Pikes/Pines | Don’t believe the ‘murder hornet’ hype

A pinned Asian giant hornet, one of two found in Washington State (Image: Washington State Department of Agriculture)

Alongside the very serious things happening in the world at this very moment, and with Capitol Hill being an epicenter, in particular, the natural world keeps churning. I am not writing this as a tone deaf naturalist, nor as someone who completely separates environmental harm from racial injustice (they often go hand in hand). I write this because the 24-hour news cycle can tend to drive us towards myopia, and in the worst cases can lead to serious misunderstandings about many things in the world, including nature. For the past month or so, the term “Murder Hornet” has kept drifting into my feed and it’s time to talk about this insect, and this term.

Let’s start off by dispelling the term “Murder Hornet.” The species in question is the Asian giant hornet, Vespa mandarinia, the largest species of hornet in the world, native to much of East Asia. Nearly all species in the family Vespidae are predators and the Asian giant hornet is no different, with a taste for colonies of wasps as well as social bees, like honey bees. Asian giant hornets are no more murders than Bald Eagles are. They merely hunt prey and are good at what they do.

And they are here in Washington.

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Pikes/Pines: Capitol Hill Quarantine Nature Bingo

Not a rare bird

Remember lhe previous Pikes/Pines when I talked about redefining our sense of “being in nature?” — there are opportunities to enjoy nature, properly socially distanced, just about anywhere. If you are bored, why not take some time to observe something?

Here is a way to practice.

I created this bingo to get you outside, looking around, and observing the beautiful sights around Capitol Hill.

Grab some supplies (Binoculars? A notebook? Your phone to take pictures and for reference?), challenge yourself to be a hyper-local naturalist in your yard, and or make a full day of it and go for a long walk. Don’t just rely on the info below, you’ll need to do some of your own sleuthing as well. And remember to stay safe and following social distancing guidelines while participating.

  1. Native Tree – Bigleaf Maple, Acer macrophyllum
      1. Bigleaf maples just finished flowering and have spread their gigantic leaves. They have the largest leaves of any maple and are our largest native maple on the West Coast. Maples cut back to a stump grow back vigorously and left to their own devices will become a many stemmed tree that start low to the ground. A healthy stump can grow shoots up to ten feet long in the first year! Hint: look leaves with lightly-toothed edges, 5 obvious lobes that are 9” or more in length.

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Take an Earth Day tour with city’s new Seattle Tree Walks app

Visit a Capitol Hill favorite — this huge the London plane in the traffic triangle at the intersection of Belmont, Summit, and Bellevue Pl — to mark Earth Day (Image: CHS)

“We tried to make something that would mimic the actions of the Douglas fir forest that once was on our site—something that would get all of its energy from the sun, all of its water from the rain, and not produce anything toxic,” Denis Hayes, Earth Day founder and father of 15th and Madison’s “living building” The Bullitt Center said in a recent interview.

That fir forest is long gone but a new effort from the city makes enjoying Seattle’s modern urban forest even easier. Trees for Seattle program manager (and CHS reader!) Kym Foley sent over this announcement of the new Seattle Tree Walks app: Continue reading

Pikes/Pines | Your Capitol Hill buds: a promise of warmth, beauty, shade, and food

Bigleaf Maple, Acer Macrophyllum, buds are very large and contain huge pendulous flowers. They are an important source of early food for insects. (Image: Brendan McGarry)

Last week, I was walking down the street, doing something I pretend I am above: staring into the depths of my phone, and walking. I know better. I swear. And yet, there I was, having a discussion with a friend about someone who didn’t know about the Wu-Tang Clan. And then the universe struck back at my pettiness, in the form of a tree branch, which smacked me right in the face. Conveniently, it also gave me the idea for this post. There I was, a bit stunned, staring at the bare branch’s buds.

Unlike the often cryptic lexicon of natural history nerds, I think everyone knows what a “bud” is. Go ahead and imagine it. I think of a smooth, oblong capsule on a bare branch. Maybe you’re thinking of a sticky green inebriant, which is fine, it’s still a bud. However, let’s consider the buds that are already, or on the verge of bursting: the buds of deciduous trees and shrubs, woody plants that don’t die back to rootstock or reestablish from seeds annually.

What is a bud?

In their most general form, buds house undeveloped leaves and flowers, a place for them to overwinter (and yes, there are many exceptions to this generalization). In late summer and fall, before a plant goes dormant, they put on buds for the following spring. Such buds develop into leaves replaced annually, promote outward growth on stem endings, or burst into flowers. Buds are important, because for the deciduous trees and shrubs of our region (native or otherwise), they are the means of being ready for spring after a season without actively making food. Continue reading

Pikes/Pines | The Seattle Cooper’s Hawk Project is tracking a bird on the rise despite window strikes and rat poison

Cooper's Hawk

A steel gray bolt slashes across the blue of dusk. Rolling around corners, it disappears into darkening trees, apparating with a scrape of feathers through branches, and vanishes below the horizon. As it passes robins in the nearby holly tree squeal in alarm. They know twilight is trouble: the killing hour. If you’re a Cooper’s Hawk, it’s the time to make hay.

My first love of birds sprung from a woodpecker, but I’ve always loved raptors. As enchanting aerialists, they live long, interesting lives, and they are relatively easy to observe if you know to pay attention. Some of my best memories involve unwittingly getting too close to breeding Northern Goshawks and hearing the screaming rush of Peregrine Falcons in a dog fight over my Eastlake apartment building. I especially love Cooper’s Hawks. They occupy an ephemeral realm, wild, impressive creatures that permit our presence.

Cooper’s Hawks are the most common North American members of the Accipiter family, a group of hawks known for short wings, long tails, and a specialization for hunting other birds.  According to Ed Deal, President of Urban Raptor Conservancy, a Seattle area nonprofit focusing on research, education, and conservation of urban raptors, Cooper’s Hawks have become increasingly common in our area over the past several decades. They have been able to not only endure but flourish amidst our rising human density. Continue reading

Pikes/Pines | Two Turtle Doves

Eurasian collared dove (Image: Rovdyr via Wikipedia)

The music finally got through to me the other day. Either through stubborn denial or mere chance avoidance, I hadn’t heard any Christmas music. I know people love it, and as a person who celebrates the holiday, I feel it’s appropriate in the week of. But not in November. Not before Thanksgiving.

Holidays can be equally as trying as they are happy and uplifting. However, in an attempt to dig deep into curiosity I had to ask: what’s this music talking about? Gritting my teeth, I cast across one of the songs that got stuck in my head. I started thinking about “The 12 days of Christmas” and its birds. Specifically, those “turtle doves.” Continue reading

Pikes/Pines | For Capitol Hill trees, beauty is being comfortable and confident in your own bark

Ponderosa Pine bark (Image: Brendan McGarry)

Dry winds brought down the leaves. Rain is currently making them slick hazards as we walk under an increasingly bare canopy on Capitol Hill. We enter a time of year when you can look up and fully appreciate the magnificent spread of a massive oak and the bright papery bark of a silver birch. I particularly enjoy this opportunity to engage with the barks of plants in winter, both because they pose interesting points about survival, and because they are simply artistically captivating, (especially without those gaudy distractions, leaves).

While it’s likely we all know this, it’s worth saying: Bark exists to protect woody plants, which grow year after year, from harm. Trees, shrubs, and some vines grow bark as a shield from fire, insects, and fungi as well as from freezing temperatures or moisture loss. When that delivery truck mangles the bark of an ash tree on Broadway, it opens up the tree to potential pathogens, gives it less protection from freezing weather, and can even stop it from transferring nutrients if badly damaged. Trees, our main focus here, need bark like we need our skin. Continue reading

Arboretum Holiday Sale

The Arboretum’s annual holiday sale returns on Saturday, December 7. It features a great selection of botanical decorations and nature-inspired gifts, as well as educational games for kids.

Buy handcrafted wreaths and centerpieces; locally made jewelry, soaps, and housewares; whimsical holiday ornaments for around the home; and much more. Complimentary hot drinks!

All sales support environmental education and tree care at Washington Park Arboretum.

Free Lecture: How Does Nature Benefit Us?

An increasing body of scientific evidence has verified the psychological, physiological, and behavioral benefits of time in nature. In this presentation, Dr. Donald Rakow will address ways in which nature experiences positively affect different aged cohorts, from early to middle childhood, through teen and college years, and finally to adulthood. In doing so, he will also explore prevailing attitudes about nature and how these can best be addressed.

No RSVP necessary

This event is free, with a suggested donation of $5 to support UW Botanic Gardens public education programs.

Pikes/Pines | The trash trees of Capitol Hill

A canopy of red alders in winter. (Image: Brendan McGarry)

A friend of mine calls alders “trash trees.” He is an arborist, and as a pragmatic person who maintenances trees to fit into the grid, alders aren’t “good” trees. They are fairly weak, short lived, are rot prone, and pop up unwanted. They are also native, and as a result host loads of other species, and possesses a subtle seasonal variability I find a beautiful part of our landscape.

These differences of opinion are well reflected in the blocked up properties of dense, urban Capitol Hill. Based on my observations, some people care dearly about managing every last inch of space, others are willing to let things go wild, and some seem entirely oblivious to the world outside their indoor spaces. (Landscaping is also a privileged act, not simply about “caring” or “not caring”). I wonder how the red alder, Alnus rubra, the common and unassuming tree, fits into our world on the Hill?

There are certainly plenty of alder trees growing around Capitol Hill. They are in the Arboretum, in St. Mark’s  Greenbelt, in Interlaken Park. However, few yards appear to purposefully invite red alders into their limited spaces. Why is this? Continue reading