Snow Almost Gone, Flowering Has Begun at Patterson

Springtime means skunk cabbage and mountain buttercups blooming in the lovely wetland at the bottom of the large meadow on the south side of Patterson Mountain.

Still anxious to see early mountain flowers, yesterday, May 23, I headed up to Patterson Mountain. In spite of it being my 29th trip up there, I took a wrong turn on the way up. Last year they started heavy thinning of the surrounding forest, and the main Patterson Mountain Road 5840 is hardly recognizable with the reopening of many old side roads. At one point, both sides of a “Y” in the road look equally well used and the road sign for the side road is in the middle. Hopefully, I’ll remember from now on that the right turn to take is the right turn!

The gorgeous silvery lupine on the steep rocky slope at Indian Dream Meadow. The bright green ferns are indian dream fern (Aspidotis densa) which inspired our name for the area.

Hall’s lomatium after someone, most likely a bear, has picked off the roots

Before heading to Patterson, I stopped at what John Koenig and I named “Indian Dream Meadow,” hidden away just a short way through the woods by the old quarry on Road 1714. I was greeted by gorgeous blooming silvery lupine (Lupinus albifrons), Menzies’ larkspur (Delphinium menziesii), coastal manroot (Marah oregana), and the first paintbrush (Castilleja sp.), blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia parviflora and C. grandiflora), and Olympic onion (Allium crenulatum). I was especially pleased to find quite a few of the endemic spring phacelia (Phacelia verna) on the rocks at the west end—more than I remember seeing when John and I discovered the population in 2016 (see From the Minute to the Majestic). Of interest was all the bear activity. In addition to many piles of scat, clumps of moss and Wallace’s spikemoss (Selaginella wallacei) were torn off the rocks, with many rootless tops of Hall’s lomatium (Lomatium hallii) left tossed about. I wonder why that species is so tasty to bears (at least in this area of the Cascades), yet the abundant spring gold (Lomatium utriculatum) seems to be completely ignored.

Skunk cabbage blooming by the outlet creek in the southern wetland. I hadn’t realized that our skunk cabbage had become a weed in Great Britain, but my husband came across some articles (click here) about how much they hate it.

Since I knew it would be too wet to explore the wetlands in regular shoes, I donned my rubber boots upon arriving at the Patterson Mountain trailhead (the current sign says “Lawler Trail” but while that continues downhill a long way, the trail splits partway, and most of the main trail heads up to the summit of Patterson). After a few bends in the trail, I headed west down into the forest. I used to have a marker by a tree so I knew where I could quickly find the major animal trail, but that has long since disappeared. The south wetland is only about 2/10 of a mile off the trail, however, so it’s not hard to find. My new route brought me a little farther south than in the past, so I popped out of the woods along the outlet creek just below the meadow. What a beautiful spot! The alders above it were just beginning to unfurl their leaves, filtering the light with that beautiful early spring chartreuse. There were actually two creeks carrying water out of the wetland, running through a mass of still-blooming skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus). While most people associate skunk cabbage with the skunky smell of their crushed leaves, the fragrance of the flowers is much sweeter, and I enjoyed it wafting in the air. I found the perfect lunch spot, on a horizontally growing alder. Somehow, the perfect ambience from the beautiful music of the creek, the light, the fragrance in the air, the scenery, and the pleasant temperature all made my simple pistachio butter, avocado, and spinach sandwich taste like a gourmet meal!

For the time being, at least, the Hall’s lomatium was blooming undisturbed in the seepy southside meadow.

One of the most ubiquitous wildflowers in the forest was the pretty California toothwort (Cardamine californica).

Eventually, I headed up through the wetland where the brilliant yellow flowers of my favorite buttercup, mountain buttercup (Ranunculus populago) were coming into bloom. Yellow stream violets (Viola glabella) were also abundant in the wet open areas as well as in the shade. I made my way up the animal trail (now a creek in some spots) to the upper section of meadow. A deer caught sight of me and bolted into the woods. Obviously they’re not as accustomed to people as the ones who live on my property and have to be yelled at when I catch them eating my wildflowers. Once again, I decided to alter my usual route, following the deer into the woods. I had the aerial view of the mountain on my phone, so I knew this would still take me into the next southside meadow just a bit farther east than usual. I still had to duck under a bunch of vine maples, but I was able to follow the deer trail right to the seepy meadow. It was also very fresh, with loads of Hall’s lomatium and Thompson’s mistmaiden (Romanzoffia thompsonii). Rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta) buds were coloring up, giving a hint of the next wave of flowers to come.

From there I headed up into the forest to a very small meadow, where I got to see my first glacier lily (Erythronium grandiflorum) of the year. There weren’t very many, but they were joined by a number of Lyall’s anemones (Anemone lyallii). The official trail is only a couple of hundred feet to the north, so I was on it in minutes. I had thought that the off-trail bushwhacking would be the hardest part of the hike—one of the reasons I started my loop clockwise—but when I reached the trail, there were a number of large trees across it, and there were even more on the rest of the trail. It might have been easier to head back cross country!

The rocky area at the end of the trail was still quite wet and supporting seep-lovers like rustyhair saxifrage. There’s a nice view to the north of Lookout Point Reservoir and beyond.

Spreading phlox and small-flowered blue-eyed Mary on the rock outcrops at the viewpoint.

After a stop to see more glacier lilies and anemones in the upper meadow just off the trail, I finished my lunch on the bench at the end of the trail. The Three Sisters were snow white, and I could see lingering snow way to the north on Iron Mountain, Cone Peak, and even Coffin Mountain, over 60 miles to the northeast. The glacier lilies had passed in the rock outcrops here, and the spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa) was going over, but the rustyhair saxifrage (Micranthes rufidula) was abundant and at peak bloom. I hadn’t seen more than a few butterflies all day (still a fairly cool day, especially at this elevation of about 4400′), but a single Moss’s elfin was nectaring on Hall’s lomatium. There was a lot of their host plant, broadleaf stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium) nearby, but it wasn’t blooming yet.

Climbing up, over, and around the fallen trees in the magnificent old-growth forest slowed down the trip back (the rubber boots didn’t help!), but I still had plenty of time to explore the wet meadow by the Lone Wolf Shelter. My memories of early spring at Patterson revolve around mountain buttercup, and they are even more proliferous in this wetland than the one to the southwest. They were glorious, and I spent a lot of time photographing them. In one section of the still very soupy meadow, they were surrounded by another favorite wetland flower, small white violet (Viola macloskeyi). I was surprised that I was actually too early for the gorgeous bloom of alpine laurel (Kalmia microphylla), although there were a few open flowers. Some snowbanks along the edge of the wetland attest to how early it is in the bloom season. Sadly, I also think of early spring here as a time for frogs, but I never saw a single one. I hope this isn’t a sign of their perilous decline.

Mountain buttercup and small white violet like to grow in very wet places.

As I was squatting down in the violets and buttercups, suddenly a loud call came from the woods to my right, maybe up high in the trees. I was doubly startled when it was answered by some mysterious creature in the forest just on the other side of the wetland. I stood up quickly and tried to wake my phone up to record the conversation, but I missed the last response on my right, and then there was silence before it started calling again from much farther away—too quiet for my phone to pick it up. I have no idea who the callers were, but the best I can describe it is that they sounded like owls imitating a coyote. I had a momentary wave of fear that I was surrounded by a pack of wolves, but I think that was an instinctive reaction to such a loud and unfamiliar sound. What an unexpected and cool way to end the day!

8 Responses to “Snow Almost Gone, Flowering Has Begun at Patterson”

  • Valarie Taylor:

    I enjoy reading your posts. I absolutely love all the flora and fauna in Oregon. I visited Browder ridge on Saturday and everything was under snow. I’ll be returning in about 3 weeks to a month and enjoy the wonderful wildflowers.

  • Thanks for the heads up, Valarie!

  • Sue Mandeville:

    Wow, wonderful photos and writing. I could see, hear and enjoy the lunch scene with you. Do you have a photo of Viola glabella? I think I have it growing in my garden. Do take any precautions for running into bears or wolves? Thanks, Sue

  • Jill:

    Glad to have you back posting, Tanya! Steve and I have been getting out to some cool places, enjoying the flowers. We need to have you along to identify ALL.of them, though! Thanks for the posts!

  • Bruce N.:

    Great inspiration! I so appreciate your love of Cascade flora and fauna!

  • Gail Baker:

    Tanya, Clay and I so enjoyed this hike on 5/27/20. It was perfect and the rock garden at the end was a REAL treat. Can’t wait to return to see all the Allium’s in bloom. The fragrances along the entire trail were amazing from butterscotch and vanilla to earthy fresh new growth and more. So many wildflowers and so much more to come. Thanks for posting all these wonderful places for wildflower viewing.

  • John Koenig:

    As always, great report and photo’s Tanya! I hiked Patterson yesterday (Tuesday, 2 June) and wanted to give you an update that the trail to the top is now completely cleared. No more downed trees to navigate around. Also, I found that Rd. 5847 is much nicer than 5840. Clear all the way to the top and Rd.555, no current logging and few potholes. Finally, the Kalmia is now in full gorgeous bloom! And R. populago is still growing strong.

  • Thanks for the update, John! Good to know about Road 5847. I rarely go that way because I like to pass by Indian Dream Meadow, but it would make a good loop.

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