Early Blooming at Elk Camp and Nevergo Meadow

Mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi and marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala)

Mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) and marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala) put on a great show at the Elk Camp meadow. Note how similar this photo is to one I took here last year on June 10.

shooting star flowers go through a number of changes as they bloom. Buds start out upright, then bend over. The flower petals start out forward, then they flip back. This makes it easier for bees to do "buzz pollination" where they hang on the style and their buzzing shakes the pollen onto them.

Shooting star flowers go through a number of changes as they bloom. Buds start out upright, then bend over. The flower petals and sepals start out forward, then they flip back. This makes it easier for bees to do “buzz pollination” where they hang on the style, and their buzzing shakes the pollen onto them. Mountain shooting star has flower parts in 5s, long styles, and glandular pedicels.

With the mountains melting out fast, it is time to go willow hunting in earnest, so on Tuesday, May 20, I headed up to the wetlands at Elk Camp, Nevergo Meadow, and Saddleblanket Mountain. As it turns out, this is the exact date I went to Nevergo last year (see Wetland Bloom Starts with a Bang Near Elk Camp Shelter). Last year I was stopped by snow across the road just at the trailhead for Elk Camp and didn’t bother to go into the meadow, being quite satisfied with everything blooming at Nevergo Meadow a quarter mile earlier. This year, there were just a few very small patches of snow in the ditches. The plants were a little farther along but still quite beautiful and fresh. In fact, they were almost as far along as they were on June 10, last year (see Back to Elk Camp Shelter—Not Once But Twice). The skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) was especially noticeable as being ahead of last year. All three locations had beautiful shows of marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala) at peak bloom with Mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) just coming on. Along the drier edges of the meadows were lots of the gorgeous blue Oregon bluebells (Mertensia bella). At the edges where the last snow had melted there were still plenty of glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum). Along the roadside were blooming Lyall’s anemone (Anemone lyallii) and round-leaved violet (Viola orbiculata).

A very friendly and beautiful frog.

A very friendly and beautiful frog.

Umpqua frasera sending up some flower stalks

Umpqua frasera sending up some flower stalks

I’m going to be leading a field trip for NPSO to this area on June 29 (e-mail me if you’re interested in coming along), so in addition to making sure the roads were clear and thinking about where to park cars and such, I wanted to see what might be of interest in another month. The rarest plant here is the endemic Umpqua frasera (Frasera umpquaensis). This is the most northerly site for this unusual perennial, and the Forest Service has been monitoring it here for some time. I thought I ought to check on it as well. Since most of the herbaceous plants were still pretty short and the shrubs were mostly still bare, it was much easier to see the large green rosettes of the frasera in the section of Nevergo Meadow that I had first looked at it much later last year. Now I could see it was a good-sized population. What was more reassuring was that many of the them were starting to send up a central flower stalk. When I looked at them at Elk Camp last year, there was only one plant in bloom, so it didn’t seem that the population was going to reproduce very well. At Elk Camp this year, however, there were also numerous buds appearing. Was it something about the different, wetter weather this year? Or maybe the plants were browsed last year. I put a few bare branches around several plants as a deterrent. I’m hoping we’ll get to see at least some of the frasera in bloom on the field trip. The timing looks like it will be good.

Left: Sierra willow in bud. Perhaps these fuzzy, plump buds might be called "bunny willows" instead of pussy willows!

Left: Sierra willow in bud. Perhaps these fuzzy, plump buds might be called “bunny willows” instead of pussy willows! Right: Female flower of what I believe is Booth’s willow with beautiful raspberry-colored styles. The long hairs on these early leaves disappear by maturity.

Of course, the other plants I especially wanted to look at were the willows. The female Sierra willow (Salix eastwoodiae) were just perfect. There were no males in bloom, but there were a number of catkins still in bud on some plants, and I think those might have been the males, which I did see blooming there last year. The more plentiful Geyer’s willows (S. geyeriana) were also blooming well, although I didn’t notice any female flowers. The nearby thicket of Booth’s willow (S. boothii) was also coming into bloom. At Nevergo Meadow, Sitka willow (S. sitchensis) was fading and Pacific willow (S. lasiandra) was leafing out and had a few early buds. It is the latest bloomer of our Western Cascades willows. My short trip into the wetland below Saddleblanket Mountain was rather disappointing as my main goal was to see the odd willow there in bloom. Based on the leaves, both John Koenig and I concluded it was most likely  arroyo willow (S. lasiolepis). That’s a precocious bloomer (flowers before the leaves come out), so I knew I had to get there as early as possible in the spring. Turns out with the low snowpack this year, I could have gotten up earlier, but even so, there should have been some sign of old flowers or seed capsules, and I could find none. Perhaps this population never blooms, or maybe the plants are all male, and the flowers really did drop off and disappear a while ago. Another mystery still to solve, I guess.

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