Geraniums and Butterflies Along Road 21

Dan and Nancy enjoy the show of beautiful Oregon geraniums right by the main road.

Geranium oreganum has very large, very bright pink flowers. How could I have passed by this spot so many times and never seen these?!

Monday (June 11) was another day of leisurely roadside botanizing southeast of Oakridge for me, along with Sabine Dutoit, Nancy Bray, and Dan Thomas. We stopped at many of our usual sites, including the cliffs by the reservoir, Youngs Flat Picnic Area, Mutton Meadow, Jim’s Oak Patch, Skunk Creek by Road 400, several unnamed meadows, and even briefly up to the amazing “Mosaic Rock” Sabine and I discovered last year (see Amazing Rock Feature Worthy of a Name). One of the most prominent plants of the day is one I rarely see, Oregon geranium (Geranium oreganum). There used to be a plant on my property, but I haven’t seen it for years. I probably drive down Road 21 at least a dozen times every year, year after year, yet I was totally surprised when we came upon a grassy spot along the road just past Secret Campground that was filled with blooming geraniums. The only thing that might explain how I’ve missed these is that perhaps they have a short season of bloom. We stopped to take a look and saw several butterflies among the pretty flowers, including a great arctic. I got what I thought was a nice photo of a female silvery blue that Nancy had spotted. Sadly, when I saw it blown up on my computer, it turns out she was in the death grip of a crab spider.

While at another spot farther along the road collecting seeds of sticky blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia rattanii) for a researcher I recently met, Nancy and I spotted some common blue cups (Githopsis specularioides). Despite the name, they aren’t very common around here. I went back to show Dan and simply could not find the tiny-flowered plants. Luckily, we found more along the road bank at Mutton Meadow. There we saw lots of blooming barestem lomatium (Lomatium nudicaule). Sabine and I looked for seedlings to compare to the mystery plants we saw at Cougar Reservoir a couple of weeks ago (see Laid Back Botanizing Along Cougar Reservoir). Looking at this population and one we saw along Deer Creek Road, we are now convinced we were right about the mystery seedlings being baby Lomatium nudicaule, but that still doesn’t solve the mystery of why there were no large plants.

While I’ve never been positive about separating our other two lilies, Lilium columbianum and L. washingtonianum, out of bloom, L. pardalinum has much narrower leaves and prefers much wetter habitat.

At the giant chain fern (Woodwardia fimbriata) site between Skunk Creek and Swift Creek (see Uncommon Plants in Southeastern Lane County), we did some more careful surveying. When Sabine and I were there a month ago, we were surprised to find a population of leopard lily (Lilium pardalinum). I didn’t realize it came down this far (2600′). When I checked the Oregon Flora Project Atlas, it turns out Bruce Newhouse had already reported this population, as well as several others along the road. The other moderately low elevation site I used to pass on my way to Youngs Rock had disappeared, so we want to make sure these roadside ones aren’t inadvertently mowed down by a road crew. It’s also important that no one digs them up. If you want native lilies, they are slow, but they do come up well from seed. I have pots of small seed-grown Lilium pardalinum, myself. How much longer they’ll take to bloom, I don’t know. But it’ll be worth the wait to see their stunning red-orange spotted flowers. There were many other nice wetland plants there, including broad-lipped twayblade (Listera convallarioides). Lots of streambank birdfoot trefoil (Lotus oblongifolius) was also growing right on the roadside. Not so surprisingly, these two species grow alongside the leopard lily in a creek up on the Youngs Rock trail, not all that far away but 2000′ higher in elevation. It’ll be a while yet before any of these three species will bloom, so there’s a good reason to return yet again to this site later in the summer.

Virginia grapefern (Botrypus virginianus) is also known as rattlesnake fern, perhaps from the resemblance of the fertile frond to the snake’s rattle.

One other interesting plant we found right by where Skunk Creek flows alongside the road for a bit was Virginia grape fern. Grape ferns are always cool to see, and although this species isn’t rare, I haven’t seen it much. When I checked this out on the Atlas, I was somewhat dismayed to see yet another unexpected name change. All our grapeferns used to be in the genus Botrychium. This one is apparently special and has been given the new name Botrypus virginianus. Reading about it on the internet, there is a fascinating story about the species that led in part to its name change. Not being a taxonomist or scientist of any sort, I don’t understand all the details, but apparently the species somehow obtained genetic material from some unknown parasitic flowering plant, dramatically setting it apart from other grapeferns. I had no idea plants could do that! It is thought that this somehow aided the species’ ability to expand its range which includes much of the northern hemisphere and some of the southern. If you’re interested in reading the scientific paper, check out Gene Transfer from a Parasitic Flowering Plant to a Fern.

The males of greenish blues (Plebejus saepiolus) are bluish gray, the females soft brown. Any “greenishness” is on the bright blue upperside.

We left Road 21 for a while to head up Coal Creek Road 2133. A left at the first intersection takes you to Jim’s Oak Patch. We poked around for a while admiring the geraniums and fuzzy buds and flowers of woolly head clover (Trifolium eriocephalum). There were several butterflies, including a lovely pair of mating greenish blues. Their favorite caterpillar host plant is usually clover, so I’m guessing they were using the woolly head clover here. I usually see them in higher elevation wetlands where there is a lot of long-stalked clover (Trifolium longipes), the most common perennial clover in the Western Cascades. Sabine struck out trying to locate some Montia diffusa for our friend Gerry Carr who wanted to photograph some. It appears for a while after a fire, but now that it has been several years since this site was burned for restoration, it’s apparently disappeared, its seeds waiting in the ground for another fire. After showing Dan and Nancy the cool Mosaic Rock, we went just a little farther up Coal Creek Road to another roadside meadow. This is probably where I had seen geraniums many years ago but couldn’t relocate them. But here they were growing with more woolly head clover and lots of pretty blue-eyed grass, perhaps even some hybrids. This was a great end to a pleasant day, as they are one of Sabine’s favorite flowers. There were so many other spots to explore, but I guess they’ll have to wait for another day.




One Response to “Geraniums and Butterflies Along Road 21”

  • Kris:

    Dang, those geraniums and greenish blues are mighty pretty! That fern looks familiar, but I may be mistaking another plant for it. I haven’t seen any silvery blues yet this year. Maybe they will be out and about this coming weekend with any luck. The death by spider of the silvery blue is saddening but I like spiders too and realize that they have to eat. Last year I watched a checkerspot butterfly bump right into a crab spider several times on an angelica umbel and the spider didn’t attack the butterfly. The spider raised its front legs as though it was about to attack but maybe it figured that the checkerspot was too big to take on, or maybe the coloring of the checkerspot had something to do with it. The checkerspot was nectaring on the flowers and acted as though the spider wasn’t even there.

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