Last Wave of Flowers at Grasshopper Meadows

Yesterday (September 2), Sabine and I spent a relaxing and low-key day at Grasshopper Meadows. No exciting finds or multitudes of flowers, just a day out enjoying the wide open meadows and blue sky above. After a week off for inclement weather and other chores, it was just nice to get out again. It was very different than our other trip in June (see First Wave of Flowers at Grasshopper Meadows). Then everything was fresh and barely up out of the ground. Now, most things are fading, the grasses are taking on a warmer tone, and many things, especially the early annuals, are completely dried out. It’s a fun challenge trying to recognize plants at this stage.

Asters put on the last great show of flowers in the meadow.

The foliage was still quite wet from rain the day before but was much drier out in the open meadow where surprisingly strong winds were blowing. It’s aster time in the meadow and little else was blooming. Most of the asters appeared to be western aster (Symphyotrichum spathulatum, formerly Aster occidentalis) with small, even-sized phyllaries, but this often mixes with leafy aster (S. foliaceum) with its much larger outer phyllaries, and there was certainly some variety in the larger sweeps of lavender. I would have expected a lot more butterflies, but the wind was too much for them except near the eastern edge where it was blocked by the trees.

The seed capsules of Western flax (Linum lewisii) look somewhat like the inside of the orange. Each of the 10 black seeds has its own compartment.

We headed down to the base of the cliffs where very little was blooming. Hall’s goldenweed (Columbiadoria hallii) was just starting, and rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) was still in bud. The bright yellow flowers of rabbitbrush really do signal the end of the season, so there is little time left for flowers at Grasshopper Meadows. I was able to collect the tiny seeds of Heuchera merriamii, which are copiously produced. I have successfully raised several other Heuchera from seed, but haven’t had much success with this, my favorite alumroot, except by cuttings. But it is always worth another try. This little cutie ought to be tried in every rock garden. We crossed the meadow along what passes for a trail near the ridge and then headed all the way to the west end past a section of trees. It was interesting to note some sections of meadow had nothing but graminoids while others were filled with a number of other species. Perhaps the soil or drainage is different somehow. We found our way quite easily back to the trail, on the way passing a small wetland in an opening in the forest. Boykinia major was still blooming here, and we found a grapefern (Botrychium multifidum) in fruit, a nice addition to the list.

Golden hairstreaks emerge very late in the year, appearing with the late-blooming flowers of their host plant, chinquapin.

Since it was still relatively early, I decided to drive home via Road 1940 as I’d never been on it, and I like to know my way around. It’s a fine gravel road through forest with nothing particularly exciting except one opening with a large blooming chinquapin (Chrysolepis chrysophylla) by the road and more up the slope. I could see fluttering, so I stopped to take a look in hopes of seeing some golden hairstreaks. The first butterflies we saw were actually a Lorquin’s admiral and several California sisters. These were my first of the year. I’d forgotten that chinquapin is its host food plant as well. Pretty soon I spotted the much smaller golden hairstreaks. One even chased a sister away. There were a number of them, but they seemed intent on staying higher up in the branches. Thank heavens for zoom lenses. Small skippers and a Hydaspe fritillary were also enjoying the feast. I took another sniff of the flowers up close and decided these did not smell quite as unpleasant as the ones on the way to Hills Peak the other day, although they were still quite strongly fragrant, even at a distance. Probably the most exciting thing that happened all day was on the drive back down the Aufderheide (Road 19). A dark figure appeared sauntering across the road. It was a young bear on his way down for a drink from the river!

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