Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Urban Foraging in Seattle's Parks

Posted by Amy Baranski

*UPDATE:  Patrice Benson of the Puget Sound Mycological Society shared in the comments: "City and State parks have differing regulations for picking mushrooms and other plants and fruits. Check with the park before foraging.Since parks are used by many of the city's and State's residents, please be mindful that everyone may want to see the mushrooms. Field trips with PSMS are a great way to learn and discover and forage for Wild Mushrooms."*

Seattle contains a network of public parks and urban greenbelts that satisfy the curiosities of an urban woods person. The presence of these green swaths helps organize our public imagination of what the city's hills once were--deeply and intensely green--before we cut their wooded slopes, paved them with our streets, and planted our imported shrubs around our timbered homes.

Mahonia aquifolium - Oregon Grape.
State flower of Oregon and native species throughout the NW.
Can be foraged for preserves.
Inspired by yesterday's speed-mushroom foray at Interlaken Park I've decided that throughout the month I'll highlight some of Seattle's green spaces that offer ample opportunity for natural observation, and perhaps urban foraging.

Comprised of 51.7 acres of trees and brambly understory, Interlaken park is a city-slicker wood nymph's wonderland that bridges North Capitol Hill and the Montlake Cut.
In the 1890’s, Interlaken Boulevard was the principal bike and buggy path linking Capitol Hill with the boulevards on Lake Washington. The conversion around that time of the high bicycle wheel to the low bicycle wheel made bicycles much easier to ride and very popular. Assistant City Engineer George F. Cotterill, conscious of the hazards of biking on city streets lined with planks, toured the city to look for good bikeways. His bike trails formed the basis of the city’s boulevard system, and in 1903, the Olmsted Brothers approved Interlaken as a boulevard route. It soon became popular with walkers and auto drivers, who appreciated the views of mountains and lakes. In 1913, five acres of the Interlaken area were set aside as Boren Park to honor Louisa Boren Denny, the last surviving member of the party of pioneers that landed at Alki in 1851. - Seattle Parks and Recreation
Bicyclists, joggers, dog walkers, families, urban hikers, and homeless persons find refuge and shelter on this canopied parcel of land. Interlaken has also become of  interest to many urban conservationist groups. EarthCorps, Green Seattle Partnership, Friends of Interlaken Park, CLC and Seattle Parks & Recreation have all, at various times and at present, poured efforts into removing invasive species, such as English Ivy and replenishing native species, such as Douglass Fir.

Yesterday, we saw evidence of this work throughout the trails. Large piles of ivy were waiting to be removed and I counted over 20 small conifer seedlings that had been recently planted. One of the abundant native species in the understory was Mahonia aquifolium of the Berberidaceae family. This is also known as Oregon Grape, the state flower of Oregon.

Oregon Grape can be foraged for preserves. This excellent little blog post by author and forager Langdon Cook explains how this can be done. I imagine Oregon Grape could also make an excellent dye, if not for clothing, perhaps for handmade paper. The scientific studies backing this claim include several summers when my sister and I tricked each other (and our parents) into thinking we had pricked ourselves by squeezing drops of the Oregon Grape juice on our fingers. It typically had a genuine effect.

I'd be cautious of traipsing off trail through Interlaken which would be counterproductive to the reforestation efforts taking place (undoubtedly powered by hundreds of volunteer hours). But there were quite a few Mahonia accessible by the trail.

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