Early Season at Tire Mountain

Spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa) is one of the treats for those who do early botanizing in rocky areas. The yellow flowers of spring gold (Lomatium utriculatum) were just starting to appear.

My first caterpillars of the year! These two checkerspot caterpillars have overwintered as small caterpillars, so they may have woken up recently. Between the spines and the distasteful iridoid glycosides in the harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida), they are well protected from predators and can relax in the open.

Both Molly Juillerat and I are leading trips to Tire Mountain during the Native Plant Society of Oregon‘s annual meeting next week, so on May 20, we headed up there together to see if the road and trail were open and how the plants were looking. The cold, wet April slowed spring down, but the hot and dry May weather that followed created an odd combination of the flowers barely having started, while the moss was already dried out. The typically great show of annuals, including seep monkeyflower (Erythranthe microphylla), large-flowered blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora), rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta), and bluefield gilia (Gilia capitata) will probably be disappointing, but hopefully the deep roots of many of the perennials like deltoid balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) and the four different species of lomatium (L. hallii, utriculatum, nudicaule, and dissectum) will still be tapping April moisture for a while. And, of course, we are still praying for rain in June before the actual summer drought starts!

Molly brought her two dogs, Pico and Loki. They were very happy to be out on an adventure. Her husband Andy also drove up with us, but he went for a long run on the Alpine trail while we botanized and planned our upcoming field trips at a much slower pace. Note how dry the rocks are even though the snow melted only recently.

Who planted a hosta up on Tire Mountain?! I’ve seen the occasional variegated plant in the wild—interestingly almost always monocots—but never an orchid like this. There are a couple of different species of rein orchids (Platanthera transversa and P. unalaschkensis) along the north side of the ridge where this was growing, so one of those would be my guess as to the actual ID.

This lovely moth had a decidedly green tinge. I believe it is a Clark’s Day Sphinx (Proserpinus clarkiae). The larvae are supposed to eat Clarkia species. The meadows at Tire Mountain are covered in farewell-to-spring (Clarkia amoena) later in June, so they ought to be very happy here.

From the large, east-facing view meadow, I got my first look at damage from last year’s Cedar Creek Fire. Fuji Mountain still has a lot of snow, but both it and the ridges to its west were devastated by the fire, which eventually burned over 100,000 acres. The area will be closed this year due to falling trees and recovery efforts, but it will be interesting (though depressing) to see how the plants respond to such a major change in habitat.

I’ve often seen chocolate lilies or mission bells (Fritillary affinis) on Tire, but I never knew how thickly they grew in the dike meadow. They seemed to be everywhere though only a few had started blooming. Once the rest of the plants start growing, they quickly overtop and hide the many non-blooming plants, and the green to brown flowers are well camouflaged even in the open.

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