Heckletooth Times Two

Sunday (May 23rd), Sabine and I led a hike to Heckletooth Mountain, right outside of Oakridge, for a group of folks mainly from the Native Plant Society (NPSO) and the Rock Garden Society (NARGS). We had been thinking about doing this for several years as this is a relatively close-in, easy access hike with a number of wonderful wildflowers. We planned the hike much earlier this year when it looked like it was going to be an exceptionally early spring. As we all know, hindsight is 20/20 vision. The cold spring practically stopped everything dead in its tracks. I did at least have the foresight to schedule a rain date, so people were prepared when we decided to move the hike from Saturday to Sunday. Not only did it rain for much of Saturday, but the snow level came down well below 3000′.

Hike participants made quick work of recently fallen trees blocking the road.

We were quite surprised to have 19 participants (one of the canine variety) on what was still an iffy weather day. We had spent much of the week worrying about the trip in light of the dreadful combination of downpours, hail, high winds, and thunderstorms, as well as the low snow level, and had been thinking about our backup plan should snow prevent us from getting to the top of the mountain. What we hadn’t considered was what to do if we couldn’t even reach the trailhead. As we made our way up the short gravel road to the trailhead, we were surprised and dismayed to see two good-sized trees across the road. Another fitting saying is “many hands make light work.” It turned out having 18 people was perfect for this situation—that and a bow saw that I keep in the back of my vehicle for emergencies. Had I been alone, I would have just turned around, but with this gungho crowd, we dispatched the roadblock in no time.

The distinctive foliage color of Lomatium macrocarpum makes it an easy one to spot.

While the best wildflower show is still weeks away, we found enough blooming plants to interest everyone. The lomatiums were perhaps past peak but still quite pretty, and we were able to compare Lomatium utriculatum and L. hallii, as well as the uncommon L. macrocarpum with its beautiful, soft, blue-green foliage and the closely related Sierra snakeroot (Sanicula graveolens), often mistaken for a lomatium. The fairy slippers (Calypso bulbosa) were in bloom along with a number of other woodland plants including meadowrue (Thalictrum occidentale), Valeriana scouleri, and wild ginger (Asarum caudatum). Heckletooth is one of the best places I know for fawn-lilies (Erythronium oregonum), and they were nearing peak, although with the weather they’d been through, they were looking a little worse for wear.

Flowers of the darling little Tonella tenella are no more than 1/4″.

We ate lunch near the base of the steep west-facing meadow where the balsamroot, delphiniums, and wild cucumber (Marah oreganus) had started. At the edge of the meadow, the tiny-flowered Collinsia rattanii had joined the much more common Collinsia parviflora and even daintier Tonella tenella. Some of us became a little concerned at the increasing clouds and shower activity appearing over surrounding ridges, but thankfully we managed to get through the whole hike with only one brief shower on our way back from the top. I hope all the participants get a chance to get to Heckletooth when it is looking its best. There is promise of a beautiful display of showy tarweed (Madia elegans) coming soon, as there were many buds. That and other annuals like rosy plectritis love this damp, cold spring—even if we don’t.

My pre-hike the week before (May 14) was a completely different experience. Ed Alverson, Molly Juillerat, and I headed up to Heckletooth during our hottest weather of the spring with temperatures over 70°. It seemed as though spring had finally really arrived. It turned out to be just a brief, though welcome respite from cold, wet weather. Some of the duskywing skippers that enjoy oak habitat were flying about evading my camera. It was still too early for most of the really showy flowers, but the lomatiums were terrific, and I was very pleased to see a number of fully blooming plants of Lomatium macrocarpum. In past years, few seemed to bloom, and at nearby Buckhead Mountain, I’d seen that many of the blooming plants had been munched by hungry animals. It’s been hard trying to get good photographs of this attractive plant.

The sharply pointed sepals reach well beyond the tiny notched petals of Stellaria nitens.

While most of the flowers were yet to come, we all enjoyed getting away from our computers and such and spending a sunny day in our shirt sleeves. I’ve been studying belly plants lately, and now it seems I see the delicate thread-like stalks of shining starwort (Stellaria nitens) everywhere I go. Ed wanted to see one in flower, but there were none to be found in the large meadow—until our way back. Suddenly they were everywhere. I wasn’t aware that they only open up in the afternoon. Showy tarweed, on the other hand, closes up in the afternoon. It would make an interesting study to examine plants that only open at certain times of day (or night), or when there is a certain amount of light, and to learn more about the conditions that trigger them to open and close and the mechanisms by which they do that. Are they saving themselves for a particular pollinator? Protecting themselves from pollen loss by closing in bad weather? I’m sure there are many explanations. I find adaptations like this fascinating, yet I can’t really imagine anyone spending hours and days watching something as diminutive as this little starwort. But I’ll at least keep an eye out for pollinators the next time I see it in bloom.

2 Responses to “Heckletooth Times Two”

  • Sabine Dutoit:

    Every flower lover should discover this site. It rivals Tire Mt. in variety if not abundance of species. Best of all for me is that it is accessible almost year round as a short hiking trail. Combine it with Aubrey Mt. loop and you have a longer more challenging hike. The colors in late fall are lovely.

  • Tanya,

    One of Linnaeus’ remarkable creations was a floral clock he installed somewhere in Sweden. Each sector of the clock was planted with a flower that bloomed at that particular hour, so you could tell what time it was (generally) by what was blooming. I understand it was something of a sensation.

    I’m pulling this from memory so don’t have any details. Just wanted to mention that plants that open and close at particular times of the day have been fascinating people for centuries. Consider “Johnny-go-to-bed-at-noon,” an old name for Tragopogon pratensis. Same family as the tarweed.


    P.S. Tanya found a web blog explaining that Linnaeus designed a floral clock but only later have people actually tried to plant one:


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