Fourth Trip of the Year to Mistmaiden Meadow

There were at least five large areas of narrowleaf mule’s ears in the lower half of Mistmaiden Meadow.

I was surprised to see three different blooming clumps of Oregon iris (Iris tenax) along Road 140. While very common at low elevations, this is only the second area I’ve ever found them above 3500′. In eastern Lane County, they usually give way to slender-tubed iris (I. chrysophylla) at about 1500′.

On July 7, I headed back up to the meadow on the west side of Sourgrass Mountain that I’m calling “Mistmaiden Meadow.” My first stop was the roadside along the east end of Road 140 with beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) and other goodies because it had been an interesting spot on the previous trips. As I mentioned in the report on my last trip (see “Mistmaiden Meadow” Still Outstanding), there were a number of butterflies there, so I wanted to see what was flying about at this point. Once again, I saw several pretty bramble green hairstreaks. Also present were silver-spotted skippers and persius duskywings. What do these three butterflies have in common? They all use big deervetch (Hosackia crassifolia, formerly Lotus crassifolius) as a host food plant for their caterpillars. This species likes disturbed areas and is abundant along the road here. It appeared to be attracting a lot of other insects as well. Bumblebees were busy flying from one flower to the next. I found several caterpillars that did not look like butterflies munching through the leaves. New for me were some tiny and strange-looking lace bugs (Corythucha sp.), but they were so small my photos didn’t come out well enough to include. I wouldn’t have thought about planting something as large as big deervetch—and I’ve never seen it advertised by a nursery—but it seems this species is very popular with insects, and it isn’t unattractive, with its reddish flowers and glaucous leaves. Maybe I’ll collect some seeds on one of my return trips.

The eastern end of Road 140 doesn’t seem terribly interesting at first glance, but looks can be deceiving. There are a number of different plants here that serve as host food plants or provide nectar and pollen for butterflies and bees. An entirely different suite of plants can be found in a skunk cabbage swamp just a tenth of a mile farther up the road in an undisturbed stretch of forest.

A silver-spotted skipper on big deervetch

A persius duskywing sitting on big deervetch. Duskywings are rather drab butterflies that can be hard to distinguish. The hindwings of this species are a warmer brown.

A bramble green hairstreak resting on a big deervetch inflorescence

This caterpillar is being tended by ants. For an interesting article on this relationship, see “The butterflies who are raised by ants.

After finding caterpillars on some tower mustard (Turritis glabra) on my second trip to Mistmaiden Meadow this year (see Shooting Stars are Stars of a Great Day), I stopped again to check the plants on the bank of the short abandoned road I use to access the meadow. I didn’t see any eggs this time, but I found two caterpillars, one small and one large, of what we used to call Sara’s orangetip but now know as Julia’s orangetip. To top it off, I spotted another caterpillar on a nearby lupine (Lupinus sp.)! I’m not sure which species of blue it is as there are many that use lupines, but my guess is it is a silvery blue. About the silvery blue, the authors of the Butterflies of Canada say, “The larval colour depends on their food, varying from whitish or purple if feeding on flowers, to green when eating leaves.” They are also supposed to have a dark dorsal stripe and are known to be ant-tended, so it fits this very pale individual munching down on flowers. But please correct me if I’m mistaken!

West Coast ladies have a squared-off forewing tip, and only the small dots near the tip are white. Painted ladies have a large white patch near the dots where the one in this species is orange. Both species were nectaring avidly on the mules ears.

While I’m planning on tracking the whole flowering season at Mistmaiden Meadow this summer, on this trip, I was really looking forward to seeing the narrowleaf mule’s ears (Wyethia angustifolia) in bloom. When I arrived, I was really happy to see big splashes of yellow in the lower parts of the meadow. My timing was perfect! And there were also lots of butterflies, especially on the mules ears. There were lots of clodius parnassians, pale swallowtails, checkerspots, painted ladies, and at least one West Coast lady.

A mature caterpillar of the MacCulloch’s moth I’ve been seeing so much this year. It was on farewell-to-spring (Clarkia amoena).

From a distance, dodder looks more like someone littered something than an actual plant.

Up close, you can see the individual dodder flowers have pointy lobes on both the corolla and calyx. As they mature, the ovary swells but the lobes persist.

Since the mule’s ears were mostly in the lower part of the meadow, I did more exploring down there this time. I was very excited to spot an area with quite a bit of dodder (Cuscuta sp.). Before the NPSO trip to Tire Mountain (see NPSO Annual Meeting Trip to Tire Mountain), I’d only seen dodder two or three times, and it had been many years. Having the search image still in my head probably made the difference in spotting this strange little plant.

Dodder is easy to recognize by the orange or yellow stems that twine around and parasitize other plant species. But distinguishing the species is much more difficult. I believe this is mountain dodder (Cuscuta suksdorfii). Its little cream-colored flowers may have 4 or 5 lobes and are missing fringed scales on the filaments that are common on most other species. The similar western dodder (C. occidentalis) has more densely clustered inflorescences and only 5-parted flowers. While some dodder species parasitize specific species, mountain dodder seems to attach itself to anything around it. Now that I’m more familiar with it, I’ll have to keep my eyes open for more of this odd plant.


After only 1 day, the Bedrock Fire was already going strong. This photo was taken on Patterson Mountain Road, 12 or so miles to the south. It’s going to be a very long, dry summer. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait until October for significant rain.

I started writing this report weeks ago, but then the Bedrock Fire broke out at the Bedrock Campground along Fall Creek on July 22 and totally distracted me. This is about 11 and a half miles due east of my house—I live just west of the Fall Creek Reservoir. I didn’t find out until the following day when I was actually on my way to Mistmaiden Meadow for yet another trip. When I reached downtown Lowell, I could see the smoke, so after finding out exactly where the fire was, I was forced to change my plans. As of now, the fire has burned through over 10,000 acres, about 1000 acres a day. While (thankfully for me) the fire is mostly headed east, there is an arm of it that has been moving southeast and is now only about 3 miles from Saddleblanket Mountain and its old-growth forests. If it continues in that direction, it could reach Elk Camp and Mistmaiden Meadow. There is now a closure area that includes these as well as Tire Mountain (so no following the rest of the season at Mistmaiden Meadow after all, even if there weren’t so much smoke). The only reason it isn’t spreading in some directions is that it is hitting the scars of all the recent fires in the area.

I do hope they are able to contain the south and west edges soon. In addition to worrying about my own property—should we have an east wind event later in the season—I can’t bear the thought of losing all the magnificent forest near Saddleblanket and Elk Camp. It’s already gone through some beautiful old-growth areas along the Fall Creek trail. And although a damp and rocky meadow like Mistmaiden Meadow would probably not be affected too much in the long run, it might still kill a lot of wildlife, including developing caterpillars. It’s depressing how much forest we’ve lost in eastern Lane County just in the last few years. I hate to leave things on a despairing note, but it’s hard to see how climate disasters won’t just keep getting worse. If you’re somewhere that’s not bathed in smoke (like my house was this morning), get out into the wild and enjoy it while you can! Just remember how painfully dry it is, and be careful.

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