Further Exploration in the Calapooyas

Brickellia blooming along Road 5851

I just can’t stay away from the Calapooya Mountains. There are so many interesting rocky areas and wetlands, and I want to see them all. So yesterday (September 4), I headed back along my usual route up Coal Creek Road 2133, but this time I went all the way past Bradley Lake to the end of Road 5451 where it deadends at the south trailhead for Bristow Prairie. When John Koenig and I went to Loletta Peak and Bradley Lake back in July (see Mystery Bedstraw Blooming in Calapooyas), we took a quick spin down the road at the very end of the day. Seeing another cliff and talus slope and several meadow and wetland areas, we decided it was definitely worth a return trip. Exploring this area was my main goal yesterday.

It's tricky getting berries off the end of the branch!

The road to Bradley Lake is in fine shape except for one spot that is very wavy from being washed out. It is no problem as long as you drive really slowly. There is a nice rocky spot here with loads of Erigeron cascadensis (in seed right now). Going so slow, I noticed a patch of rayless yellow composites and pulled over. It was Arnica discoidea still in good bloom. Neither rayless arnica is common in the Western Cascades, but this one I’ve only seen a few times, so I was very pleased. After photographing it for a while, I poked around the roadside outcrop and small talus slope. I heard but did not see a pika, but I was able to watch several golden-mantled ground squirrels. It must be the time of year when the babies get curious because it seemed that several of them were pretty young and running around quite a bit. An adult was busy trying to get some of the red elderberries on a large shrub growing out of the rock. At one point, when I wasn’t looking, I heard a crash of sorts. It appeared as though he or she had slipped off the branch. It was quite amusing watching all this activity.

Brickellia's common name tasselflower comes from the long style branches that protrude from the florets.

I had intended to go all the way to the end of the road first and work my way back, but some pale flowers blooming in the rocks below the cliff area made me jump out of the car immediately. I recognized it right away as Brickellia grandiflora, known variously as large-flowered tasselflower or thoroughwort or tasselflower brickellbush, a rare plant in Oregon. Charlene Simpson had told me that she and others had seen it on a trip somewhere near Bradley Lake in the ’90s, so I had been on the look out for it for the last couple of years. Apparently, this is the only place it grows in western Oregon. And it was in perfect bloom—how lucky! It appeared that all the plants were growing in this talus slope made up of very large rocks. I could see none on the cliff itself, and after touring the wetland on the downslope side of the road, I climbed up very similar large rocks to return to the road and, strangely, saw none growing in those rocks. The only two plants not growing on the cliff side were right along the road. I can’t imagine why they hadn’t spread to the other side of the road. There were well over 50 plants, maybe as many as 100, apparently a healthy population with many presumably young, smaller plants coming on. The largest plant was almost 4 feet wide. Brickellia reminds me a lot of pink-flowered Ageratina occidentalis, another composite with only disk florets, only its cream-colored flowers hang down. It too has somewhat triangular toothed leaves, grows in rockpiles, and looks like a shrub but is actually herbaceous. It turns out both were once considered to be part of the genus Eupatorium, so I’m not the only one to notice this similarity. In fact, there was a little Ageratina growing in the same area and much more on the small cliffs closer to Bradley Lake. I think it might be hard to distinguish them earlier in the year out of bloom. Also growing among the boulders were fruiting cascara (Rhamnus purshiana) and mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii), quite surprisingly the latter was still in full bloom sending out its heavenly fragrance.

A honeybee, bumblebee, fritillary, and skipper (partly hidden) share a meal at the aster café.

The wetland below was pleasant, but there was nothing as exciting as the Brickellia. I did find Gentianopsis simplex blooming along the edge of a very small creek on the uphill side. Gentianopsis seems to prefer being up on a slight mound of moss, especially along the banks of small creeks. There was more as I went up the hill as well. While it likes it wet, it prefers the extra drainage being lifted up a few inches allows. It is always fascinating to me how many microclimates there are in a wetland. There was also another boggy spot along the road bank a little to the north with more Gentianopsis and some pretty Kyhosia bolanderi still blooming. The main thing blooming everywhere was asters, mainly Eucephalus foliaceus, I believe. This was drawing all the butterflies. I saw many fritillaries, some end-of-the-season tattered blues, one sulphur, one parnassian, and at least a few mariposa, Edith’s, and purplish or lilac-bordered coppers. I don’t know where all the pine whites were hiding, they’re usually common this time of year.

After exploring the wetland and studying the Brickellia, I decided to see what was up on and above the cliff. I climbed up through the woods and walked up the ridge. I could see a lot of Luina hypoleuca on the cliffs themselves. As I continued higher, it became a little more open and rocky with many buckwheats and sedum but nothing unusual. I was hoping to find more of some of the wonderful plants from Loletta Peak and Balm Mountain. It got steeper, and I had trouble deciding which way to go. I didn’t want to give up without knowing what was at the top, nor could I face going back down the way I’d come up. When I finally reached the top, only about 500′ above the road, I felt like I must have been the only person stupid enough to go up there. Of course, this wasn’t true, as evidenced by a candy wrapper and plastic bag. I was just the only one stupid enough to go that way. I headed down via the south side not knowing if it was going to be better or even worse, and luckily, it was much, much easier. On the way down, I came across another open rocky area with an obvious seep. It even had a little Spiranthes romanzoffia blooming in it. That looked like it merited a return trip next July. When I reached the road again, I popped out at a gravelly road bank covered with Phlox diffusa. It must have been gorgeous in the spring.

Hidden seep above Road 5851

With a few hours left until I had to head home, I decided to “dash” up Loletta Peak to see if there was any Stephanomeria lactucina in bloom and to collect some seeds. After climbing up one steep slope already, my knees were not happy about this decision. They were definitely voting for a short, level walk in another wetland. But they managed to get me to the top in a half hour. Lots of things like Castilleja pruinosa and Penstemon rupicola had good ripe seed. The lowest area of Stephanomeria was already in seed, and the upper ones were finished blooming. Despite the numerous buds I’d seen last month, it looked like there hadn’t been a very good bloom. Maybe I’ll catch it next year. There’s always something to look forward to!

One Response to “Further Exploration in the Calapooyas”

  • Blanche Douma:

    I just spent nearly an hour this morning,exploring your site for the first time. All of your superb pictures of flowers, butterflies, and gorgeous Oregon scenery – Wow! Thank you for what you do, Tanya. I also admire your jewelry creations. You certainly are multi-talented. Blessings to you.

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