Rabbits and slugs and mandrake rustlers

This cool, rainy spring has been good for the slugs. Every year, the earliest spring plantings are a gamble. I know I could wait a bit longer to transplant seedlings into the garden but I never do. The show must go on. So the slugs and the rabbits are eating well. Luckily, rabbits are a bit finicky, more so than slugs anyway.  I’m still puzzled by how we so quickly wound up with a spreading population of eastern cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus) in Seattle. They were introduced to the state as game animals in the 1930s but were nowhere to be seen in these parts until the last few years. Suddenly they are everywhere. Maybe it just took them a while to get to the center of Seattle. Mapping their movement into new territory would be a great citizen science project.

For now, most gardeners I know are  grudgingly accepting them as new members of the local herbivores. You can spot their work by the neatly angled cuts they make with their teeth on the plant stems. Love them or hate them, they’re here, though I haven’t yet seen any where I live in Rainier Valley. Knock on wood. Seems like they’ve made it north and south around Lake Washington from the east and are pulling a pincer movement on those of us west of the lake. Applying the old lemons-into-lemonade wisdom, I humbly submit that there are many excellent recipes for rabbit in cookbooks and on the internet. The rest is up to you.

The suspect grazing on two species of Vaccinium, surrounded by Aquilegia canadensis, our eastern columbine.
I think they’re getting used to seeing me so I could take the time to zoom in. That rabbit is not going to starve to death any time soon. In fact it looks like it would make a fine addition to the stew pot.
Rabbits like to nibble many plants, fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) among them. To their credit, they left enough near the bottom for the plants to grow back… so they can have another meal, no doubt. Rabbits! Grrr.

But the world is big and rabbits are just a small part of it. What about those great blue herons (Ardea herodias)?

They look slightly out of place perched in trees.







In an oak tree (Quercus sp.) near Benson Hall, this one is breaking off a branch to add to its nest.


I hope people appreciate how lucky we are to have these beautiful birds on campus for part of the year. This image could have been lifted from an ancient Chinese scroll painting, but it was taken next to the Medicinal Herb Garden.
An eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) paid a visit and the crows finally drove it off. It’s perched to the right, in a Douglas fir tree (Pseudotsuga menziesii). This shot was taken at the edge of the heron rookery. Eagles nest nearby,  often in the big cottonwoods (Populus trichocarpa) growing near the shore of Lake Washington. Sometimes they grab heron chicks from the nest. Beats fishing I guess.











Though it has been a wintery springtime that has been hard on the poor seedlings I’ve put out, the year-round residents are flowering on schedule, more or less.

Shrubby penstemon (Penstemon fruticosus) in section C. This is the first time I’ve seen it flower. There used to be more of it but it has faded away. Maybe it’s putting its last energy into the flowers. Its proper home is on the drier east side of the Cascades where it has been put to a wide range of uses by the Colville people among others.
Flower on the medlar tree (Mespilus germanica).
Our native mountain bistort (Polygonum bistortoides) growing next to…








…our native valerian (Valeriana sitchensis) in section A. Both plants are from seeds  collected in  the Cascade Mountains.
Flowers on the western chokecherry (Prunus virginiana var. demissa) in Cascara Circle.
Pistillate catkins on the Hooker’s willow (Salix hookeriana) in Cascara Circle.








Starflower (Trientalis borealis) in Cascara Circle.
It’s a great ground cover in a woodland setting if you don’t mind that it disappears in winter.
The flowers have faded away but in their wake… some unripe fruit on the Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa). There’s one west of Cascara Circle and another north of section C.









Fading staminate catkins of the sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina). Sweetfern is in the same plant family, the Myricaceae, as the fragrant wax myrtle/bayberry (Myrica spp.). Both genera are tough as nails once established and have foliage that is fragrant when crushed. There is a Myrica californica bordering Okanagan Lane, north of Cascara Circle and several specimens of Myrica pensylvanica bordering sections B and C.
It looks like the undersea world of section C but it’s just the tips of he shou wu (Polygonum multiflorum) trying to find something to twine around.
Mason bee (Osmia sp.) at rest. It was a cold morning and I think it needed to catch some rays before heading out to do more foraging. It’s on a tea plant (Camellia sinensis).









Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) north of Cascara Circle.
Flowers and an emerging samara on the vine maple (Acer circinatum) in Cascara Circle


Oh, I almost forgot…the mandrake. Whatever magic rituals the thieves have planned, they’d best be careful. It’s a potent plant. I might have to stop growing it if people keep stealing it. That could spell doom for future Harry Potter tours.

Something about that freshly dug soil looks all wrong.
Aha! Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) rustlers have made off with the roots. It’s always something in a public garden…









Though today feels like late November, it’s supposed to warm up with clear skies by the end of the week. Almost time to put the tomatoes out, once the nights get over 50F. The young herons should start to fledge in the next month. That spectacle is always high drama if you can be there to see it. Maybe the male western tanager (Piranga ludoviciana) will again stop over for a short stay at Cascara Circle, and a rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) will pass though the garden on its way to the mountains. You’ll only know if you come by for a visit.





rufous hummingbird

hovering near the nectar

zoom, off to the hills




See you in the garden.



2 thoughts on “Rabbits and slugs and mandrake rustlers”

  1. Thank you. I love seeing the garden through your eyes. I feel sad about the mandrake whose roots were stolen. The photo of the heron picking a branch is a wonder! It feels so intimate and like the bird is teaching us how to do it. Such grace!

    Best wishes to you and the garden,

  2. West Seattle is crawling with what appear to be domestic-rabbits-gone-wild…they come in a variety of colors. I guess they keep the coyotes fed. Just this past year I started encountering rabbits near the Port of Seattle….I don’t know what they find to eat there, but when I cycle home along East Marginal at dusk I am frequently dodging bunnies that leap into my path!!!!

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