A Day of Uncommon Ferns and Sedges

Larkspur covered the mossy rocks of Sacandaga Bluff.

On May 3, John Koenig and I went back to Rigdon to check out what I now call Sacandaga Bluff, a wonderful rocky area hidden away between the Middle Fork of the Willamette River and Sacandaga Campground. Last year, Ed Alverson had told us he found a population there of Sierra cliffbrake (Pellaea brachyptera), an unusual fern found more commonly to the south. It is one of my favorite ferns, and I’ve written about finding new spots for it in Lane County several times. I went to this spot a couple of times later year, and once earlier this year (see last report), but I still wanted to see it in its high spring bloom.

The new leaves of Sierra cliffbrake don’t turn beautiful glaucous blue until they mature. To the right is another rock fern, Indian dream (Aspidotis densa).

Woodsia scopulina could be confused at a glance with the much more common fragile fern (Cystopteris fragilis), which was also growing on the rocks here. Close up, the hairs on the woodsia distinguish them. After looking at them for a while, we realized I good way to tell them apart at a distance (handy since they are often growing on inaccessible rocks) is by the old dead fronds, which are upright and persistent in Woodsia and hanging down and often deciduous in the fragile fern.

There are a couple of very short paths that lead from the end of the campground to the bottom and top of the rocks on the east end of the bluff. We decided to take the left one, start at the bottom, and climb up the rocks to the top—it’s always easier finding a foothold on the way up, and it is easier to see plants as well. Ed had also spotted another uncommon fern there, mountain cliff fern (Woodsia scopulina), but John and I hadn’t been able to locate it last year. This year, we were successful, finding a couple on the way up and another at the other end of the bluff. I also saw some with the binoculars that were out of reach on the front of the cliff. This is the only spot I know where both of these uncommon species can be found.

The show of bright purple Menzies’ larkspur on the way up was outstanding. This part of the bluff was still moist, no doubt because it is partly shaded by the tall trees to the south. Unfortunately, the upper parts were already toasted from the unfortunate spring drought we were in the midst of. The path at the top goes through a short stretch of woods before popping out at another rocky cliff area. In that area, we saw some fresh striped coralroots (Corallorhiza striata) and fairy slippers (Calypso bulbosa).

Like the eastern side, the upper parts of the western area were pretty dried out, although the Sierra cliffbrake was still unfurling its new fronds. We climbed down the front until we got to a shadier patch where there was still some fresh California mistmaiden (Romanzoffia californica) in bloom. This is where John spotted another mountain cliff fern. On our way back, in the woods just above the open rocky area, we spotted an unusual sedge that has wiry foliage that at first looks like a rush (Juncus). It seemed vaguely familiar to me, and I wondered if it wasn’t one John and I had seen on our trip to Medicine Creek Road in the North Umpqua last year (see Terrific Day at Medicine Creek Road). It turns out it was, in fact, the same species: many-stemmed sedge (Carex multicaulis). The only other place it has been recorded in Lane County is at Grassy Glade. That’s just a mile or so southeast of this spot, making this the northernmost edge of its known range. We’ll be on the lookout for it elsewhere, as I think it is likely there is more in the Rigdon area.

We still had time for more exploring, so we decided to see what was blooming at Many Creeks Meadow. I had tried to get there on my previous trips but always ran out of time. While the drought had hit parts of the meadow, there was still plenty to see. We hit the blooming of the buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus) perfectly, and the Pacific houndstongue (now Adelinia grande) and fern-leaved lomatium (Lomatium dissectum) were both in bloom as well. We even found some fawn lilies (Erythronium oregonum) still flowering. We were disappointed that the buckbrush seemed to be attracting so few insects to the masses of blooms, but both moths and butterflies seemed to love the houndstongue. So did we!

The colors of this little spider mimic the black and white of northwestern sedge (Carex concinnoides). The sedge is distinctive for having 4 stamens and is found in a lot of the dry woods in the Rigdon area.

The seepy areas of Many Creeks Meadow were still moist and filled with monkeyflower (Erythranthe/Mimulus) and the buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus) was in full bloom.

One of my favorite seedlings is that of diamond clarkia (Clarkia rhomboidea), with its bowling pin-like cotyledons. The purple veins are apparent in both the cotyledons and the early true leaves. They continue for a while as the leaves grow, but the purple has mostly disappeared by the time the plant flowers.

From Many Creeks Meadow, we could see a brand new clearcut in the private inholding in the forest. I had been out earlier in the season when all the trucks were hauling the wood out. A dead patch of conifers among the oaks in the meadow might be casualties of the last few years of drought.

Leave a Reply

Post Categories
Notification of New Posts