Seed Collecting at Heckletooth Mountain

Left: blooming phantom orchid in July. Right: developing seed capsules of a yellow spotted coralroot. These occur occasionally and are somewhat like albino versions. There are some near both trailheads at Heckletooth.

I hadn’t been to Heckletooth Mountain near Oakridge since 2016. It’s one of a very few sites I know in the area that has large-fruited lomatium (Lomatium macrocarpum), a plant I really wanted to try in my restoration area. I have a few plants on my property that came up from Heckletooth seeds sown years ago, but they are swamped by weedy grass and never bloom, so it was time to try again.

I always look in the woods on the summit ridge for a small population of Bald Mountain milkvetch (Astragalus umbraticus). It is endemic to southwestern Oregon, and, so far anyway, this is the most northerly extent of its range, so I am always happy to see it is still there and was in bloom in late June.

I headed up there on June 29. As on my first trip in 2016 (see Spring at Heckletooth Mountain), I went up the short gravel Road 207 off of Salmon Creek Road 24. The road was unexpectedly in terrible shape in 2016, but as close as it is to Oakridge, I thought for sure it would have been fixed by now. Not so. Once again, I couldn’t turn around the narrow road once I started up it. I was pretty stressed out when I reached the trailhead after negotiating a steep mile of washout. Unfortunately, the trip didn’t get much better. We’d had a few drops of rain in Fall Creek the day before—the last of the spring as it turned out—but here it had rained enough that everything was drenched, and the sun didn’t come out as the forecast had promised until after 2 pm when I was heading back. Most of the seeds that were ripe were quite wet, and it kept me from venturing off the trail at all. But some plants like the lovely leafy fleabane (Erigeron foliosus), some paintbrush (Castilleja sp.), and showy tarweed (Madia elegans) were still in bloom. And the gorgeous leaves of silver bush lupine (Lupinus albifrons) actually look their best when glistening with water droplets. Alas, the large-fruited lomatium wasn’t anywhere near ripe yet, although there was plenty of seed of the earlier blooming Hall’s lomatium (L. hallii). So I would have to return if I wanted the lomatium seed.

Silver bush lupine is one of the few plants that actually looks more beautiful after a rain.

On my late June trip, I came across this large white-lined sphinx moth caterpillar.

Luckily, the trail is part of the larger Eugene to Pacific Crest trail system, and on July 22nd I was able to come in from the east side by driving up Road 2408 (which turns to 5871) a bit farther east up Salmon Creek Road. The 6 miles to the trailhead was in fine shape—what a relief. Unfortunately, the shorter 4-mile stretch I took on the way home that heads south to Highway 58 had a big slump and some other bad spots. The Middle Fork District has really been hammered of late—I never used to worry about road conditions the way I have to now.

This toilet-shaped stump is humorous enough on its own, but now someone has decorated it with a little Santa Claus figurine!

Anyway, the weather was much nicer. The forested stretch east of Heckletooth was quite lovely with occasional blooming phantom orchids (Cephalanthera austiniae), flat-spurred piperia (Platanthera transversa), and indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora). Other non-chlorophyll plants, including candystick (Allotropa virgata), pinesap (Monotropa hypopitys), and coralroots (Corallorhiza spp.) were about done. Loads of delicate foamflower (Tiarella trifoliata) covered the forest floor (some seed ripening happily). I’d forgotten how many handsome old-growth trees there were. The small wetland was also pink with Cusick’s checkermallow (Sidalcea cusickii). I was able to collect lots of woodland seeds, and best of all, when I reached the open, rocky summit of Heckletooth, some of the large-fruited lomatium was just starting to ripen—good thing I hadn’t come any earlier in the month as I’d planned to!

On my July trip, I was just in time for ripe seeds of western trillium (Trillium ovatum). The dark brown seeds have fleshy yellow elaiosomes on them that attract ants to collect the seeds and bring them back to their nests. Interestingly, the elaiosomes of sessile trillium (T. albidum) are white.

The small wetland in an opening in the forest has a large population of Cusick’s checkermallow, which was in full bloom in late July.

While many of the non-chlorophyll plants in the heath family were drying out, the very late blooming Indian pipe was still pushing out of the ground in July, dislodging last year’s seed stalks that survived the winter. This was an impressively large patch. 

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