It’s October here in the spectacular Walla Walla Valley. What a great time to visit this outstanding place. With September gone and October almost over the door is slightly open to winter. It is the arrival of shorter, cooler days and longer nights that has clued all native broad leaf shrubs and trees that it is time to drop their leaves in a flash of brilliance.
Intense colors spread across this valley as the sumacs, Oregon grapes, hawthorns, maples and poke weeds start to wind down and in a flash of staggering reds, purples, yellows and tangerines these many plants stage their leaves allowing them to stay as long as the last drops of moisture and carotenes’ remain. Then after 3-5 days these beautiful leaves disconnect from the plant and in a wind or just a calm afternoon they fall to the earth around the base of the tree or shrub. The leaves accumulate by the thousands where they now perform other vital functions for the plant. By building up on the surface of the ground they now protect and buffer the shallow plant roots from winter’s freezing weather. They also begin to decay right at the soil surface which causes much warmer conditions adding another layer of insulation for the root systems. As these multi-colored leaves break down in the warm chamber they have created they provide nutrients to the soil and once again feed the plant they came from. What a great circle of life.
There are several native wild flowers that are blooming and will keep blooming until the first frost. These are the rabbit brush, basin sage and desert asters. These late blooming native plants are vital to the last native bees, butterflies, wasps and ants that require their pollen to lay eggs and prepare for winter. All of these later bloomers are part of the desert shrub-steppe community and are very important for the dependent insects, rodents, birds and mammals. These plants are now fighting the big fight to survive against a wave of introduced invasive weeds that cause all kinds of issues for native animals, plants and humans. So as you move about this great county look at the plants you are passing, get curious and discover for yourself what it is you are looking at. The native plants of this region are amazing and deserve your interest and time in learning about them.
Visiting Walla Walla County this time of year brings with it great experiences in the outdoors. Remember Walla Walla County sits at 340 feet above sea level at Wallula Gap to over 4200 feet east of Walla Walla in the foothills of the Blue Mountains. Watch for the many waterfowl, now silent songbirds and other wildlife found here in large numbers. Be sure and get outside and visit the Fort Walla Walla Museum and park or the Whitman Mission National Historic Monument with its many trails.
Keep in mind that Walla Walla has to be seen to be believed.