Field Trip Highlights from NPSO Annual Meeting

Thousands of mountain cat's ears blooming among the bunch grasses on Lowder Mountain

Thousands of mountain cat’s ears were blooming among the bunch grasses on the flat summit of Lowder Mountain.

This year was Emerald Chapter’s turn to host the Native Plant Society of Oregon‘s annual meeting, held this year in Rainbow in the McKenzie area. This is my chapter, based in Eugene, so I agreed to lead three field trips. We had perfect weather and great plants for all three days, and a great group of enthusiastic participants who were happy with whatever we came across. It was great having people with different interests and knowledge bases, and they spotted a number of additions to my list—something that always makes me happy. Below are a few highlights.

 

 Park Creek, July 15

Bluefly honeysuckle (Lonicera [caerulea] cauriana) has edible fruit that is somewhat sweet when ripe.

Bluefly honeysuckle (Lonicera [caerulea] cauriana) has edible fruit that is somewhat sweet when ripe.

We didn’t have a lot of time Friday afternoon, but we managed to stop at three different places in the Park Creek Basin, starting with a small pond with blooming pond lilies (Nuphar polysepala) and lots of dragonflies, then to a roadside area with a large population of green-flowered alumroot (Heuchera chlorantha), and finally to my favorite area along the creek itself, where we saw Suksdorf’s paintbrush (Castilleja suksdorfii), white bog orchids (Platanthera dilatata), and bigleaf lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus) in good bloom. There was also a little bit of the uncommon lesser pyrola (Pyrola minor) still in bloom and many gone to seed—more than I realized was growing along the road there. We also all sampled the edible fruit of the low-growing wetland shrub, bluefly honeysuckle (Lonicera cauriana). It has recently been split from its close European relative (L. caerulea), which is cultivated for its fruit.

This pretty sulphur was very pale on top and doesn't have any dots on the edges of its wings, making it a western sulphur perhaps. It was darting about nectaring on vetch blossoms (Vicia americana).

This pretty sulphur was very pale on top and didn’t have any dots on the edges of its wings, making it a western sulphur perhaps. It was dashing about nectaring on vetch blossoms (Vicia americana).

I couldn't resist photographing Craig Markham photographing the group along Park Creek.

I couldn’t resist photographing Craig Markham photographing the group along Park Creek.

 

Lowder Mountain, July 16

With a full day on Saturday, we were able to take our time and stop to look at lots of different plants on this wonderful trail. There were many ericaceous plants in bloom in the forest, including white-veined wintergreen (Pyrola picta), prince’s pine or pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata), and its smaller sibling little prince’s pine (C. menziesii). The rocky areas were past peak, but the buckwheats (Eriogonum spp.) were in great shape. The one exlporer’s gentian (Gentiana calycosa) plant near the trail was spotted with its first open flower. Those on the north-facing cliff side didn’t even seem to be in bud yet. In the meadow where the intersection heading to the summit is, skyrocket (Ipomopsis aggregata) was in full bloom, but sadly no hummingbirds seemed to have noticed—or perhaps they were put off by a dozen flower lovers milling about.

Most of our Saturday group on the summit just above the cliff on Lowder.

Most of our Saturday group on the summit just above the cliff on Lowder.

Pink pussy paws fills the foreground and an area in the distance, while the white sprays of pumice sandwort forms drifts across the summit of Lowder Mountain.

Pink pussy paws fills the foreground and an area in the distance, while the white sprays of pumice sandwort forms drifts across the summit of Lowder Mountain.

The summit was undoubtedly the highlight of the day. When I was there a couple of weeks earlier (see Back to Back Trips to Horsepasture and Lowder Mountains), I had worried it wouldn’t be as floriferous by the time of the meeting. I needn’t have worried. The cooler weather and rain had slowed the seasonal progress down, and while the pumice sandwort (Eremogone pumicola) wasn’t as fresh, the pussy paws (Calyptridium umbellatum) actually improves with age, the sepals turning deeper pink as the flowers age. Although they were completely finished lower down the trail, the mountain cat’s ears (Calochortus subalpinus) were putting on a terrific show growing among the other two species and also, oddly, among the bright pink subalpine spiraea (Spiraea splendens), more commonly seen in wetlands. We spent quite a while speculating about the unusual habitat and odd flat top of this mountain. The previous night we were treated to a fascinating talk by Dave Kretzing on the geology and hydrology of the McKenzie area. Alas, the only question he couldn’t answer was about the geological history of Lowder Mountain.

Undoubtedly the LEAST showy flowers we saw were the cleistogamous (closed) flowers of late season stream violet (Viola glabella). After the main bloom is done, many violets will continue to produce self-pollinating flowers that look like buds. You can see a seed capsule on the left attesting to the fact these are really flowers,

Undoubtedly the LEAST showy flowers we saw were the cleistogamous (closed) flowers of late season stream violet (Viola glabella). After the main bloom is done, many violets will continue to produce self-pollinating flowers that look like buds (the two on the left) and never open up or produce petals. You can see a seed capsule on the right, attesting to the fact these produce fruit without ever making showy flowers.

 

Parish Lake, July 17

The strange flowers of gnome plants are always a treat to find.

The strange flowers of gnome plants are always a treat to find.

On Sunday morning, I took a small group to see the bog at Parish Lake. Once again, the forest was dominated by ericaceous plants, including three species of huckleberries (Vaccinium membranaceum, V. ovalifolium, and V. parvifolium) all fruiting, and  more prince’s pine and pyrolas. The real excitement was when Dan Mathews spotted some gnome plant (Hemitomes congestum), one the non-chlorophyll or mycoheterotrophic plants in the heath family. We spent a while debating whether it was that or fringed pinesap (Pleuricospora fimbriata). I always forget how to tell the two apart, but after looking them up once again upon returning home, I think I have a good mnemonic to help me differentiate them: “Hemitomes is hairy and Pleuricospora has petals.” Gnome plant has conspicuous hairs inside the flower and on the stigma and has partly fused petals. Fringed pinesap is glabrous and has regular separate petals.

The sundews are likely hybrids (Drosera x obovata), having the taller leaves of great sundew (D. anglica) but the rounded ends of round-leaved sundew (D. rotundifolia), both of which are also present in the bog at Parish Lake.

These sundews are likely hybrids (Drosera x obovata), having the taller leaves of great sundew (D. anglica) but the rounded ends of round-leaved sundew (D. rotundifolia), both of which are also present in the bog at Parish Lake. The little white-topped graminoid in front is the rare white beaksedge (Rhynchospora alba).

While we were all disgusted at the condition of some areas near the lake where slovenly campers had left large amounts of toilet paper, the rest of the lake and bog was quite lovely. The sundews had unfortunately mostly finished blooming, and although the sun came out before we left, none of the remaining flowers opened in time for anyone to see them. Still, seeing their dewy hairs sparkling in the sunshine is a sight people never forget. While looking at all the interesting rarities in the bog, we were delighted to watch a flock of cedar waxwings dancing about above us catching insects and then repeatedly returning to nearby dead snags. We also saw several swifts but couldn’t see them well enough to identify them. Rough-skinned newts were also still abundant.

There’s never enough time to see everything (nor to write about what we do see!), but I think all three trips were enjoyed by everyone—certainly by me—for the flowers, wildlife, scenery, and the company of other inquisitive and knowledgeable nature lovers. I’m already looking forward to next year’s meeting in the North Umpqua!

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