The Bristow Prairie Area Continues to Yield More Discoveries


Frosted paintbrush (Castilleja pruinosa) and hotrock penstemon (Penstemon deustus) up on the rocky bald.

After finally spotting the hidden north trailhead last summer (see A Grand Day Exploring Bristow Prairie’s Varied Habitats), John Koenig and I returned last fall to do the northern end of the High Divide trail that crosses Bristow Prairie. We discovered an awesome pillar rock, moist forest, and more meadows, so it was definitely worth a return trip. On Wednesday (June 11), Sabine Dutoit and I decided to head up there and see what the area looks like in flower. We still had trouble finding the trailhead, as although John and I had found the trail sign in the ditch and put it back up on the road, it was moved yet again. Luckily, I had made a GPS waypoint last year. Once we found the trailhead, just a tad up the road from a quarry and pillar rock I had checked out a few years ago, we could see the sign had been placed on the ground next to the trail, just up into the woods—not much good for spotting the trail from the road, but at least we knew we were in the right place!


From the pillar rock area, you can see Pyramid Rock (back on the right) where I was last week. In the foreground, cliff penstemon (Penstemon rupicola) blooms on one of the smaller side rocks.

It’s not far before the trail passes by another stunning unnamed pillar rock. John and I had found Merriam’s alumroot (Heuchera merriamii) and I’d lost my sunglasses while staring straight up the vertical, northeast-facing side of the rock. No sign of my lost sunglasses, but I did spot some of the Heuchera merriamii in bud. There was also lots of cliff penstemon (Penstemon rupicola) in full bloom, as well as some sedums and Heuchera micrantha. Continuing on through the woods, we noticed quite a number of clumps of dead stalks of indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora), including one where the new flowers were just starting to push through the soil. Coralroots, both Corallorhiza mertensiana and C. maculata were just beginning to bloom. We wondered how to tell them apart in bud. There’s a marvelous little wet spot which must be springfed. There were lots of broad-lip twayblade, some of which were just starting to bud.  The day before, I had just discovered, much to my dismay, that all the twayblades have been moved from Listera to Neottia—another new name to memorize—so now this species is Neottia convallarioides.

California tortoiseshell

A friendly California tortoiseshell landed on Sabine’s knee. After being one of the most common butterflies in the Cascades, we’ve barely seen any the last few years, so we were very happy to see him. Apparently, these population crashes aren’t abnormal. Hopefully they’ll become more plentiful again.

When we reached the meadow, we could see a damper area where there were fading shooting stars (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) and lots of bright yellow straightbeak buttercup (Ranunculus orthorhynchus). I spotted some small yellow foliage in an opening here. Sure enough, it was the little false-mermaid (Floerkea proserpinacoides). I was very excited by this because it was the first official spot in Lane County. We saw it on both our trips last year to the southern, Douglas County half of this ridge (see More Discoveries Just South of Bristow Prairie) but had not seen it on the north side of the border. It may seem silly to most people, but many of us who live in Lane County take a certain pride in our flora and are always looking to expand our list of natives. The trail is hard if not impossible to find through this meadow, but somehow last fall, John and I were able to trace it up the hill to the left where it switchbacks up and heads into the woods near the top of the meadow there. At that point, the trail is less overgrown, and it leads fairly quickly to the south-facing bald I love so much.


The flowers of creamy stonecrop (Sedum oregonense) appear to change colors as they age. Perhaps this is a signal to pollinators.

The bald was blooming beautifully, although it was showing signs of drying out (I hope we get a little more rain before the official summer drought begins!). There was still a grand show of large-flowered blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora). Some of the cute candelabrum monkeyflower (Mimulus pulsiferae) was in bloom, but the other unusual annuals, mountain blue curls (Trichostemma oblongum) and whisker brush (Leptosiphon [Linanthus] ciliatus), had not even begun to bud. Just starting to bloom, least tarweed (Hemizonella minima) covered the ground with a green and yellow haze in many spots. The paintbrushes (Castilleja pruinosa, I believe, although they looked a little odd) were gorgeous as were the buckwheats (Eriogonum umbellatum and E. compositum). We admired the same pink-flowered northern buckwheat that was discovered on last year’s trip. We decided to explore the bald more carefully. Last year, John, Gail, Clay, and I more or less circled the perimeter, so this time we decided to check out the middle.

Fresh clustered broomrape (Orobanche fasciculata)

Fresh clustered broomrape (Orobanche fasciculata) emerging from the gravel. Many more were still in bud.


Even though it has long since finished blooming, Siskiyou fritillary’s glaucous leaves, short stature, and large seed capsule give it away.

I had just been mentioning to Sabine that we should keep our eyes open for broomrapes (Orobanche spp.) and had also been saying how I had been hopeful but hadn’t found any Siskiyou fritillary on this seemingly suitable, south-facing, gravelly slope. Wouldn’t you know it, not only did she quickly spot some clustered broomrape (Orobanche fasciculata), but she spotted the distinctive chubby seed capsule of the fritillary! Yay—a third site for Lane County! We hunted around for a while, finding a few of the frit’s still glaucous leaves and many more already dried up ones. They only seemed to be in one stretch of the middle of the slope. A trip earlier in the year might yield a better idea of how robust this population is. We also saw many freshly emerging broomrapes. Had we been earlier, we would have missed these. This is why we make multiple trips to the same site; you can never see everything in bloom at one time. It was hard to say what the broomrapes were parasitizing here. While there were both Oregon sunshine (Eriophyllum lanatum) and the buckwheats here—plants I’ve seen associated with them in the past—it seemed like they were growing most often near the abundant bare-stem lomatium (Lomatium nudicaule).

Cliff paintbrush was blooming on this roadside cliff just north of Bristow Prairie, along with lots of Scouler's valerian (Valeriana scouleri). These two are often found growing together in the Western Cascades.

Cliff paintbrush (Castilleja rupicola) was blooming on this roadside cliff just north of Bristow Prairie, along with lots of Scouler’s valerian (Valeriana scouleri). These two are often found growing together in the Western Cascades.

Cliff paintbrush (Castilleja rupicola) has very slender lobes. The leaves often take on this gorgeous purple coloration when more exposed, like this one that was growing at the edge of the gravel road.

Cliff paintbrush has very slender lobes. The leaves often take on this gorgeous purple coloration on more exposed plants, like this one that was growing at the edge of the gravel road.

Eventually we headed back down the trail. When we reached the pillar rock again, I had to take out the binoculars and scan the rock again. Somehow I hadn’t noticed it earlier in the day—probably because the light was so different—but there were clumps of red in the cracks. I was tempted to try to climb a sloping area in the middle of the vertical sections to get closer, but there really wasn’t time, and I was pretty sure by the flower color, height, and habitat that these were cliff paintbrush (Castilleja rupicola). I was thrilled to find yet another population down here in the Calapooyas at the southern end of their range but still a little disappointed that I couldn’t really confirm it from that far away. My disappointment was very short-lived. After returning to the car, we drove the extra mile farther down the road to check on the patch of least moonworts (Botrychium simplex) we had found last year. Just before reaching that stretch of road, there is a small cliff. With the late afternoon sun bathing the normally shaded rocks, we could see numerous bright red patches of paintbrush—Castilleja rupicola! This is probably the eighth time I’ve driven by this cliff but had never noticed them before. I guess it was lucky for us it was so late in the day that they were lit up so brightly. They grew all the way from the top of the cliff to a gravelly slope below and down onto the road cut, and one plant was even growing in the gravel at the edge of the road! After taking lots of photos of these unusually easily accessed plants, we set about looking for the tiny moonworts. We found the stretch I had seen them in last year. Although even smaller than last year, many just emerging, we were able to spot a great many of them in an area three times longer than we had noted them in last year. It really was getting late at this point, so we had to tear ourselves away from this amazing area but already we’re planning a return trip in a few weeks to see all the plants not yet in bloom and see what other discoveries Bristow Prairie still has to offer us.

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