Butterflies and More at Potter Mountain and Road 2154

Three checkerspot butterflies delight in the abundance of coyote mint (Monardella odoratissima) on the rocky ridge just above Road 2154.

Three checkerspot butterflies delight in the abundance of coyote mint (Monardella odoratissima) on the rocky ridge just above Road 2154, although one had a quick taste of northern buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum) before returning to the coyote mint.

Although it had only been 9 days since I’d been to Potter Mountain with my rock garden friends (see NARGS Campout Day 3: Potter Mountain), when John Koenig expressed interest in going to Potter Mountain, I was anxious to go back. This was a new spot for John, and I wanted to look for more plants of the California stickseed (Hackelia californica) and do some more exploring along Road 2154 between Potter and Staley Creek Road 2134 that we travel to get up there. We had a beautiful clear day on June 30. Although it was still hot (what a wretchedly long heat wave!), it wasn’t as bad as it had been, and most of what we did wasn’t too taxing for a warm day.

A lovely Clodius parnassian on coyote mint

A lovely Clodius parnassian sipping on coyote mint

I wanted to get the uphill part out of the way first—the short but steep climb up to the ridge at Potter Mountain—but there were so many butterflies along the road that we had to stop several times. While the coyote mint (Monardella odoratissima) hadn’t really started yet on my last trip, now it was in glorious full bloom and could be found growing in several spots along the side of the road. This has to be the best butterfly plant I know, and there were a number of species partaking of its presumably delicious nectar. We saw lots of Clodius parnassians—they’ve been everywhere lately—as well as at least a couple of species of checkerspots, pale and tiger swallowtails, orange sulphurs, various blues, and a few western whites.

 

Th e Bunker Hill Complex fire burning north of Lemolo Lake. It had been burning for 4 days.

The Bunker Hill Complex fire in late morning, burning north of Lemolo Lake. It had been active for 4 days.

Tearing ourselves away from the roadside flowers and butterflies with the promise of more time for that later in the day, we headed to Potter Mountain. When we parked the truck for our hike, we noticed a forest fire not all that far away to the east-southeast. Neither of us had been aware of any fires in the area. We figured it might be around Lemolo Lake, and indeed it was just a little north of the lake, maybe 7 miles away from our location. We found out later it was called the Bunker Hill Complex and had started a few days before from lightning. By the time we returned to the truck, it seemed to have grown quite a bit, but we didn’t see any activity of helicopters or planes in the air until we left when one small plane headed over there. As I write this, the Bunker Hill Complex is almost fully contained and only covers 388 acres. I’m glad it didn’t spread farther north up into the Calapooyas!

Leafy fleabane (Erigeron foliosus) with coyote mint and creamy stonecrop.

Leafy fleabane (Erigeron foliosus) with coyote mint and creamy stonecrop.

Potter Mountain was also covered with coyote mint now, and the combination of soft purples from the coyote mint and leafy fleabane (Erigeron foliosus var. confinis) and the creamy and bright yellows of creamy stonecrop (Sedum oregonense) and sulphur and marum-leaved buckwheats (Eriogonum umbellatum and E. marifolium) was quite beautiful. The warm sunny day brought lots of butterflies out here as well. It helped that the types of flowers in bloom were just the kind best suited for these gorgeous insects. They are all more or less flat-topped for easy footing and have multiple small flowers in compact heads for efficient nectaring. I could have spent all day photographing butterflies, but the rocky habitat of Potter is not condusive to chasing flying insects that have the advantage of not having to worry about loose footing or steep slopes.

John and I both really want to get a geologist and a lichenologist to come up to Potter Mountain some time to teach us more about these fascinating subjects we're not well versed in. These rocks are breaking into thin, slightly curved plates before spilling down the slope. The standing ones are covered with a black lichen John thinks is rock wool (Pseudoephebe pubescens). If I had a couple of more lifetimes, I would love to learn all about lichens!

John and I would love to get both a geologist and a lichenologist to come up to Potter Mountain some time to teach us more about these fascinating subjects we’re not well versed in. These rocks are breaking into thin, slightly curved plates before spilling down the slope. The standing ones are covered with a black lichen John thinks is rock wool (Pseudoephebe pubescens). If only I had a couple of more lifetimes, I would love to learn all about lichens!

A close up of California stickseed’s barbed nutlets—a very effective method of seed dispersal!

After admiring the views along the ridge, gorgeous rock formations, and the fascinating lichens on the craggy rocks, we decided we were up to exploring a bit more, so we headed north along the ridge to the place I had found the helicopter landing spot on my first trip here a month earlier. There was more coyote mint and sulphur buckwheat and more butterflies. The view north was great, and we couldn’t help looking out at the rocks farther along the ridge. We had studied the far rocky spot from the road, and it really looked like it would only take a similar short bushwhack with relatively little elevation change, but from where we were, it sure looked like there was a steep downhill. In any case, we were getting a bit overheated to attempt it, and we wanted to spend more time exploring the roadside, so we postponed getting to the end of the ridge for another, cooler day. On the way out, it had seemed to take longer than I remembered, but, as we figured, it really wasn’t very far and seemed very quick on the way back to the main rock and then back to the truck.

Kelloggia (Kelloggia galioides) has tiny tubular flowers with 4, 5, or even 6 lobes. The fuzzy ovaries are similar to those of its relatives bedstraws )Galium spp.)

Kelloggia (Kelloggia galioides) has tiny tubular flowers with 4, 5, or even 6 lobes. The fuzzy ovaries are similar to those of its relatives bedstraws (Galium spp.)

Heading back west, we were thrilled to see a small bear run across the road. There was no mom behind him, so hopefully he was trying to catch up with her. Our first main stop was to study the California stickseed. We had stopped there for a short time on the way out, and John had quickly seen that there were many more plants down the slope below the road bank. We clambered down to where they were. There were at least 50 plants, so I collected some stems for the OSU Herbarium. They were still blooming well, but some plants were forming the nasty hooked nutlets so characteristic of the genus and that give them their common name, stickseed. You have to admire such a clever way of dispersing seeds, even if it is an annoyingly time-consuming task pulling them out of your shoes and clothes. Growing along the top of the bank were very large blooming patches of Kelloggia galioides, named for its resemblence to bedstraw (Galium spp.), also in the coffee family (Rubiaceae). We don’t see this delicate species that often, so it was a pleasant surprise. There were also a great many gorgeously scented Cascade lilies blooming along the road here. Chanel No. 5 has nothing on their heavenly fragrance.

A painted lady on coyote mint

This pretty painted lady also enjoyed the coyote mint.

You can see how low this rose is growing below John's feet. At the end of the day, the birds were quite active and distracting him from botanizing!

You can see how low this rose is growing below John’s feet. At the end of the day, the birds were quite active and distracting him from botanizing! We saw a beautiful western tanager and some lazuli buntings.

Each time I had driven back from Potter, I’d been curious about the rocky areas just above the road, so this time, we decided to check them out. Road 2154 pretty much rides along the crest of the Calapooyas here. It turns out the open ridge goes on for a half mile just above the north side of the road. We started at one end and followed it along past loads of coyote mint, buckwheat, and other flowers we’d seen during the day. The butterflies were so plentiful, I lost track of John after a while. He’d gone all the way to the end and had to take me back there to see a population of unusual dwarf roses he’d found at the other end. They were growing 1–2′ tall in some shady spots, but out in the open, they were less than a foot tall, mingling with the coyote mint and sulphur buckwheat. They looked very much like ground rose (Rosa spithamea), which does grow in a few spots at lower elevation near Road 21, but that species has conspicuous glands on the hips, and this one was definitely glabrous. I took a few stems home to study, but it looks like our mystery rose will not be that easy to identify. It seems to resemble Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana) in most of its features, but I’ve never seen Nootka rose creeping on the ground. It is, however, supposed to be a variable species.

The mystery rose growing on the ground. The red runner and leaves above are those of a strawberry (Fragaria vriginiana), also in the rose family.

The mystery rose growing on the ground. The red runner and leaves above are those of a strawberry (Fragaria vriginiana), also in the rose family.

There’s also a possibility that it could be pygmy rose (Rosa bridgesii), a low-growing species that is similar to ground rose but does not have glands on the hips. While the Oregon Flora Project Atlas does not list pygmy rose as occuring in Oregon, Rosaceae expert Barbara Ertter says she has found it in Oregon and that our mystery rose could be Nootka or pygmy or even a hybrid of the two. She wrote me that she’s “been accumulating a few random collections from east of the Cascades (e.g., Klamath) that appear to be a depauperate R. nutkana, which blur the distinction between R. bridgesii and R. nutkana.  Hybrids, ancestral origin, or simply the occasional oddball population?” Sometimes we just can’t fit a plant into a neat little box in order to give it a name. We have to settle for enjoying it for what it is. Whatever this rose is, it is quite a pretty thing, and one we’ll enjoy visiting again for further study.

 

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