Collecting Foray at Hills Peak

The folks from the herbarium collecting specimens in the wetland near the lake

Suksdorf’s paintbrush can be recognized by the yellow and green below the red on the bracts and its prediliction for wetlands.

At long last—after a year’s delay because of the pandemic—it was time for the Burke Herbarium’s 25th annual collecting foray. On June 24th, I headed down Road 21 to Sacandaga Campground to meet the participants, including Dick Olmstead and David Giblin who organize the forays every year, several volunteers, and five UW students. Also there were John Koenig and James Mickley, the new head of the OSU Herbarium. None of the Washington folks, nor James, had ever been to the Calapooyas, so John and I were really looking forward to introducing them to our favorite spots.

On Friday morning (June 25th), we split into three groups. John went up to Bristow Prairie, David and James took a group to Potter Mountain, and I went with Dick Olmstead and his wife Sheila and dog Lolly, Scott, a volunteer, and Ava, a student, to Hills Peak. We were also joined for the day by Gail Baker, a friend and fellow local NPSO member.

In the report of my prehike to Hills Peak earlier in the month with John (see Chilly Day at Hills Peak), I ended with “All in all, it was a great day, but I am looking forward to warmer temperatures on my next trip up there!” Be careful what you wish for! Unfortunately, this was the weekend of the record-setting heat dome. It was supposed to be in the upper 90s on Friday in Oakridge—the kind of day I usually stay inside—and over 100° during the weekend. Thankfully, it wasn’t too bad at high elevation, especially as we spent most of the day in the wetland to the east of Hills Peak. As hot as it was, it had only recently melted out, so things were quite moist, and I think the evaporating moisture kept things pleasant. Plus, we weren’t actually doing much real hiking.

The mountain shooting stars were putting on a beautiful show.

We walked the half-mile to the shallow lake and wetland just as John and I had done a few weeks earlier. There were still a few of the lovely alpine laurel (Kalmia microphylla) and loads of mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi). The group set about collecting different blooming species. Each was assigned a different color, so no one had to worry about collecting something someone else had already gotten. The plan was to get three collections of everything: one for the Burke Herbarium, one for the OSU Herbarium, and the last to go to an as-yet-to-be-decided recipient, most likely another Oregon herbarium. I’m not crazy about collecting. I make a point of collecting a sample of any unusual species I find, especially ones that demonstrate a range extension. I’ve found a number of unexpected species in the Calapooyas over the years. But the area has had little other collecting done, and this would be a good chance to get a record of the typical species that grow here. While photographs are very helpful, only actual specimens can show small details like hairs. The specimens stored at herbariums can also be used many years later to yield genetic material, so important to our current understanding of taxonomy.

Looking across the wetland near the lake to the rocky ridge of Hills Peak.

This dragonfly must have just hatched. There were many other larval shells on other blades of sedge in the shallow water.

I figured the most helpful thing I could do was scout, so I set about looking for various species I knew grew there. I also looked for blooming plants of species that were mostly finished for the season or had only just started. That way the rest of the group could focus on the dirty work of digging. I was also the only one in rubber boots, so I was able to wade into the lake to collect a few bits of pretty buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata). I was a bit frustrated with myself when I kept “losing” the plants I’d found. I could have sworn I found one last still-flowering shrub of the lovely western sweetberry honeysuckle (Lonicera [caerulea] cauriana) that was blooming on our previous trip. When I went to borrow some clippers to collect it for Dick, I simply couldn’t relocate it. Other things were missed because there was so much to see. I was able to relocate some of the uncommon Sitka clubmoss  (Diphasiastrum sitchense) that I’d found there years before. I pointed it out to Dick along with some nearby pretty pink mountain-heather (Phyllodoce empetriformis), another species more typical of the High Cascades, but by the time he was done with the Phyllodoce, he’d forgotten about the clubmoss. Oh well, I think they returned to the campground with 4 or 5 dozen species, so it was a productive day.

Dick’s dog Lolly taking a swim in a pool I don’t think I’d ever seen before. No doubt it dries out quickly in the summer. Lolly never missed a chance to get wet on such a hot day.

After a long morning at the lake, we drove toward the quarry to have lunch and look for shade to press the specimens in. Alas, at midday, there wasn’t much shade, so we parked along the road in the one shady spot we passed. The pressing is a long process. Not only did all the specimens have to be sorted out from the various bags people had their plants in, but everything had to be recorded. Dick kept a notebook with specimen location and date and names for each species, and each collection was numbered. Information was also recorded on the pages of newspaper that were used to press the specimens in. To help out, I pulled out my plant list and wrote the names of all the species and families on the newspapers so no one would have to figure out the difficult spellings of scientific names or remember which family they were in.

Crater Lake currant scrambles along the forest floor. Its orange flowers are quite distinctive.

As it turned out, we were right across from the small hidden wetland John and I visited last time, and that I’d hoped to show them. Unfortunately, it took so long to press things that we were running out of time. I went down to scout the area. While the beautiful glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum) John and I had enjoyed were gone, there were plenty of new species in bloom. I decided to follow the creeks we had explored last time a little farther. There were lots of striking clasping twisted stalk (Streptopus amplexifolius) in bloom as well as its smaller cousin rosy twisted stalk (S. lanceolatus). I was most excited when I came across some of the rare Oregon Cascade endemic Crater Lake currant (Ribes erythrocarpum). I didn’t remember it being there, and John and I had obviously missed it weeks before, but there was lots of it in bloom, and as it turned out, it was even up along some parts of the road. Dick was excited to see this because it was brand new to him. 

The old quarry road in the talus slope was covered with wallflowers, bluebells (Mertensia paniculata), and bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa).

Having found at least a dozen species we hadn’t seen at the earlier site, Dick let Ava go back down there to help me collect the additional species. I was still hoping to show the group the talus slope, which was less than a quarter-mile away. They were reluctant to spend any more time, but with a little arm-twisting, I was able to persuade them to take a quick look, especially because it was a completely different habitat with species they hadn’t seen yet. The amazing trilliums John and I had seen on the talus slope were now finished but were replaced with a lovely show of wallflowers (Erysimum arenicola?) and other colorful flowers. I simply had to go up to take some photos and was surprised when everyone else scrambled up the steep bank. We also went over to see another Cascade endemic in the flat area at the bottom, Cascade fleabane (Erigeron cascadensis), now in full bloom. I was surprised that one of the plants that elicited the most excitement was the now-fading gummy gooseberry (Ribes lobbii) that was so pretty several weeks earlier. Apparently, Dick grows this in his garden in Washington, so he was thrilled to see it in the wild.

Coming back to the Middle Fork of the Willamette River made the 100° heat tolerable. A dipper appeared several times over the course of the trip, apparently undetered by our presence.

Back at the campground, we all found our way down to the river to cool off. The night before, I was able to impress people with my “superpower.” Not long after I mentioned how this area seemed like the perfect spot for a dipper, one showed up and amused us for 10 minutes or so. On this night, I brought the camera down, but it didn’t show up. Although we couldn’t see much of the sky from the river’s edge, we had a gorgeous pink sunset cloud overhead. It was a satisfying way to end a wonderful day in the Calapooyas with new plant-loving friends.

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