Searching for Color on Halloween

This handsome madrone (Arbutus menziesii) is growing on Rabbitbrush Ridge. It was laden with bright red berries. Beneath it is an unusually colorful, low-growing Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana). In the foreground are the silvery stalks of rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa). The species’ abundance here elicited my name for this steep, rocky ridge.

One goal of my outing was to come home with seeds of the very late-blooming autumn knotweed (Polygonum spergulariiforme). I have a small population on my property that I’m working on expanding. Anything still blooming at the end of October is worth having, no matter how small its flowers.

With the days getting shorter and colder and the damp days increasing (I’m not complaining—after this summer I’m so thankful for wet weather!), I was looking for a dry and, hopefully, sunny day for one last trip into the mountains before winter really sets in. While the sun was playing peek-a-boo behind the clouds all day, at least it was dry on October 31, and I was able to head out to the Rigdon area. I decided to stay at fairly low elevation given the clouds and limited time and headed for Grassy Glade, stopping along the way for anything that looked colorful or interesting. And once I got to Grassy Glade and walked down to the end of the road past the meadow, I had just enough time to head down to “Rabbitbrush Ridge” where the last flowers of rubber rabbitbrush were still in evidence. It was a pleasant if unexciting day—hopefully enough to sustain me until the flowers reappear in February and March. I didn’t expect there would be much to photograph, but as you can see, I found plenty of interesting plants on my end-of-season trip.

Walking past some old lupine stalks along the cliffs at Hills Creek Reservoir, I noticed these seedlings popping up inside the pods. Lupine pods usually twist while breaking open, vaulting the seeds away from the mother plant. For some reason, these pods didn’t open fully, and the seeds got stuck inside. Oh well, they weren’t going to let that stop them from germinating!

I grew up in New England, so the relatively modest fall color of the Pacific Northwest was a bit of a disappoint at first, but we do have a few flamboyant species. While the vine maple (Acer circinatum) is the most well known, Pacific dogwood is equally as bright with a wider range of hues. The green buds have already formed for next spring’s gorgeous flower heads. Curiously, they tilt over until it is time to bloom.

The masses of large-flowered blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora) are up and preparing for next year’s display in the open area next to the Staley Creek Bridge. Many of the seedlings have deep purple markings. The backs of the leaves are also often purple (you can see a broken one in the upper left). If there’s a purpose for this, I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps the anthocyanins protect these leaves that are exposed all winter.

You cross the Staley Creek bridge to reach Grassy Glade. The Staley Creek gorge is always worth a stop. Looking downstream you can see some bright yellow cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) leaves.

Many Cascade species germinate in the fall. Among them is varifleaf phacelia (Phacelia heterophylla), a biennial or short-lived perennial. That means this year’s rosette on the right will bloom next year, while the little seedlings on the left will form silvery rosettes that won’t bloom until the following year. With so many seedlings so close, I doubt all of these will survive until flowering, however.

Like thousands of tiny pumpkins, I really enjoyed this halloween display of madrone berries. Quite a few of the madrones I saw were fruiting really well this year. Hopefully that will be a good bounty for some birds, but no one seemed to be interested in them yet.

I saw at least five of these beautiful purple mushrooms (Laccaria amethystina?) on the way down to Rabbitbrush Ridge. I know little about mushrooms, but anything purple catches my eye.

While Sierra gooseberry isn’t a very large plant, it has some of the most brightly colored fall foliage in the area, enhanced by the glossiness of the leaves. Just stay away from the spines. I inadvertently grabbed a branch for balance on my way down the steep ridge to Rabbitbrush Ridge—not a good idea!

On my drive out, I came across a manzanita along Road 21 that was covered with ripe fruit, so I expected to see a lot of berries on the many shrubs at the top of the ridge above Rabbitbrush Ridge, but they were almost gone. Climbing back up the ridge, I came across a trail of berry-filled scat—evidence of the hungry bear who no doubt ate most of them.

3 Responses to “Searching for Color on Halloween”

  • Grace:

    My neighbor has a volunteer madrone tree in her front yard. It was COVERED in berries this year and we enjoyed seeing the birds–mostly robins–devouring them. I wonder if the heat dome is responsible for the bounty.

  • Jason Reilly:

    Wow, some amazing colors out there this fall. Thanks for sharing your beautiful pictures and knowledge, it was a pleasure to read and really brightened my day on a cold and foggy morning.



  • Gail Baker:

    Tanya, just love your fall color and observation photos. Especially taken by the 1st one, madrone is my favorite tree.
    I noted the huge clusters of madrone fruit this year along 30th Ave between I5 & Hilyard, Eugene.
    We did have the most amazing fall colors this year~ Gail

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