Mystery Bedstraw Blooming in Calapooyas

Is this California bedstraw (Galium californicum) this far north of its normal range? No, it’s Gray’s bedstraw (G. grayanum), still quite rare in Oregon.

When John Koenig said he had a day free to head up to the Calapooyas with me, I was excited about showing him the wonderful spot I’d explored a couple of weeks ago and seeing if my mystery plant was in bloom yet (see More Interesting Finds in the Calapooyas). So Wednesday (July 28), John and I headed back up Coal Creek Road. We couldn’t help but stop a number of times along the roadside because there was so much in bloom. The butterflies seemed to be everywhere, enjoying the flowers as much as we were. One of the plants that had drawn us both to this area many times is the rare Epilobium luteum. It was just starting to bloom. Also in the creeks and wet ditch that drain Balm Mountain were perfect Mitella caulescens, Veronica americana, masses of Senecio triangularis, and some gorgeous Epilobium glaberrimum. It may have small flowers, but they are a lovely shade of rose and are set off by attractive glaucous foliage. Glaucous foliage turned out to be the theme of the day. Farther up the road, there was a long stretch of Agastache urticifolia in full bloom. This is a real favorite of hummingbirds and large butterflies, but neither that nor flowering Castilleja miniata and pruinosa seemed to be attracting hummers.

Checkerspot (northern or Hoffman’s) nectaring on Monardella odoratissima

We finally got to our parking spot next to the wetlands east of Loletta Lakes and headed up to see the unnamed peak I had dubbed Loletta Peak. The flowers were even better than I had seen on July 19th, thanks in no small part to the large number of Monardella odoratissima now in full bloom and attracting lots of checkerspots. These had also been out in great number along the road, many of them on every patch of Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum). The Eriogonum were still blooming quite well and the lovely Erigeron foliosus, barely started on the previous trip, were in full bloom. The seed capsules of Delphinium menziesii had dispersed their seeds but still had dried blue petals attached, more evidence that the heatwave earlier in the month had flash-dried many of the plants in bloom at the time. After enjoying the pretty display here, we negotiated the slippery gravel slope without too much trouble, and headed up to our main destination atop the peak.

Ants seemed to be particularly attracted to the Galium flowers.

It didn’t take us long to spot the mystery plant. There was plenty of it along the western ridge. I was surprised but thrilled that there was that much thereafter I had only noticed a few plants on the previous trip. Even better, it had started to bloom. No doubt about it being a Galium. It had the tiny four-petaled flower typical of the genus. These had reddish buds that opened to yellow flowers, many still tinged with red. Up close, the combination of delicately colored flowers and soft, blue-green foliage has a certain understated elegance, much more sophisticated than its cousins. When we made our way past the awesome chasm, we noticed there were also quite a few of the Galium down on its north-facing slope, much as they were on the west ridge. If they are indeed California bedstraw (Galium californicum), as both John and I keyed it out to be, it is odd that they would prefer the cooler side of the slope. In my experience, plants at the edge of their range are usually facing the direction from which they came. The Castilleja rupicola also on this peak, here at the southern end of their range, are almost all on the cool, north-facing side of the cliffs lower down the ridge.

The gravelly habitat of the Galium

I’m still not certain of the ID, however, as these pubescent plants don’t look like the coarsely hairy ones in the few photos of G. californicum I found on the web, and the description in the Jepson Manual for the most widespread subspecies (ssp. californicum) is “hairs ± coarse.” Apparently, it is a variable species, however, with a Sierran subspecies (ssp. sierrae) that has “hairs many, straight, soft.” This would probably be the most likely source of these plants. And if these are indeed G. californicum, they are at least 100 miles away from their normal range, so it wouldn’t be surprising if they differed from the main populations. The Jepson Manual also says that G. californicum is dioecious. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to look for different sexes—I was just pleased to see any flowers at all. The specimen I took home to press for the Herbarium at OSU is male, and all my photos appear to be of male flowers. Perhaps female plants bloom later. Guess I’ll have to go back to check!

Anise swallowtail caterpillars feed on members of the carrot family such as this Lomatium martindalei (note the glaucous leaves!).

After training our eyes to look for the glaucous foliage of the Galium, I couldn’t help but notice how many of the plants up there had distinctly gray-green or blue-green foliage. It is not uncommon at high elevations or dry areas to have hairy leaves or a waxy coating to protect the leaves from harsh conditions, both of which can soften leaves’ natural green color. Penstemon rupicola, Eriophyllum lanatum, Lomatium martindalei, Eriogonum compositum, Antennaria rosea, Sedum oregonense, and Boechera (Arabis) holboellii are common plants with blue- or gray-green leaves and were all found up here. Less common in the Western Cascades, Newberry’s knotweed (now Aconogonum davisae I believe) also had white pubescence on the leaves, giving it the identical robin’s-egg-blue shade of the Galium. Other uncommon species here included rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa), Luina hypoleuca, and Crepis pleurocarpa with gray or silvery foliage, and pumice sandwort (Eremogone pumicola), Western blue flax (Linum lewisii), and an unknown rockcress with truly glaucous leaves.


Thanks to Dominic Maze who replied to my e-mail to NPSO folks for some ID help. It turns out this species is actually G. grayanum var. nanum, known as Gray’s bedstraw. I was right to question G. californicum as the correct ID. I missed a step in the Jepson Manual key where it asked about fruit. Without any fruit available, I should have gone down both sides of the key. It’s a good lesson that one should not jump to a conclusion solely based on a key. Always double check the result (the way you should with a math calculation), using descriptions, drawings, and photos, to make sure you didn’t make a mistake anywhere. It’s also quite possible the key you’re using doesn’t have every plant in the area and may lead you to a incorrect conclusion. Douglas County is in a sort of “no man’s land” between Hitchcock and Jepson, so a number of species occur here which don’t appear in either flora.

This species is still very rare in Oregon and seems to be the farthest north it has been recorded. The OFP Atlas has only record: a specimen from Rattlesnake Mountain in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide, one of my favorite hikes, but I haven’t seen it there. I suspect it may be in the Siskiyous in Oregon as it appears to range up to the California border according to CalFlora.

Leave a Reply

Post Categories
Notification of New Posts