Spring Phacelia at Mount June

Phacelia verna is found on gravelly or rocky slopes.

Needing to get back home earlier than usual, yesterday (June 23), I decided to head up to Mount June. It is one of the closest good flower hikes to my house and still one of my favorites. I had two goals in mind: to get better photos of spring phacelia (Phacelia verna) and to figure out how to get to the large west-facing meadow that is not along the trail. From many places in the Eugene-Springfield area, Mount June is easily visible to the southeast. In winter especially, a large open area facing the valley is clearly visible. The trail to the summit passes through a small meadow/outcrop area before reaching the relatively small opening where the old lookout once stood on the top. This is only a small part of the wonderful rocky habitat of this mountain. There is also a long ridge heading south below the summit that I’ve been exploring the last few years. But the west-facing meadow was still a mystery to me.

Many of the Phacelia flowers were visited by small gray beetles apparently eating pollen.

Normally the flowers are beginning to peak around now, but the cool, damp spring this year has slowed the bloom here as well. Mount June’s headliner flower has to be Penstemon rupicola, and only a few of the many plants had begun to flower. Thankfully, the Phacelia verna was perfect. This Phacelia is a rare annual, its range barely spilling out of Douglas County. Mount June is at the northern end of its range—only the population at nearby Eagle’s Rest is farther north. While not as showy as the other westside annual Phacelia, P. linearis, there is something quite charming about this little plant. I needed a good photo of it but got carried away and took 200 photos of just the Phacelia—each plant was cuter than the last! The main population of P. verna is along the south ridge. This ridge goes down in large steps. To get to the beginning of the ridge, head south on a faint trail just a few feet after you leave the summit or go straight as you come out of the woods beyond the first outcrop instead of turning left for the last short stretch to the summit. To get down to each successive tier, you have to head a little to the right, all the way into the woods in some cases, but it is really quite easy. The large third tier probably had the greatest number of Phacelia.

The deep red moss, Bryum miniatum, is a good indicator of wet seep. There is much of it in the southwest opening on Mount June.

After finally satisfying my urge to photograph the Phacelia, I pulled out my Google Earth photo of the southwest view of Mount June to figure out my approach to the west side. There are two open areas close to the south ridge but out of sight. I went down into the open woods between the second and third tiers and could see an opening almost immediately. What a relief, there was no real bushwhacking involved. This first opening is rocky with seeps coming down in many places. Another Western Cascade endemic, Romanzoffia thompsonii, was blooming well throughout the wet rocks. I had seen a small number of these in a seep on Sawtooth Rock meadow (1.5 miles east at from the main trail intersection) but had never seen it on Mount June itself, so this was a nice find. There were occasional spots of Phacelia verna here as well. Oddly, in a couple of places, the two were growing side by side. It seemed awfully wet for the Phacelia, but it looked happy enough.

These adorable moths have extremely long, delicate antennae.

Some fluttering caught my eye, and it turned out to be several diminutive black and white moths. I’d seen these once before on my second Deception Butte hike this year. They were hanging around in the same type of rocky seep habitat. They also seemed to like to cluster together, flying up, and then landing again near their buddies. I saw them in several spots in this area. Overcast skies meant only a few butterflies were out: several checkerspots and a Moss’ elfin. This area has many small oak trees which were just starting to flower and leaf out. Unfortunately, oak habitat is also the favorite haunt of ticks, and I did pick up two. I’d never seen any on Mount June before, but that may be because there is only one small cluster of oaks as you head down to the south ridge. Thankfully, I haven’t been bitten by a tick in many years. Still, I look forward to getting up to higher elevations where there are no ticks.

The west meadow is about 300 feet below the summit.

The next opening was similarly easy to access. When I neared the end of the rocky area, I followed a deer trail a mere 100 feet up to the left and popped out onto a large, steep, sloping meadow with a glorious view of the Willamette Valley. This is the meadow I’ve been looking at for years from down below. Here were meadow species like Trifolium wildenovii and microcephalum that grow at Sawtooth Rock meadow but not elsewhere on Mount June. Plectritis congesta and Lithophragma parviflorum were starting to bloom, and there were some scattered Phacelia verna and Romanzoffia thompsonii here as well. Some more of my other Mount June favorite, Minuartia rubella, was also coming into bloom. Two new additions to my Mount June/Sawtooth Rock list were blooming Hydrophyllum occidentale and the leaves of Scutellaria antirrhinoides. This last is not very common in Lane County but can be seen more often to the south. Unfortunately, despite the sun finally breaking through the overcast sky and so much more to explore here, I was running out of time. After an aborted attempt to wrap around to the north, I headed straight up through some open woods. My GPS said it was only 400′ (200′ elevation) until I reached the trail right where the trail turns to go to the summit—super easy. I can’t wait to get back to further explore this beautiful area when the flowers are farther along.

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