First Trip of the Year to Bearbones Mountain

I was able to get close to some beautiful cliff paintbrush (Castilleja rupicola) on my way up the north side of the summit. Most of the other plants I saw were out of reach.

I recently heard from Chad Sageser that he had cleared the roads (2127 and 5850) to Bearbones Mountain of fallen trees. What a hero! With all the interesting early plants on this old lookout site, I decided to head up there as soon as possible. On May 31, I drove up there by myself. I’d missed the earliest flowers—only a couple of glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum) were still blooming—but the rest of the flowers were beautiful, and there was more spring phacelia (Phacelia verna) than I’d ever seen before. I was a bit tired, so I didn’t make it as far down the side ridge as I usually go. I also wanted to save a little energy for a quick but steep trip up to the top of Big Pine Opening (the big open slope along Road 21 at the intersection of Rd 2135) at the end of the day. This is the lowest site of purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) we know of in the Middle Fork district, so I wanted to see how far along the bloom was. Here are some highlights.

Looking to the northeast from the summit, you can see the snowy Three Sisters in the distance. You can also see the extensive damage of the 2022 Cedar Creek Fire, which burned from Waldo Lake all the way to west of Blair Lake. The nearby ridge I named Bearscat Ridge, but I haven’t been back up there since 2007.

Looking west, there’s a good view of nearby Bohemia Mountain (left) and Fairview Peak (right). This area burned last year in the Bohemia Fire, which started in late August. Thankfully, we had an early rain at the end of August, or this might have burned more extensively.

With high, thin cirrus clouds, it was the perfect day for some interesting atmospheric phenomena. I mistakenly climbed up the steep north side of the summit slope from farther down than usual. I won’t try that again! But I got this cool view of a colorful halo around the sun. Later there was even a partial second halo.

The death camas (Toxicoscordion venenosum) was just coming into bloom on the side ridge among Menzies’ larkspur (Delphinium menziesii), rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta), spring phacelia, and Olympic onion (Allium crenulatum).

I didn’t see as many insects as I’d hoped, but this bee was enjoying Sierra sanicle (Sanicula graveolens).

Smallflower woodland star (Lithophragma parviflorum) and large-flowered Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia grandiflora) were abundant in this section of meadow along the south side of the side ridge.

I hesitated to post this photo as it is rather gruesome, but I was fascinated that these three checkerspot butterflies were so enthusiastically feeding from a deer carcass at Big Pine Opening. I would have been less surprised to see anglewings or some other species that are commonly seen on scat, but there must have been some great minerals to be had from this poor deer. I wondered if the deer had been hit by a car and just managed to crawl off the road a bit before dying. Nature carries on, but it still makes me really sad.

Typical purple milkweed has glaucous leaves and wine-colored flowers. The milkweed was just starting to bloom up on Big Pine Opening.

One of the things I wanted to check on in the milkweed patch at Big Pine Opening was the weird plant I discovered in 2019 (see Three Trips in a Row to Rigdon). It has gotten larger, but it is still a brighter shade of green than the normal purple milkweed. I was surprised and excited to see that it was blooming for the first time, but something was very odd about the flowers!

Here’s a close up of the abnormal inflorescence of the unusual plant. I picked a single flower from a normal plant for comparison. Milkweeds have an unusual flower structure. In addition to a calyx and corolla, there’s a corona consisting of 5 petal-like structures call hoods. In the center, the stamens and styles are fused together into what is called the gynostegium. I checked the reproductive parts of a weird flower under the microscope, and it was indeed a milkweed although the corona was certainly reduced. The back of the normal flower shows an small, inconspicuous, dark purple calyx. The petals are purple, and the corona starts out white and turns purple. I think what is going on with the unusual flowers is that the large green outer structures are actually the calyx. The corolla lobes are still purple but much smaller than normal. Peeking into the still opening corolla, I could see the gynostegium and a very small corona. How bizarre!

2 Responses to “First Trip of the Year to Bearbones Mountain”

  • Sharon Reynolds:

    Thanks for your posts Tanya, always interesting and beautiful photos. We appreciate you!

  • I absolutely adore your blog! I’m so grateful for the wealth of information you share. I’m lucky enough to visit Oakridge annually, and I always use your blogs to help guide my explorative adventures. Thank you!

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