Armchair Botanical Discovery

Swamp currant (Ribes triste) has really beautiful, deep red inflorescences, large, maple-like leaves, and no prickles.

For me, the dark and damp winter is usually a time of looking back over the past year and organizing for the coming one. I update my plant lists, catalog my photos, and do some research on plants I’m learning about. I recently finished going through all my photos from 2012 (over 12,000!). Now I’m upgrading the photos in my book, replacing really old photos with newer, better ones from my current camera. I miss the excitement of spring and flowers coming up every day and the thrill of discovering new plants in the mountains. By comparison, computer work is not very exciting, but it is pleasant enough, and it is necessary if I’m going to know which photos I still need to get for the coming year.

So you can imagine my surprise and thrill this morning when I discovered a new plant at Gordon Meadows—and I never even got up out of my chair! I was trying to find a replacement photo for an old one of Anemone oregana. According to my database records, I had taken a good one at Gordon Meadows in June of 2009 (I posted a report about the trip at Aquatics at Gordon Meadows, but it was originally written as an e-mail to some other botanists before I started my website, so it is not as long-winded thorough as my usual blog entries). I’m still using the same camera from 2008 (Panasonic Lumix FZ50—still love it!), so anything from 2009 is as good as my newest ones. Photos older than 2008  looked good at the time but pale in comparison to the higher resolution newer ones. Upon opening the folder in Bridge (sort of Adobe’s version of iPhoto), I was immediately stunned to see several lovely photos of swamp red currant (Ribes triste), one of my special target plants of the last couple of years.

Swamp currant blankets the feet of a thicket of Douglas’ hawthorn (Crataegus suksdorfii) at Gordon Meadows.

The thing is, the first time I discovered Ribes triste was a year later in the fall of 2010 (see Unexpected Find at Warfield Creek Wetlands). I’d never even heard of the species before that. I found some unusual leaves at the edge of the wetland and, after finally guessing it was a currant, I managed to turn up some berries. Yet over a year before, I had evidently seen this much larger population in full, beautiful bloom without even recognizing it as a different species. And upon “finally” seeing it in full bloom at Park Creek last spring (see Park Creek Coming Into Bloom), I still did not remember ever seeing it in bloom before. I really have no explanation for this black hole in my brain. Somehow, upon seeing it at Gordon Meadows in 2009, I managed to dismiss it as one of the other currants and never gave it a second thought. I remember thinking it was pretty and photographing it. But that’s all. Perhaps the question is why did I recognize it as something new and exciting the following year when I’d already seen it and thought little about it? Perhaps it is a result of the extra knowledge I’d gained in a year. Or maybe just a better night’s sleep the night before. Who knows?

While I wasn’t appropriately excited about it at the time, now I’m thrilled to have found another location for this uncommon shrub. I’ve seen it in 5 different locations now, and the Oregon Flora Project Atlas shows 5 more. That’s still only 10 in the state, but I’m quite sure there’s more out there. I’ll keep looking. And I can’t wait to get back up to Gordon Meadows this summer to take a better look at this population I “just” discovered.


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