Butterflies, flowers and prairies, oh my!

By Bri Morningred, MES 2nd year student. 

In a state that is lush with evergreen, it is relatively easy to overlook one of Washington’s most rare and unique ecosystems: the prairies. As a native Washingtonian I really do think that spring is her best outfit—from the cherry trees to the rhododendrons Washington is awash with color and new life. The prairies are no exception—sporting purple Camus and orange Indian Paintbrush they sing of spring.

Prairie41

Bri and others learning more about rare prairie plants in the South Sound. Photo by Jaal Mann.

Friday and Saturday I had the fortune to experience spring in full swing with a tour of Shotwell’s Landing Nursery and Glacial Heritage prairie for Prairie Appreciation Day. Shotwell’s Landing located in Littlerock, WA along Black River is home to a conservation nursery project growing endangered prairie plant species. It is jointly managed by the Center for Natural Lands Management and Sustainability in Prisons Project. This conservation nursery hub has conducted its own research into developing successful germination and seed collection methods for several endangered plant species that are exceedingly difficult to grow. The tour was a wonderful blend of those who are currently in plant production, those who have just started plant production and those who are hoping to start plant production soon. I help care for the plants as they’re growing—weeding, watering, etc—and it was really interesting to talk with a group of people with such vast amounts of knowledge. We toured Shotwell’s Landing, Websters Seed Nursery and Violet Prairie Seed Nursery amidst moments of stormy downpours. It was such a fun afternoon discussing prairies and seed cultivation methods with local experts. There was even a sighting of two Boxers from Oregon leaping in a nearby field (see photo below).

Bri and MES Assistant Director Gail Wootan enjoying the prairie

Bri and MES Assistant Director Gail Wootan enjoying the prairie (aka: two Pacific University Boxers leaping in a field). Photo by Jaal Mann.

The following day was Prairie Appreciation Day at Glacial Heritage Reserve near Mima Mounds. This is a prairie habitat preserve that supports the endangered Indian Paintbrush as well as the endangered Tailor’s Checkerspot butterfly. PAD is the one day a year when the preserve is open to the public for viewing—otherwise foot traffic is restricted to volunteers in order to reduce human impact and protect the endangered species. Glacial Heritage is the very first prairie I ever saw on the same day last year and it completely opened my eyes to one of Washington’s rare sights: a healthy prairie. Only 3% of Washington’s historic prairies still exist today, and many organizations are working to keep them protected and healthy. PAD is wonderful day of activities that not only teach about the prairie ecosystem, but also about all the organizations working to protect it—including Center for Natural Lands Management, Sustainability in Prisons Project, The Nature Conservancy and many more. Most activities are kid-focused so I got to spend my day helping kids making Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly kites and their very own “nectar boxes” made out of prairie plant flowers they colored themselves and chilled juice boxes. Who wouldn’t want to hydrate like a butterfly right? If you ever get a chance to check out one of Washington’s prairies do it; it will draw you in and you’ll wonder how such a unique landscape can be hiding in plain sight.

A child enjoys running through the prairie

A child enjoys running through the prairie. Photo by Jaal Mann.

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