The Rocky Meadows of Cloverpatch

Anyone who has driven down Highway 58 toward Oakridge in Lane County has probably noticed the distinctive terraced meadows of Cloverpatch Butte across the river. The Cloverpatch Trail cuts through just a few of these, giving a small glimpse of the meadow, rock, and seep habitats found all along the south slope. Most of the meadows are well below 3000′, making this more upland prairie than subalpine meadow, but elements of both are present.

Cloverpatch Butte from the ridge to the south. The meadow with the Dodecatheon can be seen in the upper right. Most of the large meadows well below appear to be inaccessible (not that that will stop me from trying!).

The trail starts at the east end maybe halfway up (reached from TIre Creek Road 5826, 3.8 miles up from North Shore Rd 5821), bypassing the easternmost meadow by only about 50′. It then switchbacks through the woods and into several meadows in the middle before heading uphill through the woods continuing north to road 124 and the top of Cloverpatch Butte itself. At the end of February, I went to Cloverpatch hoping to find a way to the uppermost meadows at the west end. With the help of my wonderful GPS (how did we survive without all these great electronic gizmos?), I had no problem finding it. There were some dazzling drifts of Crocidium multicaule and a great view west down Lookout Point Reservoir. I had thought maybe I could check that out again yesterday, but my main goal for the day was to explore the highest meadow up to the east. I had been there a number of times before but had never done a very thorough job. Two plants of great interest to me grow up there: Dodecatheon pulchellum and Woodsia scopulina. Both are uncommon in the Western Cascades.

Calypso bulbosa

Calypso bulbosa

Within minutes of starting my hike, I was thrilled to find a extraordinary patch of fairy slippers (Calypso bulbosa), at least 50 on either side of the trail. This has always been a great place to see these beautiful little orchids, but I’d never seen them so thick. Although they were scattered all along the wooded parts of the trail, this was really the motherlode.

In the main meadow along the trail, the balsamroot were blooming quite well. They are probably at peak, but look a bit ratty. Most likely the many rain storms and hail showers we’ve had lately have taken their toll. I noticed this also in Douglas County a week or so. There were many Dodecatheon hendersonii near the bottom of the meadow and some Crocidium holding on at the top of the nearby rock face. Several patches of very dark purple Orobanche uniflora appeared to be growing from some of the many plants of Lomatium utriculatum coming into bloom. The teeny-tiny flowers of Tonella tenella were peeking out of the grass. This is an addition to my list. (This is perhaps my favorite botanical name. The botanist who named this had a good sense of humor as well as a musical ear.) It is still early and there is much more to come in this meadow including Lupinus albifrons and Wyethia angustifolia.

The small meadow just up the trail is still preparing for its big display of Clarkia purpurea, C. amoena, and Madia elegans. Only the leaves were in evidence. I did find one handsome Fritillaria affinis. From here the trail heads into the woods: more fairy slippers, trilliums, and some fawn lilies in bloom and a number of patches of lovely Cynoglossum grande. The old logged area is filling in nicely. A few Ribes sanguineum were blooming. They were much more evident when I first started coming here, and the area was more open. The wild ginger (Asarum caudatum) were in bloom and sending up fresh, bright green leaves.

After this, the trail meets an intersection. The main trail continues to the left. An unmaintained spur trail goes off to the right. This leads back to the south, toward the uppermost rocky meadows. There’s a small view spot that looks to the west out at the reservoir. Some Romanzoffia californica was beginning to bloom here. The thick patches of Allium crenulatum still had a ways to go. The spur trail leads to a small meadow that, like all the other meadows, slopes down to a cliffy base before become forested. These rocks were covered with bright yellow Lomatium hallii, but the meadow area was still largely dormant.

The easternmost and highest meadow at Cloverpatch

To get to the large meadow that I find so special, you have to duck back into the woods and follow the south edge for just a short ways. This long, open strip is constantly flipping back and forth between meadow and vertical rock faces, much like a garden on a steep slope might be built with terraced retaining walls. Much of it is surprisingly wet, making this a fantastic place to look for seep-loving species. This is where the Dodecatheon pulchellum is found, sitting in little clumps on drippy rocks. Some plants appear to be growing in the grass, but every one I looked at had a rock beneath it. My timing was perfect—a few were fading, but many more were still in bud. There has been some question about the variety of these, and I’d been asked to collect some for the OSU Herbarium from various sites in the Western Cascades to see if these are closer to the ones in the Valley or those east of the mountains. Collecting for pressing always makes me feel bad. Each plant is so beautiful and wants to live as much as every other. But as long as there is a healthy population, I can try to be a scientist for a bit and collect a few plants. While photos show much that pressed plants cannot, likewise there are things that can only be seen looking at actual plant material. And botanists will be able to study these for many, many years.

Dodecatheon pulchellum

Dodecatheon pulchellum on the tallest seep

For once, I had time to explore all the way to the far end of the meadow. You might not think that a quarter of a mile would take several hours, but in order to find some of the plants, I had to climb up and down and up again, often reaching dead ends where the dropoffs were just too steep (one such cliff was covered with blooming Lomatium dissectum that unfortunately had to be photographed from a distance for safety). Near the east side, I found a seep that continued down the rocks for as much as 50′, and it was all covered with the little shooting stars. They were also scattered about on other, much smaller seeps. Also coming into bloom on many of the seeps were both Cascadia (Saxifraga) nuttallii and the rare Cascade endemic Romanzoffia thompsonii. I had heard that they sometimes grew together, but I’d never seen it myself. In some cases they were growing within a foot of each other. There’s nothing like seeing two look-alike species growing side by side to help you learn to spot the differences (see Romanzoffia thompsonii and Cascadia nuttallii—Look-Alike Seep Lovers).

Western fence lizard

My other goal for the day was to locate more of the little rock fern, Woodsia scopulina. Last year, I had relocated the spot I’d first found them on (read First trip to Cloverpatch in 4 years) but only found 5 plants. This time, I found several more very small plants in the same area, but I was sure there had to be more elsewhere. They seem to favor growing under the rock overhangs, so I diligently searched the same rock face as it continued east until at last I found a dozen or so growing on the rock beneath a scraggly incense-cedar. There they were growing near a number of other ferns including the look-alike (but glabrous) Cystopteris fragilis (abundant everywhere along the trail), Pentagramma triangularis, a Polypodium (I didn’t look for hairs), and Dryopteris arguta. This last is common in shady spots in this meadow and some areas elsewhere on the trail, but is a treat for me because it doesn’t grow at high enough elevations to reach my usual haunts. It was just unfurling new fronds. I’m not sure who was more surprised when, while poking around the rocks, I came eye to eye with a fence lizard. I’m always satisfied when I’ve completed my goals, so I wasn’t too disappointed that, with all the up and down and walking across the steep slopes, I was too tired to check out the western meadows. Next time I guess….

2 Responses to “The Rocky Meadows of Cloverpatch”

  • Jack Turner:

    Tanya — Thanks soo much for your ‘naturalist columns’. You have a gift, and you are a gift to the rest of us. I admire your work and observations.

    Jack Turner

  • Jennifer Falknor:

    thanks for taking me on these vicarious journeys. i don’t get out to those beautiful places often, so i appreciate you taking me along for the ride. please keep it up!
    Jen Falknor

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