The Quest for Enemion Flowers at Table Rock

Clackamas iris (Iris tenuis)

Yesterday (July 29), my husband Jim and I were invited to join Ed Alverson of the Nature Conservancy on a trip north to Table Rock Wilderness to meet up with Daniel Mosquin of the UBC Botanical Garden. I’ve been wanting to get Jim up to see Table Rock’s huge cliff for years, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to head up there with trained botanists, especially if I didn’t have to do the driving. Neither Ed nor Daniel had ever been to Table Rock either. Daniel, whom some of you may recognize from Botany Photo of the Day, was on a mission to photograph the rare Enemion hallii that grows there. He was down in Oregon on other business just for the weekend, so we were crossing our fingers that we could find it in bloom.

Last year (see Rock-hopping at Table Rock Wilderness), it was blooming beautifully on July 22. We were a week later on an even later-blooming year, and I’d seen it blooming well earlier in July on a drier year, so I had high hopes. I started to get a little nervous as we walked along the old road that now serves as the beginning of the trail. The Penstemon serrulatus that was blooming so profusely last year was just beginning. Are we still several weeks later than last year, already a late year? One bonus was that we found the last blooms of another, even rarer plant, Clackamas iris (Iris tenuis), which was completely finished on last year’s trip. This Oregon endemic is found almost entirely in Clackamas County. It reminded me a lot of some Iris japonica I have in my garden, with its wide leaves and spreading habit. It turns out it is the only western American species in the crested iris group (section Lophiris), which includes most of the prettiest irises in my garden including I. gracilipes, I. lacustris, I. cristata, as well as I. japonica. The rest are Asian or eastern North American, so Clackamas iris is a real anomaly.

Cute bumblebee enjoying the masses of little green flowers of devil's club (Oplopanax horridus)

It was a much longer drive for us, so we met Daniel on the trail at the talus slope looking for the Enemion where I’d told him I’d seen it, under the devil’s club on the talus slope. There was quite a bit, but, unfortunately, it was all just in bud. It’s a tricky plant to locate in this area. Not only is it hiding under the shrubs—and thorny ones at that—but its leaves look like a cross between columbine and bleeding heart, and both grow in the same area. We searched in vain for some white flowers that looked fuzzy from having so many stamens. The false bugbane (Trautvetteria caroliniensis) were just opening. There were some baneberries in bloom. Quite a few false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) were hiding under the shrubs. Was there anything that wasn’t white and fuzzy?!

I left Ed and Daniel to continue their search. Jim headed up to the summit for the fabulous view. My goal for the day was spend more time looking at the cliffs. The cool, north-facing rock is home to numerous wonderful species. There were five species of saxifrages, all at different stages of bloom. Micranthes (Saxifraga) rufidula was all done, Saxifraga cespitosa finishing, Saxifraga bronchialis starting, and Micranthes (Saxifraga) ferruginea and Saxifraga mertensiana were blooming. I was surprised to see the latter with the red bulbils always mentioned in the flora. While this is the norm over most of its range (I’ve heard), in the Western Cascades, it rarely ever has bulbils. There were a few lovely bronze bells (now Anticlea occidentalis) in bloom, some lingering Phlox diffusa, and some Arnica amplexicaulis and Packera (Senecio) bolanderi opening their yellow composite flowers as well.

The cool, usually shaded cliff has a wonderful variety of plants growing in the vertical joints and the little shelves that are formed when the rocks break off.

The base of the cliffs is also where the majority of gentians grow. These are stunning later in the season, but this year, that looks to be much later in August or into September. I’ve long wondered about the difference in habitat between these rock-loving Western Cascade plants and the typical bog-growing Gentiana calycosa described in the books. It looks like I may finally have the chance to make some progress on this question. Dr. Jim Pringle, a plant taxonomist at the Royal Botanical Gardens of Burlington, Ontario, is working on Gentianaceae treatment for the Flora of North America. He’s actually interested in my speculation that it may be something different, or perhaps it is in the process of separating itself from other Gentiana calycosa. He’s recently teamed up with Dr. Adrien Favre in Europe who is working on genetic studies of gentians. This is a wonderful case of different interests all converging in a mutually beneficial study. I’m going to collect and dry some leaves of different gentian populations in Oregon, including those High Cascade bog types, and send them off to Adrien for DNA extraction. Hopefully, we’ll find out something of interest, even if it doesn’t turn out to be as exciting as the discovery that ours are a different species. Whatever, I’m learning a lot, and that always makes me happy.

Daniel photographing Corydalis scouleri, a plant I'd never noticed here before.

We eventually all got back together and headed down the trail. Ed and Daniel hadn’t had any luck in finding any Enemion in bloom, so we stopped at some damp spots in the woods where there were more leaves. These were even farther behind, with only one or two early budded plants. While Daniel photographed the lovely Iris tenuis he’d missed on the way out, I listened to the adorable vocalizations of pikas on the nearby talus below the old road, and finally one appeared! We returned to the cars after our pleasant day, but there was no question it was rather disappointing not to have found what Daniel was looking for, especially knowing what a big deal it would be for him to come all the way back to Oregon from British Columbia later in the summer. But while we were packing our things back in the cars, Ed was still holding out hope and poking around nearby. Suddenly, what I’d hoped to hear all day—he’d found some! Just a couple of hundred feet down from the parking area, up on a damp spot on the road bank, he’d miraculously spotted three Enemion plants in perfect bloom!! I don’t know how he managed to see them up there. Although it was getting late, we all went up the bank with our cameras and got our photos. It couldn’t have been a more Hollywood ending. I wish every quest ended this well!

How much more beautiful these false rue-anemone (Enemion hallii) flowers looked after hours of searching!

One Response to “The Quest for Enemion Flowers at Table Rock”

  • Kelley Leonard:

    Tanya, Very exciting about the gentians! I am glad that you are getting some well deserved recognition for your work.

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