Further Exploration of Cloverpatch

The lower meadows and cliffs at the east end of Cloverpatch Butte can be seen from across the Middle Fork of the Willamette River.

The lovely sunny weather of the last week made me anxious to go for a real hike, so yesterday (February 4), I decided to continue my attempt to survey all the meadows of Cloverpatch Butte. This time my goal was to explore the large area directly below the largest meadow the trail cuts through. I wasn’t entirely sure it would be possible—there are cliffs at the base of every section of meadow—but it was worth trying. Then, if I could find a good route, it would save me time when I return after the flowers are actually out.

The unusual cotyledon leaves of Clarkia species look a bit like bowling pins.

After a quick stop at the Black Canyon Campground to get a look at the meadows from across the river, I drove up to the trailhead on Tire Creek Road 5826. Thankfully the road is in fine condition. This early in the year, you can’t count on that. I was a little surprised to see quite a few snow queen (Synthyris reniformis) starting to bloom along the trail. There were far more than at my house, a thousand feet lower in elevation. There were lots of fairy slipper (Calypso bulbosa) leaves evident, some quite a deep purple. This is a great trail for viewing these gorgeous flowers. I was able to collect five more types of seeds to scan for my new gallery, but most plants had already dispersed all their seeds. Many seedlings are already up, among them Nemophila parvifolia and a Clarkia, most likely amoena from the tall dead stalks above them. I’ve seen three species here, so I can’t be sure.

It didn’t take long to get to the main meadow. Like all the other openings on the south side of Cloverpatch Butte, the bottom of the meadow ends in a cliff. I’ve been down here before to see a population of white Phacelia linearis and a good show of Crocidium multicaule. The latter were in evidence on the rocks, but there were no buds showing yet. There’s no climbing down the ten or so feet of rock, but it was almost too easy finding a spot where the vertical cliff gave way to an easy set of rocky steps. I was down in the woods following some deer trails and into the first narrow meadow in minutes. Again there were cliffs at the bottom, but after a quick glance to see nothing much of interest, I headed to the east end and found another relatively gentle slope at the end. Another short stretch of woods and I came out into a large meadow with a great view. I could see Diamond Peak and Groundhog Mountain to the east, Patterson in front of me, and the Middle Fork of the Willamette River glistening down below. The perfect spot for lunch.

Miniscule water chickweed (Montia fontana) enjoys mossy seeps. The larger leaves are a monkeyflower (Mimulus sp.).

From here it was fairly simple to get down to the next level. Perhaps “level” isn’t the right word for this area—there is precious little flat ground to be found. And with so many serious dropoffs, it is important to watch every step. I made my way over to the east where there were some small seeps in the rocks. This is the most likely place to find interesting plants. I was pleased to find a number of tiny plants and even two flowers of Romanzoffia thompsonii. This grows in the uppermost meadow and in the one just below the trail near the road, so I wasn’t surprised to find it. Still, it is the lowest I think I’ve ever seen this lovely endemic annual. Growing with it were Mimulus and lots of even tinier Montia fontana. These were coming into bloom as well. It is thrilling to see flowers blooming in February, even if they do require a handlens to spot! I also found a single flower of Nemophila pedunculata, another early blooming seep lover and, growing in the drier rocks on the cliff, the first Lomatium hallii had begun to bloom.

Coastal shield-fern (Dryopteris arguta) grows abundantly in the mini oak forests.

Meadow, cliff, and oak habitat alternate in succession in these steep lower openings.

Having gotten down this far as easily as I had, I figured I’d better see if I could get down to the lowest open area as well. This was no problem either. I was quite dismayed when I came out of the woods to find a patch of Scotch broom. This nasty weed could be devastating to these gorgeous meadows. Luckily, the ground was soft enough to pull the small ones and I had the foresight to bring a pair of clippers (in case I got stuck in some of the poison oak that is abundant at this low elevation). I managed to dispatch the couple of dozen plants only to discover another, larger population around the next corner. I didn’t have the energy or proper tools to deal with these larger plants. Perhaps on a return visit. It didn’t appear there was much new to see, at least at this time of year, and with the days still being so short, I decided not to explore this large area. At least I know it is reachable.

The characteristic brown tinge of Heuchera merriamii comes from the way it retains so many dead and dying leaves. Perhaps this protects the plants in their exposed locations.

I headed back up through the woods to the meadow I’d eaten lunch at. As I approached the base of the large cliff I had sat upon while eating, I noticed a number of dense clumps of brownish-green foliage growing high up on the rocks. I dismissed the first thing that popped into my head—Heuchera merriamii—as this was much lower elevation (about 1900′) than any other site I’d seen it at before and on a south-facing cliff to boot, and I’ve never seen it on the more likely cliffs higher up the mountain. I had just started a drawing of the Heuchera the day before, using a cutting I took on Youngs Rock on my last outing, so it was not surprising that it would be on my mind. But what else has that coloring and grows in cracks on cliffs like that? When I finally got close enough to see some lower plants with my binoculars, I was shocked to find my first guess was correct. Eventually, I even found a plant low enough to touch for complete reassurance. Damned if I know what it is doing down here in such a warm spot. The lowest I’d seen it growing before was at Watson Falls in Douglas County, but that was closer to 3,000′ and on the cool, north-facing cliff near the waterfall. I guess any plant can surprise you. And Cloverpatch is not done revealing all its secrets to me!



2 Responses to “Further Exploration of Cloverpatch”

  • Kris:

    Your article and pictures make me want to get out into the woods. The Heuchera merriamii at such a low elevation is quite a find!

  • The Clarkia species in the photo is diamond clarkia (C. rhomboidea). Its seed capsules are wider than C. amoena, and its seedlings are more reminiscent of bowling pins than our other species.

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