The Violet Restoration Hydra

By Rolando Beorchia

January 2020

Restoration work at IAE is often like a multi-headed hydra (we’re talking the cute cousin to anemones type of hydra, not the scary monster that Hercules killed). ­­­­­Each project has multiple “arms,” including property owners, staff, funders and sometimes researchers, who all have to come together to make the magic happen on (or in) the ground.

I had an opportunity a few weeks ago to be one of the hydra’s arms for a research project looking at a new way to plant the endangered Oregon silverspot butterfly’s (Speyeria zerene hippolyta) host plant, western blue violet (Viola adunca). This small-statured but critical plant struggles to compete with the larger, non-native species that have invaded our coastal grasslands, and researcher Graham Klag wants to use coconut husk mats impregnated with germinated seedlings to overcome that challenge. Graham is a Master of Environmental Studies candidate at Evergreen State College and Conservation Nursery Coordinator for the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP).

Removing grass clippings before shallow tiling to expose bare ground. Left to right: Rolando Beorchia (IAE: Restoration Technician), Peter Moore (IAE: Restoration Ecologist), Matt Smith (Forest Service: Restoration Botanist) and Casey Hase (Forest Service: Wildlife Technician). (Photo by Graham Klag)

The Siuslaw National Forest is a beautiful and huge area including coastal dunes, upland meadows and lots of great forest. It also hosts a small population of Oregon silverspot butterfly in a meadow restoration area south of Yachats called Big Creek Meadow, which was the location for the experimental violet planting. Standing in the open grassy meadow, surrounded by shiny-leaved salal and twisty coastal pines, looking out at the ocean, I could see why U.S. Forest Service restoration botanist Matt Smith is willing to devote so much of his time to improve the habitat for the endangered Oregon silverspot butterfly.

Graham Klag (SPP) with plugs of western blue violet (Viola adunca), Roemer’s fescue (Festuca roemeri), and coastal strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis)

Installation of one mat of plants. (Photo: Graham Klag)

After we watched the coyote resident in the meadow scamper off, spooked by our arrival in their dining room, we met with Graham Klag. Graham is researching ways to establish Viola adunca more efficiently using 3-foot wide mats of plants grown on a coconut husk medium. His hope is that this method will make Oregon silverspot butterfly habitat restoration cheaper and easier for all those involved. Graham is comparing violet and other native plant establishment and survival when they are planted as plugs versus embedded in the coconut husk mat, and on bare versus mowed ground. Our job on that beautiful, although rainy, day was to prepare the planting areas by cutting the vegetation with string trimmers, raking and dragging off the mass, and using a tiller to scrape to bare ground. Graham returned and planted the plugs and installed the coconut mats embedded with plants to test their success rate in the same conditions. This rollout mat planting strategy is exciting for all the “hydra limbs” that were present that day, and we spent lots of time talking about the potential uses of this process at other locations if this field trial proves to be successful. We’d like to extend a special thank you to Restoration Botanist Matt Smith and The Siuslaw National Forest (U.S. Forest Service) for their commitment to conservation of Oregon silverspot butterfly.

Walking back to the vehicle soggy wet and dirty, we all agreed that it was a great day, and fun to be one of the many hands that came together for a collective project. Yay, Team Violet Hydra!

Left to Right: Graham Klag (SPP), Casey Hase (U.S.Forest Service Wildlife Technician), Matt Smith (U.S. Forest Service Restoration Botanist) and Peter Moore (IAE Restoration Ecologist).

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