There’s something so exciting about being in the mountains when the first plants are emerging. Grasshopper Meadows is just bursting out with the first flowers after the snow has disappeared. Yesterday (June 14), Sabine and I had the privilege of witnessing its yearly rebirth. Just over a week ago, I caught a glimpse of Grasshopper Meadows as I crossed the bridge in Oakridge, and the upper half of the giant meadow was still white with snow. Now the snow is completely gone and has been replaced by thousands of western springbeauty (Claytonia lanceolata) and glacier lily (Erythronium grandiflorum). They are especially abundant along the upper edge of the meadow where the snow lingers the longest, but they can be seen within minutes of the trailhead. Other snowmelt species can be seen as well. In the lower meadows, turkey peas (Orogenia fusiformis) is blooming, and while the leaves of steer’s head (Dicentra uniflora) are present in many places throughout the meadow, the only fresh blossoms remaining are along the ridge.
Violets aren’t dependent on being under snow in the winter the way what I would call true snowmelt species are, but they are definitely among the earliest bloomers. Bakers’s violet (Viola bakeri) is more abundant at Grasshopper Meadows than anywhere else I’ve ever seen it. It hadn’t reached peak yet but was still quite impressive. I had been here on the same exact date in 2004, and the bloom cycle this year was at least a week, maybe more, behind that year when the meadow was lit up with yellow from the violets and Senecio integerrimus. There were a few Senecio in bud but not a single open flower to be found. In the woods, it was the equally bright yellow Viola glabella that was most common. Below the cliffs, Viola sheltonii was still blooming but starting to go over. SeveralViola orbiculata were in bloom along the ridge in the areas burned during the restoration several years ago.
Normally I find graminoids fairly easy to ignore, but acres of the yellow stamens of flowering Carex inops made this by far the commonest bloom of the day and hard to miss. In bloom along the edges of the meadow were many pretty Anemone lyallii. Another early bloomer I don’t see very often is Mertensia bella, and “bella” it is. The dainty bells are even a little bluer than its larger and more common cousin, tall bluebells (Mertensia paniculata). Oregon bluebells is found only in the central part of the Western Cascades and in the Siskiyous, so it is always a treat to see it. I’d seen it near the trailhead and a few other places at Grasshopper before, but it hadn’t been as abundant as the patch we found in full bloom at the edge of the blooming Sitka alders (Alnus viridis ssp. sinuata) at the lower end of the meadow where the creek flows down across the trail.
As lovely as the fresh bloom in the meadow was, my real goal for the day was to get down below the small cliff at the east edge of the meadow to see Dodecatheon pulchellum and continue my quest to compare and collect specimens from the few populations in the Western Cascades. On my June 14, 2004 trip, the lovely shooting stars were pretty much finished. There is a small window of opportunity to see these at this location because the southeast-facing cliff area melts out well before the meadows. I was pleased to find my timing perfect this year. A week or so later and they might have been done. A week or so earlier and I might not have been able to reach the cliffs across the snow. They were blooming well in the seepy area at the base of the cliff as well as in wet crevices in the rock. They did look nearly identical to the ones I’d seen at Cloverpatch and Deception Butte, with dark filaments. This population had more entire leaves, although some were still slightly toothed. With less snow buildup on the rocks, things were much farther along, and numerous other flowers were already in bloom here including Micranthes (Saxifraga) rufidula, Delphinium menziesii, Lithophragma parviflorum, Phlox diffusa, Castilleja hispida, and lots of little Collinsia parviflora. Growing among the saxifrages in the seep, Sabine spotted a number of the palest Orobanche uniflora either of us had ever seen.
The area below the cliff was like a whole different world compared to the open meadow above. While a cold wind whipped the upper part of the meadow, it was hot and fairly still among the rocks, and, although they are normally abundant up in the meadow, today this was the only place butterflies were willing to fly. While it still wasn’t a big butterfly day, we did see a female orangetip, several swallowtails and duskywings, and a gorgeous green hairstreak. I also witnessed a miniature drama as several ants struggled to drag a much larger dead leaf hopper straight up a steep rock. I couldn’t help but be impressed by such hard workers!