Bristow Prairie’s Open Gravelly Slope

Red, white, and blue wildflowers prepare for Fourth of July

Bristow Prairie is a large, damp meadow area in the Calapooya Mountains. There is a trail of sorts that starts in Douglas County and runs along a ridge down to the main meadow area. A wet meadow and a shallow lake with a number of aquatic plants lie below the trail just by the county line. The trail is harder to follow to the north on the Lane County side—or so I thought. I’d only been there twice. The first trip (see Bristow Prairie), Sabine and I checked the lake and explored the Douglas County ridge looking for Horkelia fusca. I’ve seen it in a few places in Douglas County, but it seems determined to avoid crossing into Lane County. Late last summer, we bushwhacked down to two small lakes hidden in the woods, one on each side of the county line (see Hidden Lakes at Bristow Prairie), and then did a little exploring on the ridge to the north. We came across a large, open, gravelly slope. As it was August, it was all dried up, but it definitely looked worth returning earlier in the year. We also found an odd dried up plant that I later determined must be whisker brush (Leptosiphon [Linanthus] ciliatus), something I’d never even heard of, let alone seen.

Arctic skipper

Thursday (July 1) was supposed to be overcast and showery, so I had given up on the idea of going out. When I awoke to find clear blue skies, I decided on the spur of the moment to head back to Bristow Prairie. I’m so glad I didn’t let the weather forecast dissuade me. It didn’t cloud up until mid-afternoon, and only on the drive home did it start to sprinkle. Several flowers caught my eye as soon as I stepped out of the car. In the wet ditch were the bright yellow flowers of Ranunculus orthorhynchus. Lots of bluebells (Mertensia paniculata) were also coming into bloom. Many belly plants were blooming in damp ground on the road banks including Lewisia triphylla, Mimulus breweri, Leptosiphon harknessii, some tiny white Plagiobothrys that I’ve seen before but never been able to identify, and some Gilia capillaris. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized that the Gilia was special as it is rarely seen in Lane County. I’m familiar with it from farther south, so I didn’t give it much thought. A beautiful Arctic skipper briefly distracted me from the flowers.

Another hike, another amazing display of Collinsia grandiflora

I headed straight for the north ridge crossing through the meadow with blooming delphiniums and a lot of early foliage. I missed a chance to photograph a western bluebird who landed on a dead stalk not far from me. I just couldn’t get it together with the camera before it flew into the trees. Bird photography is so much harder than butterflies! I thought Sabine and I had been following a trail of sorts when we went up the ridge last year, but all I found were animal trails. Still, it was an easy bushwhack up to the gravelly slope. Happily, it was in full bloom with numerous species. The most common were Phlox diffusa, Lomatium nudicaule, Collinsia grandiflora, and Calochortus. I thought they were all C. tolmiei at first, but as I explored the meadow lower down, there seems to be much greater variety than usual.

Whisker brush (Leptosiphon ciliatus) differs from baby stars (L. bicolor) in having more conspicuous white hairs on the bracts.

I headed over to where we’d found the Leptosiphon ciliatus last year and relocated it by one of several chunky outcrops along the northern edge. Darn, no flowers yet. I’d wanted to get some photographs of it, but I still had hopes that it might be blooming lower down. So down I went, passing many pretty things including my favorite Penstemon rupicola in the rocks. There were also lots of things in bud, making me feel better about returning in a couple of weeks to look for the Leptosiphon ciliatus in bloom (if only it didn’t require almost 15 miles of gravel road each way to get there!). One of them was a Perideridia. I thought I’d figured out the difference between P. oregana and P. bolanderi, the two that grow in vernally damp areas as they dry out. But of course, every time I get cocky thinking I’ve figured something out, some plant comes along to make me question what I thought I knew. I’m still pretty sure these ones were the uncommon P. bolanderi as their leaves were mostly highly divided, but the bracts under the flowers didn’t look like the ones from the BVD meadow I saw earlier in the week. The floras say they are variable, so I guess I’ll chalk it up to that.

Crepis pleurocarpa has gray-green dandelion-like foliage but has a branched inflorescence.

Near the base of the meadow, I was surprised to find an honest-to-goodness trail. I walked it back to the woods where a wooden sign indicated it was the real trail. Later I followed it in both directions. To the north, it heads to another large open damp meadow. No need to bushwhack to the gravelly slope next time! The USGS map shows the trail going up to the ridge when, in fact, this trail headed downhill to the west. Perhaps the trail has been rerouted over the years. Growing right in the trail was some very pretty Crepis pleurocarpa, an uncommon composite that is scattered about southwestern Oregon up into the Cascades. On both sides of the trail were numerous tiny Mimulus pulsiferae. This is the third time I’ve seen them this spring, and, as I expected, they are really benefitting from the damp spring. I’ve never seen them in such numbers. Once again, they were growing with Mimulus breweri. I also managed to find a few more patches of Leptosiphon ciliatus but still none in bloom. The clouds were starting to take over, and my late start meant there was no time to check out the lake. Having thoroughly explored the slope, relocated the Leptosiphon, seen loads of beautiful flowers, and added almost 50 species to my plant list, I was satisfied with my trip and ready to head home.

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