Hills Creek Reservoir, take 2

It is officially spring!! The weather was lovely again yesterday (March 24), so Sabine and I headed out past Oakridge to see how things were coming along by Hills Creek Reservoir and some of our other favorite roadside botanizing spots along Road 21. It was almost 5 weeks since we were there, and we were surprised that the Crocidium multicaule (gold stars) was even more outstanding than in February when we thought it was the best we’d ever seen it. Almost every shelf on the cliffs was dusted bright yellow with a multitude of their adorable little daisy-like flowers.

Crocidium multicaule

Crocidium multicaule growing en masse along Rigdon Point Road

Upon opening the car door at our first stop along the cliffs, I was immediately taken with a lovely fragrance in the air. We concluded it must be coming from the few small cottonwoods that were leafing out nearby. Their resiny fragrance is a favorite of mine this time of year. But while taking some closeups of the Crocidium, I took a sniff and realized the sweet smell was coming from the flowers. Offhand, I can’t think of any composites with floral fragrance, although many have aromatic leaves. The smell is honey-like with a touch of spice. When I returned home and sniffed the Oregon grape blooming in my garden, I realized the Crocidium was quite similar, only not quite as strong. I had some doubts when, as I sniffed at each plant I photographed, some did not seem to be giving off much fragrance. Later in the day, however, we stopped at a roadcut along Rigdon Point Road. Again, the fragrance struck me as soon as I opened the car door and was delicious up close. No cottonwoods anywhere, nor anything else in bloom. Has anyone else noticed scented Crocidium?

While the Crocidium was definitely the main show, the Lomatium hallii and Ribes roezlii were quite beautiful and very common as well. A few tiny flowers of Collinsia parviflora were also appearing. Farther along Road 21, they were blooming much better on a south-facing roadcut. Some of these were the typical bright blue and white, others were very pale blue. Lots of tiny Draba verna could also be seen blooming mainly in roadside gravel. The California tortoiseshells were out everywhere enjoying the balmy day. This drive is always so relaxing, and we were really enjoying our day.

Sierra gooseberry at Grassy Glade

I’ve done lots of exploring in southeastern Lane County, but there are still a number of places on my to-do list. One of them is Grassy Glade, a meadow just south of Road 21 up Staley Ridge Road 2134. This was my main goal of the day. On the way up, we stopped to explore around the bridge across Staley Creek. Only last fall, I had discovered this gorgeous spot where the water carves a narrow channel as it drops and churns under the bridge. The damp cliffs along the banks looked promising. Nothing was blooming yet, but the cliff faces were covered with Saxifraga mertensiana. In the rocky area above, we found lots of budded fawn lilies, Romanzoffia californica, Lithophragma, and hundreds of leaves of Fritilliaria affinis. Many were of blooming age with buds forming. We immediately put this area down for a return trip next month. The site is obviously enjoyed by others for the scenery at least, as there is a pleasant primitive campground just upstream. Pretty Synthyris and Paxistima bloomed here.

Stellaria nitens

Stellaria nitens. Note the long, sharp sepals and shiny paired leaves

A sign on the road to Grassy Glade warned of a closure 2 miles ahead, but as we weren’t going that far, we ignored it. At 3500′ with the snow level a thousand feet or so higher, the meadow doesn’t look like much is going on at first glance. Some Ribes roezlii was coming into bloom, and an unusually low-growing manzanita (what I would call Arctostaphylos canescens: ~3′ high, dull leaves, no long hairs on the stems, ) was humming with bee activity around its pinkish flowers. Upon closer inspection, there were the small, pale flowers of Nemophila pedunculata all across the meadow. The even tinier flowers of Montia fontana peeked above their fleshy leaves in seepy spots. A few darling Mimulus alsinoides were also in bloom, although not as floriferous as along the reservoir. Then I surprised myself by spotting a blooming flower of the practically invisible Stellaria nitens (shining starwort), a plant I was oblivious to for many years. Its foliage is so delicate, it is hard to see even when you are staring right at it. And my eyes are not what they used to be. They are really difficult to photograph, and although I tried for a while, I still did not get anything I’m happy with for the book. It will be interesting to see what appears in this meadow later in spring, and we’ll try to get back here to see.

Howell’s violet (Viola howellii)

On our way back home, we made two more quick stops. Big Pine Opening is right across from the bottom of Staley Ridge Road. We found lots of yellow Viola sheltonii in bloom under the little clumps of oaks. Many Viola howellii (pale purple with wide spurs) were growing out in the open. Normally found in shady conditions—now gone because of the recent prescribed burn and restoration cutting, it will be interesting to see if they persist in this much sun. The little rosettes of Claytonia rubra were a normal-sized 2-4″ wide. The first spring after the burn, they were enormous, a clear result of the extra nutrients put into the soil after a fire.

Moss's elfin

Moss’s elfin on dried Sedum seed head

We also drove a couple of miles up the east side of the reservoir to check on some road cut areas that would be in the afternoon sun at that hour. Not one Crocidium to be found. What was different about this spot? I’ve no idea. There were some of the best clumps of Mimulus alsinoides I’ve ever seen. More Stellaria nitens here as well. It is amazing how, once you get a search image in your head, flowers you never notice suddenly start appearing. This area is covered with Sedum spathulifolium which will bloom later in the spring. I’d checked this area out several years ago and found numerous little purple Orobanche uniflora here. They won’t be up for a while yet. O. uniflora is parasitic on Sedums and Saxifrages and is common in the Sedum on the west side of the reservoir as well. This Sedum is also the host food plant for the caterpillars of the Moss’s Elfin butterfly. I told Sabine to keep her eyes out for any, and moments later, she spotted one! Then the predicted clouds finally rolled in, and we called it a day.

3 Responses to “Hills Creek Reservoir, take 2”

  • John Koenig:

    Outstanding blog on the latest Middle Fork wildflower/butterfly scene, Tanya. The sweeps of Crocidium sound spectacular. I thoroughly enjoy reading about yours and Sabine’s botanical finds on your many Cascades outings. I’ve only visited Grassy Glade once years ago with Charlene, Jenny and Kim.
    Keep those field notes coming! Awesome website you’ve created!

  • It’s just great to read your trip report. Reminds me to keep heading to higher elevations, and opens my eye to things I’ve overlooked in the past, like that Stellaria nitens.

    As John K. says, keep ’em coming!


  • We loved your writing style, keep at it for us all!

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