Exploring the Meadows by Hills Creek Dam

A couple of weeks ago, Sabine Dutoit and I spent a little while along Kitson Springs Road 23, just east of the dam on Hills Creek Reservoir (see Late Start to a New Year of Botanizing). I hadn’t ever been to several meadows hidden from the road, so I decided that would be a good trip to do May 8 after getting a late start getting out in the morning—no gravel driving and relatively close to home.

From the meadows above Road 23, there’s a wonderful view to the south of a very full (!) Hills Creek Reservoir.

It was a gorgeous day, and the views of the lake and surrounding hills were lovely. The silvery lupine (Lupinus albifrons) along the road were starting to bloom, but overall things hadn’t advanced that much only 10 days later. Sabine and I had caught a glimpse of the largest of the upper meadows from the road in one spot, so I decided to head up that way. I brought some clippers and gloves because we had noticed some poison oak at the beginning of the animal path leading into the woods. The clippers were useful when I ran into some blooming Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius) in the woods, but after a while I gave up cutting poison oak out of my way—it was everywhere! Luckily most of it was short, and although I had to do a lot of zig-zagging, I was mostly able to avoid coming into contact with it other than my shoes. Everything went into the laundry as soon as I got home—including the shoes—and a week later now, I can say with relief that I never got a rash!

The largest of the hidden meadows had pretty patches of monkeyflower among the oaks.

Upland yellow violet

Clearly many animals use this area because the paths through the woods were numerous and well trodden. One led right into the main meadow. It was very pretty with a few good-sized oaks. About the only color was the bright yellow of seep monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus). I brought my recorder and did a fairly careful survey and found a number of things not yet in bloom that would add color to the meadow later on, including narrowleaf mule’s ears (Wyethia angustifolia), rose checkermallow (Sidalcea malviflora ssp. virgata), rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta), and a number of bulbs.

What was unexpected were several large areas of upland yellow violet (Viola praemorsa). I’d only seen this once in the area, up on Aubrey Mountain just a little north on the other side of Highway 58. It was blooming beautifully on two sides of the meadow. I noticed with interest that it seemed to prefer being out in the meadow but just beyond the edge of the conifers. Many violets prefer shade, but I didn’t find any under the oaks, so there was something different about the light or perhaps the competition under the oaks.

Carolina geranium Bicknell’s cranesbill is a little less hairy than dovefoot geranium, and the petals are less notched.

Upon leaving the meadow, I headed through the woods to the meadow just to the east and a little lower. This is the one just above the roadside cliffs that I photographed from below in my post from the previous trip. There was a slightly different suite of plants here, partly because it is much rockier. Also, it is 200′ lower, so more was in bloom, including a number of pretty Menzies’ larkspur (Delphinium menziesii). There were oodles of cat’s ears (Calochortus tolmiei) leaves and a few early blossoms. I remember seeing this meadow covered with their lovely white flowers once years before. Showy tarweed (Madia elegans) was not yet in bloom, but would also be very cheery soon. There were lots of small weeds, including dovefoot geranium (Geranium molle). Since this pretty species isn’t anywhere near as aggressive as its nasty cousin shining geranium (G. lucidum), and I have lots of it on my own property, I barely look at it. I did eventually notice that there were a number of small geraniums that were pale pink to white and somehow different—perhaps a bit more upright. I looked it up when I got home and discovered these are most likely Carolina geranium (G. carolinianum)—a native. I wasn’t familiar with that species, and there are so many non-native geraniums that I must admit it never occurred to me it might be native. Correction: as Bruce Newhouse notes in his comment below, this is actually Bicknell’s cranesbill (G. bicknellii). This species sometimes appears after burning. I know the Forest Service planned to burn some of these meadows last fall, but the extra rainy October weather forced them to postpone. I’m not sure if the meadows were burned earlier, but it will be interesting to see how the geranium responds to burning.

Silvery blues were nectaring on purple sanicle as well as vetches along the road.

Since this meadow sits atop a roadcut cliff, there isn’t any obvious way to get back down to the road below. I should have gone back through the woods to the trail I originally went up but instead headed out the east end and tried to walk down a creek bed. Between the poison oak and blackberries, this was NOT the easy way out, but I did see a number of common woodland species that I hadn’t seen before, including the beautiful and fragrant false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) and a mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii) whose gorgeous scent won’t fill the air till next month.

After a quick stop at my car for a snack, I went back down the road and found a way to climb up to the large western meadow that didn’t involve going through poison oak. Not much was in bloom yet other than the purple sanicle (Sanicula bipinnatifida) that was still blooming since the earlier trip, but I did find more mule’s ears and checkermallow coming up. I was getting tired at this point, but my curiousity prevailed as usual, and I decided to go up to the small meadow hidden above this roadside one. I really wanted to know if the upland yellow violet might be up there as well.

Unusual pale pink annual lupines dotted the western upper meadow.

I followed another major animal trail to the west end of the meadow. Nothing much there, but along the upper edge of the meadow were dozens of pale pink miniature lupines. In the other meadows I had seen a few of the dark-purple-flowered annual species that is called small-flowered lupine (Lupinus polycarpus) for good reason. Occasionally individual pink- or white-flowered plants can be found of lupines and other purple-flowered species, but I’d never seen a whole population of any lupines this color. While at first glance they seemed quite similar to species in the lower meadows, there were subtle differences. The pedicels seemed a little longer, so the inflorescence wasn’t as tight, and it also had fewer flowers. Also, the angle between the banner and keel was more open in the pink plants than the purple ones. I’m not sure yet, but I think these might be an unusual color form of two-color lupine (Lupinus bicolor), which is sometimes thought of as conspecific with L. polycarpus but is considered a separate species by the Oregon Flora Project. An interesting feature of both species is a white splotch on the banner that turns bright pink as the flowers age—just a guess, but perhaps this signals to insects that the flower has already been pollinated.

An adorable skunk suddenly noticed he/she had company.

As I headed east toward the bend in this L-shaped meadow, I caught sight of something moving around in the grass under the shade of a conifer. Surprise, surprise—it was a striped skunk! Another of those end-of-the-day treats I so delight in. I watched it poking around in the grass for 3 or 4 minutes from a safe distance before it finally looked up and realized it wasn’t alone. It gave me one disappointed look straight into the camera, then turned around and waddled back off into the woods. As I walked down through the meadow into the woods, I found a large area of the upland yellow violets AND the biggest population of Shelton’s violet (Viola sheltonii) I had ever seen, both in bloom. Although I had to head down the steep 400′ elevation drop back through the poison oak-filled woods, I was really thankful I hadn’t let fatigue discourage me from exploring this last special spot and look forward to returning soon to see what other surprises this area has in store for me.

4 Responses to “Exploring the Meadows by Hills Creek Dam”

  • Wilbur Bluhm:

    Hi Tanya,

    Your poison oak encounter reminded of a time when an insurance company hired me to make a damage assessment of an oak grove that had been in a fire. I was surprised to see perhaps the greatest population of poison oak I had seen. I wondered how was it possible to get through this without a terrible “infection” of poison oak, but amazingly I came through it with no rash. It was impossible to avoid the poison oak. Just as you did above, each time after entering and then leaving the grove I went home immediately after, put all my clothes in washing machine without letting my wife touch them. I also then used Technu, a produce of a Eugene company, in washing up after getting home. Whatever, it all worked.

    Your trip above sounds great. Thanks for including me on your trip stories. I’ve been on a couple short hikes at the coast, but that’s been it so far this spring.

    Best wishes,

    Wilbur Bluhm

  • Hi Wilbur,

    Poison oak is one plant I really do hate, but washing with Technu (Dawn dishwashing liquid also helps) and laundering everything usually prevents a rash. When I get it really badly is usually not when I’m in it, but when my cats have been in it and I don’t realize it, so I don’t get the oil off in a timely manner. My face has blown up many times—you’d think that would teach me to stopping kissing my kitties, but some things are too important to give up. Instead, I’ve made a largely successful effort to remove all the poison oak from their favorite spots.

    I hope you have a chance to get out more, it’s looking like it will be a great year for flowers!


  • Bruce:

    Hi, Tanya!
    Great, great plant stories as always — and a skunk to boot! One doesn’t get to see them out and about very often!
    I think your geranium is G. bicknellii. I got some seed from the Coburgs a few years ago, and it has been a cute little annual in one bed in our yard for several years. I never know exactly where it is going to spring up!
    Thanks for the vicarious experience.

  • Thanks so much for the correction, Bruce! Yes, it is actually Geranium bicknellii, a nice native.

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