Floriferous Roadcut Along McKenzie Highway

On Sunday (May 13), I headed out the McKenzie Highway to do some botanizing. My first stop was to the Castle Rock trail. It is still early there, but there were a number of fairy slippers (Calypso bulbosa) in the woods and many Lomatium hallii and Sierra snakeroot (Sanicula graveolens) blooming in the open rocky areas of the summit. The pretty pink Phlox diffusa was also starting to bloom along with the lovely Viola sheltonii and Micranthes (Saxifraga) rufidula. It only took me around 3 hours to poke around my favorite spots to see how things were coming along, so I decided to continue on east past McKenzie Bridge.

The bright yellow blossoms of Hall’s lomatium (Lomatium hallii) are one of the first things to bloom up on Castle Rock.

Another good spot for early flowers is along Deer Creek Road 2654, just over the border into Linn County, 7.5 miles past the ranger station. The wet springs of the last couple of years fueled some gorgeous displays of seep-loving annuals (see Superb Floral Display Above Deer Creek). While it has been wet this spring until recently and many things are just starting, the sudden change to warm, dry conditions may shorten the show of annuals this year. There were quite a few larkspurs (Delphinium menziesii) in bloom along the road banks along with fading Lomatium hallii and saxifrages (Micranthes rufidula and M. integrifolia). Thompson’s mistmaiden (Romanzoffia thompsonii) was still blooming in a few of the many seeps. The big sweeps of rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta) and blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora) had not yet begun.

Bronze bells, broad-lip twayblade, and Western boykinia love to grow where it is very wet, such as along this little stream.

I could not relocate the Dodecatheon pulchellum that grows in a small creek about half a mile beyond milepost 3. I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t much in bloom and not many butterflies, so I decided it was time to head back. As has happened to me a surprising number of times, I decided to check one more spot, and suddenly my day turned around. Right near the car, I could hear a lot of rushing water from a small creek coming down the bank but hidden under some trees and shrubs. Upon peering under the foliage, I could see lots of water splashing down over rocks and under an old fallen log, now covered with moss. First the tiny-flowered inflorescenses of oval-leaved mitrewort (Mitella ovalis) caught my eye. Familiar looking strap-like leaves also covered the log and were dripping off the stream bank. I searched for some buds and was thrilled to find a few, confirming it really was one of my favorite plants—bronze bells (Anticlea [Stenanthium] occidentale). Maybe I should say “favorite favorite” plants, since I have so many favorites. This was a big surprise. I didn’t follow the stream uphill at all, but even down by the road there were a great many plants. Then another surprise, growing among the bronze bells, mitrewort, and Boykinia occidentalis were the small twin leaves of a twayblade. Although there were no blooms, I’m confident these are Listera convallarioides. It often grows en masse in very wet spots like this. The other two more common species are usually on the forest floor—moist perhaps, but not where they get splashed with water. I can’t wait to return here to see these two special flowers in bloom. While there wasn’t a lot of color, in a mere 45 minutes, I ended up adding 5 interesting species to my list, so I left anything but disappointed.

Above the roadcut is a large rocky meadow. Dodecatheon pulchellum grows all the way up this wet seep.

But that wasn’t the end to my excitement for the day. Although it was getting late, I decided to finally stop and explore the cliffs along McKenzie Highway just a mile or so south of the intersection of Deer Creek Road. I’ve often marveled at how much seemed to be blooming there, but right along a busy road was a problem, and I was always coming or going somewhere else and didn’t have enough time. Twinkling white flowers covering the seepy rocks beckoned, however. I pulled over at one end of the 1/3 mile long road cut and walked back up along the cliffs in the deep ditch. It turns out the white flowers were California mistmaiden (Romanzoffia californica). It’s a lot more common to the south, and although much of what was growing here also grew along Deer Creek Road, I’d never seen this species there. Growing among its taller cousin was quite a bit of Thompson’s mistmaiden. This didn’t surprise me as I’d just seen it on Deer Creek Road, but as it is a monitored endemic, it is always great to find another population, and a large one at that. Then a big thrill—Dodecatheon pulchellum! At first I was only able to find a few plants, but closer to the middle, several of the seeps coming down the rocks were well endowed with clumps of the exquisite pink blossoms. A few were even growing in the ditch. Okay, this might count as a favorite, favorite, favorite plant!

I’ve never seen a pure white Dodecatheon pulchellum before!

As you drive by this spot, it is difficult to take more than a quick look, but from my vantage point I could see that there is quite a bit of enticing steep, rocky meadow up above the roadcut, much like the meadows up above the road along Deer Creek Road. While visually following the flow of the seep up into the larger open area, I spotted something white about 20 feet above my head that just didn’t have the right gestalt for either species of Romanzoffia. These flowers were in a tighter clump. With more than a little excitement, I grabbed for my binoculars only to discover I had foolishly left them on the front seat of my car. Thankfully, the zoom on my camera was long enough to take a photograph that blown up showed clearly what I was hoping for—a pure white Dodecatheon pulchellum! If I hadn’t already decided I must return and find a way up to the meadow, that surely sealed it. I can hardly wait!


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