Giving unwanted guests the boot —

October 22nd, 2015

We always enjoy welcoming new visitors at Bloedel Reserve. But when the grounds crew discovered a small number of diseased plants on the property infected with the pathogen Phytophthora ramorum, we knew immediate action was needed to remove the unwanted guest.

With the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) and Washington State University (WSU), we were able to bring the disease under control.

Earlier this summer, all diseased plants were removed and destroyed in compliance with USDA instructions. The pathogen typically produces spores that allow it to survive and spread in soil and plants. Steaming the soil is an effective, non-chemical way of eradicating the pathogen if the temperature is held at 50C (122 F) for at least 30 minutes and to a depth of six-inches. If you visited Bloedel in late summer, you might have noticed the steamer at work in an effort to eradicate the pathogen from Bloedel. (See photo below)

While it was disheartening to discover the pathogen in the gardens, the quick reaction by our staff, along with the expertise from the government agencies, helped minimize damage. Although we hope such a scenario never happens to another public garden, if it does, we will be a resource for our peers and help them implement best practices in order to minimize the damage.

Steaming the soil is an effective and non-chemical way of treating the grounds.

Steaming the soil is an effective and non-chemical way of treating the grounds.

Ramorum Blight FAQs:

What is Ramorum Blight? Ramorum Blight is also known as Sudden Oak Death (SOD). It is caused by Phytophthora ramorum, a fungus-like organism known as a water mold. There are many Phytophthora species and typically they cause plant disease. Ramorum Blight is particularly virulent with potential for causing significant aesthetic and economic damage in Washington State. In other parts of the world, particularly California, it causes ecological damage as well.

How common is it? Fortunately, Ramorum Blight is not common in Washington State. It’s usually found only in nurseries where it was acquired from out-of-state growers where the disease is more common (like California or parts of Europe). The USDA and WSDA are working with state nurseries to help keep this disease from becoming more widespread.

What are the symptoms of Ramorum Blight? The symptoms can vary depending on the plant host. Foliar symptoms will involve browning of the leaf, especially near the tip where water from rain or irrigation accumulates. These symptoms are caused by other Phytophthora diseases as well, so samples should be sent to the diagnostic laboratory for identification to species.

How damaging is this disease? There is not an easy answer to this question. The severity of the disease depends on the host plant and the environmental conditions. Species like Tanoak and some Live Oaks native to California can be killed relatively quickly (over a few months to a few years). For other plants like Rhododendron and related species, the damage may vary from minor leaf spotting to gradual death. The greatest threat the disease poses in Washington State is to its substantial plant nursery, forest products and Christmas tree industries.

How did you know you had the problem? In March of 2015 we submitted a sample of a diseased Pieris to the WSU Puyallup Plant and Insect Diagnostic Laboratory for diagnosis, not expecting it to be Ramorum Blight. The WSU laboratory determined the sample was infected with Ramorum Blight and alerted the WSDA and USDA as required by law– Ramorum Blight is a federally regulated plant disease. WSDA and USDA labs confirmed that the disease was in fact Ramorum Blight.

How long do you think you had it? We’re not sure. Investigation by the USDA was unable to determine the source.

How do you think the disease arrived at Bloedel Reserve? We don’t know but most likely it was introduced to Bloedel Reserve via purchasing infected nursery stock. We provided the USDA with a list of all nurseries we used to purchase plants over the last two years. The USDA inspected these nurseries but was unable to detect Ramorum Blight.

What plants does Ramorum Blight attack? Ramorum Blight infects a wide range of plant species. The complete list of known plant hosts can be found here. In Washington State, the five most commonly infected species discovered in nursery inspections are Rhododendron, Camellia, Viburnum, Kalmia, and Pieris. Other common plants in our area that can be infected are Salal, Oregon Grape, Bigleaf Maple, and Madrone. These species are often not killed by Ramorum Blight but can serve as a source of infection for more sensitive species.

How is it spread? Ramorum Blight is predominantly spread by water and human transport. Rain and irrigation water can spread the spores to new host plants; people can spread it by planting/replanting/pruning the infected plant. The spores can also hitchhike on clothing, soil, and gardening tools. It’s also possible to spread the disease by planting unknowingly infected nursery plants.

Is it harmful to people and animals? Not to worry! It’s a disease that only affects plants. Ramorum Blight has never displayed the ability to infect any living things besides certain plant species.

Are visitors at risk for bringing the disease home to their gardens? Bloedel Reserve alerted the USDA and WSDA as soon as the disease was suspected and Bloedel worked with the agencies to bring the disease under control. Visitors can help by following rules that have always been in place at Bloedel: stay on the trails, mowed lawns and roads. Visitors should not venture off into the woods or off the trails. Also, as tempting as it can be to take a souvenir, visitors should not take leaves, rocks, pine cones, etc. home as they may inadvertently transport the disease.

How do I know if this disease is in my garden? What should I do if I think my plants are diseased? There is no easy way to tell if Ramorum Blight is in your garden. The disease’s symptoms resemble those of other plant maladies and accurate diagnosis requires submission of a sample to a qualified plant disease laboratory. Washington State University has developed a short set of online questions to help you determine if you need to send in a sample for diagnosis of Ramorum Blight. They also have an online FAQ.

How do you mitigate the disease? Prevention is the best medicine. Specifically, quarantine and sanitation are keys in stopping the spread and introduction of Ramorum Blight. New plants are isolated in quarantine for two months and observed for symptoms of Ramorum Blight. If they remain symptom-free, they are released for planting on the grounds. To deter the spread of the disease tools, footwear, rain gear, etc. are disinfected with alcohol, bleach, or Lysol-related solutions. Plant material and debris from previously infected sites are not used to make compost or mulch. Potentially infected plants are reported to Bloedel’s Plant Health Manager for inspection and testing. Vigilance is key to prevention.

How will you prevent this from happening again? We have worked with the WSDA, USDA, and WSU to develop procedures and practices to prevent the introduction and spread of Ramorum Blight and other plant diseases in general. These include quarantines, proper sanitation, plant selection, exclusion, eradication, and soil steaming.

What else do you monitor for? We continually look for unhealthy plants as a normal part of our plant health care activities. In addition to Ramorum Blight, other potentially significant pests we keep a special eye out for are Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Asian Longhorned Beetle, and Boxwood Blight.

How does the Bloedel minimize the risk of getting pathogens and pests? Quarantine of new plants is the best way to prevent introducing diseases and pests. All it takes is one infected plant to spread the disease across the grounds!

I need more information! What should I do? Where should I go?

WSU’s Sudden Oak Death (aka Ramorum Blight) web page
California Oak Mortality Task Force
Sentinel Plant Network
Hungry Pests

Book Reading: The Triumph of Seeds

May 12th, 2015
Author Thor Hanson

Author Thor Hanson

seedssmallBook Reading: The Triumph of Seeds by Thor Hanson

Date: May 30, 2015 at 1 p.m. in the library of the Residence.

Free with admission to Bloedel

About the book: 

We live in a world of seeds. From our morning coffee to the cotton in our clothes,seeds support diets, economies, lifestyles, and civilizations around the globe. In The Triumph of Seeds, award-winning conservation biologist Thor Hanson builds on his own triumph in Feathers to explore seeds as both a natural phenomenon and a human one.
Spanning locations ranging from the Raccoon Shack—Hanson’s backyard writing
hideout-cum-laboratory—to the coffee plantations of Martinique, from our flower
patches and backyard gardens to the spice routes of Kerala, The Triumph of the
Seeds is a book of knowledge, adventure, and wonder by an enchanting writer who
embodies both the charm of stories told by the fireside at an old country store and
the hard-won expertise of a professor of field biology.

A worthy heir to the grand tradition of Aldo Leopold and Bernd Heinrich, this book is essential reading for anyone who loves plants, or who may have wondered how the chili got its spice, what puts the buzz in coffee, or how seeds have influenced everything from the voyages of Christopher Columbus to the Industrial Revolution to the shape of the human face.

Treasure Hunt: Bristle Moss at Bloedel

April 6th, 2015

Lyell’s Bristle Moss

Orthotrichum lyellii

Family Orthotrichaceae

What to look for:

  • Loose, unkempt moss tufts.
  • Slightly yellowish green color.
  • Stems usually 1 to 10 cm long.
  • Found growing almost exclusively on tree trunks, branches, and some of the wood benches found around the Reserve.

The Moss:  Growing almost solely on branches and tree trunks, patches of Bristle Moss are easily recognizable once you know what to look for.  Rather than hugging or hanging from the trunk or branches like most tree-growing mosses, the stems radiate outward or upward from a central patch (figure 1).  With a little imagination, these tufts make me think of Medusa’s head of snakes..

Bristle Moss is very common at the Bloedel Reserve.  It is rare on rocks and virtually unknown on the ground but very, very common on trees, especially deciduous hardwoods like Red Alder, Bigleaf Maple, and Aspen.

Like most mosses, Bristle Moss changes as it dries out.  The leaves shrivel and fold upward, hugging the stem (see figure 2).  This is a common appearance in the summer or even during prolonged winter dry spells.

Treasure Hunt: Study the images here and the description above and print out this article.  Then come to the Bloedel Reserve and hunt for this moss.  When you find it, post a photo of it on instagram and give it the hashtag #BloedelTreasureHunt.

Figure 1. A tuft of Lyell’s Bristle Moss on a tree in the Birch Garden.

Figure 2.  Dessicated Lyell’s Bristle Moss.  Note how the dried leaves are more or less upright and pressed against the stem.

Figure 2. Dessicated Lyell’s Bristle Moss. Note how the dried leaves are more or less upright and pressed against the stem.

Figure 3.  Close up of Lyell’s Bristle Moss.

Figure 3. Close up of Lyell’s Bristle Moss.

Blood Rain, Orange Fuzz, and Carrots

February 13th, 2015

We are accustomed to rain in Western Washington and some of us are even happier during rainy days than on a hot, sunshiny day. ds1 There’s even a word for people who prefer rain: pluviophile. We like our rain and aside from its variable intensity from light drizzle to heavy downpour to brief dry season, we often take its constancy for granted. There exists a precipitation norm that we expect.

If you’ve spent enough time in Eastern Washington or other hotter, drier places, you may have encountered a deviation from normal rain.  Occasionally it rains in the east side of this state.  And occasionally there are dust storms; big windy storms that turn the sky brown with dust and sand. Usually the rain and dust storms do not coincide, but sometimes they do and then you get mud rain. Typically this happens just after you’ve washed your car.

Elsewhere in the world there are other unusual kinds of rain defined by colors other than “clear” or “mud”.  “Blood” rains tend to make the news.  They’ve been recorded for centuries and recently have drawn attention in the southern Indian state of Kerala.  In the summer of 2001, areas experienced rain having the color of blood, staining clothes pink. Reports of blood rains in Kerala date back to 1896 and as recently as 2012.

Samples of the Kerala blood rain. By Vsasi at en.wikipedia [CC BY 2.5 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Samples of the Kerala blood rain.
By Vsasi at en.wikipedia [CC BY 2.5 (], from Wikimedia Commons

After the 2001 event, the Indian Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS) suggested it was caused by a hypothetical meteor burst. Local residents had reported hearing a thunderclap and seeing a flash of light. The CESS later discarded this hypothesis after discovering that the red color was from spore-like particles in the rain water. In other words the color seemed to have a biological cause.
The CESS then gave a sample to the Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute (TBGRI) for microbiological analysis. The red particles were in fact spores and a joint report from the CESS and TBGRI stated that:
“The colour was found to be due to the presence of a large amount of spores of a lichen-forming alga belonging to the genus Trentepohlia. Field verification showed that the region had plenty of such lichens. Samples of lichen taken from Changanacherry area, when cultured in an algal growth medium, also showed the presence of the same species of algae. Both samples (from rainwater and from trees) produced the same kind of algae, indicating that the spores seen in the rainwater most probably came from local sources.”

Upon returning to the initial sample site, this alga, Trentepohlia was found to be growing on most of the trees and rocks.  Even some of the lamp posts were sporting it.  The large quantity of spores being produced combined with weather conditions apparently produced the perplexing blood rain in Kerala, India.

As intriguing as this story is, what does it have to do with the Bloedel Reserve?  Maybe you’ve guessed by now: Trentepohlia can be ds3found on the Reserve.  It isn’t very common, but you can find it growing as orange fuzz on Aspen, Red Alder, and probably the Black Cottonwoods though I haven’t noticed it on them yet. Elsewhere in the world it may be found on conifers as well. The Monterey Cypress in California is known to support it.  At Bloedel the best place to find Trentepohlia is on an Aspen tree near the road by the Japanese Garden (examine the tree trunk in the photo at the beginning of this article).  It is the orange fuzz on the trunk surrounded by the white bark and green moss. Keep you eyes open and you may spot it on other trees on your next visit.
Trentepohlia is also a common algal component of lichens.  Lichens are symbiotic associations between a fungus (the mycobiont component) and either an algae or cyanobacteria species (the photobiont).  The fungus provides protection and support for the algae which provides food for both through photosynthesis.  Via this symbiosis, lichens can colonize various tough ecological niches like rocks and trees.  The bark of mature alder is typically completely covered by various lichens, producing the alders’ beautiful decorative bark patterns.   One lichen genus common on Red Alder, Graphis, has Trentepohlia as it’s photobiont and is present on the Bloedel Reserve although hard to find. But Trentepohlia is also here in it’s free living, orange, fuzzy form.

Fortunately (or unfortunately?), Trentepohlia isn’t common enough in our area to produce red rains, but despite it’s lowly appearance, it is a fascinating organism.  I love the humble little things in nature that we ignore or just don’t notice easily.  The showier blooms and big trees are good at distracting our attention from the smaller elements of nature, but I think we all can appreciate the intricate lichens on alder bark or the tiny individual moss plant instead of its equally beautiful green hordes.

Secret Writing Lichen (Graphis stricta) on Red Alder.  Trentepolia is the algal component of this lichen and surrounds it as well.

Secret Writing Lichen (Graphis stricta) on Red Alder. Trentepolia is the algal component of this lichen and surrounds it as well.

In more scientific terms, Trentepohlia is a chlorophyte, a member of a group of related algae collectively called the “Green Algae”.  As the name implies, they are united by their color which is derived from the photosynthetic pigment chlorophyll.  A couple questions may pop into your brain.  First, if it is a green alga, why is it orange?  Second, algae are typically aquatic, right?  So why does this one grow on trees and rocks?  And apparently on lamp posts in India?

The orange color itself comes from a group of plant pigments called carotenoids, a group you may recognize especially if you read up on food and health information.  They are antioxidants and generally good to include in your diet.  Carotene is often recommended specifically (eat your carrots!).  They’re healthy for us and we can get them by eating our veggies.  Plants have them because they’re good for the plants too.  Necessary, even, for their survival.

Carotenoids range from yellow to orange to red but normally are visually masked out by the green chlorophyll.  Typically, you will only see the yellows and oranges in fruits and flowers where the color is used more as an attractant for seed dispersal or pollination.  Otherwise, leaves are generally green and a yellow or orange color usually denotes a sick plant or fall coloration.  If you find a healthy plant (or alga) that is yellow or orange, there is probably a survival-related reason.  Such is likely the case with Trentepohlia.

Photosynthetic organisms, like plants and Trentepohlia,  are capable of producing their own food by combining light energy with water and carbon dioxide to produce sugars. Carotenoids assist photosynthesis in two ways:  1) they form “nets” to help capture light energy, increasing photosynthetic productivity and 2) they protect the plant cells from oxidation by free radicals, hence their reputation as antioxidants.

As I mentioned, Trentepohlia is orange because it has elevated levels of carotenoids that mask out the green chlorophyll.  It is these high levels that may help this alga to exist outside of an aquatic environment.  Most algae are aquatic and have not evolved much in the way of terrestrial adaptations to water loss and high light levels.  Land plants have evolved such traits as roots, barriers to water loss, vascular systems, and other features that help them to survive in a terrestrial environment where water is limiting.  Despite our frequent rains, there are days and seasons when some environments are very harsh from an algal point of view.

Trentepohlia’s above average carotenoid levels is likely one adaptation this alga has to terrestrial life.  Specifically, the carotenoids assist in dealing with elevated light levels in a non-aquatic environment.   While plants need light to live and grow, light also presents challenges to terrestrial organisms.  First, light increases water loss from plants.  Second, light can promote the creation of highly reactive, detrimental molecules inside plant cells called free radicals.  Free radicals react with and break down the cellular machinery that keeps plants alive and growing.  Carotenoids are beneficial by intercepting light and shunting it’s energy to the cellular photosynthetic machinery where it can used for plant growth.  Also, because they are powerful antioxidants, carotenoids react well with free radicals, deactivating them to protect plant cells from harm.

Despite Trentepohlia being an alga, it can grow terrestrially because it is adapted to life out of water.  Such adaptations are necessary for it to survive either free living or as part of a lichen.  With these adaptations this alga and its lichenized forms can grow on trees, rocks, and lamp posts and if common enough can create the beautiful, if mysterious, blood rain as seen in Kerala, India.  While such rains are unlikely here, the orange fuzz of this alga is something beautiful to see at the Bloedel Reserve, adding color to the winter landscape.

What to look for:

  • Trentepohlia will look like orange fuzz on tree bark.  A magnifier can be helpful but is not necessary for finding this organism.
  • The most obvious colony of Trentepohlia on the Bloedel Reserve is located on an Aspen near the paved road by the Japanese Garden.  This is the source of the photos in this article and it is the most robust example.  Trentepohlia is also very common on Red Alder throughout the reserve.  Many alders at the Bird Marsh also have this alga on their bark although the color is a little more dull and the colonies are less vigorous.  I’m not sure the reason for this difference in robustness between the aspen and the alder colonies.  Possibly the alga are different species of Trentepohlia or also likely there are habitat differences such as sunlight or bark characteristics that promote better growth on the aspen.

Written by Darren Strenge

Darren Strenge is the Plant Health Manager for the Bloedel Reserve where he has worked since the late 1990s, managing irrigation, plant pathology, the Reserve’s First Detector Program, and various other garden jobs.  Prior to that he was a researcher in the plant sciences and holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture and a Master of Science in Botany.  Darren has a broad range of botanical interests but has a soft spot for the “underdog” plants: mosses, ferns, lycophytes, and others sitting in the shadow of the showy flowering plants.

Six Mosses to Know in the Moss Garden at Bloedel Reserve

January 27th, 2015

Many plants are iconic to the Pacific Northwest, at least in the minds of those who live here.  Around Western Washington, Sword Fern, Salal, and Western Hemlock are well known and well represented at the Bloedel Reserve.  In Eastern Washington we recognize Ponderosa Pine and Sagebrush.  Those of you transplanted to Washington may recognize other hallmark plants from your point of origin.  Such plants are facets of the places we know as “home”.

One group of plants we all recognize though is mosses.  They are the green, cushiony carpets of our forests and the drapery on our trees.  But they occur not only in wet areas but in almost all terrestrial environments.  In Eastern Washington where I grew up, there is moss out in the hot sand, hidden under the sparse shade of Sagebrush, dormant in the blazing summer to awaken with the autumn rains.  Even the ice-free areas of Antarctica sport mosses. One of them, Ceratodon purpureus, incidentally, is the same species you and I clean off our roofs.  But even if we do not know what species they are, we do know they are mosses.

Upon finding a moss, however, greater than 99% of us will have no idea what species we are looking at.  They are a cryptic plant group that is daunting even for many botanists to identify, joining the ranks of grasses, sedges, and willows.  But, as any botanist will also tell you, learning to identify the more difficult plant groups is not impossible.  It just takes patience.  Sometimes a lot of patience.  And perhaps a little magnification in the form of a good hand lens.  Learning a few of the easier mosses is a good place to start.

The next time you visit the Moss Garden at Bloedel Reserve, look for these six mosses listed below.  They are among the easier mosses to identify.  Treat it as a botanical treasure hunt.

Bent Leaf Moss

Rhytidiadelphus squarrosus

Family Hylocomiaceae

This moss is quite possibly the easiest moss in our area to identify and many of you probably have it in your yards at home.  In fact, it’s a common lawn moss in our area.  Most of the ground moss along the sunnier parts of the paved road in front of the Moss Garden is Bent Leaf Moss.  This species gets its common name because each leaf is “bent” 45 degrees downward (a useful recognition clue).

What to look for:

  • Grows on the ground, especially in yards and disturbed areas.  Likely to be found in the sunnier parts of your garden than in full shade.
  • Light green to yellowish-green color.
  • When viewed from above, its vertical growing stems look like stars (figure 1).
Figure 1.  Bent Leaf Moss.  Note the “starry” appearance when viewed from above.

Figure 1. Bent Leaf Moss. Note the “starry” appearance when viewed from above.

Figure 2.  Bent Leaf Moss growth habit.

Figure 2. Bent Leaf Moss growth habit.

Figure 3. Large patch of Bent Leaf Moss in the northwest corner of the Moss Garden.

Figure 3. Large patch of Bent Leaf Moss in the northwest corner of the Moss Garden.

Menzies’ Tree Moss

Leucolepis acanthoneuron

Family Mniaceae

Oh, this is a tree moss?  It must grow on trees, right?  Nope.  It is called a tree moss for a reason, but you need to get on your hands and knees to see why.  Look for it on the ground.  When you think you’ve found a patch of it, push the individual plantlets apart to see them better.   If you’ve found Menzies’ Tree Moss, each plantlet will look like a miniature tree.  For the majority of mosses in our region, this habit is unusual.  Only Climacium dendroides, simply called “Tree Moss” has a similar habit, but so far is unknown at the Bloedel Reserve.

What to look for:

  • Grows on the ground in shadier spots than Bent Leaf Moss.
  • Light green color.
  • Tree-like growth habit of individual plantlets where the main stem branches heavily near the top.
Figure 4.  Menzies’ Tree Moss plantlet displaying its “tree” like growth habit.

Figure 4. Menzies’ Tree Moss plantlet displaying its “tree” like growth habit.

Figure 5.  Close up of a Menzies’ Tree Moss patch.  The “whiskers” are immature sporophytes (spore producing structures).  They are not always present.

Figure 5. Close up of a Menzies’ Tree Moss patch. The “whiskers” are immature sporophytes (spore producing structures). They are not always present.

Figure 6.  A patch of Menzies’ Tree Moss.

Figure 6. A patch of Menzies’ Tree Moss.

Juniper Haircap Moss

Polytrichum juniperinum

Family Polytrichaceae

If you’ve ever taken a botany or biology class and learned even a little about mosses, you’ve probably seen pictures or even specimens of this moss.  Moss life cycle diagrams frequently depict this species, probably with good reason: this species grows on every continent, even Antarctica.

There are several look-alikes for this moss.  Some are other species of Polytrichum.  Others are related species of Pogonatum and Polytrichastrum.  Pogonatum contortum is very common in the Moss Garden but can be distinguished from Juniper Haircap Moss by its lack of reddish-brown awns at the ends of its leaves.

What to look for:

  • Bluish-green, un-branched, upright plants.
  • Each leaf ends in a reddish-brown awn (a narrow, bristle point).  This can usually be seen with the naked eye, but magnification is helpful.
Figure 7.  Juniper Haircap Moss.

Figure 7. Juniper Haircap Moss.

 Figure 8.  Note the reddish-brown awns on the leaf tips of Juniper Haircap Moss.

Figure 8. Note the reddish-brown awns on the leaf tips of Juniper Haircap Moss.

 Figure 9.  Juniper Haircap Moss.

Figure 9. Juniper Haircap Moss.

Lanky Moss

Rhytidiadelphus loreus

Family Hylocomiaceae

If you pay much attention to the scientific names here, you’ll notice that this moss belongs to the same genus as Bent Leaf Moss listed above.  They are related and somewhat similar. Both occur commonly on the ground though Lanky Moss will more often be seen on logs or stumps. Both are also often dominant ground covers and tolerate some sun well, but Lanky Moss seems to tolerate shade better than Bent Leaf Moss.

A third species of Rhytidiadelphus¸ R. triquetrus (Goose-necked Moss), is in the Moss Garden too.  It is distinct from its two sister species but is much less common.

What to look for:

  • Yellowish green, usually with reddish color in the stems.
  • Lacks the “starry” look of its sister, Bent Leaf Moss.
  • Irregularly branched.
  • Leaves of the main stem spreading, not pressed against the stem as in the look-alike Spear Moss.
 Figure 10.  A mat of Lanky Moss.

Figure 10. A mat of Lanky Moss.

Figure 11.  Close up of Lanky Moss stem, showing spreading leaves

Figure 11. Close up of Lanky Moss stem, showing spreading leaves

 Figure 12.  Lanky Moss stem.  Note the irregular branching habit.

Figure 12. Lanky Moss stem. Note the irregular branching habit.


Dicranum sp.

Family Dicranaceae

I am not sure exactly which species of Dicranum is growing in our moss garden.  Possibly there are more than one residing species.  With about 20 species in the Pacific Northwest, they can be difficult to tell apart, but I wanted to include it here simply because it stands in the Moss Garden enough to attract the attention of the occasional moss hunter.

What to look for:

  • Bright green leaves.  Much brighter than the surrounding species such that this moss really stands out visually.
  • The leaves are curved to one side (see figure 14).  This trait is not unique to Dicranum, but if you find curved leaves on a bright green moss, you’ve probably found the Dicranum in the Moss Garden.

Forms smallish clumps on logs or humus.  This species does not seem to form large, dominant mats in the Moss Garden.

Figure 13.  Dicranum.  Note the bright green color.


Figure 14.  Close up of Dicranum showing curved leaves.

Figure 14. Close up of Dicranum showing curved leaves.

Figure 15.  The Dicranum in the Moss Garden is noticeable by its bright green color against the darker or more yellowish mosses.

Figure 15. The Dicranum in the Moss Garden is noticeable by its bright green color against the darker or more yellowish mosses.

Spear Moss

Calliergonella cuspidata

Family Amblystegiaceae

Spear Moss resembles Lanky Moss and the two can be hard to tell apart.  To make things worse, they both grow in similar habitats (on the ground, often in yards, although Lanky Moss is more common in natural habitats).  In some places in the Moss Garden they can even be found growing intermixed.  Despite the similarities though, they can be distinguished if you know what to look for.

What to look for:

  • Growing on the ground or less commonly on stumps or logs.
  • Leaves pressed close to the reddish main stem, not spreading.  Leaves on the lateral stems (usually not reddish) tend to spread more.  This differs from Lanky Moss that has spreading leaves on the main stem.
  • The main stem has a spear-like appearance (hence the common name).  To see this, look at the pictures below and imagine the main, reddish stems without their lateral branches.  The growing tip of the main stem appears as the spearhead, so to speak.
  • igure 16.  Spear Moss.  Note the yellowish color.  The main stems can have a reddish color to them like Lanky Moss.

    Figure 16. Spear Moss. Note the yellowish color. The main stems can have a reddish color to them like Lanky Moss.

     Figure 17.  Overall habit of a Spear Moss stem.

    Figure 17. Overall habit of a Spear Moss stem.

     Figure 18.  Two Spear Moss stems.

    Figure 18. Two Spear Moss stems.

What Next?

Print out this article, grab your magnifier, take them with you to the Moss Garden at the Bloedel Reserve, and look for these mosses.  When you think you’ve found one, spend some time looking at it.  Develop a mental image.  You may find that learning to identify a moss is not so much about special features and habits, but more about textures and color shades.  That is how you will remember the moss the next time you encounter it.  Not that you shouldn’t learn the features that distinguish the species; they are what helped you learn the mosses.   With this, you will also learn that studying mosses takes patience.  Often that is more important than a magnifier.

If you think you want to continue learning mosses, these are three books I’d recommend:

  • Kimmerer, Robin W. 2003. Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. Oregon State University Press.
  • Pojar, J. and A. MacKinnon.  1994.  Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast.  Lone Pine Publishing.
  • Vitt, D.H., et al.  1988.  Mosses, Lichens, and Ferns of Northwest North America.  Lone Pine Publishing.

The last two are for identification.   The one by Pojar and Mackinnon is especially good, not just for learning mosses, but other local native plants as well.  Gathering Moss is an outstanding introduction to the world of mosses written for everyone to read regardless of level of familiarity with mosses. It’s not really about identification, but if you liked mosses before reading it, you will love them afterwards.  You will never look at them the same.  

Written by Darren Strenge

Darren Strenge is the Plant Health Manager for the Bloedel Reserve where he has worked since the late 1990s, managing irrigation, plant pathology, the Reserve’s First Detector Program, and various other garden jobs.  Prior to that he was a researcher in the plant sciences and holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture and a Master of Science in Botany.  Darren has a broad range of botanical interests but has a soft spot for the “underdog” plants: mosses, ferns, lycophytes, and others sitting in the shadow of the showy flowering plants.

Back Stage@Bloedel: Lower Japanese Garden – North Stairs

September 25th, 2014

???????????????????????????????A Japanese garden is successful when it engages you visually. It achieves this when its design is strong, when it
lacks nothing, and when it contains nothing extra.



This summer the Reserve undertook the renovation of the stairs at the north end of the Guest House. The above picture shows the problems with the hardscaping and landscaping that were addressed in the renovation.  A steep, uneven, set of stairs led from the Rock Garden to the basement of the Guest House. The stairs were there because when the Guest House was built, the Rock Garden wasn’t a rock garden – it was a swimming pool. The stairs were installed to provide access to changing rooms in the basement. The existing transition, from disciplined Japanese Garden to immaculately maintained Stroll Pond, was overgrown and wild. Visitors did not use the stairs because they could not see where they led – the sightlines were blocked. It was time to redo the stairs so that they properly connected the two, were safe and solid, with the views opened up.


About the time the Reserve was established, the swimming pool was filled in and became the Rock Garden. The growth of the Reserve as a public place means that there are now many visitors. To make a proper transition between the Japanese Garden and the Stroll Pond, the path had to be opened up, and the sightlines improved. In the above picture you can see red-flag survey markers, and Andy and Tatyana discussing the routing of a new set of stairs last summer.


This is one of Tatyana’s design studies. It contains many of the elements that were installed.For example, aggregate pavers come about halfway down the path, then the path surface transitions to rock shapes. The path comes down in a gentle curve and joins the gravel path leading to the Stroll Pond. This would make a smooth transition between the Japanese Garden and the Stroll Pond.



These photos show the top and bottom of the existing stairs at the start of renovation. The first picture shows the interface with the Japanese Garden. The second picture shows the preexisting stonework. The long piece of exposed aggregate in the first photo and the rocks in the second photo must be removed. Because the aggregate and the rocks can’t be handled manually, an excavator is required. An excavator would seriously damage the Japanese Garden, so the decision was made to work from the downhill direction.



Access to the work site for the heavy machinery was via a path crossing  the turf from the staging area. Here, Joe and Sean are laying down the last of the plywood to protect the turf from the vehicle tracks. This is a good example of practices used at the Reserve to minimize the impact on surrounding areas when heavy machinery must be used.

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With the path in place, Tom moves the excavator upslope and picks up a section of exposed aggregate. From there he goes down slope where it is loaded onto the Bandit for transport to the shop. Rod walks alongside to balance the load. Once at the shop Andy [Moss] and Spencer will cut the aggregate into pavers for use on the new path.

Simultaneously, the gardeners removed vegetation that was interfering with the sightlines. Joe, Sean and Andy are moving a stand of mahonia and Philip is removing a stand of ferns. Most of this vegetation was transplanted to other places in the Reserve.

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With the site cleared, reconstruction can begin.


Tom is a key member of the team. Because he is operating in close proximity to personnel and delicate structures, he must be aware of his position at all times. He has to have a delicate touch with objects that weigh as much as a ton. He is often asked to “nudge” a riser or a rock to its final position. The Cat track loader is used to move the boulders to the
site where the excavator can pick them up and place them.

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Note the chain securing the boulder for transport. Load control and balance are full-time concerns for Tom. Hardscaping is built up using two types of stone. The flat quarried pieces are used for risers and the boulders are used for guide rocks. Dan bought the quarried stone from Rock Mountain in Redmond, and boulders from Marenakos in Preston.

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A hardscape design is implemented by placing the risers, the guide rocks and the connectors in such a way that they form a unified design.
Dan and Andy must take into account size, shape, orientation, color, and surroundings. They must keep a mental image of the design in mind before much of it is visible – this is no small task.
Picking and placing the hardscape objects is art, not science. How well it’s done determines whether the finished product is a coherent design or a jumble.


The hardscaping is now almost complete, with all risers and guide rocks in place.
Here’s what remains:

  • Irrigation
  • Connectors
  • Landscaping

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What looked reasonably finished several days ago has now been dug up again – this time for irrigation. In addition to irrigation, Darren has also put in a pass-through pipe. Dan Blossom recommended this provision because it allows changes to be made to the underground routing of pipes and wires without disturbing the hardscaping.


The stonework required to finish the path is connectors that link the riser sections. The photo above is from the top of the stairs. In this section the path is surfaced with pavers and cobbles.
The view below is from the bottom of the stairs. This connector is ocean pearl flagstone plus cobbles.
Dan handpicked the cobbles for size, shape and color, and he placed the cobbles in the connectors.

???????????????????????????????The final touches to the project are the plantings around the new hardscaping and restoration of the gravel path. Because the project objective was to create a smooth transition between two strong gardens, the plant palette has been kept very simple. The plants chosen grow low with muted colors – in other words, nothing attention getting.

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Stairs27Two thoughts in closing:

  • The view from the Stroll Pond path now invites visitors to the Japanese Garden
  • Dan and Andy’s collaboration has produced a masterpiece for the Reserve

Stairs28THE TEAM:


Andy Navage, Director of Horticulture
Dan Blossom
Tatyana Vashchenkov, 2013 Intern


Jim Allen
Spencer Allen
Philip Bloomquist
Jesse Conway
Joe DeMaio
Andy Moss
Sean Peterson
Darren Stenge


Austin Harper
Isaiah Miller
Genevieve Sawyer


Levengood Construction
o Rod Levengood, Tom Levengood

Dan Blossom Garden Design
o Dan Blossom


Sadafumi Uchiyama, Garden Curator, Portland Japanese Garden

The Bloedel Reserve thanks the Tateuchi Foundation. This project would not have been possible without their generous financial support.

Front Stage@Bloedel: Bloedel in Bloom

June 5th, 2014

Springtime is when the Reserve is most floriferous. Volunteer and photographer Elliott Green captured the blooming beauties in this photo essay. Enjoy! And if you are in our neck of the woods, stop by and see the blooms in person.

Location: The Glen
Plant: Rhododendron strigillosum

Location: Swan Pond
Plant: Rhododendron gandavense ‘sunbeam’

Location: Entrance Drive
Plant: Azalea

Location: Japanese Stroll Garden
Plant: Azalea (hybrid)


Location: Visitor Center
Plant: Rhododendron ‘pink wallpaper’

Location: Swan Pond
Plant: Rhododendron ‘hybrid’

Location: Christmas Pond
Plant: Primula pulverulenta ‘Bartley’s strain’; Candelabra primrose

Location: Christmas Pond
Plant: Primula japonica ‘Postfords white’; Candelabra primrose

Location: Gate House
Plant: Crinodendron hookerianum; Chilean Lantern Tree

Location: Japanese Garden
Plant: Cornus kousa; Korean dogwood

Location: Japanese Garden
Plant: Cotinus coggyria ‘Royal purple’; Royal purple smoke tree

Plant: Rhododendron with a bee

25th Anniversary Memories

April 25th, 2014

In honor of the Reserve’s 25th Anniversary, we asked the public to share their stories of the Reserve with us. We received wonderful memories and displayed them in the Visitor’s Center during Founder’s Weekend.

We wanted to share the stories we received with you. And, if you have any stories you would like to share please send them to: We will continue to collect stories for use in future events and publications.

Name: Krista Jenkins
Current City: Adelaide, Australia
Date of Memory: 1971

My dad was a gardener for Mr. Bloedel and was walking in the woods and heard an animal whimpering. He walked toward the sound, but then it stopped when he got near and he couldn’t find the source of the whimpering.

This pattern repeated for several days until one day he scratched his head and looked up. There, up in the branches of a leaning maple tree, was a little brown dog. It became our new dog, Maple, who we loved for many years after.

Name: Bruce Clark
Current City: Seattle, Washington
Date of Memory: 1980

In the summer of 1980 or 1981, I was in my early twenties and was working as a tree trimmer before heading to law school. My late mother, Anne Holt, was a fabulous gardner who lived on Agate Pass Loop Road and knew Richard Brown, then the director of the gardens.

I was hired for the summer to trim trees on the property, mostly to the west of the house. It was a great place to work and I was in and out of a lot of trees, mostly deadwooding to reduce hazards and to “clean up” the look of some of the conifers.

One day Richard Brown told me that Mr. Bloedel was a bit concerned that the trees were looking too neat – -that they ought to have some dead branches because that was their natural state.

As it happened, I was able to chat with Mr. Bloedel about this as we walked and looked at the trees. I was impressed with his deep appreciation for all of the trees given the familial connection with the logging industry. He told me, pointing at a Grand Fir, that back in the day those in the commercial logging industry regarding such firs as “trash trees” because they had little commercial value as compared with other conifers. He went on to express how his thinking had changed over time and how much he now valued the beauty of all the trees he had. I thought then, as now, that his comments reflected his connection to the forests here and provided motivation to create the natural monument that is the Reserve today.

Name: Virginia Abell-Clayton
Current City: Bainbridge Island, Washington
Date of Memory: Summer of 1992

As a docent I greeted a gentleman and his daughter. He introduced himself as a doctor from Los Angeles. When he notice the piano, he asked if he could play. Given permission, I was treated to a 45-minute concert worthy of Benaroya Hall.

When I expressed my delight and surprise to his daughter, she informed me that he was also a graduate of Juilliard.

Name: Anna Neff
Date of Memory: Christmas Eve, 1988

As Christmas approached in 1988, the weather was cold. Might it snow?  “Oh, please!”, sang our two daughters. And on December 24th it did begin to lightly snow. We were excited for the festivities that were to come on Christmas Eve. Everything was set for the relatives who would be arriving late in the day. Presents were wrapped, cookies were frosted,  songs were memorized. We were faced with a long afternoon. What shall we do?

We knew from articles that had appeared in the Bainbridge Review that Bloedel Reserve memberships had recently become available. I don’t remember which of us had the brilliant idea but the idea was, indeed, brilliant. Let’s bundle up and drive to The Bloedel Reserve, buy a membership and walk through the gardens. It was magical!  I don’t remember seeing another soul but we saw many little paw prints in the snow. We walked and giggled and sang, everyone pointing out one beautiful snowy sight after another.

When we finally piled back into the car, the girls were rosy-cheeked and tuckered out. I wish Mr. and Mrs. Bloedel could have heard the Bloedel Reserve stories the girls told their grandparents and aunts and uncles that evening.

We have been members of The Bloedel Reserve since that special day — December 24, 1988.  Every time I visit The Reserve, no matter the season or the occasion, I see the magical place that our two rosy-cheeked little girls discovered for the first time on Christmas Eve, 1988.

Name: Alice Frost
Date of Memory: 2009

The front door opened to the Visitor’s Center and a young man and older woman entered. I greeted them and asked if they would like a guided tour to which they replied that they would just like to wander.

Perhaps ten minutes passed when I looked up. The elderly woman stood there with tears streaming down her face saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Her son told me that he was from New York and his mother was from Sri Lanka where a civil war had recently ended. She was crying from joy because she finally felt at peace. I was rather stunned, but said, “Please don’t thank me, thank Prentice Bloedel for creating such a peaceful sanctuary for all.” I was deeply moved by the experience and realized the natural beauty and serenity of the Reserve are important and universal to all.

Name: Beth Goodwin

Every time I come to the main house with my five year old son, he loves to sit and read the gardening books with me as well as look at the “Eaglet’s Progress” book. As I write this, he is escorting a four year old boy he met outside through the house.

We also treasure Christmas time with the trains and hot cocoa.

Name: Laura Cloghessy
Current City: Bainbridge Island
Date of Memory: August 2009

The first time we came to the Reserve was for a concert. The concert was on the front lawn. It was a clear day and the eagles were teaching the eaglets to fly, swooping back and forth. Bloedel Reserve couldn’t have planned it better if they tried. It was so beautiful and quite remarkable.

Name: Hannah (15 years old)
Current City: Austin, Texas
Date of Memory: July 18, 2013

Looking at the view of the ocean at the Bloedel house made me want to write about it. I want to be an author and this place was so picturesque, it may be just the setting for a future book. Thank you!

Name: Dave Hancock
Current City: Mercer Island, WA
Date of Memory: 1964

My mom was Mr. Bloedel’s secretary and I played on this property everyday. I loved flying to Bellingham with Mr. Bloedel in his de Havilland seaplane. He always let me play with the sheep and his dogs. He was the nicest man and always greeted me with open arms.

Name: Beatrice Roethke Lushington
Date of Memory: October 4, 2013
Current City: Seattle

The trip to Bloedel Reserve on the 4th October 2013, was full of memories beginning with the turn off at Agate and thinking of the day on August 1st 1963 when Ted Roethke went to Bainbridge to escape the vacuum cleaner at home. En route he met Virginia Bloedel and her daughter Lee who asked him to come for a swim and he was delighted to accept. We had seen that he had a blood clot in his arm the day before but he said it didn’t hurt. When he dove in at the pool it went to his brain. This was in the swimming pool at the newly constructed complex.

Years have gone by and I have heard that someone wanted to know where the poet died and had been told that the swimming pool had been filled in and made into a Zen Garden.

The Bloedels had met him not long before and had been won over by his charisma. The Bloedels were a devoted couple of whom I was very fond. Virginia, or Shinny as she was called, was very affectionate to me. I think they had lived in Vancouver when their two daughters were young and whisky was served with dinner.

Seeing the house I remembered the times Stephen Lushington and I were guests there after we were married in 1972.  I remember there were swans on the pond in front of the house.

Among the beautiful trees there is a large moss garden which made me think of Ted’s poem, Moss-Gathering.

Backstage@Bloedel: Cedar Removal

April 1st, 2014

The Overview:

The Reserve has a number of trails that go through woodlands. As woodland trees grow they sometimes become dangerous to people below. Because staff and visitor safety is the number one priority at the Reserve, when a tree is judged hazardous it must be secured. Two methods are commonly used – cabling or removal.
This cedar was located next to the glen access road, and one of its leaders hung over a heavily used visitor path. In this case the decision was to remove the tree.
To provide some context, this cedar was a tall tree. To get an idea of its size look at the picture below. Ken, standing to the right of the tree trunk, is six feet tall. We estimate the cedar’s trunk to be about 30 feet tall.
We estimate the tree’s height in excess of 80 feet.
So, why was this tree dangerous?

The Situation:

This particular cedar tree had three co-dominant leaders. Cedars usually have a single dominant leader.

Andy speculated that this tree had been topped some years ago, and that three leaders grew from the trunk. This had become a serious structural problem.

Over the years as the tree grew, the leaders became heavier, and a crack developed. The crack grew deeper due to included bark. Included bark is bark embedded between the leaders and the trunk. Embedded bark prevents formation of a branch bark ridge. The result was a weak union of the leaders to the trunk.

As Andy and Jim were walking in the glen, they heard a loud crack. When they investigated, they saw the crack and realized that the cedar was seriously compromised. They shut down the access road and visitor’s path.

Andy immediately called Westerlund Tree Service. Jon Westerlund’s company specializes in safing dangerous trees.

In this photo you can see evidence of the split. The fresh wood visible in the vertical crack shows where the trunk has failed.

The timeline was as follows:

The picture below is of the cedar as we left it on Thursday afternoon. Note that the leaders are leaning away from each other. We knew it would not take much – maybe just wind loads – to cause complete failure.

When we came back Friday morning we were relieved to see that the tree had not failed. Jon determined that the tree would be safe to climb if the gaps between the leaders could be stabilized.

Friday morning was calm. This was important for Jon’s climbers, who could not work safely if there was any wind. Jon’s climbers proceeded to secure the leaders with a chain and chain clamp. In the photo below, you can see how the chain kept the leaders from spreading.

The Solution:

They then rigged a brace system using lines to the ground to draw the leaders together. The picture below was taken Friday morning, after they had placed the brace and cranked the leaders in.

Below, the leaders have been secured with a chain and the brace has been rigged. The tree is now safe, and the climbers have partially de-limbed it.

This photo shows how the bracing has been cranked taut from ground level:

The brace solved the tree safety problem. The top photo is of the tree before any remediation has been done. The bottom photo is after the brace has been rigged and cranked taut. When you compare the photos, you’ll see that the original crack is now closed, and the lines which activate the brace are taut.

Now, with the tree secure and de-limbed, the climbers can safely reduce the leaders by successively cutting short pieces off, as seen above.

The Results:

The Team:

Bloedel representatives:

-Jim Allen, Gardener

-Ken Little, Arborist

-Andy Navage, Director of Horticulture

Contractor: Westerlund Wood & Tree Service

-Ben Fejeran, Climber

-Ikaika Rodrigues, Climber

-Jon Westerlund, Owner

Backstage@Bloedel: Upper Japanese Garden Renovation

March 6th, 2014

A Japanese garden is successful when it engages you visually.
It achieves this when its design is strong, when it lacks nothing, and when it contains nothing extra.

The upper Japanese garden consists of the entry path, the white granite rock garden, and the mounds visible from the deck of the Japanese house.

The objectives of the renovation were to:

· Rebuild the fences that parallel the entry

· Rebuild the mounds

· Place trees in the garden to complete the design

· Improve safety by leveling the pavers

The photo below is a “before” picture, taken in June, 2013.

This photo is an “after” picture, taken in February, 2014.

The differences between these views are described on the following pages. Problems are described with notes on the “before” picture; solutions are described with notes on the “after” picture.

This executive summary concludes with four paired pictures of the finished renovation. The first image in each pair is reproduced without any notes. We’ve done that so you can see what the final result looks like. The second image has notes describing the major design theme implemented in that view.

The Situation:

A: Sections of the entry fences were missing because a cottonwood tree fell across the path in December 2012

B: Pavers adjacent to the cedar were tripping hazards; there was no clear path around the rock garden

C: Overgrown vegetation obscured two medium-sized stones; the vegetation contributed no visual interest

D: This secondary mound did not contribute to the feeling of depth of view that was desired.

E: This primary mound is weak; it should tie horizontal features together

F: This large stone was partially buried; it did not relate to nearby stone elements

G: This mound was too low and did not relate well to the other elements, and it was infested with voles

H: The entry fences were replaced

I: Pavers were cleaned, then reset, leaving clear paths around the rock garden

J: With the vegetation removed and a dwarf white pine transplanted, the existing stones are now revealed

K: The secondary mound has been raised, irrigation added, and it’s been replanted; it now adds to the felling of depth

L: The primary mound is now part of a strong horizontal design theme. The large stone now relates to the stones in the rock garden; this ties the mound to the rock garden

M: This mound was excavated, new soil brought it and the area replanted

The Results:

N: The presence of the dwarf white pine on the left now guides visitors to look at the gate and the house as they enter

O: The dwarf white pine supplies visual closure to the right of the gate and separates the gate from the mounding area

P: The group of five stones in the rock garden are visually extended by the pair of stones on the left mound

Q: The strong horizontal lines in the mounds now complement the horizontal elements in the rock garden, deck and roof

R: The large stone on the mound now forms a group with the pair of stones in the rock garden, visually tying the mound and the rock garden



This document is an executive summary. Its purpose is to describe the major design themes underlying the project. If you would like more information about how the project was done you can look at detailed descriptions of the project phases. They can be found in the following companion documents:

· Upper Japanese Garden Renovation – Entrance

· Upper Japanese Garden Renovation – Mounds

· Upper Japanese Garden Renovation – Pavers

· Upper Japanese Garden Renovation – Trees

Renovation of the upper and lower Japanese Gardens is a major, continuing, project at Bloedel Reserve. The planning for the upper garden project started two years ago. Execution of the project has taken almost a year. It has required considerable effort by garden staff, interns, volunteers, contractors and consultants. A companion project, the Lower Japanese Garden Renovation, is currently being planned.