Spring is Here!

An early bee finds one of the first open blossoms of Sierra gooseberry (Ribes roezlii).

At long last, we had a sunny day on Tuesday (March 22), so Sabine and I took advantage of it and went out to enjoy one of the first days of spring. I was definitely getting cabin fever with all the cool, wet weather we’ve been having. We headed off to one of my favorite early botanizing spots, Road 21 along Hills Creek Reservoir, south of Oakridge. As expected, the adorable yellow Crocidium multicaule was opening up in many places on the cliffs on the west side of the reservoir. Unlike last year, it is not at peak yet but putting on a lovely show none the less (see Hills Creek Reservoir, take 2 for last year’s March outing to this area). We also noticed the fragrance in the air. I had forgotten about that. About the only other blooms in evidence at this time were Lomatium hallii and the equally cheery Ribes roezlii with its fuchsia-like red flowers. While a few of these thorny shrubs were fairly well open, most were still just covered with buds. I was able to recognize the seedlings of the tiny-flowered Tonella tenella, but many of the newly emerging annuals were still a mystery. There’ll be much more to see here in another month or two.

A hornwort

Sabine, with her sharp eyes, spotted an unusually textured mound of green growing in one of the seepy spots along the cliffs. Neither of us recognized it, nor did we know if it was a moss or something else. There are so many vascular plants to learn, it may be quite a while before I learn more than a handful of the non-vascular ones. I took a tiny piece home to look at it under the microscope. It clearly wasn’t a moss. Thinking it was more like a liverwort, I did what any novice would do—I Googled “liverwort” to look through photos. I don’t know enough to make head nor tails of the keys. Luckily, I was quickly able to find a few photos that looked just like our mystery plant. It appears this is a hornwort, something I don’t remember even hearing about. Hornworts are very primitive plants. They have a flattish thallus like a liverwort, but the sporophyte is a simple, grass-like “horn”. Learn something new every day!

We continued down Road 21, stopping at one of the south-facing openings to check out the seeps. As I’d hoped, the first small mats of Nemophila pedunculata were in bloom (for more on this species see Nemophila pedunculata). Snow queen was blooming in the woods. At Campers Flat, we stopped for lunch. This is a wonderful little campground right on the river. I was surprised to see more Nemophila blooming in a spot that didn’t look very wet. There’s usually a lot more of it across the road where the Youngs Rock trail begins. We took a look at the large alders growing with their feet in the river. Looking at the leaves a couple of years ago, I’d identified them as white alder (Alnus rhombifolia), but I’m still struggling to differentiate their flowers from those of red alder (A. rubra), the more common Cascade tree. The flora aren’t much help. The online Jepson manual doesn’t even describe the floral features. The two shrubby higher elevation alders (A. viridis and A. incana) do have significant differences in the flowers and catkins. Oh well. I’ll keep working on that. Some pretty yellow Viola sheltonii and tiny Draba verna were the only things of note blooming yet at Big Pine Opening.

White alders along the Middle Fork of the Willamette River by Campers Flat campground.

Just east of Campers Flat, across from Big Pine Opening, we headed a short way up Coal Creek Road 2133 and took the first right onto Road 200. I’d heard there was some oak habitat the Forest Service is restoring in the area. Neither of us had ever been up there before, and we’re both always game for exploring something new. We passed what looked like the oak habitat they working on, but it didn’t pique our interest this early in the season, so we just decided to drive until the snow stopped us. From a small opening with handsome madrones and budded Arctostaphylos canescens, we could see a huge rocky knob, not that far in the distance. It doesn’t appear to have a name on the map, but it’s below Steeple Rock, which I’d passed by on my way to and from Bristow Prairie. While there was plenty of snow on the rock, it still intrigued me—as any 700′ cliff would! We hit snow on the road shortly after 3,000′ elevation. We walked a little way down the road, but it was clear we would just have to be patient and come back later. We reflected with a chuckle how we would have been better off checking this area out when we came down here in January when the snow level was much higher. Another year when it seems cooler and damper in the spring than it did in winter. We were surprised at how clear the road was. My long driveway is covered with twigs and debris from our recent windstorm, but we only passed a couple of spots that looked like there had been fallen limbs, and there were no twigs on the road. If the road is in this good shape all the way up, it might make for a much quicker route to Bristow Prairie than I’ve been taking and would go right by the rock. It seems like a long wait to get up into the mountains, but summer will be here soon enough, and we’ll be rushing around trying to see as much as we can before the snow returns. Hopefully, I’ll have time to go back and check this road out again later.

2 Responses to “Spring is Here!”

  • John Koenig:

    Thanks for the wonderful early spring report Tanya! What a pleasure to read. FYI, the oak habitat you passed along Rd. 200 is one where I had a USFS oak study plot established back in 2002. It was called Jim’s Oak Patch. I found an unusual clover there, Trifolium cyathiferum (cup clover). I have a vouchered collection of it at the herbarium. It’s also a butterfly haven during the late spring and summer. Most of the patch is actually hidden from the road.

  • Eleanor Ryan:

    Dear Tanya,
    Thanks for the Spring report. We know it is coming but it is difficult to be patient. The river scene pictured reminded me of the beauty of the still quiet and mossy forest. Warmly–Ellie

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