There were times over the years when life was not easy, but if you’re working a few hours a day and you’ve got a good book to read, and you can go outside to the beach and dig for clams, you’re okay.”
~ Mary Oliver

Oregon estuaries have a rich assortment of clams. Some in great abundance, some with great taste, and some are just watching for your shovel.  

Gaps in clams.
The Gaper clam is on the bottom. (Image courtesy of ODFW)

Why go out and harvest? Think clam chowder, fried clams, clam burgers, and more. Clam chowder is an American favorite and was first serve up in the New England area in the 1700s.  

Two species of Tresus gaper clams are found in Oregon: Pacific gaper clam – T. nuttallii and the Fat gaper clam – T.  capax.

Range

Pacific gaper clams range from Baja California north to Kodiak Island. They are the largest common bay clam in Oregon and California.

In Oregon, the shells may measure up to eight inches long, and weigh up to four pounds. In California they can grow up to 10 inches and weigh up to five pounds each.

Mind the Gap

The clams have evolved in such a way that the shell is just a wee bit small. There is just not enough room to totally retrack the large siphon, or neck, in. This creates a gap that cannot completely close.

Both species of Gaper clams and geoduck clams have this problem. The geoducks have larger siphons compared to the Tresus species.

The siphon is one of the reasons this clam thrives. The siphon filters the water for plankton and bits of food during high tide.

It also helps the Gapers avoid many predators as the clam is able to live deep in the substrate (like potentially four feet). In Oregon, the typical depth for finding Gapers is 12 to 16-inches. Trophy-sized catches are found a bit deeper nearer to 30 inches.

These clams are often incidentally taken during harvest along with butter and littleneck clams that live at the same substrate level.   

Shells

Shells are oval and typically are chalky-white or light yellow. The shell may also be darkly stained in a muddy areas. There are patches of brown, leather-like skin on the shell.

The upper shell is whitish with a thin brown membrane coating. It is relatively thin and can be broken during the digging process. Broken clams count towards daily limit. (See Regulations)

The thickest part of the shell is a cavity called a ‘chondrophore.’ In gaper clams, it is very pronounced. As the shell deteriorates, the chondrophore is the last piece to go. It is often polished by sand and surf and found by beach combers.

Annual lines on the chondrophore’s surface are used to age the clam. Gapers grow about one inch per year for the first four years. Growth rate begins to slow after that. They have a life span up to 17 years.

Reproduction

These animals are quite prolific and, depending on the conditions, may reproduce year-around. Young are carried by the water and swim freely until they settle onto the sea floor. They move downward into the sediments.

Where Found and Harvest Tools

Large bay clams are found on firm, sandy or muddy areas. In muddy areas, clammers often use a shovel or shrimp gun. They look for an oblong “show” hole about the size of a quarter. Some use a three-foot PVC pipe about 12-15 inches in diameter to prevent holes from caving in.

They Got Crabs

You may notice a pair of small crabs (Gaper pea crabs, Pinnixa faba) hanging out with the Gaper.  They are ‘room mates’ and the female may live within the mantle cavity. They do not affect the clam as food.

Lucky Us

Gaper clams are great eating and are fun to harvest. Before you go check the Oregon biotoxin hotline at 1-800-448-2474 and read more at https://myodfw.com/articles/shellfish-and-biotoxins and https://www.oregon.gov/ODA/programs/FoodSafety/Shellfish/Pages/ShellfishClosures.aspx. Always check harvest regulations and requirements.  

NOTE: In certain conditions, you can rebury a Gaper. Leaving it on the surface is a sure death. The Gaper needs the pressure of the surrounding sand to remain intact and maneuver.

Go forth, dig and be Okay!

REFERENCES:
–Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, Crabbing and Clamming (https://myodfw.com/crabbing-clamming/species/clams and …/species/gapers.html)
–Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, Gapers  (https://www.dfw.state.or.us/MRP/shellfish/bayclams/about_gapers.asp and bayclams/cleaning_gapers.asp)
–California Dept. of Fish & Wildlife (https://cdfwmarine.wordpress.com/2015/06/05/creature-feature-gaper-clams/)
–Sole soups, History of Clam Chowder (https://solesoups.com/2018/02/12/history-clam-chowder)
–Wikipedia, Tresus (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tresus)
–Mary Oliver quote (www.azquotes.com/quotes)

Beautiful but Deadly

An open field, scattered with tall spikes of red-purple, tubular flowers gently waving in the warm breeze. Hummingbirds flit stem to stem gathering nectar.

Foxglove (royalty free, Unsplash)

Downside? It can kill you.

What do you know about this beautiful and common, plant? Test your knowledge in this 10 question true or false quiz. Answers at the end.

True or False?

  1. Foxglove is native to western and southwestern Europe, western and central Asia, and northwestern Africa.  
  2. Foxglove flowers can be yellow.   
  3. A common name for this plant was ‘witch’s glove.’ 
  4. It takes two years to get a bloom.  
  5. Plants thrive on recently disturbed acidic soils.     
  6. All parts of the plant are poisonous to humans.   
  7. Inhaling the pollen can affect some people. 
  8. Wear gloves when collecting, handling fresh and dried materials. 
  9. Chemicals from Foxgloves are used for making heart medicine.   
  10. The chemicals from Foxgloves were thought to control seizures.

The Answers

If you said true to all of these statements, you were right!  Want to know more? Here are the backstories:

  1. Foxgloves are very common but not native to our area. They are native to parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa.
  2. Flowers can be purple, pink, fuchsia, white, and yellow. Breeders are working on new colors such as peach. Flowers can have various marks and spotting. Bloom color will change as flowers age.
  3. There were several common names for this plant (not all complementary) including: ‘witch’s glove’, ‘dead man’s bells’, and ‘fox’s glove’.
  4. Foxglove is a biennial plant, meaning it completes a full lifecycle (including reseeding) in two years.  
  5. Plants will routinely colonize disturbed areas, especially if the soil is a bit acid and well drained. Locations can include woodlands, sea-cliffs, mountain slopes, and open fields.
  6. Beautiful but deadly. All parts of this plant, fresh and dried, are poisonous. Even deer and rabbits will leave them alone. There have been cases where deadly foxglove leaves were confused with harmless comfrey leaves.
  7. Pollen can contain a tiny amount of digoxin which is a type of cardiac glycosides.  
  8. As a general rule, wear gloves when collecting, arranging, or cleaning up garden debris. Foxgloves were probably one of the plants that rule was made for as even a tiny bit of sap transferred from glove to shovel handle can be a problem.  
  9. Digoxin, extracted from several varieties of Foxglove is used to create medicines for congestive heart failure and seizures.
  10. Foxglove is no longer used for seizures. It is thought that Vincent van Gogh may have been influenced during his “Yellow Period” by digitalis therapy used to control seizures.  

REFERENCES:
–Better Homes and Gardens (https://www.bhg.com)
–Wikipedia, Foxglove (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digitalis)
Foxglove Flower Alert, Whats Cooking America (https://whatscookingamerica.net)
–Gardening Know How, Foxglove (https://www.gardeningknowhow.com)

USDA photo

Don’t let Poison Oak and other plants ruin a perfectly good outing.

It can only hurt you if you touch it, right? Not necessarily…. Here are a few tips for avoiding problems with Poison Oak.

Recognize the plant

Poison Oak is commonly found in Oregon and California as a shrub or vine that is up to 12-feet tall.

The old warning ‘leaves of three, let them be’ is still accurate. Note: there could be more than three leaves (like 5 or 7) and the leaves of every variety can look different.

Poison Oak is not a tree—it is a member of the cashew family with hairy under-leaves. The leaves are similar to the rounded lobes of Oregon white oak. Oregon white oaks does not have clumps of leaves in threes (or fives).

Understanding the danger

All parts of the oak are capable of exuding oil which can cause a rash on most individuals. 

The Center for Disease Control indicates that most people are sensitive to the poison oak sap and a tiny amount (equivalent to a grain of table salt) will cause 80-90 percent of adults to rash.

An oily plant sap chemical, urushiol triggers an allergic reaction. A reaction can occur within just a few hours.

Knowing how exposure occurs

Exposure can occur when brushing up against or damaging the plants like a pet may do. Urushiol does not affect pets.

Urushiol sap can easily transfer to other objects such as a tool, clothing, pet fur, shoes, and gloves.

Finally, smoke from a burning plant can be a problem. Sap in smoke can impact skin and nasal passages, throat, and lungs and potentially cause very serious allergic reactions. 

Recognizing the symptoms

The sap causes Contact dermatitis which is the swelling and irritation of the skin. The dermatitis may not show immediately in individuals who have not had previous contact.

Not everyone will be impacted by Poison Oak. Everyone, however, can spread the sap and contaminate others. 

Clean up carefully

Carefully wash fingernails to avoid further spread. Closely trim fingernails to minimize the damage caused by scratching (such as infection).

Wear gloves and use lukewarm water when cleaning surfaces. Use soap and cool water for pets and livestock. Even though pets and livestock do not get the rash, they can easily carry it.

Controlling the problem

The sap is quickly absorbed into the skin. Fast treatment (within 20-30 minutes of exposure) is critical. There are several products on the market that work well; some even come in wipes and handy pocket-sizes.

One particular product may not work for everyone or in every case. Be sure to include a variety of items in the First Aid kit including some of those products, antihistamines, oral corticosteroids, and more.

Symptoms may persist for three weeks before subsiding. Poison Oak is not contagious.

Call 911 as needed

Don’t let something like Poison oak ruin your outing. This article is not intended to share or provide medical advice or recommendations. It does share commonly experienced problems, tips and techniques. In other words: Been there. Had the itch. No fun.

REFERENCES:
–Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac at https://www.poison-ivy.org/pacific-poison-oak  check out the great plant identification poster
–U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Poisonous Plants.” July 7, 2016 at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/plants/
–Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife at https://www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/visitors/docs/Denman_WA_TrailGuide.pdf