Late Season at Mistmaiden Meadow

Beautiful fall color in the thickets of oval-leaved viburnum that grow on the slopes of Mistmaiden Meadow

In the wetland along Road 140, there were still trillium-leaved wood sorrel (Oxalis trilliifolia) in bloom. Its leaves are similar to the far more common Oregon wood sorrel (O. oregana), but the flowers are in clusters and bloom later, and they grow in very wet spots.

Thank heavens for the wonderful rain on August 31! I had been so worried we’d have to wait until October for some decent rain, like last year. We got 3/4″ of an inch at my house, probably more in the mountains. That was followed by almost of week of cool, cloudy weather, and even a little more rain. It tamped down the fires, reduced the smoke, and made it much easier for the firefighters to contain the fires. In fact, The Forest Service reduced the south end of the closure area near the Bedrock Fire. That meant I could finally return to “Mistmaiden Meadow” near Sourgrass Mountain, where I had hoped to survey throughout the flowering season. My last trip had been on July 7 (see Fourth Trip of the Year to Mistmaiden Meadow), and I’d planned to go back on July 23 until I realized the Bedrock Fire had started the day before. I had missed two whole months, so I was really anxious to get back. On September 6, the first nice day I had free after the welcome cool and rainy weather abated, I headed up there.

The first good rain of the season refreshed two of our species that survive the summer by temporarily drying up. On the upper left is rustyhair saxifrage (Micranthes rufidula). On the lower right is Wallace’s spikemoss (Selaginella wallacei). Both can revive their dessicated leaves extremely quickly once they are sufficiently wet.

I stopped at the quarry along Road 140 to collect Cardwell’s penstemon (Penstemon cardwellii) seed and found a small patch of this mysterious plant. It turns out it is garden coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), an exotic plant that seems to have escaped in a few places in Oregon. Although it has attractive yellow flowers, I should remove it next time I’m up there.

While the meadow was no longer covered with flowers as it had been on my earlier trips, there was still color, only now it was from the foliage beginning to take on the warm hues of autumn. The plentiful oval-leaved viburnum (Viburnum ellipticum) was the star. Its shiny leaves were changing from green to yellow and orange, all the way to a deep wine red. The fruits (technically drupes though they look like berries) were also ripening to deep purple. I collected some for my friend Sheila Klest to grow at her native plant nursery, Trillium Gardens. When we were here in June (see Shooting Stars are Stars of a Great Day), we had both thought it ought to make a beautiful garden plant with its showy flowers and handsome leaves. Many horticultural viburnums have good fall color, but I had never seen this species with such good color—another good reason to try it in a sunny garden. I have a few growing naturally in my forest, but they don’t get enough sun to develop color in the fall. The bitter cherries (Prunus emarginata) had turned bright yellow, but while the berries were ripening on the Douglas’ hawthorn (Crataegus gaylussacia), the leaves were still green.

Lots of ripe fruits and pretty leaves on the oval-leaved viburnum.

I headed down to the bottom of the meadow where there is the largest variety of shrubs. There is one area with a good-sized population of Lewis’ mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii). The sweet fragrance of mock orange is one of the highlights of summer for both me and the butterflies, so I was very disappointed to have missed it here this year. I was too late for flowers but also too early to collect any seeds from its woody capsules. Hopefully, next year I can see both flowers and seeds. Nearby, I discovered a shrub I hadn’t noticed on earlier trips. It certainly appeared to be a cherry but not a bitter cherry. It had the telltale glands on the petioles of some cherries but much larger leaves than the bitter cherry. It either hadn’t bloomed, or all the flowering and fruiting stems had already fallen off. If it was a choke cherry (Prunus virginiana), which I see only rarely in the mountains, I would have expected to see some evidence of the long inflorescences, even if the berries had already been eaten. A mystery to solve next year, I guess.

Hall’s goldenweed is one of the last flowers to bloom at the end of summer. It is common in rocky areas of the Western Cascades.

After I’d wandered across the whole meadow, I decided to try to find another meadow that I’d seen on the aerial imagery. It wasn’t very far to the north, just on the other side of a small ridge, but I had no idea if the access would be easy or not. Jenny Moore, the Middle Fork Ranger district botanist, told me that someone from the Forest Service had surveyed it in the past and found Thompson’s mistmaiden (Romanzoffia thompsonii) there, too. They had also checked out some small meadows farther down the slope. They must have come up from Road 1802 below, where the series of meadow begins, because, apparently, they hadn’t surveyed my “Mistmaiden Meadow.”

At first, I was unsure what this strange, conspicuously textured thing was that had gotten partially exposed in Mistmaiden Meadow. There were no likely trees nearby for such a large root. Then I recognized the dried stems of wild cucumber or manroot (Marah oreganus) coming off it (lower middle of photo). This species is abundant in the meadow in the areas with deeper soil. To see a photo of how big this root can be (man- or dog-sized sometimes!), check out this photo:

I had thought about looking for this highest of these meadows earlier in the season and considered bushwhacking to it from Road 140 a little north of where I park, but it looked as though the area between it and the road had been logged and was quite brushy. I decided instead to try to follow the abandoned road through the woods that I use to get to Mistmaiden Meadow and try to cut through the woods. Mature forest is much easier to traverse than dense, young forest or shrubs. It turned out to be even easier than I’d hoped. The little road turned a corner and quickly dead-ended at an open spot of gravel on the spine of the ridge, probably a decking area at the end of this former logging road. One step into the beautiful old growth and I could see the open meadow just a short distance below!

The small meadow to the north of Mistmaiden Meadow has a large sweep of Douglas’ mugwort. It also has small oaks but no viburnums. It’s not as steep or wet as the larger meadow.

There were large drifts of tiny-flowered but attractive autumn knotweed in both meadows. Many small bees, including this little bumblebee, were enjoying the abundance of these flowers in the otherwise dried out meadows.

This meadow is only about an acre and a half, but there were some smaller open spots a little farther downhill. Through the woods, I could see another of the small meadows, but it looked quite steep, and I was nearing the end of my day. I think it will be worth it to do some exploration along Road 1802, which I haven’t driven in many, many years, and perhaps check out these meadows from below, as the original surveyor had done. The upper meadow had a subset of the many plants in the much larger Mistmaiden Meadow. There was a large area of Douglas’ mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana), lots of northern buckwheat (Eriogonum compositum), and I was able to spot the tiny seed capsules of Thompson’s mistmaiden in the mossy rocks. Hall’s goldenweed (Columbiadoria hallii) is one of the few plants to be at peak bloom this late in the year and was attracting a decent number of butterflies—at least for a day in September. Also blooming was the equally late autumn knotweed (Polygonum spergulariiforme), a favorite of late-season tiny bees. Both of these had been blooming in Mistmaiden Meadow as well.

This skipper is enjoying another great wildflower for late-season pollinators, pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea).

Gorgeous fall foliage on ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor)

I had been concerned about bushwhacking across so many rotten logs during prime yellow jacket season—after having been stung many times at home while removing blackberries from around rotten logs, I was more concerned than I used to be. But everything was fine until—while walking across a rocky area of this meadow—I suddenly felt a stab of pain in my ankle. I didn’t hear or see any wasps (or bees, but I doubt they’re the culprits). But my ankle started to swell up, so that was the end of my outing. Luckily, I was already heading back across the meadow, and it was only a quarter of a mile back on the old road to reach my car, where there was an ice pack in my cooler. Not my favorite way to end the day, but it was a wonderful day nonetheless.

A collection of foliage neatly laid out in the woods by a mountain beaver (Aplodontia rufa). It includes Oregon wood sorrel, vanilla leaf (Achlys triphylla), and starry false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum stellatum).

One Response to “Late Season at Mistmaiden Meadow”

  • Grace Peterson:

    Dang. I’m sorry you got stung. I hope it healed quickly. Thank you for the ID on the Holodiscus. I was at Riverbend Campground (Linn County) earlier this week. I photographed a gorgeous red-leaved mystery plant and your photo confirmed its identity! I’m curious if you’ve ever run across any Big Foot signs. Are you a believer?

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