Dodder at Patterson Mountain

The meadow by the Lone Wolf Shelter was quite pretty with lots of scarlet paintbrush (Castilleja miniata) and celery-leaved lovage (Ligusticum apiifolium), but the smoke was unpleasant, so I didn’t stay long. Weeks later, this little smoke would have seemed like a good day!

A tangle of mountain dodder in the rocky meadow at Patterson Mountain

On Sunday, July 23, I left the house planning to head back up to “Mistmaiden Meadow” for my fifth every-other-week-or-so survey. As I headed toward Lowell, something looked terribly wrong. I could see an ominous bank of gray smoke to the east. I stopped to call my husband to see if he could find out where it was coming from—I don’t have a data plan on my phone, so I couldn’t check that way. It turns out the Bedrock Fire had started the afternoon before by the Bedrock Campground along Big Fall Creek Road 18. Obviously, I didn’t want to go anywhere near the fire, so Mistmaiden Meadow was out of the question. I had no idea in which direction and how far the smoke was going to move, but I also didn’t want to bail on going on an outing. I made a quick decision to go to Patterson Mountain. It was one of the closest trails to Lowell, slightly west of the fire, and south of Highway 58—the fire being over 10 miles north of the highway. I figured the smoke would mostly blow to the east, and if I was wrong and had to come home early, at least I wouldn’t have driven too far.

A handsome California sister nectaring on yarrow (Achillea millefolia).

When I got to the wet meadow by the Lone Wolf Shelter, there was some smoke that must have settled in the meadow earlier, but the rest of the day was fine. I was relieved that my day wasn’t spoiled by smoke or cut short, but the fact that a fire had started in my area again was upsetting. The Middle Fork District has had a number of bad fires of late. How had it started with no lightning? While they are still saying “cause unknown,” I heard that a friend of a friend was at the campground and saw it start after some smokers walked off, presumably after tossing their butts. Hard to imagine how a single careless act can be so destructive, even during a bad drought. I guess we should be relieved it doesn’t happen more often.

Lorquin’s admirals look somewhat similar to California sisters above, but their orangey coloring is just along the margins of their forewings rather than in a big spot like the sister.

From the viewpoint at the end of the Patterson Mountain trail, there is usually a good view to the north of Lookout Point Reservoir and all the mountains beyond. Unfortunately, the Bedrock Fire was taking off very quickly to the northeast of the reservoir and obscuring any view in that direction. On my way home, rather than drifting, the smoke had formed a huge plume. That photo is at the end of the report I was writing that day (see Fourth Trip of the Year to Mistmaiden Meadow).

Most of the day was uneventful. Things looked very different than they had in May when I hiked with John Koenig and Deborah Toobert (see Very Early Look at Patterson Mountain) after the snow had just melted. I focused on collecting seeds (lots of Scouler’s valerian, Valeriana sitchensis var. scouleri!) and watching butterflies. After lunching at the viewpoint at the end of the trail, I went to the level meadow just to the south of the trail near the top and then headed back to the car off-trail to check out my favorite sites on the south side of the ridge.

The showy flowers of night-blooming morning glory (Calystegia atriciplifolia) decorated the meadow just off the trail on the summit.

At the smaller of the two meadows on the south slope, I had an interesting find that changed the focus of my day. This rocky meadow is somewhat moist in the spring but dries out quickly except for one still-green seep. Many years ago, I had found western ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes porrifolia) in the seep; the much more common hooded ladies’ tresses, S. romanzoffia, is what grows abundantly in the meadow by the shelter. I always check this spot when I’m there later in the summer, but I’ve never seen it again. Both species of Spiranthes show up every so often in my meadow at home, then disappear for a long time, so I’m no longer sure that it is permanently gone. 

Lots of miniature-scale activity in the northern buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum) inflorescences caught my eye. I’d never noticed these odd fuzzy white creatures before. They appear to be the larval form of a ladybug (maybe tribe Scymnini, but I know little about beetles). They eat the black aphids, which often cover buckwheat flowers. The ants, meanwhile, like the honeydew the aphids make. I wonder if the ants protect the aphids from the beetle larvae the way they sometimes protect Lycaenidae caterpillars.

Gray hairstreaks are drawn to the strongly scented flowers of golden chinquapin (Chrysolepis chrysopylla). Late last August, I found 9 hairstreak caterpillars on the inflorescences of this same plant at the edge of the rocky meadow on the south side. Perhaps this was a female and looking to lay eggs here. Unfortunately, with all the smoke and heat, I didn’t get much of anywhere in August to look for caterpillars.

No sign of lady’s tresses in the seep again this year, but I did spot the telltale orange tangle of dodder (Cuscuta sp.), a parasitic plant. I’d never noticed it here before, but after it was pointed out to me at Tire Mountain this spring (see NPSO Annual Meeting Trip to Tire Mountain) and then finding it on the moist slope at “Mistmaiden Meadow” (see Fourth Trip of the Year to Mistmaiden Meadow), I was primed with the search image in my head. After looking at it carefully and photographing it (not easy, it’s very small), I noticed that, like at Mistmaiden Meadow, it seemed indifferent to hosts. It was attaching to clovers (Trifolium variegatum and T. cyathiferum), rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta), common cryptantha (Cryptantha intermedia), and whatever else was growing in the seep. Some species are picky, but this species clearly isn’t. Like the populations at Tire Mountain and Mistmaiden Meadow, I believe it is (Cuscuta suksdorfii) because the flowers are not too densely clustered, and at least some of them are 4-parted. I even spotted one 3-parted flower.

This seep in the rocky southside meadow remains green throughout the summer. The moisture that flows through this meadow forms Saltpeter Creek a little farther down slope. The white flowers still in bloom are slim-leaf onion (Allium amplectens) and hyacinth cluster-lily (Triteleia hyacinthina).

The main southside meadow had large sweeps of gorgeous pink Cusick’s checkermallow (Sidalcea cusickii), which kept the bumblebees happy.

The big meadow has much deeper soil and is riddled with mountain beaver (Aplodontia) holes. One has to walk carefully to avoid a sprained ankle, especially in late summer when the vegetation hides many of their holes. One hole had this neatly laid out pile of polemonium leaves and other goodies, perhaps a cache drying for consumption during the winter. Apparently, they also collect material for lining their dens.

There was a family of mountain quails in Indian Dream Meadow. This male and the female called back and forth on either side of me up the slope. It was apparent they weren’t happy about me invading their space, so after I studied the dodder, I headed out. This is the second time I’ve come across quails here. While I occasionally see them on the road on my way home, I very rarely encounter any when I’m out botanizing.

From this meadow, I headed through the woods to the nearby very large wet meadow that slopes down the south side. I got off track a little and missed my usual animal trail, resulting in a much harder push through the thick shrubby margin between the forest and the meadow. But I made it without too many scratches. I spent some time gathering seeds of the plentiful great polemonium (Polemonium carneum). While working my way across the meadow, I spotted more dodder! I kept looking and found it in a number of spots here as well.

There was still time for a little bit of seed collecting on my way home, so I stopped at “Indian Dream Meadow,” just off Road 1714. This meadow is very similar to the rocky one on the south side of Patterson with a seep down the middle that stays green all summer. There were still some showy tarweed (Madia elegans) and seep monkeyflower (Erythranthe microphylla) in bloom in the green area, while those beyond the seep were all in seed. With my search image fully loaded, I spotted mountain dodder almost immediately. Wow, I went from having only seen it twice in the Western Cascades in all my years of roaming around to seeing it in 4 new locations just this year—5 if you consider the two separate meadow areas on the south side of Patterson.

This dodder at Indian Dream Meadow shows one of the 4-parted flowers.

I’m struck by how plants I’ve known little or nothing about suddenly appear everywhere after I have the search image in my head. This same thing has happened to me with other species, including Merriam’s alumroot (Heuchera merriamii) and American red currant (Ribes triste). Part of it is mastering the search image, but the other part is becoming familiar with a plant’s habitat so you know where to look and, of course, actively looking for it. I have little doubt that I’ll discover mountain dodder isn’t as uncommon in the Western Cascades as was previously thought.

3 Responses to “Dodder at Patterson Mountain”

  • Leigh Blake:

    Thank you!!

    I have never seen “Dodder” here in Oregon and the last time I saw it was hiking in Southern California below the San Bernardino mountains…how and when did it get here??
    Wonderful photos as usual..Thank you… On the “white” creature in your photo…i think they were brought in by these ants too…not a beetle larva…I think.. I believe this is another “cow” for the ants…Ants are amazing!! Wracking my brain for name of this critter…Common name “mealybug”…often people growing houseplants will find this sap sucker on indoor grown plants.. latin name…but I’ll search.. The fires are still with us.. but the “Flat” fire is theoretically 70% + under control.. We’re cleaniing our nearby forest as much as we can..I hate removing small trees..but it’s become necessary here on our land..

    THANK YOU!! looking forward to your next wonderful adventure!! Rain soon???

  • Sharon Reynolds:

    This is so strange. I just heard about, and saw photos of Dodder yesterday on my gardening app. Someone had it in a raised bed and it had completely entangled a fairly large basil plant. The commenters were telling the person to pull the entire plant and put it in a plastic bag, then dig the dirt out of the bed and get rid of it as well. It sounds awful, I hope I never see it on our property!

  • OregonFlora considers 10 species of dodder (Cuscuta spp.) to be established in Oregon. While 2 are non-native, the other 8 species are native to the state. While I imagine having it in one’s garden would be a problem, the native species have their place in the ecosystem.

    In answer to Leigh’s question about the fuzzy larvae, I thought they were mealybugs at first, too, and thought it ought to find them in a wild place like that. But mealybugs have longer protrusions on their sides. Check out this page on BugGuide: Larvae of some species of ladybugs are referred to as mealybug destroyers. The ones at Patterson may not be that species, but I suspect they are related.

    Yes, I do hope we get more rain soon—nothing in the forecast here. That last rain was a godsend, but it wasn’t enough to end fire season. Glad you’re getting forest “cleaning” done as well, Leigh. Stay safe!

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