First Trip to Cliffs Northwest of Bristow Prairie


Looking north at the cliff face and the rocky meadow above. The longer dead grass and foliage in the front marks where there is a seep that must drip down over the cliff. Some large green and brownish clumps of Merriam’s alumroot can also be seen on the vertical rock just to the right of the large, shaded crack in the center.

Back in early June, I went to Pyramid Rock in southern Lane County (see Peak Bloom at Pyramid Rock) and got a good view of some cliffs on the west side of the ridge near Bristow Prairie. I’ve been hankering to explore them ever since. I checked them out on Google Earth and discovered they were only a few hundred feet below the High Divide trail. On my last trip to Bristow Prairie, there wasn’t time to squeeze a bushwhack in, and the weather wasn’t very good, so I had to put it off again. So on Friday, August 15, John Koenig and I decided getting to the cliffs would be our main goal, even though the plants would no doubt be finished blooming. After staying at home for over a week, waiting for the heat and thunderstorms to abate, I was raring to go.


Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) was abundant in the forest. You can see last year’s seed capsules still intact in the middle of the clump.

Starting at the north trailhead, we passed the wonderful pillar rock (should we call it Bristow Rock for lack of a better name?) and cut down through the woods to a little hidden wetland we had seen on our earlier trips along this stretch of trail. It was filled with sedges and grasses, including some nodding semaphore grass (Pleuropogon retrofractus), which I was pleased I had been able to ID accurately on the earlier trip with my binoculars (For a photo of this distinctive grass, check out NPSO Trip to Nevergo Meadow and Elk Camp.). Bright pink Cooley’s hedge nettle (Stachys cooleyae) was abundant and attracting several rufous hummingbirds. I tried and tried to get a decent photo of them, but hummingbirds move so fast, and the light wasn’t very good in this small opening in the forest. Still, watching them is always great fun.


The long, narrow tubular flowers of Cooley’s hedgenettle make it a perfect late season hummingbird plant.

From the wetland, we wrapped around through the open woods, following numerous deer trails, checking the GPS for waypoints I had placed on it marking the northern edge of the rocky opening. In no time, we popped out right where we wanted. We were both thrilled at how easy it was and how promising the area looked. There’s a fairly good-sized, open, rocky meadow above the cliffs with a number of small Oregon white oaks (Quercus garryana). We set about surveying the area, a challenging goal as most of the plants were drying up. But forensic botany is fun, so we enjoyed figuring out what all the dead stalks and empty seed capsules were and what they must have looked like in bloom earlier in the summer. The common and very late-blooming Hall’s goldenweed (Columbiadoria hallii) was just barely in bloom, but about the only other flowers were some stray reblooming bluefield gilia (Gilia capitata), the small annual knotweeds (Polygonum cascadense, P. minimum, and P. spergulariiforme), and an occasional common monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus, now being split and renamed Erythranthe, but I don’t know the new species—I may have to write a whole post when I figure out what’s going on with monkeyflower taxonomy!).

Rocky Mountain spikemoss

Spikemosses dry up in the summer but are able to quickly rejuvenate after a rain. The recent thunderstorms clearly had dumped some rain in this area. Not only was there a lot of wet foliage when we arrived, but the Rocky Mountain spikemoss (Selaginella scopulorum) was greened up again.

The rocky, gently sloping habitat reminded me of many other wonderful sites in southeastern Lane County, and I kept my eye open for uncommon plants I’d seen in those other spots. One did appear as we spotted several rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) plants at the top of the cliff itself. We tried to look at the front of the vertical cliff from several safe vantage points, but we couldn’t find any more. The cliff was quite impressive, around 100–150′ of vertical drop. At the base was a talus slope of sorts, but much of it was moss-covered, and it appeared as though it was fairly stable with few good spaces under the rocks for pikas. I’m not sure how we would be able to get down there, so I suppose it is just as well that there wasn’t anything tempting enough to beckon me down. The cracks in the vertical cliff face were home to quite a few clumps of Merriam’s alumroot (Heuchera merriamii), which were covered with short brown stalks, evidence of a good bloom earlier in the season. Lots of cliff penstemon (Penstemon rupicola) was also in seed.

While all the plants were pretty darn dry, there was a lot of evidence that it is quite damp in spring and early summer. There were many areas filled with stalks of rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta), already emptied of seeds but still distinctive. Old monkeyflower calices were also evident in these spots. There were several large patches of cup clover (Trifolium cyathiferum), which John and I had also discovered blooming in seepy area on the south end of this ridge in early July last year (see More Discoveries Just South of Bristow Prairie). The seepy parts of the south meadows also had the sweet endemic Thompson’s mistmaiden (Romanzoffia thompsonii), so I set about looking for evidence of it here. Sure enough, there were remnants of its tiny two-parted capsules under the clover. We were excited to see how diverse the area was and definitely want to make visiting this spot a high priority next year. Such a long time to wait!


Judging by the brightness of its coloration, this stunning hydaspe fritillary must be quite fresh. It is nectaring on goldenrod (Solidago sp.)

We finally tore ourselves away and headed back up through the woods to the north meadow where we could eventually rejoin the trail. This took a bit more time than going down had as there was more elevation gain, but it wasn’t really all that bad, and again we popped out right where we wanted to be at the northwest end of the meadow. From there we headed to the far end to check out a small wetland we had explored on our last visit. Crossing the meadow was very discouraging as it was completely covered with Klamath weed (Hypericum perforatum). Perhaps this was evidence of past grazing, but whatever the disturbance was, it was too late to rid the meadow of this pest. The wetter end was far more pleasant with lots of freshly blooming Gairdner’s yampah (Perideridia [gairdneri] montana) and Cascade grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia fimbriata). There were a few butterflies flying about, including Edith’s coppers, Anna’s blues, pine whites, an orange sulphur, a clodius parnassian, and several fritillaries. More Cooley’s hedgenettle was again attracting hummingbirds.

How to identify western coralroot out of bloom

This week, I finally learned a good way to identify western coralroot (Corallorhiza mertensiana) out of bloom. On the ovary of coralroots, there is a projection called a “mentum”. In most of our species, it is little more than a bump, like that on the right on a seed capsule of spotted coralroot (C. maculata). But the mentum of western coralroot (left photo) is quite conspicuous. The wonderful thing is the mentum is visible in bud, in flower, and in fruit! For years, I’ve had to enter Corallorhiza sp. on my plant lists if I could not find a fresh flower. At the end of these seed capsules, you can also (sort of) see the dried petals and sepals—long and skinny on the western and shorter and wider on the spotted. Striped coralroot (C. striata) is also found at Bristow Prairie, but not in this area. It also has little if any bump on the ovary. To see the mentum in buds and flowers, check out Gerry Carr’s great photos of C. mertensiana at

One last thing I’d been wanting to check out here since starting to explore the north end of the trail was the big rock itself. I just hadn’t had time or energy to do this on the last few trips, but since, in spite of all the bushwhacking, we hadn’t actually walked very far, I decided to try climbing up the side of the pillar rock. Where the trail switchbacks by the inner side of the rock, there’s a reasonably sloped section in the center. It’s kind of like the rock has three steep (very steep!) sides in a U-shape surrounding a lower section in the middle. A Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia) somewhat blocks the way up but was actually useful to pull myself up the slope beneath it. From there, it was surprisingly easy to climb around. I quickly made my way up to a great viewpoint where I could see north to Moon Point and Youngs Rock. With the plants well past bloom and John waiting below, I headed back down, satisfied that I could—and should—climb up again on some future trip when the cliff penstemon, spotted saxifrage (Saxifraga bronchialis), and other plants were in bloom. Can’t wait!

5 Responses to “First Trip to Cliffs Northwest of Bristow Prairie”

  • Wilbur Bluhm:

    Hi Tanya,

    Re: Hypericum perforatum. If a population, even a small one, of “Goatweed Beetles” (I think it’s Chrysolina quadrigemina) was introduced into the infested meadow it has the potential to do wonders. Visit with your local weed control people or State Dept. of Agriculture for sources.

  • Kristy Swanson:

    Forensic botany is a great term.

  • Jeffrey Caldwell:


    I’ve found your posts useful sources of information about butterfly use of plants. One of the things I was surprised to learn is that Indian Pipe may be of butterfly interest … haven’t gotten any records of that from the West yet, but seems possible. In a plant-by-plant compilation this is what I have for Indian Pipe:

    Monotropa uniflora. Indian Pipe. Ericaceae. Nectar: Silver-spotted Skipper (Shields; from Clark).

    According to Clark Indian Pipe is a “favorite” flower for the Silver-spotted Skipper and “causes them to exhibit curious irregularities of movement and a greater or lesser degree of stupefaction” (Clark, p. 59)! Indian Pipe is similarly a favorite with and so affects the Northern Cloudywing, as well (Clark, p. 205). In a recent Midwestern reproductive ecology study, the major pollinators and most common flower visitors of Indian Pipe were bumblebees (Klooster and Culley, 2009). Likely the butterflies, as often the case when it comes to their role in plant reproduction, are mere nectar thieves. June – July.

    Indian Pipe is a strange plant; mycotrophic — parasitic on the hyphae of mycorrhizal fungi of the fungus family Russulaceae (brittlegills, Russula, and milk-caps, Lactarius) and also other sorts of fungi that are symbiotic with the roots of trees (such as pines, spruces, firs, oaks, aspens, birches). Thus, indirectly, Indian Pipe gets its nutrition from the trees which are in association with the fungi. Indian Pipe has no chlorophyll and thus the plant is mostly a ghostly white.

  • Hi Jeffrey,

    Really interesting info about butterflies nectaring on indian pipe. I’ve never noticed any pollinators on them, but I occasionally see pollinators on coralroot, pine drops, and some of the other mycotrophs.

  • Hi Wilbur,

    I do see the beetles eating Klamath weed fairly often in the mountains, but it is still so abundant I can’t imagine they could make much of a dent in most of the populations. But there’s always hope!

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