Very Early Look at Patterson Mountain

A very early look at the wet meadow near the Lone Wolf Shelter. Snow lingered on the far side of the meadow and behind the thicket of Douglas’ hawthorns (Crataegus gaylussacia). John and I only walked over as far as where the meltwater was flowing across the meadow. No drying out here yet!

Crab spiders regularly hide on flowers (can you spot it?) awaiting unsuspecting pollinators, but I’ve never seen one on skunk cabbage before!

John Koenig will be leading a trip to Patterson Mountain for the Native Plant Society of Oregon Annual Meeting the first weekend of June, so I joined him and his wife, Deborah, for a look at the trail on May 25. We were very relieved to find the road open, although there was a large snowbank just past the trailhead parking, so we probably couldn’t have even gotten to the trail much earlier. We had to cross a couple of large mounds of snow, and there were still some patches in the meadows, so the flowering season had only just begun. While the deep snow pack was melting fast from the hot, dry May we’ve been having, I’m guessing that—unlike Tire Mountain (see Early Season at Tire Mountain)—the plants here were all protected from the heat waves by the snow. Not only is Patterson Mountain several hundred feet higher in elevation than Tire Mountain, but its more level areas are able to collect far more snow than the steep slopes of Tire.


So early a bloomer is goldthread (Coptis laciniata) that most people are far more familiar with its seed capsules than its delicate flowers. It was blooming at the beginning of the trail where the snow had apparently just melted.

In the same rocky area, I chased this pretty Moss’s elfin before it finally landed long enough for a photo. It is one of the first butterflies to emerge in the spring.

There were lots of glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum)—still in bud in some places, western wood anemones (Anemone lyallii), snow queen (now Veronica regina-nivalis) and skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus), and some spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa) and the end of the trail, but even the beautiful alpine laurel (Kalmia microphylla) hadn’t started to bloom in the wetland, and we spotted only two flowers on my favorite early flowering mountain buttercup (Ranunculus populago). It will cover the meadow with yellow pretty soon, hopefully for John’s hike. Lots more flowers should be in bloom by the meeting date, and, although we had to cross some large fallen trees, it should be a great trip for the NPSO participants and a good chance for them to see the early flowers most people miss.

This little bee-fly (Bombylius sp.) was visiting spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa) in the rocky area at the end of the trail. The small tubular flowers are a favorite of many insects.

California toothwort (Cardamine californica) is larger than the more common slender toothwort (C. nuttallii). It has rhizomal leaves (the ones not connected to the flowers above ground) that are three-parted, unlike the simple leaves of the latter. Its cauline leaves usually have five leaflets. It was abundant along the trail.

Deborah had hoped to see the little annual Thompson’s mistmaiden. John and I knew it grew out at the edges of the viewpoint open area at the end of the trail. It took me a while to finally spot it—not yet in bloom, but with some tiny buds. Identifying plants this early in the season is a fun challenge!

A number of high elevation plants emerge with purple foliage, but this might be the first time I have noticed it in great polemonium (Polemonium carneum). Presumably the anthocyanins protect these plants whose tender leaves appear at a time of year when the UV rays of the sun are strongest. The meadow where these were growing was mostly still covered with a relatively thin layer of snow.

One Response to “Very Early Look at Patterson Mountain”

  • John Koenig:

    Tanya, thank you for your excellent report On our Patterson recon trip and especially for the great photos. I’m going to forward it on to my field trip participants to give them a glimpse of what’s to come this Saturday.

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