Studying Gentians at Warner Mountain

Few flowers are as gorgeous as gentians in full bloom. While most of these were single-flowered, a number of them had three flowers to a stalk. The Cascade grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia cirrata) was also coming into bloom, although these three buds hadn’t opened yet.

After several years of bad timing, I finally hit the perfect time to collect milkweed seed at Grassy Glade.

Since the bog gentians (Gentiana calycosa) had only just started on my previous trip to Warner Mountain (see Warner Mountain Botanizing), I was determined to get a better look at them, so I returned by myself on August 9. By this time, the Middle Fork Complex fires had started (after a July 29th thunderstorm went through the district), and finding a day when the smoke wasn’t too bad was difficult. But I was getting tired of being stuck at home, I figured it would only get worse as the summer wore on, and the day seemed like it might be okay. I drove through heavy smoke between Lowell and Westfir, just south of the Gales Fire, and was questioning my plans, but it wasn’t so bad heading south along Hills Creek Reservoir. My first stop was to Big Pine Opening to look for purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) seed, but it had already all blown away, so I continued on to Grassy Glade, a couple of thousand feet higher in elevation. Not only were the milkweed pods still cracking open, but I was above the smoke, so I was very pleased and spent a little while there collecting seeds and wandering around before continuing on to my main goal.

From the end of the road at Grassy Glade, I was above the smoke that had settled into the valleys and over Hills Creek Reservoir overnight, but it continued to rise all day. Warner Mountain is on the upper right of the photo, still above the smoke at this point.

While listening to a pika under the rocks I was standing on, I admired the magenta bracts covering the filberts (Corylus cornuta) from a small shrub above me. I’ve only seen them turn this color high in the mountains. Perhaps it has to do with cold temperatures. I have no idea what the benefit would be to the plant, but I wish the filberts on my property were this beautiful.

Heading up to Warner Mountain, I noticed the road seemed to be in better shape than I remembered. When I came to some road maintenance vehicles parked along the side, I was thrilled that the Forest Service was dealing with the potholes at last. My joy was short-lived, however, as they hadn’t finished the job. The dirt and gravel had been dumped but none of the grading done. It was not a pleasant few miles going over the rough road. I was quite relieved to finally make it past the road work (about at the intersection of the road that connects with 2129 and 2120) without flatting a tire; that had happened to me once when they were grading the road up to Table Rock Wilderness in Clackamas County a few miles ahead of me, and I never want to repeat that.

My first stop was up at the lookout. Some barking above alerted me that the woman staffing the lookout was up there with her dog. We chatted a bit, and she told me the smoke came and went every day, getting a bit worse in the afternoons, as I could see it was starting to do. I had thought about going back via the lower part of Road 2120 to avoid the rough road and was glad to hear that was the way she came up every day. I used to go to Groundhog Mountain that way, but the upper part of the road was getting pretty bad, so I hadn’t been on it in years. That made me more relaxed about my return.

I was very glad to see more of the rare green-flowered wild ginger (Asarum wagneri) growing in the talus slope. While it was well past blooming, it can be recognized by the very wide, floppy leaves. In bloom above it was pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea).

Like the previous trip, I headed out the ridge north of the lookout. This time, I went farther to the north before heading down. It got quite brushy, but I was able to reach an open section of talus slope where I thought I’d seen western boneset (Ageratina occidentalis) from the road once while driving by. Sure enough, it was there and in bloom. I really love this pretty plant. Its late-blooming pinky purple flowers are beloved by bees and butterflies. I have a plant in my rock garden that I grew from seed many years ago. Both species of wild ginger were creeping among the rocks and under the many shrubs. Some heavenly scented mock orange was still blooming. While the few mock orange plants on my property grow in damp woods, in the Cascades, they are most frequently found in talus slopes and on cliffs. The rest of the many shrubs had finished blooming and were covered with an array of colorful fruits: bright red bitter cherry (Prunus emarginata), almost black cascara (Rhamnus purshiana), and unusually bright red to magenta filberts.

Western boneset is a late-blooming rayless composite, reminiscent of a purple goldenrod, and is a great source of nectar for butterflies and bees. It especially loves talus slopes and rock piles. Underneath it was growing the common long-tailed wild ginger (Asarum caudatum), which though commonly found in the forest, also likes talus slopes, if they’re cool enough.

My favorite denizen of talus slopes is the adorable pika. I looked around for clues that they occupied this talus and was happy to see scat although I didn’t see any caches. But while examining the filberts, I heard the wonderful exclamations of a pika right underneath me. That made my day! I waited a while, but no little face popped up to see what I was doing. Still, it is reassuring to know they are there.

I was stunned to see the water continuing to flow well from the source spring. It had been over 7 weeks since the last rain, and of course, the weather had been excessively hot. It was great to be somewhere that wasn’t totally baked.

Ants were crawling deep down in many of the gentian flowers I looked at.

From the lookout area, I headed back west to the gentian bog. The gorgeous blue gentians were in very good bloom at this point. I spent quite a while looking carefully at the plants and the flowers in particular. I opened several up to see the inside of the deep tube. I was surprised to see tiny ants running around at the base. I looked down into a number of other flowers and saw ants in many of them. They must have been getting nectar. I wonder if they were contributing at all to the pollination. Even though there seemed to be far fewer bees around, they are much more efficient pollinators, but every bit helps.

I collected a gentian plant for the OSU Herbarium as this is the only location I know of in the area with this species growing in a bog the way it does in the High Cascades. I wrote about the morphological differences I had noticed between the rock and bog forms of the gentian in a post 10 years ago (see Singing the Blues at Tidbits). Most of the differences (leaf size, general growth habit, stem color) could be attributed to the difference between growing in sunny bogs vs. shady rocks. But one thing I’ve noticed that seems more significant to me is that the calyx lobes in the bog ones are arranged unevenly. I haven’t noticed that in ones I see growing in rocky habitat. These bog gentians were very similar to the ones from Jefferson Park in that character as well as the others. Still no conclusions on my Gentiana calycosa mystery, but I’m gathering more good data!

I tore this bog gentian flower so I could see it flattened out. Notice how the calyx lobes are unevenly spaced: three on one side and two on the other. The plants I’ve seen growing in rocky areas have five evenly spaced lobes that are bent outward. This doesn’t seem like an adaptation to habitat.

On my way home, I made a brief stop at Moon Point and walked some ways down the trail before deciding that the smoke was getting worse. I headed home by turning at the main intersection before reaching the part of the road that was in the middle of being regraded. There is a little pond on the way down. I decided to make a quick stop there to see if I could find anything interesting. Old floating-leaf pondweed (Potamogeton natans) and pond lily (Nuphar polysepala) were growing in the pond. But I was most happy to see a number of large chinquapins (Chrysolepis chrysophylla) in full bloom along the roadside. They were attracting ants, bees, a pine white, and golden hairstreaks—and best of all, I was able to get some fresh flowers for my gray hairstreak caterpillar at home to munch on (see previous post, A Stowaway from Eagles Rest)! Knowing that it was unlikely I would be able (or willing ) to go out in the smoke again, that was a great way to end the day and my summer botanizing.

3 Responses to “Studying Gentians at Warner Mountain”

  • Kate Merz:

    Thank you Tanya for referring to Corylus fruit as “filberts”! It’s kinda silly of me but, as a native Oregoness, that is what I heard them called from earliest childhood. And my favorite nut. Ever toast them in the oven with some butter and coarse salt? After-school snack as a kid.

    Still deeply appreciating your blog and your enthusiasm,


  • Leigh Blake:

    Great article!!!! Thank you…all the wonderful plants…including Gentian…fabulous!!! As Our rock garden is progressing , I’m thrilled to those various natives you’re describing… Our rock garden, here in Trail, is about six years a long now…and about a half an acre in size.. I hope we can finish in the next two years…
    Have you ever visited Kathy Allen’s garden in Central Point?? Great fun…

    Again…amazing article and thank you..I want a Pika for my garden..much better than the California Ground Squirrels!!! ( I’m kidding,, my elevation is too low..)

  • PLEASE NOTE: I misidentified the gentian here. It is actually Gentiana setigera, Mendecino gentian, a species that was thought to be found only down in southwestern Oregon and nearby California. See A “Berry” Surprising Day at Groundhog and Warner Mountains for more about this discovery.

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