by Marinka Major, Wolf Haven International
Native plants find sanctuary at Wolf Haven where 37 acres of rolling, grassy Mima Mounds harbor dozens of rare prairie plants. Prairies have a diverse population of native plants that provide food to many animals, some that only live in prairie ecosystems such as the Mazama pocket gopher, Thomomys mazama and the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, Euphydryas editha taylori.
Native prairie plants are fire adapted and thrive in prairies that experience regular burns. Centuries ago, indigenous people thoughtfully burned prairies to ensure the survival of the many fire dependent plants. At Wolf Haven, The Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM) manages and preforms prescribed burns on the prairie, keeping it healthy just as people did generations ago.
Many of the native plant species found in our South Sound prairies have great significance to people for their use as food or medicine. One of the showiest plants on the prairie is the common Camas, Camassia quamash a traditional food still being harvested and eaten today. The Camas produces an onion-like bulb that can be eaten after cooked and the periwinkle flowers cover prairies from late April to mid-May in a spectacular show.
The Chocolate Lily, Fritillaria affinis, also produces an edible bulb and has a unique blossom that resembles a dark brown tulip with bright yellow stamens and pistils that can be seen blooming April through May.
Another enchanting flower of the prairie is the early-blue Violet, Viola adunca. The short plant produces purple flowers that several butterfly and nectar eating species depend on.
Not only does the prairie provide edible bulbs and flowers but berries too! The Western serviceberry, Amelanchier alnifolia is a large shrub that blooms with spiky white flowers in the spring giving way to fat, dark purple berries at the end of summer.
Interpretive signage guides you through our rare prairie.As we celebrate Native Plant Appreciation Week, let’s be sure to not only stop and smell the roses, but to look around and enjoy the wonders of our native plants!