Planting Edmonds: Meet Aplo, a mountain beaver

Planting Edmonds’ is a monthly column written by members of Edmonds Floretum Garden Club

Greetings! This is Rachel the Roving Reporter. Today for all you gardeners and curious mammal spotters I will be interviewing a rarely seen local inhabitant: the mountain beaver.  Our guest today goes by the name Aplo, short for Aplodontia rufa.

Aplo getting ready for interview.

Q:  So Aplo, how are you doing today?

A:   I’m here, aren’t I? Someone caught me in a double door live-trap and dragged me here. I protest. I am not a social creature. Friends? None. Extended family? None that I know about. Females with benefits? Bah, only good for mating then sayonara. After that it is back to my bachelor burrow.

Q: Your reputation as a notorious, irascible rodent precedes you. Given your last answer, as a foretaste, would you please expand on how you got such a bad rep?

A: Is it bad? I like it. Since I have been known to nip humans on the heels (yuck), interactions with humans are rare. Also, how would you like to be called Rachel, the canyon chimp? I am related to squirrels, not beavers. My affinity is for woody brushy hillsides and moist ravines, not mountains. As for bad-tempered… how would you like to know your nearest neighbor is identical to your 40,000-year-old relatives? Evolve? Ha.

This is a beaver – note the tail.

Q: Besides your unpleasant personality, are there any other characteristics you’d like our readers to know?

A: Not to brag but I am host to an exceptionally large flea. Otherwise my eyesight is almost non-existent, and my kidneys function poorly. Because of my kidneys I have to eat two-thirds of my body weight every day and be restricted to a vegetarian diet. And no, I don’t need access to free water, but the sound of a nearby stream is soothing.

Q:  Speaking of diet, what exactly do you eat?

A: You name it, I eat it. Some of my favorites are skunk cabbage, salal, foxglove, stinging nettle, sword and bracken ferns, thistle and various seedlings. Oh, include rhododendrons and fir in that list. I’ve heard that some of these plants are toxic to other animals. Good, more food for me.

Q: For our uninformed reader, could you please describe yourself?

A: Well, insults include comments such as neckless, beady-eyed, lightweight and drab. At 2.3 pounds and 13.5 inches long, I consider my height/weight proportional. A 1-inch tail is better than that of many dogs, and my 2-inch-long feet keep me steady on the slopes.

More than adequate tail and feet.

If grey-red fur is considered drab, who cares? I can barely see it.

Q: It has been claimed you climb trees. Is this true? Do you have favorites?

A: Yes. In fact, as I climb. I cut off small limbs for later snacking and descend on the resulting stub-ladder. Aspen, vine maple, willow, red alder, cascara, and hemlock are a few favorites. I won’t turn down an apple tree. Their roots and bark (hence, girdling) are very tasty. Often, I’ll leave my burrow for a nearby recently replanted slope and eat my fill – which is a LOT of vegetation.

Q: You are quite loquacious for a curmudgeon. Would you please describe your burrows, but please leave out the architectural details.

A: Rumor has it I start with about one-quarter to one-half acres of land, according to the old codger MB, 7 years of age I’ve been told. Having to burrow and create 10-30 exit holes requires a long life. My nest chamber (aka bachelor den) is 1-5 feet deep, 24 inches in diameter and lined with aged fern fronds and some softer vegetation. I do not hibernate, but I do sleep well.

Get a load of that nose…

Q: What is the deepest tunnel in your burrow?

A: About 9 feet in soft soil. Then there are the dead-end tunnels for excrement and food. No, not the same tunnels. I may seem unfastidious but in fact I am quite tidy.

Partial view of tunnel system.

Q: Finally, our gardeners would like to know if there is any way to keep you away from their property?

A:  Just try it. Move to a desert? Move away from the western side of the Cascades? Herbicides might work if you want dead plants. Or you could bring in more predators such as coyotes, skunks and eagles. Although the last coyote I saw said it preferred small pets that are not fed a vegetarian diet. Never see skunks here except flat on roads. Lately I have tried climbing some small tress that had a collar or guard around the trunk. Got a headache and no tasty limbs.

Frankly, if you have a congenial thermal habitat, lots of small-diameter woody material and soft soil I will come calling if my den is not too far away. I don’t like large open spaces.

Besides, if you succeed and I do vacate the premises there is no guarantee some other mammal won’t move into my old home.

One of the few visible exits.

Q: Any final comments for our readers?

A: Leave me alone. If I become endangered, you will NEVER get rid of me….

Thank you, readers.  I hope you learned something new about our elusive cohabitants.  There are YouTubevideos, but most photos are of beavers.  

— By Mary Monfort

Mary Monfort is a well-known Edmonds gardener, certified native plant steward, and backyard wildlife specialist.  She is an active member of multiple Northwest gardening organizations, helped establish the native plant demonstration garden, and has opened her own garden for the Edmonds in Bloom Garden Tour twice. In an earlier life she was a seismologist and helped build water trails. As an avid arts advocate, Mary has served on the Edmonds Art Commission and is currently on the board of the Edmonds Arts Festival Foundation. She manages the small EAFF gallery in the Frances Anderson center.

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Follow-up to Val Taylor’s April article on dahlias:

In the spring, I wrote about how to grow dahlias. Right now, while they are still blooming is the time to be cutting and arranging them. To extend their vase life, drop them into hot water. Adding floral food also adds vase life, and if you pull off all the lower leaves you won’t have to change the water daily.

After the plants die back and before they freeze, you dig, divide, and store the tubers. Here is a video from White Farms on how to store them for the winter:

In short:

  • Dig up the whole plant.
  • Cut the stalk to 4–6″ tall, rinse the soil off the tubers, and allow the clump to air dry undercover for 24 hours.
  • If stored as a clump, you may divide them in the spring before planting. The eyes will be more visible, but the tuber will be harder to cut.
  • Use a sharp knife to cut the tubers apart, try to cut so that each tuber or clump you segregate has at least one eye (a dormant bud). Only tubers with an eye will grow stems.

Cut between the two visible eyes. Let air dry in a cool, dark space and then store in a paper bag and mist once a month to keep tuber from shriveling or wrap in food storage wrap.

I only divide my dahlias every two to three years. I leave them in the ground and cover first with foil, then a piece of cardboard (round pieces from pizzas work great) and then cover with mulch. I put a rock or garden art on top to remind me it’s there and keep critters out. Dahlias are well worth the effort, and you get new tubers every year.

— By Val Taylor

  1. This was great! I love Rachel the Roving Reporter. Alpo was very funny. Laughed all thru this. It was also very interesting and informative. Dahlias are beautiful. I haven’t planted those in years. I did have a raised bed full of them but switched it to an Herb Garden. I think I will get some new tubers in the spring. They were so good for vases. I had forgotten. Thank you to all. How about more of these Interview Rachel the Roving Reporter with other animals and such in our area? Very fun.

  2. Delightful! I learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed getting acquainted with this native curmudgeon. Thank you, Mary Monfort, for starting my day with so much fun.

  3. 100% agree with Deborah. Loved this story and so well written. Thanks Mary for sharing with us. Fun it is!
    PS I learned a lot

  4. Haha! Such a creative and enjoyable read! Thanks immensely, Mary!
    PS Like Irene, I learned a lot, too.

  5. Whimsical and folksy interview with Alpo. Nicely done in an engaging style for a description that could be completely boring. thanks.

  6. I learned something new today! As we clear ivy and other non-native species from Edmonds Parks, park stewards frequently encounter large, obviously occupied burrows. My fellow stewards assured me “mountain beaver” was the inhabitant, but I was skeptical this was not a mythical creature. Finally, looking up Mountain Beaver Edmonds brought me to this fascinating article. So now I know that Aplo is real, not very friendly, and digs a lot of burrows in our wonderful parks. So far, we have not had any direct encounters with Aplo, or his kin. May it ever be so.

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