While dogwoods and lilacs bloom in the cities, the surrounding prairies are a showcase of wild flowers quietly clinging to their native land.They were here long before Europeans arrived but the general public often knows little about them. Take the arrowleaf balsamroot, a member of the sunflower family that blankets North American meadows. Did you know it can live up to 100 years and that all parts
of the plant are edible?
Today, hundreds of native flower species co-exist with invasive weeds and agricultural crops. The new “Palouse Prairie Field Guide” is a carry-along guide for the curious about what they’ll find growing in Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Montana prairies. This includes the Palouse Prairie, Rathdrum Prairie, Zumwalt Prairie and Camas Prairie. The book was written by three area conservationists, Dave M. Skinner, Jacie W. Jensen and Gerry Queener.
Jensen owns Thorn Creek Seed Farm where she sells native seeds from an agricultural farm south of Moscow. She began the guide as a way to help landowners identify what is native — here when Lewis and Clark arrived — versus what’s not. Most native prairie land is privately owned, she said, much of it is farmland and any conservation and preservation efforts are crucial to future seed supply.
“One thing we started seeing is that our native and our other lands are so interdependent on each other. In agriculture there’s a lot to learn from studying native lands. What we learned in agriculture taught us how to restore native lands. There’s an interdependence and I wanted to provide something for other people to learn about both types of lands,” she said.
Jensen reached out to local experts Dave Skinner and Gerry Queener. Queener, of Troy, is a retired Deary science teacher and amateur native plant photographer. Skinner was a Moscow botanist and farmer who worked at the U.S.Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service Pullman Plant Material Center. The guide is based on his work propagating and germinating native seeds. He died in January and the book is dedicated to him.
The guide is designed for the layperson, is arranged by flower color and includes botanical drawings, photographs, common and scientific names, bloom dates, descriptions, range and notes of interest, like whether the plant is edible or poisonous or how it was used by American Indians.
What makes the book different from other guides is that it includes the area’s agricultural crops like wheat, barley and garbanzo beans; along with the “bad guys,” Jensen said. These are noxious and invasive weeds like bachelor’s buttons and poison-hemlock, which has sickened and killed those who have mistaken it for parsnip, the guide notes.
Many of the natives can be found growing along old fence rows and in little patches of undisturbed land, Jensen said. Spring and early summer are the best time to find the flowers before they are dried by summer’s heat.
Most of the proceeds from the book will go toward restoration and preservation of prairies. There are reasons besides beauty to conserve them, including their importance to pollinators that evolved with them, Jensen said. Particular species of insects depend on specific plants.
“We have a native milkweed on the Palouse, so when that one particular native plant disappears so will the butterfly,” Jensen said.
The guide is $23.95 and available for purchase at Blue Lantern Cafe in Lewiston; And Books Too and Patt’s Garden Center in Clarkston; Artisans at the Dahmen Barn in Uniontown; BookPeople of Moscow, Marketime Drug, Spence Hardware and the University of Idaho Vandal Store in Moscow; Four Star Supply and the Pullman Chamber of Commerce in Pullman; Main Street Books and Four Star Supply in Colfax; the Historical Museum at St. Gertrude in Cottonwood; Nez Perce National Historical Park Visitor Center at Spalding; Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane; and The Well Read Moose in Coeur d’Alene.
If You Go
Authors will present programs about the “Palouse Prairie Field Guide” at these upcoming events:
4 p.m. April 22, UI VandalStore, Moscow
7 p.m. April 28, BookPeople of Moscow
11 a.m. April 30, And Books Too, Clarkston
9 a.m. May 1, Artisans at the Dahmen Barn, Uniontown
3 p.m. May 7, Auntie’s Bookstore, Spokane
“Palouse Prairie Field Guide: An Introductory Guide to Native Plants, Agricultural Crops and Invasive Weeds for the Curious;” by Dave M. Skinner, Jacie W. Jensen and Gerry Queener, Thorn Creek Seed Farm; 112 pages; $23.95.