Specialties of the North Umpqua

Kalmiopsis fragrans growing within sight of Bohemia Mountain in Lane County (still with some snow on top!)

I just went on my first overnight camping trip of the year (June 26, 27). While I can do some areas of the North Umpqua in Douglas County on a long day trip, it is tedious spending that much time driving, and there isn’t much time left for exploring when I get there. So, as often as I can stand it, I go on short one or two night trips to get farther afield. Any more than that and I can’t keep track of everything I’ve seen and it takes too much time going through my photos and plant lists when I return. For this trip, I wanted to explore the area near Steamboat and along the Lane and Douglas county borders. There are a number of wonderful plants in Douglas County that have rarely, if ever, been found just north in Lane County. It seems like a worthy challenge to discover some of these on “our” side of the county line.

The chief specialty of this area, and one of the rarest and most revered plants in Oregon, is kalmiopsis, named for its flowers’ resemblance to Kalmia (mountain and bog laurel, for example). Its name is used for the Native Plant Society of Oregon’s yearly journal. There are two species, both found nowhere outside of Oregon. The more famous is Kalmiopsis leachiana, namesake of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness in the Siskiyous. The species found in Douglas County is now known as Kalmiopsis fragrans. Its leaves are indeed aromatic, the undersides being covered with small glands. This stunning, low-growing shrub clings to shaded outcroppings of a specific porous rock that has a distinctive purplish color—like it has had blackberry juice spilled on it. I’ve heard it referred to as tuffaceous rock, but I know zip about geology. The higher sites I know of were in full perfect bloom (for its protection, locations are not posted publicly!). This plant is tantalizingly close to Lane County—only about 7 miles from the border—but has never been discovered outside of eastern Douglas County.

The stunning marbled ginger (Asarum marmoratum)

Another very special plant of this area is Asarum marmoratum. This wild ginger has gorgeous marbled leaves. I was surprised to find it on the roadside at Redman’s Tooth, an interesting set of pillar rocks that pop out of a densely shrubby ridge. I didn’t see the gingers at first but might have run over them in my car. I’ve seen it mostly in rocky woods, sometimes growing with the far more common long-tailed wild ginger (A. caudatum). There is one historic record of it growing on Bohemia Mountain in Lane County (see OFP Atlas map), but I don’t know that anyone has seen it north of Douglas County in my lifetime. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll find some in Lane County one of these days. The silver lining of global warming might be that these southerners will be able to move north.

The second day, after a pleasant stay at the Steamboat Falls Campground where I met three adorable basenji dogs, I drove up Road 3818 to Homestead Ridge to see what I might find. Within a half a mile, there was a very large floriferous meadow sloping down to the road. It was filled with showy tarweed (Madia elegans) and other pretty annuals, as well as bulbs like blue ookow (Dichelostemma congestum) and white hyacinth cluster-lily (Triteleia hyacinthina). I climbed up a ways and then followed an animal trail into a smaller opening. There I saw a brand new plant—always a thrill—snowy thistle (Cirsium occidentale). I recognized the cobwebby and spiny involucres from photos. I didn’t realize it was so attractive. It’s mainly a southern species, so this was farther north than the majority of Oregon records (see OFP Atlas map).

Snowy thistle (Cirsium occidentale). This small population had gorgeous silvery foliage.

I continued up this road for quite a ways, heading north into Lane County, pleased that it was mostly paved. When I hit the partly open ridge top, I stopped where some rocks were covered with blooming Sedum spathulifolium. I could see McKinley Rock, my next destination, on the other side of Steamboat Creek. I climbed up the bank, thinking it looked open on the other side. I found a small opening with many manzanitas and blooming Calochortus tolmiei. But my real excitement was a large area of the groundcovering Mahala mat (Ceanothus prostratus). Normally found in the Siskiyous, its range takes it up the east side of the Cascades, only rarely appearing in the southern part of the Western Cascades. Oddly, it grows extensively at Bearbones Mountain, 6 miles to the north, and there is one plant on the Youngs Rock trail. So this would be the third site in Lane County, albeit only a mile and a half from the border. While checking Google Earth after I returned home, I discovered there was a much larger opening just a short ways away but surrounded by trees, unfortunately preventing me from seeing it from the road. This seems worth checking in the future.

Knobcone pines (Pinus attenuata) germinate after a fire, but die after other trees reestablish.

After lunch, I went off to try to get to another new area, this time on the west side of Steamboat Creek, largely unexplored by me up until now. I’d never even heard of McKinley Rock until this spring when someone mentioned it, but there’s a large sign for it along Steamboat Rd 38 that I’d never noticed before. It took me up Cedar Creek Road 3821. Having a name seemed promising, but the grass growing in the middle of the gravel road had me just a tad discouraged about my chances of reaching the trailhead. Although I had to move a number of small rocks, I made it no problem, stopping at a trailhead sign 6 miles up. Although steep in parts, it was a pleasant mile to the rock along a narrow ridge through an attractive open forest with many large sugar pines and blooming rhododendrons. The rock itself is quite impressive—almost 200′ tall in places. But other than some lovely patches of blooming Penstemon rupicola, it was relatively devoid of plants. Some rocks just don’t provide enough cracks for plants to get their roots in. What did fascinate me, however, were several piles of cones on the ground. After passing over the first without paying much attention, I realized that these were dead knobcone pine cones. Since they are attached directly to the larger branches, they are noticeably lopsided. I probably wouldn’t have realized what they were if I hadn’t had a good lesson in knobcones from Molly Juillerat (see Knobcone Pines on Bear Mountain Meadows) when we explored the Bear Mountain meadows. After climbing up to the steep ridge behind the rock, I headed back, now looking carefully for more evidence of dead pines. I found several more dead ones, and at last a live one with cones still hanging on top of the tree. This solved my dilemma about whether to list a plant that was there but only dead (of course I had to make a plant list!). Unlike the ones at Bear Mountain, this one was growing straight up, more like a sugar pine. It probably won’t survive much longer as it was completely surrounded by other trees. But if this ridge burns again—so many in this area have burned in the last few years—the knobcones will rise again.

 

 

 

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