation, and we ended up with a rather persistent crop of annual bluegrass (Poa sp.). We couldn’t spray it with herbicide for fear of killing the native grasses, so we pulled it by hand, several times on a bi-weekly basis, until it was under control and the native grasses provided competition. The bluegrass persisted at the base of the native grass clumps.

The bunchgrasses had excellent growth for the first year. We had some grazing by resident rabbits, but mostly they seemed to enjoy the cover provided by the grass, which reached 2-3 feet in height after sending up seed stalks. We augmented the grasses by interplanting several native forbs, including arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata), prairie smoke (Geum triflorum), roundleaf alumroot (Heuchera cylindrica), and silky lupine (Lupinus sericeus). We’ve watered these forbs through the summer months. None have put on much growth, but hopefully they will come on stronger next year.

We began Phase 2 of the project in April 2000. The major effort for this phase was to connect the path and patio created in 1999 to the main building access doors and in the process vegetate a short, steep slope with native plants. We again started by removing sod from the area with a sod cutter. We dug into the hillside and created a series of steps with railroad ties and another path with slate stepping stones that were recycled from our Priest River Experimental Forest. The exposed cut faces of the slope were covered with basalt rock obtained from several local sources. In addition, we planted another small area of the lawn with a clump of ponderosa pine trees, Idaho fescue, and bluebunch wheatgrass. We first killed the turfgrass with herbicide and after the grass died, rototilled the sod in preparation for planting.

The main plant we used for the steep slope near the steps was kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos sp.). It is native in dry to mesic forests in the area, and will create a dense cover for erosion control on steep slopes. We made cuttings of kinnikinnick found around Moscow, dipped them in rooting hormone, and poked them into moist potting mix in plastic tubes. They were put in a box covered with clear plastic in the greenhouse, with heat tape to keep the roots warm, and misted twice a day for about six weeks. Then I moved them to a protected shelterhouse. About 60% of the cuttings rooted. I also dug some creeping Oregon grape from a roadside east of Moscow and potted them in potting mix. About 80% of them rooted well and put on new top growth, although it took several months. I started silky lupine plants in tubes from seed. In June, after all of the step and rock work was completed, we outplanted the kinnikinnick, interplanting with the creeping Oregon grape and silky lupine. Before planting, we applied a granular pre-emergent herbicide to help in the control of weeds. We are using the lawn sprinkler system for watering during the summer to help with establishment. Three ocean spray plants were planted on the slope near the building to help screen some air-conditioning units from the patio area.

We have heard two concerns from a few employees. First, they wonder who is going to take care of the area when the main supporters of the project leave. Second, they are concerned that the area will turn into a weed patch. My answer to both of these concerns is that if we establish the plantings properly and maintain them for a few years, there should be minimal weeds and less care required than an expanse of turfgrass that requires regular watering (and constant repair of the sprinkler system), mowing, fertilizing, and weed control.

Future plans will include covering a greater area of the hillside with prairie plants and shrubs. Instead of planting grass and forb plugs, we may attempt a larger planting by hydroseeding, after preparing the site by killing the grass with herbicide and rototilling. Also, when the highway project is completed, we may plant some wet area shrubs, like hawthorn and willow, in the ditch at the edge of the property. We will continue to add other native prairie forbs to the existing plantings and possibly add some species like longleaf phlox (Phlox longifolia) that would typically grow around basalt outcroppings. Additional paths will also be added.

Since the initial bed of native grass and forbs is located just off the main entrance to the Forestry Sciences Lab, we hope to erect signs in the near future to describe the project to the public. Besides use by employees, we feel that in time it could be used for environmental education. Please feel free to stop by the lab and view the project if you are in the Moscow area. We are located at 1221 South Main Street, just off Highway 95 in the southern part of town. Any comments on the project or ideas you might have about converting lawns to native vegetation would be appreciated; I can be contacted by email at


Clinton, W.J. 1994. Presidential memorandum for the heads of executive departments and agencies on environmentally and economically beneficial practices on federal landscaped grounds. Federal Register 59:161.

Daubenmire, R.F. 1942. An ecological study of the vegetation of southeastern Washington and adjacent Idaho. Ecological Monographs 12:53-79.

Daubenmire, R. 1980. Mountain topography and vegetation patterns. Northwest Science 54:146-152.

Franklin, J.F. and C.T. Dyrness. 1988. Natural vegetation of Oregon and Washington. Oregon State University Press, Corvallis. 452 pp.

Sources for native plants that we used

Northplan Mountain Seed, Moscow, ID; recently sold to Sun Mountain Native Seed, Spokane, WA.

Prairie Bloom Nursery, Pullman, WA (I believe they get most of their native plants from Plants of the Wild, Tekoa, WA, a wholesaler of native plants.)

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Twenty Years after the Revolution: A Glimpse at the Biogeography, Botanical Science, and Land Use Practices in the Islamic Republic of Iran—A Lecture by Barbara Ertter

Valerie Geertson, Pahove Chapter

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Barbara Ertter speak at her alma mater, the College of Idaho, about her three-week tour of northern Iran last May. As you may know, Dr. Ertter is Curator of Western North American Flora at the University of California and Jepson Herbaria at UC Berkeley and a native Idahoan. She had the opportunity to visit Iran with a colleague as part of a scientific exchange. Or, as she put it, she was one of the "harmless botanists" invited to begin to re-establish a relationship between Iran and the United States.

What an adventure! She was asked to wear the "modest dress" style—the loose-fitting, long black robe, pants, and scarf that most of us typically think of showing only the face and hands—and sometimes she had to wear "the tent" as well (another long robe in addition to the modest dress). But, this didn’t bother her. She pointed out that even in the west, women have only recently been wearing less modest clothing.

She could travel freely and visited four universities. She went on as many field excursions as possible. And, of course, being a botanist, that was where she really wanted to be—outside, looking at plants.

And what interesting, beautiful plants! My favorite was a lovely Delphinium with white flowers; they looked like dolphins, which is the derivation of the genus name. I had certainly never noticed any of our western species looking like dolphins.

Another thing I learned is that Iran is home to the ancestors of some of our important horticultural and agricultural plants, such as the tulip, gladiolus, pistachio, peach, pear, and many kinds of apples. The wild stocks of these plants should therefore have value to us.

Dr. Ertter pointed out that Iran has been visited by transcontinental travelers for a long time, and the length and time of intense human occupation is obviously much greater there. They have had introduced species for hundreds of years. In such an area, how does one realistically discuss the values of native or introduced species? It is a different concept there and one that I have been twisting around since I heard her speak.

Some plants native to Iran have become weeds here. One example she discussed is Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass) which, of course, is a serious pest. It does not form dense monocultures there even in overgrazed areas, but it is common in somewhat disturbed areas. She also saw Alyssum and Lactuca serriola (prickly lettuce). Her Iranian colleagues on the field trip were somewhat fascinated by a mustard, and they were trying to identify the genus. Dr. Ertter told them with confidence which genus and species they were looking at: Lepidium perfoliatum (clasping pepperweed). This must have been impressive. Unfortunately, Iran has some western species that have become weedy there, for example, the California poppy.

Dr. Ertter showed a series of landscape slides—alternating between Iran and the intermountain west, particularly the Great Basin. The resemblance was simply uncanny. The Great Basin slides looked like those in Intermountain Flora—wide, open valleys with meandering streams or flat playas ringed with rounded hills or steep mountains. The landscapes of Iran were very similar; the valleys were filled by low shrubs and an abundance of herbaceous species. I could not tell which was which until she gave the location. Biogeographic similarities explain the landscape similarities.

However, there is something missing from northern Iran as compared to southern Idaho. There are no coniferous forests. There is some evidence of conifer trees on ancient artworks, but, without archeological studies, it is unknown if any forests have existed in the area in recent history. This was rather chilling. The Iranian government is beginning "reforestation" projects with non-native species for industrial purposes.

Dr. Ertter learned and shared all of this and more from the three-week whirlwind trip. Certainly the right person made the journey.

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Corydalis caseana—Don’t Look Too Closely

Sarah Walker, White Pine Chapter

"I saw this huge, weird plant down by the creek," the boy scout told me, holding up a limp leaf he’d collected near our campsite along Huckleberry Creek in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness."What is it?" Abandoning my role as low-impact camping teacher (which includes "leave the flora alone") to take advantage of the "teachable moment," I explained that it was an unusually large plant called Corydalis, that it was related to bleeding hearts and Dutchman’s breeches, and that it produced huge, tender, hollow shoots along the edges of mountain streams right in the froth of spring high water. I don’t know how much of this he took in, but corydalis, or "fitweed," is indeed an eye-catcher.

Every spring I marvel at this incredible plant along the edges of Huckleberry and Rock Lake Creeks, where it grows in partial shade under alder, maple, cedar, and ferns. It also occurs in the middle of wide creeks like Boulder Creek, on rock bars. First come the pale clumps of hefty celery-like stalks, standing fast in the roar and madness of mountain currents. By the time high water has subsided enough so that I can safely cross the creeks (usually after July fourth), the stalks have started to produce delicate lacy leaves, each made up of hundreds of small, oval leaflets. The plants are glabrous and appear blue-green. Several plants in a group shade the rocks along the stream edge, providing damp, cool habitat for the mosses beneath. These plants are enormous! A single plant can be 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide. By the third week in July the plants are in full bloom, with a dozen spikes showing above the mass of foliage, each with 50-60 white, spurred flowers an inch long and arranged sideways on the stem. As I watched, the flowers were visited one after the other by bumblebees. As the flowers mature, they turn slightly pink. By the end of July, there are just a few flowers left at the top of the spike, with ripening fruits on the bottom. The fruits are explosive! Karen Gray recalls taking a close look at them, only to have seeds fly out and stick to her eyeglasses. With the first fall frosts, the tender leaves wilt and succumb—like lettuce, when the refrigerator is too cold.

I remember once on a Selway field trip when leaders Fred Johnson and Steve Brunsfeld brought our caravan to a halt to appreciate the sheer biomass of this remarkable plant, towering over a small seep along the edge of the road.

There are two subspecies of Corydalis caseana in Idaho. C. caseana subsp. hastata occurs in northern Idaho, where it is endemic to the St. Joe and Clearwater River basins. It is considered globally rare, and its status is G3. C. caseana subsp. cusickii occurs in central Idaho, and is not considered rare.

Dr. Joan Maloof of Salisbury State University in Maryland has studied how Corydalis reproduces. She found that Corydalis caseana subsp. brandegei (found in Colorado) has two methods: "outcrossing" (the male pollen of one flower combines with the female part of a different flower) and also "pollinator mediated self-fertilization" (male and female parts of the same flower combine, but only after the flower is first visited by a pollinator). She concluded that Corydalis caseana subsp. brandegei depends on the long-tongued bumblebee (Bombus appositus) for reproduction, and that conservation plans for the plant must include the pollinator as well. She also observed that chipmunks and white-crowned sparrows eat Corydalis seeds, and thus they too depend on the long-tongued bumblebee. Dr. Maloof has written about the effect of "nectar robbers" on Corydalis. The robbers are short-tongued bumblebees who acquire nectar without pollinating the flower: they make holes in the spur of the flower instead of landing on the front of the flower and interacting with the flower’s reproductive parts. She proposed that the robbers may have a beneficial effect by causing the "legitimate" pollinator, the long-tongued bumblebee, to cover more ground to obtain nectar—and as a result possibly increase gene flow distances.

I doubt the boy scouts would have found Corydalis’ "reproductive strategy" as interesting as I did, but I bet they would have gotten a kick out of the explosive fruits!

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Book Review--Flora of Steens Mountain.

Flora of Steens Mountain. Donald Mansfield. Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, 1999.

Review by Carol Prentice, Pahove Chapter.

Don Mansfield’s "Flora of Steens Mountain" is a welcome addition to floras of the Intermountain Region. The Steens Mountain area isn’t really near anywhere, unless you are familiar with Frenchglen or Fields, Oregon. The area lies south of Burns and north of, well, north of Nevada. Steens Mountain is a single 30-mile long fault-block mountain with an abrupt east face, rising one vertical mile above the Alvord Desert. It is the largest and tallest fault-block mountain in the northern Great Basin. This distinctive landform creates an island of alpine flora surrounded at the lowest elevations by the "deserts" of the Harney Basin and creates a rain shadow for the salt flats of the Alvord Desert. The resulting flora is a complex assemblage of plant communities that can be divided into no fewer than five vegetation zones. Once you find the Steens, you can drive the 66-mile Steens Mountain Loop Road and visit the alpine flora at the top, the highest point that one can drive to in Oregon.

This one-volume flora, sized to carry in the field, will save you a lot of luggage as the Steens are the meeting place of three regional floras, the "Flora of the Pacific Northwest," the "Intermountain Flora" (not all volumes are published), and the "Flora of California." The first clue that the Steens flora is really unusual is on the cover. What looks like a common bull thistle is really a unique narrow endemic thistle. The Steens have six endemic species and numerous disjuncts; 5% of the flora is considered rare. Other than juniper there is only one other conifer, Sierran white fir, which is found in only two isolated sites. Steens Mountain is one of the few places in North America where firs and pines are not the timber at timberline.

The book has three parts: the introduction, the key to the flora, and the appendices. The introduction is a must-read. It provides historic and biogeographic information and explains how to use the key. For the novice, proper plant collection, preservation, and label preparation are explained. The plant families are arranged alphabetically, a good idea for a field flora and for new students. Color photographs are found in the center section and referenced to the key. Within the species descriptions is a wealth of knowledge: key identification characters, specific habitats, geographic range of species and specific locations, and more. Native American uses are given, but a word of caution—don’t experiment unless you have a thorough knowledge of edible plants. Important appendix sections include a glossary, a wonderful group of illustrations of selected species referenced in the key, illustrations of scientific terms, and indices to scientific and common names. You may wish to tab some of these for easy reference (I have also learned to use a couple of book marks so I don’t keep losing my page). I have put this valuable paperback volume in a protective book bag for extended service.

Prior to this thorough study, the flora of the area was not well documented and insufficiently published. You could say Dr. Mansfield did his work from the ground up—the vouchers for this flora now stuff the shelves of the Harold M. Tucker Herbarium at the Albertson College of Idaho. As Dr. Mansfield mentions, this flora (like most floras) is perhaps 90% finished. He continues to find new additions to the flora each year. Take him at his word, visit this spectacular desert to alpine country and you too will be able to contribute to the "Flora of Steens Mountain."

"Flora of Steens Mountain" is available for $29.95 from OSU Press (

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Chapter News--Pahove Chapter

Monthly chapter meetings were held in March, April, and May with presentations on the vegetation of the Owyhee Plateau, the ecology of exotic plant species, and endemic plants of Idaho by (respectively) Chris Murphy, Roger Rosentreter, and Michael Mancuso. At the May meeting Chris Murphy was elected to serve as chapter president. Steve Rust was re-elected to the post of secretary/treasurer. Our June field trip to the South Fork Salmon River was a success, with much botanizing and good old socializing. Both the kids and adults learned new plants! On Saturday we hiked a mountain ridge through Douglas and grand fir forests. Then we zipped down to the Warm Lake area where we visited Tule Lake wetlands and its rare Carex buxbaumii population. We documented many beautiful sedges . . . and even saw wolf tracks! We had a nice campsite at Penny Springs and on Sunday hiked to an unbotanized hot spring through a burned mountain slope complete with many wildflower species. The hot spring was a warm and muddy elk wallow but interesting nonetheless. On July 21-23 the chapter botanized Idaho’s Basin and Range—the Pahsimeroi Valley and Lost River Range. In the evening shadow of Idaho’s highest peak, Mount Borah, lies a little-known and intriguing basin of contrasting spring-fed wetlands and drought-prone high desert. This environment of extreme temperatures and low moisture—from the hot and dry low sagebrush and shadscale of basins to windswept subalpine and alpine mountains—provided great opportunities for botanizing, as well as some challenging hiking. Rewards for all the traveling were plentiful: splendid views of adjacent peaks and vegetation patterning, the cool mountain breeze, and meadows of blooming wildflowers. A trip to the Owyhee Mountains took place on August 12-13. This outing was co-sponsored by the Sierra Club as part of their campaign to protect the Owyhee region. We tried to beat the heat in southwest Idaho’s high desert, "sky island" Owyhee Mountains. On Saturday we hiked in the mountains around Silver City, looking at native plants, birds, and their habitats. On Sunday we hiked Hayden Peak’s wind-swept subalpine shrub steppe (a 3-4 mile one-way climb gaining over 2,000 feet to the 8,300 ft. summit, both on old jeep trails and off-trail). This trip occurred in part of the Cinnabar Mountain proposed Research Natural Area. Regular monthly meetings are anticipated for the fall. Members are encouraged to attend. Please watch the mail for specific times and locations.

Chapter News

Chapter News--Calypso Chapter

This summer the chapter helped build an information kiosk and a viewing platform at Huff Lake, a delicate fen in northeastern Washington whose rare plants and floating mats are being trampled by travelers who stop to fish, look around, or take a break from the nearby highway. A group has formed to build raised walkways and develop educational materials to reduce foot traffic on the peat mats. INPS Calypso Chapter, the Northeast Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society, and the Selkirk-Priest Basin Association, a conservation group, has contributed workers. Priest Lake Ranger District botanist Diane Penny has helped with planning and interpretive materials. The next job is to build more walkways, which will be wheelchair accessible. Huff Lake is home to rare species like round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia). Hats off to this collaborative effort! For more information, or to lend a hand, contact Diane Penny at (208) 443-6847 or <>.

Chapter News--Kinnikinnick Chapter

The chapter planned three field trips for the summer: to Gold Hill, Myrtle Creek, and Ross Creek Cedars.

North Idaho’s three chapters—Kinnikinnick, Calypso, and White Pine—coordinated their field trips for joint adventures to Huff Lake, Roman Nose Lakes, and a visit to the new arboretum in Sandpoint.

Chapter News

Chapter News--White Pine Chapter

The chapter organized field trips to Field’s Spring State Park, Freezeout Ridge, and an overnight to the Clark Fork Campus near Sandpoint (and rendezvous with Kinnikinnick and Calypso Chapters.). Secretary Karen Adams reports that the chapter hosts a native plants information table at the Moscow Farmer’s Market.

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News and Notes

Tremendous loss to Columbia Basin shrub steppe habitat.

Tremendous loss to Columbia Basin shrub steppe habitat. On June 27 a fire caused by a fatal car accident swept across the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, burning up most of the 77,000 acre Fitzner-Eberhardt Arid Lands Ecology Reserve (ALE) within its borders. The ALE was established in 1967 as a research natural area under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect one of the largest ungrazed remnants of big sagebrush habitat left in the U.S. (see Sage Notes 19:3, pp. 9-10, "Life Amid Toxins, Tombs, and Bombs: Military Lands and Cemeteries as Refuges for Biodiversity"). The ALE and the surrounding nuclear reservation have been off-limits to grazing and agricultural practices since the 1940s and have been called a "biological treasure." Recent surveys conducted by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) discovered three plant species new to science: a bright yellow desert buckwheat (Eriogonum sp.), a milk-vetch (Astragalus sp.), and a bladderpod (Lesquerella sp.), as well as new populations of several rare plant species. TNC’s report calls the Hanford site "a rich natural mosaic, including many relatively unaltered and increasingly uncommon native habitats. . . . the quality, diversity and extent of these habitats is unequaled in the Columbia Basin. . . .significant numbers of plant, bird, amphibian, reptile and insect species, many of which are rare or in decline, were found to be associated with or dependent on these habitats. From a conservation standpoint, the Hanford Site is a vital—and perhaps the single most important—link in preserving and sustaining the biodiversity of the Columbia Basin’s shrub-steppe region."

Most of the sagebrush, bunchgrass, and rare plants burned up. Recovery is expected to be slow for sage because its small seeds depend on specific conditions to germinate. Grasses are expected to return from unburned root crowns and seeds in the soil bank. Little is known about recovery potential for the rare plants. There is concern for the microbiotic crust communities, and for the long-term impacts to the shrub-steppe ecosystem. Another threat is from hungry elk concentrating in the unburned riparian areas and trampling recovering native plants. In addition, 41 miles of new roads were created as part of the suppression efforts. The sad story is detailed in the Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER) plan prepared by the Department of Interior ( The BAER team hopes to allot nearly half of its $600,000 budget to planting sage seedlings, controlling weeds, protecting rare plant habitat, and monitoring. Researchers want to study the disaster to learn about rare plant recovery after fire.

The ALE is included within the new Hanford Reach National Monument, established by President Clinton in June.

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Biological control agent attacks native thistles. A seed-head weevil, Rhinocyllus conicus, was introduced as a biological control agent against musk thistle in the 1960s. It has since been discovered on many native thistles. In the Snake River Canyon, it was found infesting heads of the endemic Palouse thistle, Cirsium brevifolium (see Sage Notes 20:3, p. 10, "Plant Protection Gone Awry"). This summer it was found near Headquarters, Idaho, on elk thistle, Cirsium scariosum. The weevil lays eggs in the unopened flower head.


Ecologists taken by surprise at Mt. St. Helens. After Mt. St. Helens erupted 20 years ago, ecologists like Jerry Franklin at the University of Washington predicted a textbook recovery: pioneering species like mosses and lichens would set the stage for subsequent forbs and trees, and disturbed areas like the "pyroclastic zone" would become recolonized from the outside edges in. Now, Franklin is quoted in a New York Times article (May 16, 2000) as saying "We knew very clearly what was going to happen afterward, and we were very clearly wrong."

Scientists are saying that instead of succession, the significant factors in ecosystem recovery are chance and random survivors. In some places, vegetation was totally obliterated by events associated with the eruption. Flows of volcanic material, debris and mud obliterated all plants, and by the end of the first growing season after the eruption, hardly any plants had returned to these areas. In areas where plants survived, however, recovery was surprisingly rapid.

Biological legacies (organic materials and surviving organisms left behind after a disturbance) allowed recovery to proceed much more rapidly than scientists had expected. For instance, moles, pocket gophers, and ants lived through the blast in some areas because they were underground. Where snowpack afforded protection, plants were able to resprout after the eruption and emerge through deposits of several inches. Individual trees or clumps of vegetation acted as foci for regeneration. Roots of lupines that somehow floated on top of the 14-mile debris avalanche helped revegetate their destinations. Airborne lupine seeds that took hold and sprouted contributed carbon and nitrogen to areas sterilized by the blast. Grass seeds are being transported by elk herds. The new ponds that formed in the debris avalanche are providing habitat for large populations of salamanders. When these amphibians need to travel overland, they avoid desiccation by using gopher tunnels, which they access through holes left from elk footprints. Dr. Charlie Crisafulli, of the Forest Service Pacific NW Research Station, reported finding salamanders in most of the gopher tunnels they looked at.

Insights from Mount St. Helens about the role of biological legacies in ecosystem recovery can be used to develop practices that promote rather than impede regeneration after disturbance in highly modified lands. Vegetation that is left on a site enhances the potential for revegetation because it provides shade, moderates temperatures, and offers a source of animals and seeds to repopulate the disturbed patch. By leaving a few trees standing in the center of a cleared area, recovery can be speeded up considerably, because birds visit these trees and deposit seeds beneath them. Green trees left on cutover sites act as refuges for forest invertebrates. Many of these have poor dispersal abilities, so if they are eliminated from a cutover patch, their chances of recolonizing it at a later date are low. If green trees are left, however, they can maintain populations in these biological legacies until the forest has returned. Thus the green trees that remain after a disturbance help to promote recovery. Forest cuts can be designed so that they maximize the potential for the regeneration of a harvested area by leaving standing green trees.

As scientists study the results of just 20 years of change within the impact zone of the eruption, they are constantly surprised. There are unanticipated large populations of rare species, like red-legged frogs, and species found in unexpected places, like rosy finches at low elevations. The lessons of Mt. St. Helens will change the way biologists look at how landscapes recover. - Eds.

Further reading

Franklin, J. F. (1990). Biological legacies: a critical management concept from Mount St. Helens. Transactions of the North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference 25:216-219.

del Moral, R. and L. C. Bliss (1987). Initial vegetation recovery on subalpine slopes of Mount St. Helens, Washington. In Mount St. Helens 1980: Botanical Consequences of the Explosive Eruptions, ed. D. E. Bilderback. pp. 148-167. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

McKee, A., J. E. Means, W. H. Moir, and J. F. Franklin (1987). First-year recovery of upland and riparian vegetation in the devastated area around Mount St. Helens. In, Mount St. Helens 1980: Botanical Consequences of the Explosive Eruptions. ed. D. E. Bilderback, pp. 168-187. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

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Mr. Yuk Take Note.  The Euphorbiaceae, or spurge family, is a fascinating group of plants. With around 8,000 species widely distributed throughout tropical and temperate regions, this large family includes many economically important herbs, shrubs, and trees. Cassava (which furnishes the food manioc as well as tapioca and arrowroot), rubber, and castor oil are produced by members of this family. Two genera of wild euphorbs occur in the Pacific Northwest: Eremocarpus, doveweed or turkey-mullein, and Euphorbia, the spurges. The Euphorbiaceae also includes some popular houseplants, such as poinsettias, crotons, and crown-of-thorns.

Many members of this family are toxic. The South African genus Toxicodendron includes some of the world’s most poisonous plants. Furthermore, many members of the Euphorbiaceae contain a highly allergenic milky latex that oozes from cut leaves or stems and penetrates skin readily. Recent studies by German biochemists have demonstrated that the sap of some euphorbs contains ingenol, a potent carcinogen. When they screened 22 houseplant cultivars for tumor-inducing activity, these scientists found that 20 of the cultivars did not exhibit cancer-promoting activity, but two of the less common cultivars did. So it would be prudent to handle both wild and cultivated members of this family with care.


Traveling exhibits available! The Natural Heritage Project, an educational outreach program of the Idaho Museum of Natural History, provides educational tools to teachers and citizens of Idaho about the nature, diversity, and conservation of Idaho’s natural heritage. These are stand-alone installations suitable for public buildings, public libraries, community centers, museums, visitor centers, bank lobbies, and other places where people come and go. Each exhibit presents lively stories and colorful graphics along with an interactive computer kiosk and sectional bench seating. The exhibits have a flexible design to fit a variety of spaces, though they do need to be inside and have electricity. A staff member delivers and sets up the exhibit in each host facility. This interpreter is then available to orient the host about the exhibit, answer questions during an open house, or present an educational program. For information on scheduling a Natural Heritage Project traveling exhibit, call (208)-282-5842 or e-mail: