Back to the Upper Meadows of Cloverpatch

The promised sunny day never materialized, but with all the rain we’ve had lately, John Koenig and I didn’t let the weather stop us from going up to Cloverpatch on Monday (May 24). John once had a survey plot in one of the oak patches near the trail, so he’d been there many times, but he’d never been to the upper meadows before. I was anxious to get to the upper west meadows I’d finally reached in February when little was in bloom. So we were excited to head out for a long day of exploring.

Rock feature in upper eastern meadow

Amazing rock feature in upper eastern meadow with joints that spread out like a fan

Much of what I’d seen earlier this month (read The Rocky Meadows of Cloverpatch) was still blooming including many fairy slippers. There was even a little Crocidium multicaule still blooming almost 3 months after I’d seen it there on my first trip this year. The balsamroot was much farther along though, and this was one of the highlights of the day. Their large, sunny yellow flowerheads brightened up the mostly cloudy day and more than made up for the fact that it sprinkled off and on for most of the afternoon. Luckily, these were very light showers that didn’t soak through clothes, and we were both prepared with rain pants for all the wet foliage we had to pass through.

A closeup of the exquisite Dodecatheon pulchellum with dark, wrinkly filaments

We headed up the trail to the upper eastern meadow fairly quickly. I wanted to make sure we had time to see both of the upper meadows, and, if rained eventually forced us down, I didn’t want John to miss out on the beautiful seeps of the upper east meadow. On the way, John schooled me on various grasses. This is an area in which I’m a complete novice. Once out into the meadow, we were glad to see the beautiful Dodecatheon pulchellum were still going quite well. Their companion species, Romanzoffia thompsonii and Cascadia (Saxifraga) nuttallii were mostly going over, but we were still able to study the differences in their leaves, something I’d not paid attention to until this year. Up in this wetter meadow, there is no balsamroot, but lots of Wyethia angustifolia, just a couple of which had started blooming. Camassia leichtlinii is abundant up here as well and was starting to bloom but not as well as in the lower meadows.

One of the things John really wanted to see was the special little rock fern, Woodsia scopulina. This time, I was able to head right for the spots where they grow under the overhanging rocks. John spotted a Potentilla gracilis nearby. It turns out they were all over the east end of the meadow. We also found some Perideridia and the tiny Trifolium microdon with its flat-bottomed involucre. All three of these were additions to my list, and the last was an entirely new plant for me, as it mainly grows at lower elevations where I seldom explore. Clovers are common up here (no surprise at a placed named Cloverpatch!), and I now have 7 small annual species on my list.

upper west meadow

John admires the great view of the Middle Fork of the Willamette from the upper west meadow.

If not by the straightest route, I did manage to find our way out to the uppermost western meadows (it seemed much easier getting back to the trail). It was interesting to see how this long strip of meadow changed as we headed west. The eastern end is more level and was filled with small non-native weeds like Cerastium glomeratum, Erodium cicutarium, and Geranium molle. We wondered if this had been grazed once upon a time. Handsome large madrones were blooming along the upper edge, dropping little white urn-shaped flowers all over the ground. Farther west, it becomes increasingly rockier and steeper. Here the plants were far more interesting. There were a number of silver-leaved plants of Lupinus albifrons, death camas (Toxicoscordion [Zigadenus] venenosus) and Calochortus tolmiei just starting to bloom, and, best of all, many more clumps of gorgeous balsamroot.

Balsamorhiza deltoidea

Balsamorhiza deltoidea and Lomatium dissectum in a dwarf patch of oak

Right where the meadow more or less ends in a cliff, the balsamroot was growing with another oak lover, Lomatium dissectum. They weren’t really growing under the oaks, as they usually do, but rather in between them, as many of these oaks were no more than a couple of feet tall. Some of the taller but still dwarf oaks appeared to be dead. A clump of Castilleja was in full bloom looking very much like others in this part of the county with the long sharp calices of C. pruinosa but not the forked hairs characteristic of the species. Also in this area there were numerous Phacelia linearis in bud. I was quite surprised—and confused—to find several coming into bloom with flowers that were lavender. While this is the common color in most of its range, in eastern Lane County, they have always been white. I had once seen some in the lower meadow along the trail that were white. I guess that’s one more reason I’m going to have to return again in a few weeks to see what is going on here.

Just as we were leaving this meadow, I spotted one spot of purple—the first flower of the little Collinsia rattanii I have been seeing everywhere the last few weeks. It was growing among its cousin, the equally small-flowered Collinsia parviflora. The latter was in full bloom, but although the C. rattanii was also abundant here, I couldn’t find any more in bloom. This was unfortunate as I wanted to point out the flower differences to John. It’s puzzling how I could find that single flower when I wasn’t looking, but for the life of me could not find it again once I’d taken my eye off it. It makes you wonder how many more wonderful flowers are hiding in plain sight.

It was late as we drove back. We decided to take North Shore Drive all the way back to Lowell to avoid going back over the potholes and to see how the Romanzoffia cliffs look. It seemed like the perfect time of day to see wildlife. We were both hoping to see a bear, but instead, we saw a herd of elk on the road. It was just a quick view as they didn’t dawdle trying to get out of our way. That’s my third elk sighting this month. We’re wondering if the cold temperatures and late snow are keeping them at lower elevations than normal for this time of year. It’s certainly keeping me down low. Here’s hoping we’ll all get higher into the mountains in the next couple of weeks!

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