The Stars are Shining at Ikenick Creek

The pond in the northwest wetland was created by a beaver dam. Later in the summer, it is filled with aquatic plants.

The pond in the northwest wetland was created by a beaver dam. Later in the summer, it is filled with aquatic plants.

Sundews (Drosera rotundifolia) and starflowers. All we needed was a moonwort (Botrychium spp.) to complete the celestial theme.

Sundews (Drosera rotundifolia) and starflowers. All we needed was a moonwort (Botrychium spp.) to complete the celestial theme.

I had been to the wetlands along Ikenick Creek four times before, but it had always been late in the summer to see the interesting aquatics, so on Friday (June 7), Sabine Dutoit and Nancy Bray and I headed up to Linn County to see the early flowers. The wetlands are hidden away on the west side of Highway 126, just across the road from Clear Lake. In fact, the lovely clear water of the lake is fed by Ikenick Creek. The day before our trip, the Forest Service had apparently done a controlled burn nearby, and while we were there, many trucks were pumping water out of the creek where it crossed Forest Road 2672. We had to park a little farther away and listen to the pumping all day, but it was a small price to pay to explore a really interesting wetland.

Actually there are four wetlands in an area the Forest Service has designated as the Smith Ridge Special Wildlife Habitat Area. There are several more just outside this area, and all together they refer to them as the Smith Ridge wetland complex. I didn’t know this when I first noticed the intriguing set of wetlands on Google Earth. Smith Ridge is not named on the maps, and although it does drop off hard along the east edge where Hwy. 126 heads south, when you’re in it, the area appears to be basically flat, so it’s hard for me to start using that name now. Whatever you want to call this area, these wetlands contain a diverse collection of wetland habitats, including wet meadows, bogs, sedge marshes, shrublands, swampy woods, creeks, and small ponds. Navigating numerous beaver channels and sudden deep holes in the thick layer sphagnum bog makes exploration tricky, but on this trip, we managed to get everyone back to the car with dry feet (not always so in the past!).

Arctic starflowers can be distinguished from the more common woodland western starflower (T. latifolia) not only from their boggy habitat but by their smaller leaves, which aren't in a single whorl.

Arctic starflowers (Trientalis europaea) can be distinguished from the more common woodland western starflower (T. latifolia) not only by their boggy habitat but by their smaller leaves, which aren’t in a single whorl.

Without its bright yellow flowers, alpine meadow butterweed (Packera subnuda)

The pretty yellow flowers of alpine meadow butterweed (Packera subnuda), growing among the sundews.

On the way back from a weekend trip to the desert area around Bend last week, I had taken a quick peek at the northwest wetland to check on the arctic starflowers (Trientalis europaea ssp. arctica, formerly T. arctica). The main reason for spending a full day there was because they were indeed coming into bloom, and I rarely get to see this beauty as this appears to be as far south as it grows in the Cascades, although it does grow along the coast down into northern California. We started our day at the southwestern wetland, a very short ways through the forest off of Road 655. It didn’t take long to find their sparkling white flowers. We must have hit it at the perfect time for they covered every spot where the ground was slightly elevated. They especially seemed to favor the banks of the creek. I had no idea they were so abundant here. At the other southernmost Cascade site, at Gordon Meadows, they only seem to grow on a few mounds. I couldn’t help myself taking lots of photos of them, but their snow white flowers against the inky black of the creek made it challenging to get a good shot at the water’s edge.

Growing with the starflowers was a fittingly miniature sedge, which I believe is delicate sedge (Carex leptalea). Sundews and tinkers penny (Hypericum anagalloides) also love these mounds and created miniature gardens. The other abundant “star” of the wetland was mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi), which was everywhere not occupied by shrubs or open water. Along the edge of this long, narrow wetland, still hanging on, was its usual companion, marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala) and some lingering mountain buttercups (Ranunculus populago), a plant I usually think of as uncommon but one I’ve been running into a lot lately. Scattered about were the pale lavender blossoms of marsh violet (Viola palustris) and a few small white violets (V. macloskeyi).

We stopped for a roadblock on our short drive to the second wetland—over a dozen green commas puddling right in the middle of the road!

We had to stop for a roadblock on our short drive to the second wetland—over a dozen green commas puddling right in the middle of the road!

Bog buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata)

There must be some reason for the elaborately coifed petals of bog buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata).

This next wetland is much wider, and perhaps its less sheltered aspect might account for why the flowers were farther along here. At the first wetland, we had seen only buds of the uncommon alpine meadow butterweed (Packera subnuda formerly Senecio cymbalarioides) but here there were some in full bloom. The starflowers were less evident, finishing up apparently. Blooming by the pond’s edge were some of the unusually fringed blossoms of  bog buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata). As we carefully made our way across the wetland, we spotted more and more green bog orchids (Platanthera stricta), which were just barely started at the first wetland. Making our way through patches of bog huckleberries (Vaccinium uligonosum), we found an especially pretty area in the far northwest corner, where shooting stars, marsh marigolds, and buttercups still bloomed well. There were a number of blooming sedges as well, including what I believe is brown bog sedge (Carex buxbaumii). I absent-mindedly left the stalk I was going to bring back to ID on a log, but it had the distinctive glaucous foliage and striped bracts I’d seen elsewhere. It looked like it would be a good area to try to exit the wetland—unlike other spots I’d tried where I ran into thick willows and clustered roses (Rosa pisocarpa). As we entered the woods, we came to a lovely area of shady moisture lovers, including the particularly elegant clasping twisted stalk (Streptopus amplexifolius) coming into bloom. After finding our way back out to the road, we thought we were done, but there were a surprising number of species blooming in the wet ditch, including far more marsh violets than we’d seen in either wetland, and others, including tall bluebells (Mertensia paniculata), that we hadn’t seen at all yet. With so many different types of wet habitats, this really is a fascinating spot.

 

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