Posted by: atowhee | May 17, 2008

Satisfy any salsify craving: two flavors for our delectation

The world of flora is ever more complex than birding. There are less than ten thousand birds species on the whole planet and there is no way I will see more than a couple thousand even I travel a lot and bird constantly when I do.  Probably not going to be in New Guinea or Congo any time soon.  There are probably ten thousand plant species right here in Oregon and I don’t think we’d have to go into the micro-organism layer to count that many. 

Just this morning, not one but two species of salsify were blooming, side-by-side, along the Besare Creek Greenway in Ashland.  Nature is profligate.  Two species of salsify?  Same size, same habitat, same leaves.  Nature loves her little mysteries.  Then again, there are so many colors.  Why not use them?

Yellow=Tragopogon dubius

Purple=Tragopogon porrifolius

These two are members of the showy sunflower family, going in for size in blooms.  These are nearly four inches across, regardless of color.  Each salsify can grow about 4 feet tall and has narrow, grass-like leaves.  Both are weeds introdcued from Eruope.  Perhaps not as appreciated as the wine grape varieities that came from Europe  but nearly as beautiful to the discerning palate.

Now you should be completely salsified.


These medium sized trees, with bare trunks that look painfully sunburned, are now in florid bloom.  Thus if all goes well this summer, once again the creamy white clusters will turn into delectable orange berry clusters this fall.  I base my judgement of flavor on the alacrity with which these madrone berries are consumed by Robins and Waxwings.  Both eat a wide variety of berries and when I see them choosing madrone over nearby berry-bearing bushes I suspect some flavorful selection process.  Also the madrone are often thirty feet tall or more, providing better protection from us groundling predators.

Pacific madrone, Arbutus menziesii.

I mentioned earlier in my blogging that there’s a local larkspur named for Dr. Archiblad Menzies.  He was physician and naturalist on two expeditions to the Pacific Coast of North America.  First in 1786-8, then again in the early 1790s on the expedition led by Captain George Vancouver.  Dr. Menzies and Vancouver had a disastrous falling-out during the expedition and Menzies was hauled before a navy court when they got back to England.  However, Menzies came from a prominent Scottish family and was released.  Vancouver’s career careened off course and he died mid-life.  Menzies went to a successful medical career in England.  However, many of his natural history discoveries were lost to science because Vancouver refused to let anybody examine some records and specimens collected on the expedition.  Menzies’ original journal, never fully published, resides in the British Museum.  Menzies was one of the first scientists to write of poison oak, then called “yedra” by the Mexican inhabitants of California.

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