Uncommon Plants in Southeastern Lane County

Normally I look forward to April and the coming of spring. But this year, it was an exceptionally miserable month for me, and the 7+ inches of rain we got at our house only made things worse. So the coming of May and a lovely sunny day yesterday (May 1) was a huge relief to me. I headed off to look for plants in one of my favorite early areas, along Hills Creek Reservoir and Road 21. I was just hoping to find any signs of flowers and butterflies—an affirmation of the renewal of life. It was quite unexpected that I stumbled upon several unusual plants.

Spring azure on Ribes roezlii. Butterfly season has gotten an awfully late start this year.

As always, my first stop was at the cliffs along the reservoir. The Crocidium mutlitcaule is still blooming well, although some seed is ripening. The mokeyflower that looks like Mimulus nasutus—a species not recognized by the Oregon Flora Project—was coming into bloom in the drippy rocks with its small flowers and large leaves. There was also lots of Lomatium hallii, the last flowers of Ribes roezlii, and the beginnings of adorable Tonella tenella, but by and large, it is still early. I searched through the large mats of Sedum spathulifolium and finally discovered the very first signs of Orobanche uniflora sprouting up from a clump of last year’s dead stalks. It’s still unclear to me from the literature whether this species is an annual or perennial, but this may have been evidence that this plant was perennial.

Ground rose (Rosa spithamea) stays very low to the ground and doesn’t have the multitude of prickles that the abundant Rosa gymnocarpa has.

I continued on down Road 21 to where it follows the Middle Fork of the Willamette. In late March, Sabine and I did this route just to get out on a sunny day. We stopped along the road between Secret Campground and Camper’s Flat near the bottom of Jim’s Creek when we noticed a handsome sugar pine. Nearby, we found some odd remnants of large clumps of hollow foliage. After some rumination, it occurred to me it might be purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia). While rare in Lane County, there are several populations of this plant not far down the road. Yesterday, I stopped at this spot again, hoping to find more than just dead stalks. No luck yet, but milkweeds emerge late. Later in the day, I made a stop at Big Pine Opening, a mile or so farther east, to look at the milkweed plants that Rob Weiss had showed me there a few years ago. The dead clumps looked about the same and definitely had hollow stems. These, in a much more exposed area, had new shoots just emerging from the ground. I’ll check again later in the spring, but I’m pretty sure the plants in this new spot will indeed be milkweed. What I had not noticed on the last trip, however, was a large population of ground rose (Rosa spithamea) up on the same road bank. I just found some at nearby Youngs Rock last year (see Still More Discoveries at Youngs Rock) and was told there were several other sites discovered in the ’70s in southeastern Lane County. This is the northern edge of its range, but perhaps global warming will help it move north.

Giant chain fern (Woodwardia fimbriata) is rare this far north in Oregon, yet it is ranges into British Columbia.

The original goal of this trip was to try to reach and explore some large south-facing meadows below Bear Mountain Ridge that I had noticed from my Hills Peak trips last year. I pulled off at Road 2100-400 to check the map and got out of the car to pick up a can. There in front of me in the wet ditch was a clump of the unmistakable giant chain fern (Woodwardia fimbriata)! I’ve never seen it in the Western Cascades before, although I know there are a couple of records of it in Lane and Douglas counties. Like Rosa spithamea and Asclepias cordifolia, the range of Woodwardia in Oregon is mainly in the southwestern corner of the state. A number of strays from the Siskiyous seem to be able to survive in this warmer, drier ponderosa pine country in southeastern Lane County. Although I checked the ditch farther up and down the road, I didn’t find any more plants, but I will definitely keep my eye out for it in the future.

The elegant faces of fairy slippers (Calypso bulbosa) watch hikers along the Middle Fork trail.

I never did get to look for the meadows as I hit patchy snow around 3000′. It’s hard to believe it is May! Hopefully, it will melt soon from the lower elevations, and I can try again. Instead, I walked around Indigo Springs where a lone satyr anglewing was flying around some logs in the creek. Then I explored around Sacandaga Campground, walking a half-mile or so along the pretty Middle Fork trail to check on a small pond with frogs and lots of fascinating caddisfly larvae crawling around carrying their houses woven out of vegetation. It’s a good area for orchids, with blooming fairy slippers as well as Goodyera and Piperia. There are many spots with Piperia along Road 21. I will have to return here later this summer to see whether this is the uncommon white Piperia transversa or the even rarer green P. elongata, both of which grow at Youngs Rock trail and Youngs Flat picnic area. My final excitement of the day was having to slow down for eight elk in the middle of Road 21. They dashed into the woods along Estep Creek before I had a chance to pull out the camera. All in all, a much better day than I expected.

One Response to “Uncommon Plants in Southeastern Lane County”

  • A discovery of Woodwardia in Lane County is guaranteed notable. It is such a distinctive, spectacular fern that when you encounter one, you know right away you have made a great find.

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