Right Back to Groundhog and Warner Mountains

From the ridge above the talus slope on Warner Mountain, you can see northeast to nearby Logger Butte (the rocky spot at the top left-middle catching a little light). Talus is the favorite habitat of western boneset (Ageratina occidentalis). Its pinky purple flowers have been replaced by fluffy seed heads. While it is found at mid to high elevations, I have a plant I grew from seed that has been blooming well in my rock garden for 20 years or so.

After my previous outing (see A “Berry” Surprising Day at Groundhog and Warner Mountains), I contacted Jim Pringle, the author of the Flora of North America Gentianaceae treatment, who also assisted us with the treatment for the Flora of Oregon. He’s the person I’ve been communicating with about gentians for many years (see The Quest for Enemion Flowers at Table Rock). I attached some photos to my e-mail, including a scan of a specimen I had collected from the Warner Mountain bog for the OSU herbarium a couple of years ago. He pointed out that there was a small rosette at the base of the plant. I hadn’t recognized that as a rosette because it was so small relative to the whole plant.

The Warner bog at the end of the season

That seemed to point to the Warner Mountain gentian as Gentiana setigera, Mendocino gentian. Considering the species’ entire range is only about 60 miles north to south, all in the Klamath range of southwestern Oregon and northwestern California, and this population is about 100 miles to the northeast of the nearest known site down there, I really wanted to be sure about the identity. The season was getting pretty late already, and the gentians were starting to turn yellow, so I decided I’d better go back up there soon, or it might be a long time before I could look at the live gentians again.

With the flowers pretty much gone, it is time for the mushrooms to bring color. This little one was growing in the Warner Bog.

On September 20, I did the reverse trip of the previous week and drove up to Warner Mountain first. The forecast had made it seem like this was the best day of the week. It was supposed to be cloudy with perhaps a lingering morning shower, and then clearing up during the day. I’m usually a fair-weather hiker, but as I was on a mission, and there weren’t going to be many butterflies left anyway, I decided to risk it. The previous trip had been beautiful weather—perfect, I might even say—sunny and around 70°. It turned out the forecasters were wrong. I only saw the sun a few times, and it was in the low 40s and very chilly most of the day. It actually got worse as the day went on. Oh well, I still had several goals to accomplish, so I toughed it out. I was glad that I hadn’t asked anyone along this time.

A number of small rosettes of Mendocino gentian. A few have started to develop stems. You can also see a few round-leaved sundew rosettes with a cluster of resting buds in the center. After the leaves disintegrate, these will remain until next spring.

This scan of the gentian specimens before they went into the plant press shows the different life stages. The basal rosette is harder to see on the flowering plant, but it is still there.

The first goal was to take a good look at the growth habit of the gentians and collect another specimen for the herbarium, hopefully better showing the important characters. I went straight to the bog. I was relieved to see there were still some green plants. This time I noticed that the ground was covered with small rosettes. There must have been thousands spread around the bog. The rosettes were only about 2 inches in diameter. Rather than getting bigger with age, they appeared to start forming flowering stems as they matured. Some had very short stems, others had several tall ones that had bloomed and were now topped with seed capsules. So Jim Pringle was correct that these were Gentiana setigera. I found several plants at different stages and put them in my collecting bag. The population is so extensive that these won’t affect it at all. It will be interesting to compare them with specimens from the southern populations and see if there are any noticeable differences. How did this species get so far from its normal range? Did a bird carry the first seeds? Or could it have been a logging truck? The bog is surrounded by young trees, so there must have been some logging equipment next to the bog when the forest was cut. I guess there’s no way of knowing, but I’m happy they’re doing so well!

The tall lookout is manned during fire season—one of the last ones in the area to still be in use. You can also rent it in the winter.

Considering it was in the 40s, I was really surprised when this common wood nymph landed on a rock atop Warner Mountain during a brief period of sun.

With that taken care of, I decided to go up to the lookout for a bit. I climbed up to the top of the ridge and had lunch at the picnic table. The view still had that wonderful feeling of being up high—even if the clouds didn’t seem to be too much higher. After a chat with the very nice man working at the lookout, I headed down the ridge to see if I could spot any pikas in the talus slope. No luck seeing any, but I heard one squeaking under my feet as I headed down to the road. This was the one time of the day when I had as much as 15 minutes of sun, but by the time I got down to the road to collect some gummy gooseberry (Ribes lobbii) berries, it was showering lightly.

Darn. I had planned to walk up to Logger Butte for my next stop, but there was no point in doing that in the rain, so I continued on to the wetland Angela and I had been to the week before, just north of Logger Butte. There was a particularly good patch of black huckleberries (Vaccinium membranaceum) there, and this time I was prepared with a container to bring some home. Thankfully, the rain stopped long enough for me to pick a pint of berries (and, of course, eat a bunch more!). That was the second of my goals for the day.

From the lookout the view to the north of the top of Groundhog Mountain is obscured by clouds, but the large Little Groundhog Meadow is in view. It was the view of that meadow from here that made me start exploring this area many years ago.

While checking Google Earth after the previous trip to Groundhog and Warner mountains, I noticed what appeared to be another wetland east of Groundhog, just south of Road 2309 and about 6/10 of a mile past the intersection of Road 452 where I had left my car the previous week (43.570°N, -122.329°W). How had I never noticed this before? This was now my 46th trip up to the area, but for much of the 20 years I’ve been visiting this terrific area, Google Earth wasn’t available, and this “new” wetland is hidden from the road. I couldn’t wait to check it out, so that was my last goal for the day.

The wetland east of Groundhog Mountain.

I wasn’t the only one interested in collecting the fruits of gummy gooseberry. From the number of chipmunks in the area, my guess is this stump is one of their lunch spots.

Unfortunately, now the rain had started again and was coming down harder. Damn. I really didn’t want to wander around in the rain, especially when it was already so cold. I drove to a pulloff just west of the wetland where I thought it would be easiest to climb up the road bank to access it. I sat in the car for at least 10 minutes trying to decide if I should get out, wait for it to stop, or just give up and go home and wait for next year to check it out. Finally, it started to lighten up, so I headed out, climbed up the bank, and headed into the woods. All the foliage was drenched, so it really didn’t matter if it was raining or not. My legs were soaked in no time. But upon reaching the forest, I discovered a well-worn trail leading right through to the wetland! Very large hoof prints in the mud and several wallows would seem to indicate this is a favorite spot for elk. It didn’t take long to reach the open wetland.

This looks like an elk wallow in the eastern wetland at Groundhog.

It’s pretty large—the open area covers about 12 or 13 acres, but it meanders, so you can’t see all of the wetland at once. Coming in from the west, the first section was filled with tall perennials. This is where I really got drenched even though the rain had finally stopped, and there were even a few sun breaks. The rest of the wetland was much boggier, with shorter herbaceous vegetation but ringed with shrubs. While it was late in the season, I did see sundews (Drosera rotundifolia), the leaves and old seed heads of loads of mountain shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi), marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala), and elephant’s head (Pedicularis groenlandica), and some blooming Cascade Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia cirrata). There were also lots of alpine laurel (Kalmia microphylla), huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.), and willows (Salix spp.). It was late in the day, and I was so wet that I turned around as soon as I reached the far end. Thankfully, although I hadn’t thought to bring a raincoat, I did have the foresight to bring an extra pair of pants and socks and was able to dry off and warm up quickly on the drive home. I’m really looking forward to returning to this spot to see it in full bloom next spring… on a sunny day!

4 Responses to “Right Back to Groundhog and Warner Mountains”

  • David Wagner:

    Some time I’d like to get together with you and plot a selection of the wetlands you have discovered for future moss and liverwort hunting.

  • Yes Dave, let’s do that!

  • Leigh Blake:

    A great hike!!! Those cuttings you took with the well rooted stems for your Gentiana setigera would’ve been wonderful in the garden..Beautiful!!
    I grow Ribes lobbii in my garden that I had transplanted from another place on our property….and it’s always the first bloomer in the spring…leafs out before Oelmeria here.
    Kathy Allen says this is her last year…we shall miss her great offerings…We need more people who can propagate these needed natives here in Oregon.

    Great Hike…I already said that…THANK YOU!!

  • Kammy:

    Thanks for sharing!

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