Searching for Erythronium at Hemlock Lake

Ed Alverson recently contacted me about looking for Klamath fawn lily (Erythronium klamathense) as close to Eugene as possible. There’s an historic record from the Bohemia/Fairview area, but no one has relocated that population, nor are there any other Lane County locations for this southern montane species. Unbeknownst to either of us, we had both been contacted by the same researcher in Romania who is doing some DNA studies on the genus and had been asked to collected samples. Hopefully he’ll be happy that we got duplicates of some of the species. So although I had already collected some E. klamathense when I was down at Grizzly Peak (see Spring Comes Exceptionally Early to Grizzly Peak), Ed still wanted to see it as did John Koenig, so on Friday (May 30), we headed down to Hemlock Lake in Douglas County, the northernmost site I’ve seen it growing.

Great polemonium (Polemonium carneum) looking great! The way the pretty creamy flowers fade to peach and eventually pink adds to their beauty.

Great polemonium (Polemonium carneum) looking great! The way the pretty creamy flowers fade to peach and eventually pink adds to their beauty.

On June 6, 2006, I’d seen tons of it at Hemlock Lake, blooming next to melting snowbanks along with numerous other snowmelt species. We were a week earlier than that, but with the lack of snow in the mountains this winter, that looked like it wasn’t going to be early enough. I was quite surprised at how far along things were when we arrived at the lake. It certainly didn’t seem like it was still May. We headed out on the trail, going counter-clockwise around the long 6- to 7- mile loop, starting out in the meadow nearest the campground. The great camas (Camassia leichtlinii var. suksdorfii) was in bloom, although at noon (it’s a long drive and we had made some stops to see wonderful flowers blooming in the serpentine along Little River Road in Glide), the fresh flowers weren’t actually open. Woodland phlox (Phlox adsurgens) was blooming well along one edge of the meadow. We continued on through a series of meadows, some with wet areas still showing a decent display of marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala) and mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi), although much farther along than I had been seeing them recently. I kept my eye open for interesting willows, but most of the many thickets were entirely Sitka willow (Salix sitchensis). We did find several spots where some other willows were mixed in. Sadly there were no signs of flowers, but from the leaves they appear to be Booth’s willow. I haven’t found many really good willow spots in Douglas County, so I was pleased to find them, even if they weren’t flowering.

Holly fern (Polystichum lonchitis) is usually easy to differentiate from the common sword fern (P. munitum) by the small, triangular pinnnae at the base of the fronds, but sometimes it is not as clear cut as that. Ed pointed out to us that holly fern fiddleheads are coiled in a circle (left)

Holly fern (Polystichum lonchitis) (center) is usually easy to differentiate from the common sword fern (P. munitum) by the small, triangular pinnnae at the base of the fronds, but sometimes it is not as clear cut as that. Ed pointed out to us that holly fern fiddleheads are coiled in a circle (left), while sword ferns emerge looking like a shepherd’s crook (right).

The trail starts to switchback uphill through the woods at one point. I remembered seeing some of the uncommon holly fern (Polystichum lonchitis) here. At each switchback I thought I would see it again. My companions were doubting my memory when we turned again and again without seeing it. But thankfully for my credibility, there it was just before the last switchback connected with the side trail to Flat Rock. Ed is an expert in ferns as well as Erythronium, so I was pleased to get a new tip on how to separate them from the sometimes similar sword fern (Polystichum munitum). One thing I love about botanizing is that I never fail to learn something new every day. There were actually some mosquitoes in the woods, so we went out into the open at the beginning of the Flat Rock trail to eat lunch but were seriously distracted by the most floriferous patch of great polemonium (Polemonium carneum) I’ve ever seen and all had to take turns photographing them before actually getting around to eating.

Fresh Klamath fawn lilies (Erythronium klamathense) overshadowing little turkey peas (Orogenia fusiformis), another very early bloomer.

Fresh Klamath fawn lilies (Erythronium klamathense) overshadowing little turkey peas (Orogenia fusiformis), another very early bloomer.

While I had managed to come up with the ferns I promised, I was getting quite worried I wouldn’t be able to deliver on the Erythroniums. When planning the trip, I had been sure we would find at least some lingering snow banks as, even though it was farther south, the elevations were at least as high as where I had been recently and still seen some snow. We spent quite a while looking for a last fading flower in Yellow Jacket Glade, the largest of the meadows along the trail, but to no avail. In 2006, this area was blanketed with both Klamath fawn lilies and glacier lilies  (E. grandiflorum), but all had gone to seed already this year. Another goal of the day for me was to try to relocate a population of swamp red currant (Ribes triste) that had been collected and photographed somewhere in the area 20 years ago. Mildred Thiele, the woman who found it, and one of an amazing group of four avid amateur botanists in Douglas County, has since passed away, and without more specific location data and such a large area to explore, it was a fool’s errand, and although we did see blooming currants everywhere, including Ribes viscossissimum, R. sanguineum, R. binominatum, R. lacustre, and R. lobbii, I never found the one I was looking for.

Ed among the Klamath fawn lilies (Erythronium klamathense)

Success at last! Ed among dozens of Klamath fawn lilies (Erythronium klamathense)

We had just a few more meadows before the trailed turned and went through different habitat. I was still hopeful, but my confidence was slipping. Finally, however, we reached the highest and last of the meadows. I was so relieved when I saw some bare ground where the plants hadn’t filled in yet, and pale dots sticking up. Yes—there were our Erythroniums! What a relief—my job as guide was done! While there was no snow left, it obviously hadn’t been gone that long, and along with hundreds of little Klamath fawn lilies, some still in bud along the shady edges, there were glacier lilies, turkey peas (Orogenia fusiformis), and western springbeauty (Claytonia lanceolata). I also found a few leaves of steer’s head (Dicentra uniflora), but no flowers or even seeds remained of this last of the typical Cascade snowmelt species.

Sara orangetip caterpillar and adult female

If it is lucky, the teeny caterpillar on the upper left might eventually grow up to look like the pretty female Sara orangetip on the right. She is sipping from what I believe is meadow rockcress (Boechera [Arabis] pratincola). Clearly this species is also a host plant for the caterpillars. It seems like host plants make good nectar plants for the same butterfly species quite often. Perhaps there is a connection. Certainly it is convenient to be able to eat while laying eggs!


After completing our mission, I felt much more relaxed and was able to pay more attention to all the other flowers along the trail. I had also seen a small patch of Oregon fawn lilies on that trip in early 2006, and was able to relocate it, still blooming pretty. As had I, Ed found it unusual to see these growing so high as they tend to be more common at lower elevations. But lots of plants are able to extend their range to higher elevations as you go south, presumably because it is warmer and drier overall and more like their lower elevation sites. When the trail reaches a road, I usually follow the road until it rejoins the trail because I find the road has plants not seen elsewhere on the trail. And I was happy we did that this trip as well because we came to several thick patches of a blooming rockcress that looked very much like the ones I’ve been finding in the Calapooyas, which seem to be either Boechera acutina or pratincola. After careful study today, I think this is the latter species, but they are very similar. Everywhere along the road, Sara orangetips had been teasing me by alighting on flowers only long enough for me to point the camera but not to get in focus. Several were visiting the rockcress flowers, and when I collected a few of the plants to press for the OSU Herbarium, we discovered there were some teeny, tiny caterpillars on them. Consulting the great book, Life Histories of Cascade Butterflies, it turned out they were in fact first instar (newly hatched) orangetip caterpillars, something I’d never seen! So all in all, it was a great day.

One Response to “Searching for Erythronium at Hemlock Lake”

  • “One thing I love about botanizing is that I never fail to learn something new every day.” This is the reason I started writing BiotaBits….seems like there is a mystery around all of nature’s corners that is tied to everything else waiting to be discovered!

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