Posts Tagged ‘Asclepias’

Another New Milkweed and Monarch Site!

After all the great luck we’d been having finding purple milkweed in the Rigdon area of southeastern Lane County, I was determined to find some more sites. With the exception of Grassy Glade, all the other sites were on the north side of Rigdon Road 21 and the Middle Fork of the Willamette. Surely there must be some other areas on the south side. I spent some time on Google Earth, looking for all the openings I could find between Big Pine Opening and Grassy Glade that appeared to be meadows between 2400–3600′, similar to those we had been surveying. I found at least a half dozen or so promising spots, but one in particular seemed like a good place to start.

Milkweed, buckwheat, and rabbitbrush growing in “Maple Creek Meadow”. Diamond Peak can be seen to the east. The ridge in the backround was burned in the 2009 Tumblebug Fire.

So on July 8, I drove back down to the Rigdon area and headed down Coal Creek Road 2133, just south of Big Pine Opening. I was looking for Road 217, just a couple of miles down. The map indicated it had a gate, but I was surprised to find instead a very large berm blocking the road. Being unsure of the road condition, I was already prepared to walk, as it was less than 2 miles and under 500′ of elevation gain to reach the 2900′ meadow. What I hadn’t counted on was that there were dozens of berms! I’m not sure why they need so many to keep people from driving up a decommissioned road. Between the heat of the day, the endless up-and-down over berms, and not knowing how far I had gone because my GPS is on the fritz, I was getting rather discouraged walking up the rather boring forested road. Surely I had already gone 2 miles! I kept thinking, if the meadow wasn’t very interesting, at least I’d never have to walk this road again.

I only found 3 caterpillars in the meadow, but there had probably been more a couple of weeks earlier. This one was joined by a small bug.

The aerial photo I brought showed a large side road, Road 223, that crossed through the open area. I kept passing old, road-like paths, wondering if it could have grown over really fast. Finally, there it was, not grown over at all. In just a few hundred yards, I was out above a large, south-sloping meadow to my right and an old quarry to my left. It only took a few minutes to spot the first purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia)—yahoo! Suddenly, my grumpiness totally lifted. I started out by wandering around the quarried area. I was surprised to find the milkweed growing in such a disturbed area. Along with milkweed was the locally ubiquitous sticky birdbeak (Cordylanthus tenuis). It took a little while, but I finally spotted a monarch caterpillar—yippee! There were quite a few plants with no caterpillars but with tiny holes like those the caterpillars chew after they hatch. Half-chewed leaves were also evident. Whether the caterpillars had already pupated or been eaten, I’ll never know, but discovering that there was milkweed here and that the monarchs knew about it was as much as I could have hoped for, so I was thrilled. From three known sites in Lane County, we now have seven!

Elegant cluster-lily (Brodiaea elegans) is the last to bloom of our common low-elevation bulbs, waiting for the grass to totally dry out before putting on its elegant display of purple flowers.

After lunching in the shade, I wandered about the main meadow, counting milkweed plants and looking for caterpillars or eggs. It was quite dry, and the plants were farther along than those from the previous trip (see Farther Up “Milkweed Ridge”) with large seed pods. I didn’t see a lot of chew marks on the plants in the main meadow, but there were some very large plants with as many as 17 stalks, and about 100 plants in the whole area, so at least the milkweed population was healthy. There were also a number of other good butterfly nectar plants that were in fading bloom, including lots of Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum) and northern buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum). Farewell-to-spring (Clarkia amoena) was also still in bloom, and there was even some rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa), which would provide nectar for any remaining butterflies and other insects as the summer wanes. No monarchs ever flew by, however. As I headed back down the road, I was much less annoyed by the numerous berms and it didn’t seem to take so long to get back to the car. I’m looking forward to heading back up the road next year much earlier to see the rest of the wildflowers and look for monarchs when the milkweed is still blooming. Now that it is a place worth returning to, it needed a name, so I decided to call the place “Maple Creek Meadow” because Maple Creek flows down below it. Not terribly imaginitive, but it’ll do (and it starts with “M” like milkweed and monarch!).

A female monarch nectaring on one of the last flowering purple milkweeds at Grassy Glade.

I had lined up several other spots to check—in case this one hadn’t worked out—but I was running out of time to do anything else major. I decided to go check out a spot near Grassy Glade that had looked promising. When I got to the spur road that led to it, it looked too wavy to drive, so I decided to save it for another day when I had time to walk to it and went back to Grassy Glade instead. I was thrilled to find a monarch flying around the milkweed, soon after I arrived. At 3600′, this is the highest of the milkweed spots so far, so there were still a few fresh flowers for her to nectar on. I also spent a lot more time surveying the plant species, something I hadn’t had time to do with Joe earlier in the week. The only distressing thing was how few caterpillars I was able to find. In only 3 days, the population seemed to have diminished quite a bit. Perhaps next year, we can try hand-rearing some caterpillars or find some other way to help these little creatures survive. Monarchs need all the help they can get these days.

Farther Up “Milkweed Ridge”

Like many openings in the area, the southernmost one in the complex had Oregon white oaks (Quercus garryana) being crowded out by ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa) and other conifers. Enhancing oak habitat has been the main focus of restoration in the area. Hopefully now improving the area for milkweed and monarchs will also be a priority.

Having found purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) and monarchs at Monarch Meadow (see Hidden Meadow Reveals a Thrilling Secret) and at the meadow complex north of there (see A Week of Monarchs and Milkweed: Day 1), the next logical place to check was another complex of openings even farther up the ridge. On July 5, Joe Doerr and I headed up there to investigate. These openings also follow the old road that the middle complex is along, so we felt particularly confident we would find more milkweed. We decided to drive in from the north on an old but (barely) driveable road. I had been on that road several times years ago, to access what Sabine and I call “Gateway Rock Ridge” (see First Outing of the New Year for the most recent trip), but I can’t imagine doing it now. The tire tracks seemed to be sinking down and lots of vegetation was reaching out into the road from the surrounding forest. Thank goodness we were in a Forest Service rig!

Unfortunately, mortality is very high for these tiny monarch caterpillars. Most get picked off by wasps and other predators when they are quite small.

We parked at the top of the old road and saw ground rose (Rosa spithamea) in bloom right by the car. From there we walked south. Before long we came to the first opening, lying right along the ridge. Sticky birdbeak (Cordylanthus tenuis) grew abundantly here along with western rayless fleabane (Erigeron inornatus). These normally uncommon species have been showing up at most of the other milkweed sites, so it was a good sign. There had also evidently been a great display of showy tarweed (Madia elegans), but it was already shriveling up in the heat of the day. We didn’t spot any milkweed at first, but then we started to see it scattered about in several openings. We found monarch caterpillars and eggs as well. Mission accomplished! We walked as far down the road as the uppermost meadow of the middle complex that we’d both already been to on separate trips. So now we knew the area all along the old road and started back toward the car. Read the rest of this entry »

A Week of Monarchs and Milkweed: Day 3

A variable checkerspot straddling the individual small flowers of spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) to sip the sweet nectar. Milkweed species were recently moved into the dogbane family, Apocynaceae. They both share the trait of milky sap in their stems and are both beloved by butterflies as well as other insects.

For the second day of our camping trip, Nancy and I went up to Twin Lakes and what I call the BVD Meadow, both accessed from the same parking spot at the end of Twin Lakes Road 4770. I’d never seen (or felt) the road in such poor condition with many miles of washboard and areas starting to wash out a bit. My van survived without flatting another tire, but on returning to the campground, I discovered I’d lost a hubcap. The flowers were good, though farther along than I expected at the meadow, and we went for a nice swim at Twin Lakes, but both places were buggier than I ever remember. So far, it has been a particularly bad year for mosquitoes in the Western Cascades. Read the rest of this entry »

A Week of Monarchs and Milkweed: Day 2

Two monarch caterpillars sharing the same purple milkweed plant.

Nancy Bray and I had been planning a trip to the North Umpqua for quite a while. I was rather torn between going to some of my favorite places in Douglas County and looking for more milkweed and monarch sites. As luck would have it, I was able to do both. While checking the distribution of purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) on the Oregon Flora Project Atlas, I had noticed one record of milkweed on Medicine Creek Road 4775 in the North Umpqua area from 1994. While out with Crystal Shepherd on Monday, she told me she used to work at the Diamond Lake District and had seen the milkweed at that site just 5 years ago. Read the rest of this entry »

A Week of Monarchs and Milkweed: Day 1

Monarch in flight

After finding monarchs at “Monarch Meadow” the previous week (see Hidden Meadow Reveals a Thrilling Secret), I could hardly wait to get back to the area to search for more purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) and more monarchs. Molly Juillerat had gone to Monarch Meadow the following day, and on Monday, June 26, she had Crystal Shepherd, her seasonal botanist, go out to the meadow area just north of Monarch Meadow. I had planned to go there myself, so I jumped at the chance to go with Crystal. After I had suggested that as a likely next spot to investigate, Joe Doerr, Willamette National Forest wildlife biologist, had gone up there and found both milkweed and monarchs, as well as monarch eggs. So our job was to do a more careful survey of the area. Read the rest of this entry »

Hidden Meadow Reveals a Thrilling Secret

Purple milkweed is a gorgeous plant with glaucous leaves and garnet-colored flowers

In November of 2012, I went exploring down along Rigdon Road 21 southeast of Hills Creek Reservoir, an area I spend a lot of time visiting, as readers of this blog no doubt have noticed. There’s a small old quarry between Campers Flat campground and Big Pine Opening. I thought I’d see what was in the rocky area up top. The woods were fairly open so I continued up the ridge and popped out in a rocky meadow. While it was well past blooming season, I enjoy “forensic botany”—trying to identify species in various states of decay or at least past flowering. I saw some saxifrages rejuvenated by fall rains, a flower or two left on the late-blooming fall knotweed (Polygonum spergulariiforme), and evidence of bluefield gilia (Gilia capitata). But what really excited me was a few clumps of dried stalks with old capsules filled with silk-topped seeds—a milkweed! Read the rest of this entry »

Uncommon Plants in Southeastern Lane County

Normally I look forward to April and the coming of spring. But this year, it was an exceptionally miserable month for me, and the 7+ inches of rain we got at our house only made things worse. So the coming of May and a lovely sunny day yesterday (May 1) was a huge relief to me. I headed off to look for plants in one of my favorite early areas, along Hills Creek Reservoir and Road 21. I was just hoping to find any signs of flowers and butterflies—an affirmation of the renewal of life. It was quite unexpected that I stumbled upon several unusual plants.

Spring azure on Ribes roezlii. Butterfly season has gotten an awfully late start this year.

As always, my first stop was at the cliffs along the reservoir. The Crocidium mutlitcaule is still blooming well, although some seed is ripening. The Mimulus that looks like M. nasutus—a species not recognized by the Oregon Flora Project—was coming into bloom in the drippy rocks with its small flowers and large leaves. There was also lots of Lomatium hallii, the last flowers of Ribes roezlii, and the beginnings of adorable Tonella tenella, but by and large, it is still early. I searched through the large mats of Sedum spathulifolium and finally discovered the very first signs of Orobanche uniflora sprouting up from a clumps of last year’s dead stalks. It’s still unclear to me from the literature whether this species is an annual or perennial, but this may have been evidence that this plant was perennial. Read the rest of this entry »

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