Bodacious Botany: Vaguely Tropical

Back where I grew up, “evergreens” were generally conifers. We didn’t seem to have many plants that would remain alive and vibrant during the winter unless they had needles for leaves. Even nearly a decade later, I’m still occasionally surprised by how much stuff west of the Cascades stays happily green when it’s cold.

I don’t think I’ve seen these bushes at Discovery Park before, but that’s probably because the grass in these meadows gets quite tall and swallows nearly everything. This is not a problem in winter. Wild grass is one of the few things that takes the season off. These plants seem quite happy about it.

Image shows a field of dead brown grass, with many yellow-green bushes dotted through it. Some leafless trees are visible in the field and the background. There is fog at the back left.
Mystery Botany I

I like how so many plants around here look somewhat tropical, like they’re longing for coral sands, shallow blue seas, and possibly cabana boys bringing them a nice Miracle-Gro® cocktail.

Image shows a close-up view of some of the bushes. The leaves are in tiered bunches and look vaguely like palm trees. The leaves are long and curl downward, with smooth margins, a widening away from the stem, and then tapering to a drip-tip.
Mystery Botany II

I got on a leaf-researching kick for a story and learned a lot of things that had me appreciating the leaves around me more. For instance, these leaves say that it’s tolerably warm round here, and quite damp. Observe:

Paleontologists look to plant fossils for clues about ancient climates. Some plants indicate very general climates. For example palm trees suggest frost-free climates. For more-specific climate information, paleontologists study plant shapes (see photo). Modern forests with higher percentages of plant species with smooth-margined leaves experience higher average annual temperature. Additionally, leaves in warmer and wetter climates tend to be larger and thicker than their colder and drier counterparts. Warm-climate leaves also often have a “drip tip” at the end of the leaf. Paleontologists use these clues and other fossil leaf shape and size characteristics to estimate the average yearly temperature, range of temperature, and annual amounts of precipitation. The number of openings on a leaf (called stomata) can also provide information about carbon dioxide—an important greenhouse gas—concentrations.

Image is a close-up of one of the leaf clusters.
Mystery Botany III

Pretty nifty, the fact you can puzzle so much out from the local leaves. If I handed a paleobotanist a collection from round here, they’d be able to peg our climate pretty darned well. I think that is amazeballs, meself.

Image shows another of the bushes.
Mystery Botany IV

I love the shape of these things, the way the stems kind of curve up and shake those leaf-bunches. And I love the yellow leaves accenting the green ones. It definitely made the whole field feel less gloomy, and that on a massively foggy day.

When we came back through the meadow, we noticed that there was a ring of these bushes growing around the base of a big bushy tree that had shed its leaves. Quite artful. I’m not sure if it’s natural or if it had help – there was a lot of development there, considering Discovery Park used to be Fort Lawton.

Image shows a very bushy tree with no leaves. The plants we've been studying are in a ring around the base, happy and green as can be.
Mystery Botany V

Incidentally, one of the books I will be working on (and hopefully finishing) this summer will be one on Discovery Park geology. Anything in particular you’d like me to include? Feel free to let me know!

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Bodacious Botany: Vaguely Tropical
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6 thoughts on “Bodacious Botany: Vaguely Tropical

  1. rq
    2

    Yah, I’d guess a kind of rhodie, too. Not going to try to get more specific than that.
    Incidentally, our local rhododendrons (by which I mean those in our garden) are surprisingly green for the season, too. (It’s been a mild winter.)

  2. 3

    Back where I grew up, “evergreens” were generally conifers. We didn’t seem to have many plants that would remain alive and vibrant during the winter unless they had needles for leaves. Even nearly a decade later, I’m still occasionally surprised by how much stuff west of the Cascades stays happily green when it’s cold.

    Heh. Growing up in Victoria, B.C., there’s one specific one I always remember, particularly from a song by Bob Bossin:

    Crazy arbutus keeps its leaves, and sheds its skin.
    Whoever heard of such a contrary thing?

    The arbutus menziesii (or Pacific madrone) is an odd thing, but yes, it should run up to the western slopes of the Cascades. It’s a broadleaf evergreen with red papery bark that peels off to reveal a much greener smooth surface underneath.

  3. 5

    My first thought was also “rhododendron”. But it looks a little off, somehow. For one thing, I don’t see the flower buds that should be swelling at this time of year. Heck, some of our “domestic” rhodies are blooming!

    @2: Here in WA, it’s never “arbutus”, just “madrone”. Which can be pronounced either “muh-drone” or “mah-dron-ah”. A lot of people hate having them in their yards because they shed leaves all year round.

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