“Mistmaiden Meadow” Still Outstanding

Rosy plectritis paints the hillside pink as Daniel and Angela climb back up “Mistmaiden Meadow.”

Bramble green hairstreaks are really hard to tell from Sheridan’s green hairstreaks; the former has less green on the underside of the forewing and less conspicuous white markings. The best way to tell is to look around for the host food plant as they don’t travel very far from it. The road here is lined with big deervetch (Hosackia crassifolia), the main host food plant of the bramble. Sheridan’s uses buckwheats, none of which grow there. This is where a botany background really helps in learning about butterflies.

Continuing my periodic surveying of what I’m now calling “Mistmaiden Meadow,” the steep meadow on the west flank of Sourgrass Mountain, I headed back up on June 25. This time I was accompanied by fellow NPSO member Angela Soto and her partner, Daniel. My plan was pretty much to follow what Sheila Klest and I did a couple of weeks before (see Shooting Stars are Stars of a Great Day), going to Mistmaiden Meadow and then on to Elk Camp and Nevergo Meadow. Before we even got to the meadow, we had to stop for a small roadside wet spot on Road 1912 when I spotted devil’s club (Oplopanax horridus) out of the corner of my eye. This striking spiny shrub is not that common in southern Lane County, so I don’t see it too often. I’m not sure how I missed it on my previous two trips, although it probably hadn’t leafed out on my first trip this year (see Early Look at Meadow on Sourgrass Mountain).
This spot was just before the intersection where we turn left onto Road 140.

The beargrass was blooming really well along the east end of Road 140. If you haven’t smelled the flowers, be sure to stop and take a sniff next time. They are quite fragrant, though not particularly sweet.

We stopped again just about a tenth of a mile on 140 to check out a thinned area where the road is lined with beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax). The beargrass was in full bloom as was Cardwell’s penstemon (Penstemon cardwellii), so we spent a little while looking at flowers and butterflies. Sheila and I had stopped at this spot on my previous trip, and I had spotted a pair of bramble (or lotus) green hairstreaks. Green hairstreaks are some of my favorites, but I wasn’t able to get a decent photo. This time, I saw another pair (or perhaps the same pair, but at least one looked quite fresh) and was relieved that they stayed along the road where I could get a good photo rather than making me run up and down the road bank like the previous pair had done. I was able to get a much better photo of this beautiful butterfly I rarely see, so now my day was really off to a good start!

The lovely bog deervetch (Hosackia [formerly Lotus] pinnata) was finally in bloom.

Appetizers out of the way, now we were ready for the main course of our delicious botanizing trip. Mistmaiden Meadow was still so beautiful. This has to be my current favorite spot; how many years have I known this meadow was here but never realized it was worth checking out, not to mention how gorgeous it is? The rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta) was outstanding. One spot in the center of the meadow was almost solid pink. If you were to put this much pink in a landscape painting, people would think you were taking artistic liberties. The deep blue-purple of great camas (Camassia leichtlinii) really stood out of the pink drifts. The Nuttall’s saxifrage (Cascadia nuttallii) that was one of the stars of the last trip was still going well, but the beautiful shooting star (Dodecatheon pulchellum) was mostly finished, and there were just a few remaining Thompson’s mistmaiden (Romanzoffia thompsonii).

The meadow was a riot of color. Not to be outdone by the pink plectritis, blue-violet Menzies’ larkspur (Delphinium menziesii) and great camas and yellow seep monkeyflower (Erythranthe microphylla) were just as bright.

Butterflies were fluttering around, and there was a loud hum of bees emanating from the drifts of plectritis. The insects were loving all the flowers—and so were we! Angela spotted a small caterpillar of a MacCulloch’s moth, the pretty moth I’ve been seeing everywhere lately (see Butterflies and Moths at Castle Rock and Cougar Reservoir for photos of the adult). We also saw adults later in the day. It was almost too much for me to take in—like looking at a dessert buffet and not knowing which one(s) to pick. I heard myself saying “awesome” way too many times—but it really was the right word to describe such beauty. We spent about three hours criss-crossing the meadow carefully looking at everything in our path. Finally, we headed back to the car.

This female lupine blue at Mistmaiden Meadow looked like she was ovipositing on the northern buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum) inflorescence, but we couldn’t find any eggs. The name “lupine blue” is a misnomer as their host food plant is actually buckwheat, usually northern but other species elsewhere.

While the nonflowering rosettes of Umpqua frasera might be confused with something else, the large, dense flower heads don’t look like anything else in our area.

I hadn’t been to the top of Sourgrass Mountain in over 10 years. As I remembered it, it was mostly beargrass, but it is also one of the three most northerly sites for the rare endemic Umpqua frasera (Frasera umpquaensis)—the other two are nearby Elk Camp and Nevergo Meadow. After seeing the beargrass blooming on the road, I hoped it might be putting on a show up at the top. My companions were game for bushwhacking up there from an old decommissioned road off of 140. While the Alpine trail runs through the meadow, it would be a couple of miles to the meadow from places where the trail crossed a main road, and I didn’t want to take that much time. We cut off the old road into the woods where it looked like we were closest to the meadow (according to the aerial image on my iPhone—don’t bushwhack without some GPS device). We came across the actual trail fairly soon and followed it up into the meadow. While there were a few clumps of blooming beargrass at the edge of the forest, the large meadow was empty. There were clumps of buds here and there, but either the bloom will come much later, or, more likely, it’s going to be one of those off-years at this spot. No one seems to know what makes for a big beargrass year.

The meadow on the summit of Sourgrass Mountain is quite monotonous. Even where the extensive beargrass suddenly gives way, aside from the Umpqua frasera, there is very little except some species of sedge (Carex sp.).

We cut off the trail to check out an area of the meadow that didn’t have any beargrass. Luckily, it turned out this was a site for the frasera. It had been so long, I didn’t remember where exactly it grew up there, so I was glad we stumbled upon it. Like the beargrass, Umpqua frasera doesn’t bloom every year but rather seems to bloom every other year. This year is one of those, though most of the plants were still in bud. We did manage to find one starting in bloom, however. We were struck by how little diversity there was in the main meadow. What would cause this—soil, drainage, moisture, some other unknown factor? Just before we headed back into the forest, we returned to the high diversity we’d seen everywhere else with no obvious change in any other conditions. Hmm. So many unanswered questions.

Common camas (Camassia quamash) was at peak bloom in the wetland at Elk Camp.

Angela spotted this western meadow fritillary on the ground in the Elk Camp meadow. It must have just hatched from its chrysalis and was quite floppy. It left a few drops of pink liquid on her hand. After a newly hatched butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, it pumps liquid from its abdomen into its wings. When they are fully inflated, the liquid is pumped back out and eliminated. I remember from raising butterflies as a youth that different species had different colored liquid, so it was interesting to see this. We left it hanging down so it could finish stiffening up properly. Otherwise it might not be able to fly properly.

While I was feeling pretty satisfied about the day (other than discovering I’d lost my lens cap somewhere on Sourgrass), we kept heading north and made stops at both Nevergo Meadow and Elk Camp since neither Angela or Daniel had ever been there, and there was still time before we felt we had to turn around. There were plenty of flowers and insects to see there as well. Mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi), marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala), and Oregon bluebells (Mertensia bella) were still in flower. We even found some fresh glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum) where there had been some last remaining snowbanks on the previous trip. The Umpqua frasera was also in early bud at Elk Camp. I checked the heart-leaf miner’s lettuce (Claytonia cordifolia) at Nevergo Meadow. Not many flowers were still in bloom, but what surprised me is that almost all of them had pink anthers. Only a little of the black fungus I had collected on the previous trip was still evident. Michael Hood, the fungus researcher, told me the sample I collected has arrived in France where another research scientist will do some DNA work on it. It will be interesting to find out the results.

Near the end of the day, we stopped to check on the always interesting pool at Elk Camp. The frog eggs Sheila and I had seen on our previous trip were more developed. Judging from internet photos, these might be Pacific chorus frogs, but I’m no herpetologist. We also saw several rough-skinned newts swimming around.

It was a great day for me and I think Angela and Daniel had a good time as well. I really enjoy going out with other nature lovers who are more interested in seeing everything around them than getting to some destination. It also helps to have other sets of eyes to spot all interesting wildlife and plants. It would be impossible for one person to see everything even in a single meadow. I’m sure I’ll discover even more cool stuff as I continue to explore to this great route.

Western meadowrue (Thalictrum occidentale) is a dioecious, wind-pollinated plant. Male plants like this have dangling stamens so the pollen can blow on the wind and catch in the brush-like flowers of the female plants. At Nevergo Meadow, we saw three bumblebees making the rounds in a population of meadowrue. Presumably, they were collecting pollen from the male flowers and not bothering to visit the nectarless, pollenless female flowers, so they aren’t helping with pollination even if they do frequent flowers. It is interesting to note how even wind-pollinated plants can be valuable to insects.

One Response to ““Mistmaiden Meadow” Still Outstanding”

  • Grace Peterson:

    It’s always such a treat to read about your adventures. Please keep them coming! I can see why you love the bramble green hairstreaks.

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