NPSO Trip to Nevergo Meadow and Elk Camp

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A male Sara orangetip, unusually still because of the cool, cloudy conditions early in the day.

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A tiny spider makes its home between the lovely spikelets of nodding semaphore grass (Pleuropogon retrofractus).

Yesterday, June 29, 13 NPSO members and friends headed up to Nevergo Meadow to look at wetland plants and whatever else we could find. I had been wanting to bring people to see this little known area since I first visited it. I thought it would make a really great place to botanize without having to do too much hiking or worrying about anyone getting lost. After a short stop along the road near the Saddleblanket wetlands, we parked our cars along the road by Nevergo Meadow. The rarest plant here is Umpqua frasera (Frasera umpquaensis), and the population at Nevergo Meadow is the northernmost one in its limited range, which reaches only as far as southwestern Oregon. Our first destination was to see this population, hopefully in bloom. We headed down through the meadow, which was now filled with much taller vegetation than it was for my trip in May (see Early Blooming at Elk Camp and Nevergo Meadow). On the way down, we were all quite taken with a large area of nodding semaphore grass (Pleuropogon retrofractus). This is a tall, attractive grass with graceful, dangling spikelets. I’d admired it here in the past. Never had I seen it looking so beautiful, however. We had arrived just as it was in perfect bloom, with both the fuzzy, white stigmas and large, red-violet stamens in evidence. It was suggested they would make lovely earrings. As a designer and occasional jewelry maker, they certainly were inspiring. Several us were determined to get photos, but even the slightest breeze kept them moving. Since grasses are wind-pollinated, this makes sense, but it was still frustrating trying to capture the details of their delicate beauty.

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Umpqua frasera in bloom at Nevergo Meadow

I was so pleased to discover we had also timed it perfectly for the bloom of the frasera—and that there were a great many in bloom, along with many more non-blooming clumps. Later on, we checked out the population at the Elk Camp shelter meadow and found they were blooming well, too. Last year, only one plant bloomed at Elk Camp and very few at Nevergo Meadow. What makes these plants bloom—or not? Perhaps it was the amount of moisture or some other condition the previous winter. Or maybe it takes a while to build up enough nutrients to produce one of these large inflorescences, and an individual plant can only do this every few years. Back when I was the editor of the NPSO Bulletin, there were several articles I remember reading about Frasera umpquaensis. Rereading one from the December issue of 2003 (see Effects of the Biscuit Fire on Umpqua swertia (Frasera umpquaensis), I discovered a partial answer to this question, “Data from previous years reveal an alternating flowering schedule, with many reproductive stalks produced every other year.” Speculation aside, I’m very glad they look so healthy this year because last year I was worried the populations were not very healthy here at the edge of their range.

The group at Nevergo Meadow, Left to Right:

Most of the group at Nevergo Meadow, left to right: Jake, Sabine, Kristy, me (always with the camera bag around my waist), Ernst, Joyce, Charlene, Marcia (mostly hidden), Kate, John, and Rob. Bredan must have been out of sight. Photo by Dave Predeek (also out of sight!).

After lunching at Nevergo Meadow, we set off up the road on a short stroll toward Elk Camp. We spent a while looking at all the flowers alongside spur road 226, which runs between the wetland and a drier meadow. There were still lots of the pretty, peach great polemonium (Polemonium carneum) flowers, which were just starting on my last trip. Some beautiful patches of western columbine (Aquilegia formosa) were attracting our photographers but surprisingly no hummingbirds. When John Koenig and I were here last July 11 (see Insects and Flowers at Saddleblanket and Elk Camp Wetlands), we were thrilled by the masses of night-blooming morning glory (Calystegia atriplicifolia ssp. atriplicifolia), Alice’s fleabane (Erigeron aliceae), and especially Columbia lily (Lilium columbianum). All three of these species were just beginning to flower, making this area’s bloom less than two weeks ahead of last year. Many other places I’ve been to recently have been 3 weeks or more ahead of last year. The relative lack of snowpack was especially dramatic farther south, and some plants were more affected than others, so it has been difficult to predict when things will be out this summer.

clodius parnassian

A gorgeous clodius parnassian, perhaps newly hatched. You can see the translucence of his wings.

Greenish blues can be identified by the small dark bar on the upper forewing. They are common in wetlands because their caterpillars eat clovers.

A good diagnostic for Greenish blues is the small dark bar in the center of the upper forewing.

It was still mostly cloudy and quite cool as we walked along the road. A silver lining to this was that, while there weren’t many butterflies out yet, those that were out were moving fairly slow and spending more time than usual sitting still—like me they were anxiously waiting for the clouds to lift. This meant we got a great view of some of these favorite insects. One particularly cooperative butterfly, a male clodius parnassian, stayed quite still for long enough for most everyone to look at and photograph it. This is probably my favorite butterfly species, and this individual was one of the most beautiful I’d ever seen. He was far more yellow than others I’ve photographed. Typically, they are white to slightly cream. With his bright coloring, perfect wings, and still manner, we wondered if perhaps he had just hatched. What luck to be there at that particular moment! When we arrived at the Elk Camp meadow, the skies were starting to clear and the butterflies were more active. There seemed to be a great many greenish blues. We had seen some earlier at Nevergo as well. They are common in wetlands because their caterpillars eat clovers. The uncommon Howell’s clover (Trifolium howellii) was abundant and just starting to bloom at Nevergo Meadow. At Elk Camp, there was only the common wetland perennial, long-stalked clover (T. longipes), but my guess is that is its usual host plant because I see both the butterfly and the clover at most wetlands in the Western Cascades. I also got a good look at quite a few meadow (also known as Pacific) fritillaries, a western tailed blue, and a Sara orangetip. Oddly, I don’t remember seeing any dragonflies, but we saw an odd narrow-winged moth I’ve seen in other wetlands.

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The beautiful white flowers of Nevada lewisia are only open for part of the day. The small rosette of narrow, fleshy leaves can be very hard to spot without the presence of a flower.

Not long after we reached the wet meadow at Elk Camp, Sabine called me over to identify what she had found: lewisias—not one but two species! They were growing side by side in a patch of open dirt not far from the large willow thicket. Sabine is especially adept at spotting unusual plants—one of the many reasons I always enjoy and value her company. The first species, threeleaf lewisia (L. triphylla) is not terribly uncommon, but it was definitely new to the list. As a very early bloomer, it was long over. The other species I figured was Nevada lewisia (Lewisia nevadensis). I rarely see this, so I was very pleased. There was only one plant, and it too was finished blooming. We wandered around the area trying to find more plants but to no avail. People started going their own way exploring the wet meadow. Not as colorful as last month, the main show of color was from a nice sweep of common camas (Camassia quamash). I had missed the bloom of this last year. I headed over to the corner where the frasera grew. On the way, I noticed quite a bit of Idaho blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium idahoense) in bloom—another addition to the plant list. After checking on the frasera, I spotted the bright white flower of a Nevada lewisia—they were actually blooming! I’d hardly ever seen them in bloom. I believe that is because they usually close up by around noon, and I rarely get an early enough start to see them still open. Perhaps the clouds had kept them open today because it was about 2pm at this point, but it was only now getting quite sunny. Whatever the reason, I was very excited. And it made them a lot easier to spot. Several others helped me look for them. We found at least 6 more in bloom and more closed up or finished. That certainly made my day. I hope everyone else in the group found something that they enjoyed as much. Thanks to all who participated!

One Response to “NPSO Trip to Nevergo Meadow and Elk Camp”

  • Sabine Dutoit:

    Wow, wow and double wow. Thanks for the kudos. This has to be one of the most successful field trips ever. A magic day. The picture of the parnassian needs to be enlarged and framed. It is exquisite. I love these road trips. We always find new things. Sabine

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