Monday, December 11, 2006

Mount Talbert Nature Park

A new major addtion to the area's urban parks system, this hilltop preserve has a decidedly non-urban look and feel. Mount Talbert is one of many Portland-area peaks resulting from the Boring Volcanics series. A set of trails has now been placed in the park. One circles the mountain, another crosses over the 750 ft. elevation maple and oak covered top, while others fan out to the several trailheads. A notable feature of the park is the undegraded nature of the plant life. Though the trees are young, with the biggest firs only 2 to 3 feet in diameter, there are few invasive non-native plants under the forest canopy, and the natural, native plant associations are still in place.

Here at Mount Talbert, after logging perhaps 60-80 years ago, the trees and native forest floor vegetation was able to return heartily. Low elevation areas with intact natural plant communities are actually unusual, as most of the areas in the valleys and low elevation slopes have been farmed, ranched or urbanized, eliminating the natural ecology. Here land use practices were hands-off for the most part, and the forest had time to recover before the modern-day scourges of Scotch broom, hawthorne and especially Himalayan blackberry were able to intrude and dominate. This gives the park great potential from the educational and research standpoints.

An interesting and worthwhile ecological experiment is underway at the park involving the native Oregon white oak woodlands. This sun loving tree casts a very light shade beneficial to other plants. Douglas-fir seedlings are able to thrive in oak woodlands, but the fir grow 3 to 4 times higher than the oaks, and cast shade too deep for the oaks to tolerate. So in the natural forest succession the oaks will die out. It is thought that the Native American population in this area used fire to improve hunting and for other purposes, which kept the firs from growing, while the thick-barked oaks survived.

The experiment is to favor the oaks artificially by eliminating the competing firs, maples and shrubbery. About 19 acres of oak woodland has been treated in this way, out of 183 acres of parkland here. Firs and other trees in the selected areas have been girdled, topped or cut down, while allowed to continue thriving in the large areas with few or no oaks. This should result in a much more diverse ecology in the park and show us how different the tree cover types will be in terms of understory.

The preservation of Mount Talbert is one of many positive results of the 1995 voter approval of the Metro bond measure dedicated to parks land acquisition in the urban area. We are indeed fortunate to have an electorate wise enough in the long term to see the value of parks in this region. The November approval of a second such bond measure will result in much more parkland purchased and made available in our area.

The 1995 Open Spaces Bond Measure resulted in the purchase of 8146 acres for parks (36% more than the 6000 expected at the time of passage), including 74 miles of stream frontage. This was 263 separate transactions. Its expected that the 2006 measure will directly lead to as much as 5500 more acres, plus this time additional funds for development of parks for public use.

Though good trails are available to the footloose now, the 'Grand Opening' of the park will be next year. Planners have moved the planned primary public entry to a site along Mather Road, with construction in 2007. The original idea of placing the main entry and parking near Sunnyside Road proved impractical upon closer inspection.

Parking has yet to be provided, so autos must be left on residential streets, and signage is limited. Its a challenge to find the trailheads. Once you do, expect a somewhat steep initial climb onto the sides of Mount Talbert, but as soon as the main loop trail is reached, its easy going around the mountain. If you wish more elevation gain, try the Westridge Trail over the top.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Oaks Bottom Wildlife Preserve Tour

After several visits, here is some commentary on Oaks Bottom, a park and wildlife refuge on the Willamette River in Portland.

Dozens of great blue herons stand in the open, shallow lakes, just far enough apart to be out of beaks reach of each other. The grey color of both the water and the herons made a close look necessary to pick them out. The joggers running by will miss them easily. A single bright white great egret slowly strode across a marshy area, acting no different from the great blues but certainly standing out in the crowd!

A smooth asphalt handicap-accessible path runs North and South from just upstream from here and miles downstream into Portland, ending at the Steel Bridge. The way crosses on a pedestrian path under the bridge and loops through the urban parks of the Portland Waterfront area. This complex of walkways gives Portland a unique combination of urban and nature. It's popular with cyclists, walkers and hikers alike. We brought Grandma in her wheelchair, as nature is one of her few pleasures at 82. Its possible to link this path complex with the more easterly sections of the Springwater rails-to-trails project, bringing several other parks within cycling distance on a day trip. On foot this will take more than one day! The trail section from Oaks Bottom east is funded but yet to be constructed, so a short jaunt on city streets is necessary. To find a route, just drag the Google map to see the streets. The trail crosses 99E on a new bridge near Ochoco Street at about 19th Avenue The trail follows Johnson Creek Blvd for quite a ways, then Foster, eventually ending at Boring. An eventual expansion will follow the old rail line to Estacada, and hence into the Cascade Mountains and the Pacific Crest Trail. So one day it may be possible to start a hike in downtown Portland and end up at the border with Canada or Mexico.

Some unpaved side paths lead to Willamette River views while others circle the lakes and wetlands of the bottoms. More trails link with the Southeast Portland Sellwood neighborhoods. In the pictures here note the skyscrapers of Portland in the background. On the far side against the bluffs wood ducks and the prolific mallards are crowded in their abundance. These ducks seem to prefer being near the small logs blown to this side of the lake. They can use them for perching out of the water yet still be away from shore and its dangers. A single surf scoter was sighted, rare inland from the Pacific and almost never seen in Portland.

Between the marshes and the Willamette River is first a much used railroad track and then the 44 acre (17.8 h.) Oaks Amusement Park. It's been there since 1905. In the 1800's the river connected directly with the bottoms, and the bottoms extended another mile North. The South end became a garbage dump,and the North was largely filled in with debris from freeway construction.

See our earlier Great Blue Heron post

Go to a Google Map of Oaks Bottom Wildlife Preserve. Start at the bottom center of the map, finding the label 'Oaks Pioneer Park'. That park is on top of the riverbank bluff, and Oaks Bottom is below, the brownish area to the north of the label. The Google arial photo was taken during the summer low water.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Winter Jasmine

The first spring blossoms are long weeks away. Even the optimistically-named Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) is still in bud, its touted winter blooms not yet open. Still, an early January walk in the gardens hereabouts will yield a treasure trove of some of the rarest of garden plants - the true winter flowers. Despite the negatives of winter weather - frost, heavy rains, and few if any pollinators active - this season features a hardy few flowers that have chosen it for their preferred time of opening. Winter jasmine is the truest of winter bloomers, opening first in December.

In our garden it begins early in December and is mostly finished flowering by Spring. Though the small leaves drop in Autumn, the stems remain green year-round, giving this shrub the effect of being evergreen. The cheery yellow trumpets are set off by this green backdrop. In full sun flowering can be heavy, and it can grow well in shade. Winter Jasmine is mostly indifferent to soil, doing well in rich or poor as long as drainage is at least fair. The growth habit is exceptional, and is best described as scrambling. In nature is weaves its way between competing shrubs until it finds a suitable spot to grow, and then scrambles some more. In your garden this gives you a plant that cascades well.

Winter jasmines unusual growth habit lends it to special design treatment. It can be used as a groundcover, or a broad low mounded shrub, but its starring role is to be planted where it can cascade down - from atop a wall, in a raised planter, above a slope the steeper the better, or tied to a tall post from which it can arch down. At a local hospital, a planting of winter jasmine cascades down 25 ft. from 2nd and 3rd floor planter boxes. We have this shrub (pictured) falling down a 10 ft. north facing wall. It only took two years to reach the bottom.

Try interplanting this with spreading groundcover roses to get color winter and summer.

Almost all jasmines are fragrant and many winter flowers are too, but winter jasmine is without fragrance.

Generally expect winter jasmine on flat ground to grow loosely to 18-24 inches high with a 10 foot spread. Be prepared for it to root as it goes, so that its potential for spreading is much greater than that of a single plant. For example, the pictured plant in my yard has rooted at the bottom of the wall. Recently rooted stems are easy to remove, to be tossed, transplanted or given away; cutting off the stems before rooting is simple too. If they are let to get well established they become more and more of a project to get out as the years pass!

The closest relative of this plant is forsythia. The two share flower color and shape, early flowering times, the tendency to root at branch tips, and an origin in China. Winter jasmine hails from the provinces of Gansu, Shaanxi, Sichuan, SE Xizang, and NW Yunnan. It is found in thickets often on steep ground, at elevations from 2600 to 15000 ft. (800 to 4500 m). An interesting trait is that this jasmine produces quarter inch (6 mm) berries. It never does so in the West because all plants of winter jasmine originate from a single 1844 introduction - which needs a pollinator which was left behind in China.

Botanic name: Jasminum nudiflorum
Gardening experts seem to differ greatly on the hardiness of this shrub - is it hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8 or 6 to 10 or somewhere in between? The Heat zone range is 1 to 8 or 9. Growth rate is moderate to fast.