Purple Milkweed on the Illahee Flat Trail

An interesting beetle on the purple milkweed flower

While we have been concentrating on surveying purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) in the Rigdon area of Lane County, there are also a few known populations in similar low elevation meadows and rocky slopes and on the north side of the North Umpqua. Medicine Creek Road is a fabulous and easy place to see a large population growing by a paved road. I also found another population in a nearby meadow when Nancy Bray and I were down there two summers ago (see A Week of Monarchs and Milkweed: Day 3). Crystal Shepherd, who had been working for the Forest Service in the Middle Fork District a couple of years ago, went back to work in the North Umpqua last year. She had remembered seeing another population along the Illahee Flat trail a number of years before and went back to relocate it last summer. We were all happy to hear it was still there. I never made it down last summer, but on June 1, I went down there with Kris Elsbree of Walama Restoration.

Henderson’s cluster-lily (Triteleia hendersonii) is more often seen to the south, so I was very excited that Kris spotted this one plant in the woods along the trail. The purple stripes on the petals make it much showier than hyacinth cluster-lily (Triteleia hyacinthina) that I see much more often up my way.

Kris gave a talk about the monarch and milkweed work to the Elkton Community Education Center in Douglas County in the morning. They have an amazing 30-acre facility, which houses a library, a cafe, a small shop, gardens, a garden center where you can buy milkweed plants (Asclepias speciosa and A. fascicularis) and other pollinator favorites, and a butterfly pavilion where they have been raising monarchs for many years. It is especially impressive for a town as small as Elkton is! They have also been tagging and releasing their monarchs. Hand-rearing the eggs and caterpillars until they emerge as butterflies is a great way to help the population out since so few survive to adulthood on their own in the wild.

Looking past the burned forest of the Boulder Creek Wilderness, we could see nearby Eagle Rock. A thunderstorm was brewing to the east, but luckily the rumbling stopped soon after we arrived at the meadow.

After the talk, we drove to the Illahee Flat trail, which is a couple of miles up Illahee Road 4760 (just east of the Dry Creek Store on Highway 138). The trail heads through fairly level woods for before dropping down a little to a small meadow about 3/4 of a mile in. The meadow itself was pretty steep. Happily, the milkweed was mostly right by the trail. Unlike a couple of days before at Grassy Glade where it was barely started, these plants were almost finished blooming. The meadow was much lower in elevation (~2000′) and about 12 miles or so farther south. Most of the meadow was quite dry, but there was a lovely seep still green and filled with monkeyflower (Mimulus/Erythranthe sp.).

In contrast with most of the dried out meadow, the seep was still looking fresh.

After making a count of the milkweed here, we decided to take a look at another meadow just uphill. Well, “just uphill” turned out to be a bit of an understatement. It didn’t seem very far up, only about 150′ to the top from the trail, but I was surprised at how hard it was for me. The ground was dry and gritty, with no solid rock outcrops to climb on. It was really hard to get a foothold, and I found it exhausting just trying to stand in one place. I’m sure it would have been easier had the soil been at all moist.

Kris looking at some milkweed on the very steep slope of the upper meadow.

Perhaps because of my recent broken wrist, I was especially worried about losing my balance. I took very few photos because I didn’t feel very stable and was really concerned about dropping my camera or my phone, which I was tallying plants on, and having either of them rolling way back down the slope. I also didn’t want to slip because there were patches of poison oak scattered about, and I’d just gotten over my second unpleasant bout of itchy rash in the last month. I made my way up to and into the upper meadow much more slowly than Kris (and to be fair to myself, he does have longer legs and is over 20 years younger than I am!). We were very happy to find some more milkweed in the upper meadow—it certainly made me feel better about putting myself through that.

Branching montia (Montia diffusa) is an interesting annual that shows up after forest fires and then disappears for long periods of time until the forest burns again.

Kris continued all the way to the top of the meadow where there was an actual outcrop. I decided I was not going up one more foot that I might have to then go back down, so I made a slow beeline across the meadow trying to find some animal tracks to put my feet in. When we met up again on the west end of the meadow, he told me he had seen a lone elk. So that’s who had been making the tracks across the slope. I would like to have seen her and thanked her for making some sort of a path for me. There was no way I was going back downhill to the trail, so we went straight across into the forest and used the map and GPS on my phone to relocate the trail, which was at about the same level at that point. Boy was I happy to be back on a trail! I bushwhack all the time, but that was worse than most I can remember. Still, I was really thrilled to have seen the milkweed there and hope to get back some day to check out another meadow farther down the trail and other similar meadows along the North Umpqua that might have milkweed. There’s just never time to see everything in one day.

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