Successful Return to Groundhog’s North Cliff

This smooth douglasia (Douglasia laevigata), on the right side of this photo, clearly bloomed quite well, but, unfortunately for me, that was several weeks ago. It was growing in an exposed spot near the top of the cliff. Wolf Mountain can be seen not so far away in the top center of the photo. Fuji Mountain is behind it just to the left.

Ever since I discovered the most southerly population of Douglasia laevigata on Groundhog Mountain in the fall of 2010 (see Exciting Cliff at Groundhog Mountain), I’ve been wanting to get back to see the hidden cliff on the north end in bloom. The deep snow pack last year discouraged me from even trying, as the cliff plants would have been quite far along before the north-facing road melted out, and Douglasia is a very early bloomer. Two weeks ago I decided to give it a try, but, alas, I ran into snow before the turn onto Road 451 to Waterdog Lake, so I cut over to Moon Point instead (see Butterflies, Currants, Shooting Stars, and More). Yesterday (July 2), I was pretty confident I could get over to the west side of Groundhog, and I hoped that there might be at least of few flowers left on the Douglasia. Sabine Dutoit and Ingrid Ford and her sweet dog Bogy joined me.

Menzies’ delphinium and large-flowered blue-eyed Mary growing en masse along Road 451.

Sabine admires the wallflowers while Ingrid and Bogy head up the road.

There were only a few patches of snow along the road as we turned toward Waterdog Lake. I wanted to get to the cliff first, so we passed right by the lake without stopping. We couldn’t be as single-minded when we drove along the rocky, south-facing stretch past the large Little Groundhog Mountain meadow. The show of larkspur (Delphinium menziesii) and blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora) was just too pretty not to stop for a few photos. Despite a few rough spots in the road, we were able to drive around the corner to the west-facing side and parked a ways up at a bad spot in the road. I doubt anyone has driven around this side of the mountain in a while, as there are many rocks strewn along it in places. There are plenty of flowers to make it a nice walk, however. Plus, as a result of the large clearcuts on the lower slopes, there is a pretty grand view. We also saw quite a number of butterflies, especially what I’m guessing were hoary commas. They seemed to be appear every hundred feet or so—unless of course it was one butterfly following us! The road was lined with Ribes species (currants and gooseberries) in full bloom, including R. sanguineum, R. viscosissimum, R. binominatum, and R. cereum. Ribes lacustre was also present but not yet in bloom. Hoary comma caterpillars live on Ribes plants, so this area will probably be crawling with their spiny caterpillars in no time.

Many treasures are hidden by the trees in front of this cliff. I was only able to explore a small part of the base of this section.

After lunching at the north end of the road, Sabine and I headed through the masses of Ceanothus velutinous toward the cliff, leaving Ingrid and Bogy to relax and enjoy the view of the Diamond Peak, the Three Sisters, and even Mt. Jefferson. When we reached the rocky area, I struggled to find the Douglasia plant I had seen on the first trip. There were loads of things in full bloom. Castilleja rupicola, Castilleja hispida, Penstemon rupicola, Saxifraga bronchialis, Lomatium martindalei, and Valeriana scouleri were all abundant. There was also lots of red-leaved Sedum divergens, not yet in bloom. It was going to be hard to find the Douglasia among these if it was finished blooming. Then, there it was, right in front of me—going to seed. Oh well, at least I wasn’t imagining it. This plant was growing out in the sun at midday on a somewhat horizontal surface, so perhaps the ones on the vertical rock below would not be as far along.

We followed the edge to the left as it stepped downhill. I scanned the rocks behind us at each stop but could not tell if any of it might be Douglasia. We noticed a small plant with the narrow, brushy foliage of Phyllodoce. I had seen this on the first trip. But what a surprise—it had cream-colored flowers. It wasn’t the pink mountain heather that grows at the pond farther east down the road, it was actually the much less common yellow mountain heather (Phyllodoce glandulosa)! I had seen quite a bit of it growing on the cliffs of Fuji Mountain, which we could see 12 miles to the northeast. Its range is almost exclusively in a line down the High Cascades peaks. There is one even more unusual spot, however, on the cliffs above Twin Lakes in Douglas County. Discovering this uncommon plant here made me feel much better about missing the Douglasia bloom.

Heuchera merriamii and Phyllodoce glanduliflora growing in a shady, protected area of the cliff.

Sabine didn’t feel like heading down any farther, so I continued by myself down to the last visible level. I remembered having found Heuchera merriamii just below the top here and decided to relocate it. I climbed down a little to the side (there was a precipitous drop down the front!). There were several plants here along with a few small Minuartia rubella. Neither were in bloom yet. Although it was still steep, it seemed quite doable to head over to the base of the rocks on the previous tier where I could see a large patch of blooming Phyllodoce. There was soil here and small trees, not rock underfoot.

The fading flowers of Douglasia laevigata. The tinier leaves growing under on the bottom are those of Saxifraga bronchialis.

I made my way over carefully and collected a specimen of the Phyllodoce for the Herbarium in Corvallis. There was quite a bit of it here along the bottom of the rocks. From here I got a much better look at the plants on the vertical rock above me. Along with lots of Phyllodoce, there was a great deal of the Heuchera. And then another surprise—the little rounded leaves of Campanula rotundifolia! This is another uncommon plant (in Oregon that is—its range is circumboreal) that is relegated to north-facing cliffs this far south. I continued to scan this incredibly rich rock face when I spotted a little non-blooming Douglasia plant above me. I excitedly photographed it only to discover another plant, still in bloom, right in front of me! How had I missed that? I found four more small plants, including another still in bloom. If I was excited before, now I was ecstatic. I had succeeded in my main goal of the day. I still couldn’t see how large the population of Douglasia might be because it is so hard to identify at a distance out of bloom (especially with the similar tight green mats of Saxifraga bronchialis so abundant), but I imagine there is quite a bit more. Still, I didn’t take any specimens without being sure. My photos will have to do.

Western spring beauty (Claytonia lanceolata) gets a jump start on the season by melting a hole in the snow.

I headed back up to the road where my companions were patiently waiting for me. We strolled back along the road taking more photos of many flowers, including Polemonium californicum, Phlox diffusa, and Mertensia paniculata. We noticed a cliff up on top of the ridge that I hadn’t seen before. Through the binoculars, lots of red dots of Castilleja could be seen along with some large green mats that might be more Heuchera merriamii. Guess I’ll have to add a climb up there to my to do list. After we returned to the car, we made one last stop to see what was up at Waterdog Lake. There were still patches of snow, and the lake is quite full. The little depressions around the meadow were also full. At the back of the meadow, the first snowmelt species, Erythronium grandiflorum and Claytonia lanceolata were in glorious bloom, and even farther back, they were just emerging. It’s such a beautiful time to be there, I could barely stand to leave. There is so much to see in the area near Groundhog Mountain, I can hardly wait to go back to explore some more.

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2 Responses to “Successful Return to Groundhog’s North Cliff”

  • Kris:

    Another informative and enjoyable article and pictures. The scenery in your pictures looks a lot like the scenery in the mountains in SW Washington.

  • Sabine Dutoit:

    Super post, Tanya. I think we ought to rename that place, Tanya Pointe, or some exotic designation. Sabine

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