From seeds to weeds

Greetings from the Roseburg BLM Office! My last post highlighted my exploits for the BLM in Roseburg centered around investigating potential seed opening sites where GIS imagery showed breaks in forest canopy. All of those seeds are now hanging out in our office cubicle, occupying just about every available surface. We have at least 20 large Ace Hardware bags full of grasses and many smaller brown paper bags that are holding some seeds for various forbs that we’ve collected.Soon (hopefully by the time this is posted!), we will be sending our precious seed collection to the USFS Bend Seed extractory where they will be grown out to be later sowed along BLM roads. And finally, we will have free surfaces again!

So many seeds!

As the seeds dried up for most of the grasses we want to collect, the seeds are just getting ready on one grass we very much don’t want to collect; slender false brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum). This plant is native to Asia, Europe, and North Africa, and made its way to this continent in the 1930’s. It’s first reported sighting was in Lane County near Eugene, Oregon (north of us). As of now, it has not been found outside of Oregon, but land managers are worried that it will soon spread to Washington and California. It has, alas, made its way down to Douglas County and is currently hanging out all along the North Umpqua river and up several of its tributaries, which is very much in Roseburg BLM’s stomping grounds, and also in the Roseburg Forest Service’s land as well.

The common name “False Brome” comes from the fact that it very closely resembles many species in the Bromus genus, several of which are native here in Oregon. So naturally, we need to be very careful when identifying it to make sure we aren’t mistaking it for something else. Luckily, it has some distinctive characteristics that are easy to check. It posses a very particular shade of green that is slightly lighter than many surrounding grasses that makes it easy to pick out even from a large distance. Once you get closer you see that it is very hairy near the root of the stem and on the lower leaves, which are wide and have prominent venation. One very distinctive things about true bromes is that they have closed sheaths, whereas False Brome has open sheaths. This can be a tricky and time-consuming thing to check, but is a great identifier if they are not setting seed. But luckily, we are targeting them as they are setting seed and their inflorescence is very distinct. The spikelets are very tightly connected to the stem, with no pedicel. This is what helps us distinguish False Brome from its almost identical look-a-like, California Brome (Bromus vulgaris) a.k.a. “False False Brome”, which is a native plant that often co-occurs with False Brome.

False Brome leaves. Note the hairy surface and the leaf venation.

False Brome inflorescence. Note the the lack of a pedicel.

The other part of this project is the mapping portion. The actual task of removing False Brome from Douglas County is unfortunately a very large one. So part of what we need to do is identify when we can pull, treat, and contain a population, and when we need to just document its existence and find a contractor to do it for us. There also isn’t currently any type of map that documents the extent of False Brome populations, so we need to create one. Roads, waterways, campgrounds, parking lots, pull-offs, etc seem to be the major conduits and and refuges of False Brome. So we’ve been doing weed surveys along roads, and up rivers. It’s important to know how far up a river False Brome has made it so that we’re better able to target the most important areas for removal.

We’ve erected a large map in our office to help track our progress on mapping out False Brome…we definitely have a lot of ground left we need to cover

Weed surveys are also great opportunities for noticing desirable species for seed collection nearby. In particular, we’ve felt very fortunate to have found many previously unknown populations of Mimulus cardinalis (scarlet monkey flower) and we’ve managed to do some seed collecting of many native plants we’ve serendipitously come across.

And when we’re not doing weed surveys, we’ve gotten the chance to help out a little with the wildlife crew. Some highlights of the past month include helping do a frog survey of Rana boyii, the yellow-legged frog. Basically, we spent a day hiking both sides of a stream bed fastidiously scanning the banks and listening intently for any suspicious “plonking” noises that might indicate we scared a yellow-legged frog from sunning into the water. We also went out hiking with the owl crew as they banded a juvenile spotted owl. We helped distract the parents by feeding them mice, but mostly just got to enjoy listening to the expertise of our two owl guides, and admire watching the spotted owls from such a close distance. 

That’s owl for now! Expect another Roseburg Botany BLM update soon!

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