Posts Tagged ‘Asclepias’

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!

Long-awaited Return to Mosaic Rock

The more-or-less east end of the rock above the road.

I spotted a small area of spring phacelia at Mosaic Rock. This is a new site for this easily overlooked species, which is only found in Douglas and southern Lane counties.

My husband isn’t excited about little plants the way I am, and waiting for me while I try to photograph butterflies isn’t his favorite way to spend the day either. So we don’t hike together all that often. But he does really like rocks, and I’d been wanting to take him to the amazing rock formation in the Rigdon area that Sabine and I named “Mosaic Rock” (43.4808°N, -122.4539°W) back in 2011 (see Amazing Rock Feature Worthy of a Name). It’s a magnificent example of columnar jointing, and the cracks provide a foothold for several special cliff-loving plants, including cliff penstemon (Penstemon rupicola) and Merriam’s alumroot (Heuchera merriamii). It’s several hundred feet high in places, about 1400′ long and less than 200′ wide, and reminds me of a giant that looks like a flying saucer or frisbee that crashed into the ground on its edge. While I had driven by it many times in the last decade since you pass under it on the way up to Bristow Prairie, I hadn’t explored the rock itself since that first trip. We finally made it there on May 20, on a perfect sunny but cool day. Read the rest of this entry »

Insect Watching at Grassy Glade and Nearby

As soon as I arrived at Many Creeks Meadow, I spotted this pale swallowtail nectaring on the first mountain thistle (Cirsium remotifolium) flower heads.

I believe this is a Hoffman’s checkerspot—or maybe it’s a northern—I still can’t sort them out!

Although I’d already been to Grassy Glade twice this year (see NPSO Trip to Grassy Glade and Planning Trip to Grassy Glade), I hadn’t seen the purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) in bloom yet. On June 21st, I headed back out to Rigdon to stop at some of my favorite low-elevation spots. I started the day at “Many Creeks Meadow,” hidden away just a little way up Youngs Creek Road 2129. There were still patches of moisture to keep the wildflowers and butterflies happy. The showy tarweed (Madia elegans) was quite lovely, and there were some Oregon geranium (Geranium oreganum), narrowleaf mule’s ears (Wyethia angustifolia), and rosy plectritis (Plectritis congesta) still in bloom. I had hoped to find ripe nutlets of Pacific hound’s tongue (now Adelinia grandis) as this is one of the best places I know to find it. Although a number of inflorescences had been eaten, there were still plenty of nutlets to collect, so I was off to a good start to the day. Read the rest of this entry »

Planning Trip to Grassy Glade

I do hope that some of the beautiful purple milkweed will be in bloom on our upcoming trip to Grassy Glade!

Beautiful harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida) blooms along the road by Hills Creek Reservoir.

On Saturday, May 27, I headed out to the Rigdon area to plan the field trip I’m leading for the Native Plant Society of Oregon Annual Meeting the following Saturday. I want to give people a taste of the interesting plants in this area that are more common to the south, especially the lovely purple (or heartleaf) milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) that I’ve written about so many times. I’ve been crossing my fingers that we will see some in bloom somewhere, but with the crazy shift in weather this spring, it’s hard to anticipate how the plants are going to react. There are lots of great places in the Rigdon area, but I wanted to know which would work best for our non-trail field trip.

I drove straight to Grassy Glade and parked along the side road near the beginning of the meadow. I did a quick spin through the meadow, which was half baked and half moist. On the road in, I had noticed some of the potholes were partly filled with water. Obviously, some of the thunderstorms that I’d heard had occurred out here had blessed the area with some much-needed moisture—there hasn’t been a drop for almost three weeks at my house. My guess is that some of the meadow had already dried out before the rain, while the moister parts had been refreshed before the annuals died. Spring gold (Lomatium utriculatum) and many species of clover (Trifolium spp.) had started along with the cute narrow-leaf owl’s clover (Castilleja attenuata). Read the rest of this entry »

Back to Lower Meadows of Youngs Rock

Looking south to Calapooya Mountains from the large (and steep!) lower meadow, you can see snow still along the crest. The large white area to right end is Bristow Prairie. While I love seeing snow lingering at the end of May, I hope it will have melted by the time I have to lead a hike there later in the month.

As I drove along the reservoir in the morning, a large butterfly caught my eye, so I pulled over immediately and waited for it to return. The gorgeous tiger swallowtail rewarded me by landing and sitting perfectly still on a stunning lupine. Calendar shot for sure!

Since there is still some snow at higher elevations, and the rain is fueling great flowers down low, on May 31, I decided to head to the large lower meadow off the Youngs Rock trail. I went down there twice back in 2016 (see Exploring Meadows Below Youngs Rock) but hadn’t returned since. After my usual stops along Hills Creek Reservoir to see the gorgeous paintbrush (Castilleja hispida and possibly pruinosa), I stopped at the bathroom by the bridge and noticed a lot of activity under the bridge. When Nancy and I stopped there the week before (see Spring Again at Coal Creek Bluff), I was surprised at the absence of swallows since we had seen some tree swallows along the cliffs. But on this trip, there were numerous swallows, some tree swallows but mostly cliff swallows. You can recognize cliff swallows by their buffy back and the creamy spot on their head and nape. Both tree and cliff swallows have a much shorter tail than barn swallows. They appeared to be rebuilding their nests under the north side of the bridge. Or maybe they start new ones every year, I don’t know. I guess there’s not enough room left in my brain to learn about birds after studying plants and butterflies so much! I spent a while watching them and listening to their unusually squeaky chattering—definitely different from the tree swallows that live in my meadow. Read the rest of this entry »

Spring Again at Coal Creek Bluff

Looking north across the slope to Moon Point and Youngs Rock. I hadn’t seen such a pretty show of monkeyflower on my past visits.

On Wednesday, May 25, Nancy Bray accompanied me on a trip to the place I named “Coal Creek Bluff.” I had heard that the Forest Service would be further decommissioning the old Road 210 that I use to access the site to protect Coal Creek from further erosion. I wasn’t sure what this entailed, so I was anxious to find out if I would still be able to access this lovely spot, one of our purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) sites in the Rigdon area. The last time I was there (in 2020, see Followup Milkweed Count at Coal Creek Bluff), I couldn’t make it to the last place you can park before a big washout on the old road. I managed to scratch my brand new car trying to turn around after coming upon a fallen tree. So this time, I just decided to park at the old gate where there is a large area to turn around and do the extra walking. I was surprised to find the road completely clear all the way to the final parking area. Darn! We could have shortened our walk. Next time I’ll know. Read the rest of this entry »

Studying Gentians at Warner Mountain

Few flowers are as gorgeous as gentians in full bloom. While most of these were single-flowered, a number of them had three flowers to a stalk. The Cascade grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia cirrata) was also coming into bloom, although these three buds hadn’t opened yet.

After several years of bad timing, I finally hit the perfect time to collect milkweed seed at Grassy Glade.

Since the bog gentians (Gentiana calycosa) had only just started on my previous trip to Warner Mountain (see Warner Mountain Botanizing), I was determined to get a better look at them, so I returned by myself on August 9. By this time, the Middle Fork Complex fires had started (after a July 29th thunderstorm went through the district), and finding a day when the smoke wasn’t too bad was difficult. But I was getting tired of being stuck at home, I figured it would only get worse as the summer wore on, and the day seemed like it might be okay. I drove through heavy smoke between Lowell and Westfir, just south of the Gales Fire, and was questioning my plans, but it wasn’t so bad heading south along Hills Creek Reservoir. My first stop was to Big Pine Opening to look for purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) seed, but it had already all blown away, so I continued on to Grassy Glade, a couple of thousand feet higher in elevation. Not only were the milkweed pods still cracking open, but I was above the smoke, so I was very pleased and spent a little while there collecting seeds and wandering around before continuing on to my main goal. Read the rest of this entry »

Exploring New Milkweed Meadows in Rigdon

Jenny studying the plants in the still-green seep along the edge of the west meadow. The lush shrub at the top of the photo was a very healthy poison oak!

Back in February, I was invited to a Zoom meeting set up by Walama Restoration and the Middle Fork Ranger District to discuss ongoing restoration projects in the area and further work on purple (or heartleaf) milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) and monarchs (if their population bounces back) in the Rigdon area. At that meeting, I learned that last summer the district hired some surveyors to check out special habitats (I think that includes anything that isn’t forest!) on the west side of Hills Creek Reservoir and the Middle Fork of the Willamette. They surveyed a number of south-facing openings that I’d seen on Google Earth but never explored. I was very excited to hear that they found two new populations of milkweed! And these were farther north than any of our other sites, making them the new northern boundary of its range. Jenny Moore, the current district botanist, didn’t know much more about the sites or the milkweed itself there, so we discussed going up there together to see them for ourselves once the milkweed started blooming.

After seeing the milkweed starting to flower at Big Pine Opening a few weeks earlier (see Relaxing Day in Rigdon), I figured it was time. The weather was supposed to get hot again, so I was happy that Jenny was able to go out with me on Friday, May 28 before it got too hot for a steep bushwhack up low-elevation, south-facing, rocky meadows around 600′ above the road.

Beautiful spreads of woodland phlox (Phlox adsurgens) bloomed along the edge of the both the paved road and the gravel one we walked on.

Read the rest of this entry »

Relaxing Day in Rigdon

On Sunday, May 9, I went for my first outing in almost a month—just too much to do at home, and the drought discouraged me from going to my favorite seepy spots that I’d planned on, like Deer Creek. I was really happy to be able to go out with my friend John Koenig, whom I hadn’t seen since last summer. Being vaccinated now is such a relief, and it is wonderful to safely hang out with others who are also vaccinated (if you’re hesitating—don’t!). We decided it might still be too early to try to go to higher elevations, even with all the warm weather, so we headed down to Hills Creek Reservoir and the Rigdon area to check out some of our favorite haunts. We had some vague plans but mostly just played it by ear, stopping wherever looked interesting. We ended up spending lots of time watching butterflies. We also had to warm up our “botany muscles,” trying to remember forgotten names.

At Everage Flat, we spent quite a long time watching butterflies on the Pacific dogwood flowers. This echo azure is enjoying the fresh flowers in the center of the showy bracts.

After a look at the gorgeous silvery lupine (Lupinus albifrons) at the north end of the reservoir and a brief stop to admire the blooming paintbrush on the cliffs along the reservoir, I pulled into Everage Flat Picnic Area (just south of the intersection of Youngs Creek Road 2129) as it occurred to me that we should see if the Howell’s violet (Viola howellii) was still in bloom. I expected it to be a very quick stop, so I even left my (all-electric) car on. But upon seeing that the large Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) in the sunny center of the picnic area was in perfect bloom and appeared to have butterflies flying around it, I parked the car for real. Our 2-minute stop turned into a 2-hour one! Read the rest of this entry »

A Sea of Blue at Maple Creek Meadow

This photo of the view east was taken from about the same spot as the ones I used in my previous two reports about Maple Creek Meadow—why break tradition? The little opening on the nearest ridge is Rabbitbrush Ridge where I went the previous week (see More Exploration Near Grassy Glade) and which also has purple milkweed, rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa), northern buckwheat, and bluefield gilia, all seen here.

With the forecast predicting warm summer weather on the way, I figured it might be my last chance to get out to see the peak bloom of purple milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) at lower elevation meadows without roasting. I had been wanting to return to what I named “Maple Creek Meadow” as I’d only been there twice before: first on a hot day in July (see Another New Milkweed and Monarch Site!) when most things were finished and the following year on a cloudy day in May (see Surveying Milkweed at “Maple Creek Meadow”) when many plants were just starting. So I was due for a sunny but cool day in the middle of the season and headed out to the Rigdon area of southeastern Lane County on June 17.

Two caterpillars eating flower stalks of rose checkermallow. Apparently, their color depends partly on what they are eating. I think both are gray hairstreaks (but correct me if you think otherwise!).

Read the rest of this entry »

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