Cirsium scariosum on Rattlesnake Mountain

Cirsium scariosum

Elk thistle (Cirsium scariosum) with a view of the Crater Lake Rim. This appears to be the only population on the west side of the Cascades.

I went back to Rattlesnake Mountain several days ago. I was too early for the bright yellow Orobanche, but I found a single O. fasciculata a few inches from Eriophyllum lanatum. I had no luck relocating that little Draba that might have been lonchocarpa, but I did hit it perfectly for the elk thistle (Cirsium scariosum). I was quite surprised to find 2 blooming plants right on the summit. There certainly were no blooming plants up there in the past, although I might have missed seedlings. I did what I had contemplated for a while and climbed down the rocky south-facing side. It was relatively easy (and safe) along the step-like south ridge. The west side is sheer cliffs. I passed a budding Orobanche pinorum right near an old dead stalk in the same spot I saw one on my last trip in 2007. The Hieracium greenei was also in bud. There are several old whitebark pines on the top, one with some cones (Rattlesnake Mtn is one of the highest points in the Western Cascades). Farther down, I was happy to see what looked like young trees, with no old dead branches.

View of Fish Creek Valley and the Crater Lake Rim to the east from the summit

Gorgeous cliff penstemon (Penstemon rupicola) growing in an amazing rock formation

As you go down the slope, it becomes more gravelly and almost plateaus before another cliff. This is where I have to go down the east slope to reconnect with the trail. That’s where the Cirsium scariosum I’d seen in the past was. I looked all around this area and found 4 large blooming plants and approximately 50 young plants. I was guessing they were monocarpic because there were no small blooming plants and I found one dead one with dried flower heads and tiny seedlings next to it. I just confirmed that on the FNA website. I couldn’t bear to harm the beautiful blooming plants, but I did press one youngster for the Herbarium. I hope it is useful. The population seems quite healthy. I wonder if it is expanding, or I just didn’t look hard enough on my other trip to this spot. I will have to check it again in a few years and see how it has changed.

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