Changing Waves of Flowers on Two Trips to Bristow Prairie

I was impressed that the whole group was willing to climb down the rocky ridge I call “Lewisia Point” to see one of the few populations of Columbia lewisia south of the Columbia River Gorge area. The lewisia is growing in the rocks by some low-growing serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia). Click on the photo to blow it up to see the lewisia’s delicate pink flowers.

A tiny bee enjoys the very small flowers of Thompson’s mistmaiden, a Western Cascade endemic.

For years, I have been planning to lead a trip up to Bristow Prairie for the Emerald Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Oregon. I always ended up having other commitments or others were leading trips around the same time. But, at long last, there were no conflicts, and on Saturday, June 25, Jenny Moore, Middle Fork district botanist, and I brought a group up to Bristow Prairie. It was a very hot day in the valley, and I was surprised at how hot it was even at over 5000′, but I’d already planned a fairly tame exploration of some of the highlights of the diverse area, so I thought it was doable in the 80° heat. We followed the same route I’d taken for a prehike on Monday, June 20, the first day of nice weather after I’d heard from Chad Sageser that the snow had melted and that he’d cleared the last of the trees off the road (thanks again, Chad!). The plan was to go to “Lewisia Point” first to see the rare Columbia lewisia (Lewisia columbiana) and the nearby shaley area, which has a number of annuals that like the moisture that remains there after the snow melts. Then back to the meadow to make a loop over to the rock garden, across the meadow to the lake and surrounding wetland, and then back to the road.

Jenny came down to see the Merriam’s alumroot (Heuchera merriamii) that grows under the overhang of a rock on Lewisia Point.

At low elevations, slender toothwort (Cardamine nuttallii) is commonly seen as one of the first flowers of the forest understory. At higher elevations, like here at Bristow Prairie, it can also be found in cool talus slopes where it blooms with the more typical montane snowmelt species. This north-facing slope had only recently melted out on Monday.

I was surprised how much had changed in just 5 days of sunny weather. There were still some snowbanks in the ditch below the cliff just north of the prairie and along the road to the south, but on Monday—not wanting to actually drive across snow—I had to walk up the road to “Lewisia Point” to see the Columbia lewisia (Lewisia columbiana), a few of which had started blooming. The only thing really going in the shaley area by the road was a beautiful patch of Thompson’s mistmaiden (Romanzoffia thompsonii). But on Saturday, we were able to drive to shaley spot where in addition to the Thompson’s mistmaiden, there were now sheets of large-flowered blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora) and seep monkeyflower (Erythranthe [Mimulus] microphylla), and we even found a few threeleaf lewisia (Lewisia triphylla) in bloom. I don’t think they were finished, but rather that they were closed for the afternoon as is typical for them. And best of all the Columbia lewisia was quite floriferous—a real treat for everyone to see.

Here, fresh marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala) decorated all the wet areas on Monday while the mountain shooting stars (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) were starting to bloom. By Saturday, the shooting stars were much farther along but the marsh marigold was fading.

A lovely cedar hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus) and its companion, a soft-winged flower beetle (Listrus sp.) enjoy the very early flowering western spring beauty. The beetles were abundant on many flowers.

After lunching in the shade, we drove back to the main prairie and headed across it to the rock garden. It was also much farther along than on Monday although still early. It had been at peak at this time the last few much drier years, so we didn’t spend as much time there as I usually do. Also, a south-facing rocky slope is not where you want to be on a hot day. There were many more Menzies’ larkspur (Delphinium menziesii) and blue-eyed Mary than on Monday, and some of the showy plants like frosted paintbrush (Castilleja pruinosa) were coming into bloom. I relocated some of the Siskiyou fritillary (Fritillaria glauca) but even on Monday was too late again for this early bloomer.

Unfortunately, a lot of participants never quite made it as far as the rock garden, choosing instead to wander back to the cars after looking at the many species in the meadow, but apparently they enjoyed themselves checking out the flowers that had started blooming along the road, including great polemonium (Polemonium carneum) and tall bluebells (Mertensia paniculata). On Monday, the main prairie was covered with thousands of western spring beauty (Claytonia lanceolata). There were also still many areas with lots of glaciers lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum), and I was surprised to see that steer’s head seemed to be everywhere, although most of the flowers were passed. The snow had clearly only recently melted, as I had seen the still completely snow-covered meadow from my Youngs Rock trip three weeks earlier (see Back to Lower Meadows of Youngs Rock). I was surprised at how few of these snowmelt species were still in bloom on Saturday, but as they were replaced by many larkspurs and other later flowers, there was still something to see.

The glacier lilies were beautiful by the lake near the melting snowbank on Monday but were mostly gone by Saturday.

Close to the snowbank above the lake, I was finally able to photograph some fresh steer’s head on Monday. Most people think it is an uncommon plant, but really it just comes out very quickly as the snow is melting and disappears just as quickly or at least is hidden as the later and much larger plants emerge.

The folks who stuck it out with me made a last stop at the lake and spent a while enjoying the surrounding wetland. The foliage on the way down was all much taller than on my previous trip (though still much shorter than at its peak so not so hard to plow through), and the large snowbank remaining in the shade of the north-facing side of the meadow above the lake had dwindled down to a mere puddle-sized lump of snow since my prehike. There had been glacier lilies still pushing out of the ground on Monday, so there were at least some fresh ones for people to admire. What a short life those early flowers have. You really have to be an early bird to get to see them at their best—something that is hard when access is from the north and the snow remains longer on the roads than the ridges. I was really glad to have seen that first wave of flowers, and I hope those who came on the NPSO field trip enjoyed seeing the next wave.

Steve studies aquatic worms, so he’s probably used to wading into shallow lakes, and on a hot day, it was probably quite pleasant. Still, I did not join him. I was busy looking at elephant head (Pedicularis groenlandica), which was starting to bloom after only being in bud on Monday. One last snow bank can be seen hanging on in the shade on the far side of the lake.

I didn’t end up needing to drive anyone back, so I stuck around for another half hour and climbed up the small draw below the cliff where I had found Sitka mistmaiden (Romanzoffia sitchensis) two years ago (see Still More Discoveries at Bristow Prairie). You can see here it was in full bloom as I had hoped. I climbed a little farther up the slope and was surprised to see some California mistmaiden (R. californica). Its leaves and flowers were smaller and the latter more narrowly funnel-shaped. It was also covered with bulbils, something I’ve never seen on Sitka mistmaiden. While it is far more common than Sitka mistmaiden, it was a new addition to my Bristow Prairie list.

One Response to “Changing Waves of Flowers on Two Trips to Bristow Prairie”

  • Leigh Blake:

    Thank you!!!

    What a wonderful hike…so many wonderful spring flowers that are long gone here!!!(at 2400 feet)…Beautiful photos… Hope we can get together someday…. I appreciate these poss!!!

    Leigh Blake, Trail, Oregon

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