Spring Comes Exceptionally Early to Grizzly Peak

A few spring whitlow grass (Draba verna) are hardly noticeable, but en masse they are quite pretty.

A few spring whitlow grass (Draba verna) are hardly noticeable, but en masse they are quite pretty.

Last Tuesday (April 15), I went down to southern Oregon for a quick but rewarding trip. Almost every year, I’ve gone down in mid-April to shop at a fantastic rock garden plant sale put on by one of the NARGS members in the area. Sadly, this is going to be her last sale, so I didn’t want to miss the chance to buy some more gems for my rock garden (many to replace those that didn’t make it through the tough winter). I was also in luck that a quilting store in Ashland was just starting their going-out-of-business sale, so I was able to stock up on batik fabric for my new-found creative passion, quilting. I always get in as much botanizing as I can squeeze into two days while I’m in the area, but I never expected I would have the opportunity to get up to Grizzly Peak so early in the year. With the trailhead  at 5200′ and the peak—such as it is—at 5900′, it is usually covered with snow in April, but from what I hear, there has been almost snow in the area, and they’ve missed much of the rain we’ve had farther north in February and March.

The second time I ever went to Grizzly Peak was on May 15, 2009. That was not one of the late snow years we had a spate of around then (2008, 2010, 2011, 2012), so that was what you might call a “normal” year. The plants were almost exactly the same on this trip as then—exactly a month apart. I also compared photos of  Mt. McLoughlin taken from the trailhead on both trips. The snow levels were remarkably similar, with maybe even a little more snow in 2009. And there was barely any sign of snow along the trail this time. This does not bode well for the rest of the flower season in the area, but it was great for me since I was down there anyway.

Erythronium klamathense

Klamath fawnlily (Erythronium klamathense) has unmottled leaves and white tepals with large, sunny yellow bases.

Probably the highlight of early spring on Grizzly Peak is seeing Klamath fawnlily (Erythronium klamathense). It grows in a number of more or less rocky spots along the trail. I hit it just right, with flowers in some areas still opening up and others showing the normally white flowers fading to pink. I doubt there is an ugly species of Erythronium, but this is certainly one of my favorites. Maybe it is because I so rarely get to see it. It only grows at higher elevations well to the south of where I live. In addition to Grizzly Peak, it seems common in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide (see Abbott Butte in Glorious Bloom) and also can be seen growing alongside glacier lily (E. grandiflorum) at Hemlock Lake in Douglas County. Snowmelt species such as these are tricky to catch in bloom because the roads to the sites are often still snowed in even after the flowers have begun to bloom in spots, especially if the roads traverse the north side of a slope. And even if the snow has melted, there may still be trees blocking the roads until the nice folks who carry chain saws get out and clear the winter debris.

Yellow bells (Fritillaria pudica) grows in many rocky areas along the trail.

Yellow bells (Fritillaria pudica) grows in many rocky areas along the trail.

Henderson's lomatium is normally found in eastern Oregon.

Henderson’s lomatium is normally found in eastern Oregon.

Another early blooming plant I rarely see is the adorable yellow bells (Fritillaria pudica). This is an east-side plant that is not normally found in the Cascades. Most of my previous photos were taken in the Columbia Gorge. These have smaller flowers of solid yellow, but they have the same diminutive stature of my favorite Siskiyou fritillary (F. glauca). Because of its location at the intersection of the Cascades and  the Siskiyous, and its proximity to eastern Oregon, there are a number of rare or unusual species on Grizzly Peak. One of these, Henderson’s lomatium (Lomatium hendersonii), was in perfect bloom in two different areas along the southwest end of the ridge. It reminds me a lot of Hall’s lomatium (L. hallii) with its bright yellow flowers and low stature, but there are subtle differences in the leaves and flowers, and apparently the main distinction in the Jepson key is that Henderson’s has a thick tuber rather than an elongated taproot. That’s a pretty useless identifying feature in the field, however. Another lomatium blooming in the same sites was large-fruited lomatium (Lomatium macrocarpum) with its soft yellow flowers and gorgeous gray-green foliage. Other flowers already in bloom included turkey-peas (Orogenia fusiformis), Sierra sanicle (Sanicula graveolens), smooth prairie-star (Lithophragma glabrum), yellow prairie violet (Viola bakeri), and snow queen (Synthyris reniformis).

The west end of the mountain burned badly in 2002. Many wildflowers have taken advantage of the more open landscape, and some plants have appeared that were not evident before the fire.

The west end of the mountain burned badly in 2002. Many wildflowers have taken advantage of the more open landscape, and some plants have appeared that were not evident before the fire.

As the name implies, scale pod is most known for its interesting pods.

As the name implies, scale pod is most known for its interesting pods.

There’s a damp section in the burned area that, in spite of the post-apocalyptic appearance of the surroundings, is worth a closer look. Along with sheets of tiny, white-flowered spring whitlow grass (Draba verna), there were many tangled mats of scalepod (Idahoa scapigera). It too has tiny white flowers, but these are hard to spot. The conspicuous feature of this little plant is its pods, which are spotted now, but after the seeds are gone they will be translucent and make the plant look like a miniature annual honesty or money plant (Lunaria annua). Dwarf hesperochiron (Hesperochiron pumilis) also grows abundantly in this area, something I hadn’t realized before, but, alas, I couldn’t find a single one of its large white flowers, although many of the buds looked like they would pop open soon. Both of these early season species are usually found east of the Cascades, so I’m always excited to see them.

Once I reached the western end of the loop, where it looks out over Ashland and the valley, the wind really started to whip up. It made me realize it really was April at almost 6000’—cold! My pace picked up as I headed around to the south side to the unofficial side path that leads through a beautiful rock garden with a fabulous view of Mount Shasta. While the wind eased up, the flowers were a little disappointing with far fewer Klamath fawnlilies than I’d seen earlier on the hike and far fewer than back in 2009. But considering most years it would be hard for me to get here so early, I still feel really lucky I was able to see Grizzly Peak’s very first flowers of the season, and I look forward to getting back at least once more this season.

 

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