Park Creek Coming Into Bloom

Last year, when Mark Turner was looking for places to photograph shrubs for his upcoming Shrubs of the Pacific Northwest book, I suggested he visit the Park Creek Basin near Three Pyramids. There are lots of interesting shrubs growing within a short distance of the roadside. Not only was he successful photographing the shrubs he was looking for, he also discovered a very rare one: Ribes triste, known as swamp red currant or wild red currant. I located the plants later in the summer (see Rare Currrant at Park Creek), but was anxious to see them in bloom. I also wanted to see the flowers of some odd little willows I’d found on that trip.

Snow remains on Three Pyramids beyond Park Creek.

I decided to head up there on Wednesday (June 6). Sabine accompanied me. I was concerned about the timing, as I hadn’t been that far north yet this year, and there’s no telling where the snow level is in a cool spring like this. Last year, Mark saw them in perfect bloom on June 23, but in 2011 we were about a month behind “normal”. It’s been cool and damp this spring but not as extreme as last year, so I figured I might hit it right. I used to be quite good at figuring out when a particular plant might be in bloom, based on spring weather, winter snowpack, and past experience at a variety of locations. But the last few years, the nasty springs had really thrown off my phenology radar. It seems I might be back in business—my timing was perfect!

Bluefly honeysuckle (Lonicera caerulea) blooms so early, most people miss seeing its pretty cream flowers.

The cranes were enjoying the lush, shrubby habitat along the creek.

We made a few stops along the first stretch of Lava Lake Meadow Road 2067. There were patches of snow on the left, north-facing sides of the road, but thankfully otherwise the road was clear. There were huckleberries and several different willows blooming in the wet ditches along the road. Marsh marigolds (Caltha leptosepala) were beginning to bloom along with the very first shooting stars (Dodecatheon jeffreyi). Before you get to the bridge, there is a gated off road to the left that shortly crosses the main creek. While there admiring the first blooming bluefly honeysuckle (Lonicera caerulea), highbush cranberry (Viburnum edule), and bog birch (Betula glandulosa), Sabine was excitedly trying to get me to see some wildlife—a pair of sandhill cranes! Perhaps they were grumpy about our presence because they started conversing in their strange, crackling voice that sounds so primitive it makes me want to look around for dinosaurs. As great as the plants were, that had to be the highlight of the day. I sometimes hear them flying over my house in the fall, but I hardly ever see cranes up close on the ground. We watched them for a while but finally decided to let them have their privacy.

Click here to hear the cranes’ conversation.

What I think is Mackenzie’s willow (Salix prolixa). Male flowers are on the left, female on the right.

Next we stopped at the odd little opening along the main Road 560 just past the first bridge (Be careful around here, some of the roads seem to have the same numbers—at one time they must have looped around and connected. We’d already passed another road 560 just a mile or so from Hwy 22). This looks manmade, surrounded as it is by berms. The little 2–4′ willows I’d seen last year were in perfect bloom and so pretty. The male flowers had cherry red anthers, the females had red styles. The branches and bud scales were also red—quite showy by willow standards. I struggled to key them out at home, but with the help of Barbara Wilson of the Carex Working Group, I now believe they are Salix prolixa. I’d admired the lovely red-suffused flowers of this species along Amazon Creek in Eugene, but those plants were probably three times of the size of the little ones here. I attended a willow workshop put on by the Carex Working Group in April at OSU, so I’m excited to get back to learning more about willows. They are so tricky. These ones showed no sign of the stipules or glaucous leaves mentioned in the keys, but the photo I took at this spot last August showed quite prominent stipules and very pale undersides to the leaves. If I wasn’t sure there was only one type of willow in this small spot, I’d never have thought these were the same plants. I want to see them again in a few weeks to how they look as they develop from the very early to later stages.

A more northern species, Ribes triste is quite rare in Oregon. If anyone sees this plant, please let me know!

Finally on to the main goal of the trip, we stopped at the second bridge along Road 560. It only took a few minutes to find the Ribes triste. It was also in perfect bloom. What a relief. It has really pretty dangles of flat, deep red flowers. The plants are wrapped around old trunks and under trees and shrubs, neither creeping nor erect. They seem to prefer a bit of shade. After relocating most of the plants I saw last year, we wanted to cross the creek to see if there were more on the other side. No chance this time of year. The water was quite deep and very cold, although I did spot one Ribes triste on the far side of the creek with my binoculars.

Currant flowers, like this Ribes triste, have very small petals. It’s the sepals that are the most prominent part of the flower.

We went back to the bridge and tried to follow along the other side from there. This was a maze of channels with tricky holes with water rushing under the seemingly firm ground. We decided to postpone exploring this part for another trip. We did see lots of skunk cabbage in bloom, some oddly growing right in the rushing water. Usually it seems to prefer slow-moving streams. There were also pretty buttercups (Ranunculus populago), both marsh and early blue violets (Viola palustris and V. adunca), and some early Suksdorf’s paintbrush (Castilleja suksdorfii). Lots of pretty Oregon windflower (Anemone oregana) in various shades of pink, white, and lavender graces the drier areas. So much to see even during this first wave of flowers. I look forward to returning several times this summer.

One Response to “Park Creek Coming Into Bloom”

  • Kris:

    What a beautiful setting you were in, and the cranes are a special treat. In a way you did see some dinosaurs, at least if you go along with the paleontologists who call birds dinosaurs. I know what you mean though. I sometimes look around for dinosaurs, even when there aren’t any cranes or other birds around. I guess the dinosaur lover in me hopes that one will poke its nose out of the bushes one of these days. If so, I hope it’s a T-Rex, or a Spinosaurus, that isn’t hungry. :)

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