Early Bloomers at Moon Point

After walking on a relatively level, viewless trail through forest and meadows, it is a surprise for those who haven’t been on the trail before—like Jenny (here) and Sheila—to come to the end of the trail atop a steep rock with a fantastic view. The coppery shrub on the left is actually a Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia), and the tree on Jenny’s right is a krummholz ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa). The highest points on the horizon are Bohemia Mountain and Fairview Peak.

On July 10, Jenny Moore and I will be leading a hike to Moon Point for the Emerald Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Oregon (see details on the chapter website). Jenny had never been there before, so I thought we should do our pre-hike early to show her all the cool early blooming flowers there. So on June 10, we headed up there with John Koenig and Sheila Klest.

A large piece of bark had fallen on the side of the trail. The plants growing under it were pushing their way through the cracks, giving the impression of a rock outcrop. You have to admire their ability to make the best of a difficult situation.

Lupine leaves hold moisture really beautifully as on these sickle-keeled lupines (Lupinus albicaulis).

Several seedlings were sprouting beside this year’s flower on the green-flowered wild ginger (Asarum wagneri), an uncommon species surprisingly abundant at Moon Point.

It was a very moist day, having rained that week, and there was also plenty of moisture from the recently melting snow. It was quite chilly as we started our hike. As I write this, the forecast is for way above normal temperatures in the 90s for the next week or more (and unfortunately, likely for the whole summer). I will try to think about how it felt on our hike as I roast down here at low elevation!

The highlight of the day for me was relocating the uncommon swamp red currant (Ribes triste) that I had discovered back in 2015 (see Another Currant at Moon Point). I remembered it was somewhere hidden in the alder (Alnus alnobetula [viridis] ssp. sinuata) thicket along the trail, but I no longer carried the GPS I had used to waypoint it, so I wanted to re-mark it on the Avenza map on my phone. I had wanted to check on it for years, but I was always with friends I didn’t want to drag into a thicket or make them wait for me, or else I was too tired or it was too late in the season—without the flowers, it would be challenging to spot it. Since everyone seemed happy leisurely looking at plants along the trail and it was so early in the season, I thought it would be my best chance to duck into the alder thicket. It was easier to navigate than I remembered, but I was still surprised when all my companions followed me into the tangle of shrubs.

We saw a number of leaves of the very early blooming steer’s head, but it took a long time before we finally spotted one in flower.

I kept seeing bright red petal-like things lying on the ground or on other foliage. It took me a little while before I realized they came from the vine maples (Acer circinatum) above. I guess I’ve never noticed these sort of bracts or sheaths on the petiole because they fall off so soon. I also can’t find mention of them in the floras.

The leaves of swamp red currant are more of a classic maple shape than our other Cascade species, and while the flowers are similar to swamp gooseberry, the plants do not have the prickles the way the gooseberry does. Try clambering through a population of swamp gooseberry, and you’ll remember the difference!

I remembered going into the alders because I had spotted some blooming skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) in what appeared to be a small opening in the middle of the thicket. Then I had followed a little creek before being surprised to spot the currant. I pushed my way through to where the creek came into the thicket so I could follow it and make sure I didn’t miss the currant. Then realized that I should be able to find the opening with the aerial view on my phone. Well, that worked like a charm! How did I do so much exploring before having Google Earth on a smartphone? The opening was a charming wetland of skunk cabbage, mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi), and marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala). I’m glad my friends all got to see it because this side trip took enough extra time that we didn’t have enough time to go down to the larger wetland by the lake and still return the Forest Service vehicle to Springfield before the office closed.

Traversing an alder thicket is challenging—you have to watch both your feet and your head. I had to take my hat off because I kept knocking it off or hitting my head. Many plants grow underneath alders. Here, the ground is covered with Pacific waterleaf (Hydrophyllum tenuipes). The small creek runs down toward the bottom left of the photo.

The raindrops were still beaded up on some columbine (Aquilegia formosa) leaves.

I then followed the little creek, passing the first flowers of heartleaf spring beauty (Claytonia cordifolia) and other currants, mainly swamp gooseberry (Ribes lacustre). I was starting to worry I wasn’t going to be able to find the currant when there they were, the large maple-like leaves and dangling garnet-colored inflorescences of swamp red currant! There was actually a large population meandering under the alders. I remembered to waypoint it and realized we were actually just about at the end of where the thicket follows the trail. It will be much easier in the future to start at that end than to crawl through the entire thicket. Hopefully, I’ll remember that in the future!

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