First Day of Spring!

First day of spring and first post of 2014! It sure didn’t feel like the first day of spring when I got up on Friday (March 21) to 29°, frost, and fog. The weather forecast said it was going to be sunny and warm later in the day, but I dressed in 3 layers of clothing just in case. John Koenig and I then headed off for my favorite early spring site: Hills Creek Reservoir and Road 21. I’ve written about this wonderful roadside route many times (see other posts here). It is always so nice to see old friends—I meant the flowers and locations, but that goes for John too!

Sierra gooseberry (Ribes roezlii) in full bloom above the reservoir. It is abundant along the cliffs and rocky areas here.

Sierra gooseberry (Ribes roezlii) in full bloom above the reservoir. It is abundant along the cliffs and rocky areas here.

As we hoped, we drove out of the fog into clear, sunny skies when we reached the reservoir. It was quite chilly, however, and neither of us took off our heavy coats until much later in the day. We made a number of stops along the cliffs on the west side of the reservoir and were surprised to see a Moss’s elfin butterfly on the wing. According to the thermometer in the car, it was only 48° outside and felt colder than that with the wind chill. Moss’s elfins are one of the earliest butterflies to emerge in the spring. Some other early fliers overwinter as adults, but these little elfins overwinter as chrysalises, so they must be well adapted to cold temperatures. I didn’t get close enough to take a good photo as I didn’t want to disturb it too much when it needed to sit still and warm up.

Crocidium multicaule

Gold stars are still not fully awake at 10am

Our favorite early spring wildflower here is gold stars (Crocidium multicaule). It was out in large numbers, but it wasn’t as showy as I had often seen it. Once we got out of the car, we could see that was because they weren’t fully open yet. Their rocky ledges were just coming into the sun, and—like me—these beautiful little flowers aren’t early risers. Not only do they nod in bud, but every night they nod off. I wonder if this is to protect them from the rain, which is so common this time of year. It is interesting to note how all the plants are tipped in the same direction. It fascinates me how some plants have adapted to react to sunlight or the lack of it. We speculated on the mechanisms that might allow them to “move”. It probably has something to do with changes in turgidity from the heat of the sunlight hitting the plant, but that sort of science is way over my head. As we checked out other spots along the cliffs, we noticed more and more fully open flower heads adding much cheer to the cliffs.

After leaving the reservoir cliffs, we stopped for lunch at what used to be called Young’s Flat Picnic Area. I was surprised to see a brand new sign with the name Everage Flat Industrial Camp. Another sign explained it was now named in honor of Bob Everage, who spent many years here as an unofficial campground host until he died last year. I’m sorry I never met the man in my many stops at this site. He clearly knew a lot about the area after over 20 years of taking care of the site. The spot is of special interest to me because of the large population of two uncommon orchids: Piperia transversa and P. elongata. We wandered around looking at the newly emerged leaves. Thankfully all the use this camp has gotten has not adversely affected the plants (see Hills Creek to Hills Peak for photos of the late-blooming flowers).

Left) The odd-looking cotyledon leaves of Clarkia rhomboidea. Right) A young plant showing the Coleus-like spring coloring.

Left) The odd-looking cotyledon leaves of Clarkia rhomboidea. Right) A young plant showing the Coleus-like spring coloring.

Our next stop along Road 21 just west of Campers Flat is a spot my friends and I dubbed Ladybug Rock a few years back when we found a swarm of ladybugs on this prominent roadside outcrop. No ladybugs this time, but the warm, south-facing rock also attracts butterflies, and we saw at least one blue, a mourning cloak, and one or more green commas. Sometimes it is hard to tell if it is just the same butterfly moving around a lot. We also saw more commas elsewhere. That sure made it seem like spring, even if there was still a bit of chill in the air. I like looking for seedlings at this spot because a number of annuals grow on the road bank, and having seen them in bloom, I can match the seedlings to the plants I’ve seen before. Among the little seedlings on the roadbank were the telltale bowling-pin-like cotyledons of Clarkia rhomboidea. This is the only Clarkia species I’ve seen at this spot. We noticed much bigger plants at the base of the rock. No doubt the extra heat of the rock gave these a head start. The striking burgundy veining on the leaves was quite evident in these larger plants. I’ve studied this plant in a number of areas and have seen this numerous times. The red fades as the plants age, so that by the time they bloom, there is no sign of this coloration anywhere but in the stems. It is an unusual coloration that I have never seen mentioned for this species in any of the flora.

Oregon fawnlily leaves seem to develop their typical mottling as they age. Note the smallest leaves are solid light green

Oregon fawn-lily leaves seem to develop their typical mottling as they age. Note the smallest leaves are solid light green. Slightly larger leaves show some markings, while the largest leaves show the boldest coloration

Shelton's violet (Viola sheltonii) blooming under some oaks at Big Pine Opening. Note the red-backed upper petals.

Shelton’s violet (Viola sheltonii) blooming under some oaks at Big Pine Opening. Note the red-backed upper petals.

The Middle Fork of the Willamette rushes by just across the road from the rock. There is also a charming little side channel we explored for a little while. John had never smelled the unusual fragrance of coltsfoot (Petasites frigidus), which reminds me of Vicks Vapor Rub. It was blooming in the creek, allowing us a good view of its robust root system running among the river rocks. Also of interest was the abundance of Oregon fawn-lilies (Erythronium oregonum) under the nearby conifers. We were too early for flowers, alas, but I was able to photograph the leaf coloration, supporting my theory that the leaves of seedlings are solid green and develop mottling as they age. I would like to see if this is true with other mottled species like E. hendersonii in southern Oregon. Has anyone else noticed this?

We also stopped at Big Pine Opening, Mutton Meadow, and Rigdon Meadow. Other species in bloom included Ribes roezlii, Lomatium hallii, Nemophila pedunculata, Viola sheltonii, Synthyris reniformis, Lysichiton americanus, Draba verna, and the tiny sandweed (Athysanus pusillus). It still quite early for most plants, but the flower season has officially begun!

One Response to “First Day of Spring!”

  • Kareen Sturgeon:

    Hi Tanya. Please add me to your mailing list. K.
    PS Hope to see you at the annual meeting!

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