Abbott Butte in Glorious Bloom

Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) lights up the meadow below the lookout.

My van was packed for an overnight camping trip, but I literally didn’t decide where I was going until breakfast. There are so many places I want to go, and so little time every summer, and it can be hard to hit the bloom just when I want it. This year’s deep snowpack has further complicated decision making, something I’m not good at anyway. But I’m so glad I opted to go to Abbott Butte, one of my favorite hikes in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide—or anywhere, for that matter. I got the confirmation from the Forest Service that I could get to the trailhead, but there might be patchy snow. That was just what I wanted because my goal was to see the snowmelt species up there. The late-melting heavy snow actually is a boon in some ways. While there were patches of snow scattered along the trail, parts of the area were quite far along. In a drier year, I might have had to go twice, several weeks apart, to see all the different plants I saw in bloom.

While individual plants are easily overlooked, masses of tiny threeleaf lewisia (Lewisia triphylla) put on a great show.

Abbott Butte has a great mix of habitats. Starting out in the forest, away from the occasional patches of snow, there were pretty sweeps of the usual forest floor species including vanilla leaf (Achlys triphylla) and wild ginger (Asarum caudatum) and loads of violets (Viola glabella and V. orbiculata—lots of V. sheltonii leaves, but I’d missed their early bloom entirely). About halfway out, Sandy Gap is a weird, almost moonscape-like open slope. Damp spots were filled with masses of tiny Lewisia triphylla. Many Lomatium nudicaule were also in perfect bloom. Later blooming Gilia capitata were also flowering in areas that had dried out earlier. There is a lovely rock garden on top of a cliff that is just missed by the trail here (head back to the right and up to reach it). Right now the Penstemon rupicola is outstanding and Castilleja pruinosa has begun. The first Calochortus elegans were blooming here as well. I’d seen a few here and there on my previous trips, but I had no idea it was so abundant here. I was pleased to see two little fronds representing new plants in the tiny population of the seldom seen Pellaea brachyptera that grows up in the rock garden. Some little purple flowers of Orobanche uniflora among the Sedum oregonense turned out to be an addition to the list.

Only early comers get to see the fabulous show of Klamath fawn lilies (Erythronium klamathense) and spring beauties (Claytonia lanceolata) as the snow melts.

After another stretch of woods, there is an intersection with the Cougar Butte trail to the left. The open area in between has a small creek that winds between some rocks. I’m not sure if I’ve seen water in it before. There were a great many tall bluebells (Mertensia paniculata) dangling their bell-shaped flowers, but the real show was by the melting snow bank at the top—drifts of Klamath fawn lilies and spring beauties. This is what I came to see! I got carried away taking dozens of photos, hoping to come home with at least some good ones. Sadly, I seem to have lost my digital recorder on my last trip. Without it, I felt compelled to take photos of everything to keep from forgetting what I saw for my records. I came home with over 560 for the day—a new record I believe (thank goodness for digital cameras)! It may seem silly, but without the single blurry photo of a Ribes lobbii flower, I would have forgotten I’d seen it after all the more exciting plants, and it was a new plant for my Abbott Butte list.

Dwarf hesperochiron (Hesperochiron pumilus) is another very early bloomer.

When I finally arrived in the huge meadow below the lookout, I was thrilled with the wide range of plants in bloom. Some glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum) were still blooming near the beginning. I had seen a few lingering Hesperochiron pumilus here in the past, but they were everywhere now in the damp gaps between taller plants. Many were still in bud. Here again, I went haywire taking photos as every plant looked better than the one before. I so rarely get to see this plant, which is mostly found east of the Cascades, so it was a real treat. The balsamroots were outstanding. I’d caught the tail end of their bloom once before, but again, I wasn’t early enough to see them in such good shape. Up at the lookout on the summit, I had to cross a deep drift of snow. This is always the last to melt out and the best place to look for the tiny steer’s head (Dicentra uniflora). It also was blooming among the Erythroniums, but here it easier to spot without the far showier neighbors.

On the way down, I skipped the trail, and opted for my usual route down the east end of the meadow past a huge area of blooming Senecio integerrimus. Here there is a wetland with bog orchids and such. Nothing much was blooming in the wetland proper, but along the seepy rocks at the edge, the show was outstanding. Among the gorgeous monkeyflowers (Mimulus guttatus) that I could see from the top, there were solid white spreads of tiny-flowered Romanzoffia thompsonii. I’ve seen it many times already this year, but I’d never seen it here before. There are many other tiny annuals in this area as well. Gilia capillaris and Mimulus breweri were coming into bloom along with the strange miniscule-flowered false-mermaid. Its botanical name would make a good challenge for a spelling bee—Floerkea prosperinacoides. There was also a tiny popcorn flower that I’ve been trying to identify for years, perhaps Plagiobothrys hispidulus. Only the nutlets, which won’t appear for awhile, will help me solve my mystery. But I’ll be lucky if I can spot these inch-tall plants out of bloom.

A juniper hairstreak and small beetle share a meal of Sierra sanicle (Sanicula graveolens), an early blooming member of the carrot family.

Green hairstreaks also enjoy sanicle. Note the leafy bracts under the flower that distinguish this from similar lomatiums.

The butterflies were great, especially in the large meadow. I never could get any photos of the many checkered skippers flying about, but after several failed attempts, I was able to photograph several stunning green hairstreaks. There were many juniper hairstreaks out as well, nectaring mostly on the early-flowering plants including spring beauty and sanicle. Several silvery blues were stopping at lupine leaves, possibly laying eggs. Also seen were some puddling acmon blues. Larger butterflies were mostly hilltopping at the summit, including several anise swallowtails, some kind of anglewing, and a western white. And somewhat surprisingly, there were no mosquitoes, a real plus this year. It was hard to tear myself away from this beautiful area, but I still had a long drive home. If you haven’t been to Abbott Butte, I’d suggest putting it at the top of your to-do list! If you go, stay at the very pleasant Abbott Creek campground, just down the road, where you can enjoy many wildflowers including pretty Triteleia hendersonii in your campsite.

2 Responses to “Abbott Butte in Glorious Bloom”

  • Kris:

    Hi Tanya, great article and photos, as usual. The hairstreaks are awesome. I know what you mean about the checkered skippers. They can be tough to approach for a photo. The flowers up this way are incredible right now too, with more to come. Many are very late, and there’s still snow in some places.


  • Greg:

    Beautiful photos, especially the hairstreaks!

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