Posts Tagged ‘Petasites’

On the Menu at the Butterfly Café

From the west opening on the bluff next to Sacandaga campground, you can see the snow on the area that burned in the 2009 Tumblebug Fire.

I was so happy to see so many handsome male catkins on the Fremont’s silktassel (Garrya fremontii) next to the bridge and boat ramp at Hills Creek Reservoir. This lovely native plant was accidentally cut down by a Forest Service crew while working on nearby weedy shrubs a few years back. It has been slowly recovering ever since.

One of the best benefits of having a remote job doing layout and design is that I set my own hours. Or in other words, I can usually play hooky when I feel like it! When I saw that the forecast for Oakridge was supposed to be in the 70s (!) on Wednesday, March 31, I dropped everything to see how things were progressing down in Rigdon. And after spending several weeks focusing on butterflies while preparing my slide show on “Favorite Plants of Butterflies of the Western Cascades” for the North American Butterfly Association and the Middle Fork Willamette Watershed Council (you can view the recording here), I couldn’t wait to spend a day with some butterflies.

At every stop along the road, I was greeted by California tortoiseshells. When I got to “Ladybug Rock,” there were as many as I’d seen on my previous outing (see 2021 Botany Season has Begun!). I also spotted a Moss’s elfin sitting on its host food plant, broadleaf stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium), high up on the rock. While the tortoiseshell overwinters as an adult and can appear on any warm, sunny day, the elfin overwinters as a chrysalis, so this was the first newly hatched butterfly I’d seen this season—definitely a sign of spring. I climbed up on the rock to get some of the first ripe seed on the still-blooming gold stars (Crocidium multicaule). When I returned to the car, a truck passed me and then backed up to where I was. Usually, passersby are wondering if I’m okay. It turns out this man was so excited about something he had found that he just had to share it with someone, and I was the first person he’d seen (likewise, he was the first person I’d seen in the area all day). He pulled out a massive (elk?) antler with 5 points; it was over half his height!

There were several flower longhorn beetles gathering pollen by burrowing their heads into coltsfoot (Petasites frigidus) flowers along Road 21.

After a few more stops, including Big Pine Opening and the bluff at Sacandaga Campground, I returned to Ladybug Rock. I wandered through the woods by the river (the massive patches of fawn-lilies still weren’t blooming, but the coltsfoot had started) and popped back out on the road about a tenth of a mile west of Ladybug Rock. I decided to check out the little seep on the south-facing bank across the road. I’ve never noticed any interesting plants there, but the moss looks lush and inviting every time I drive by. That turned out to be the highlight of my day. Not only were there lots of tortoiseshells puddling in the wet ditch, but there were also two other butterflies, a Mylitta crescent and an echo azure—both the first of the year for me. 

A ladybug sitting on hoary manzanita (Arctostaphylos canescens) flowers at Sacandaga Bluff. Even though most of the plant was still in bud, some nectar robber had already started poking holes in the flowers just as I’d seen there the last couple of years.

I put my left-hand palm up in hopes of attracting a butterfly. While many tortioseshells were flying around me, none landed. Then I noticed that one had landed on my camera bag and another on my hip. In the heat of this unusually warm day, it was easy to find some sweat to apply to my finger before encouraging one of the butterflies to climb onto my finger. It worked well, so I “scooped” up the second one. Word seemed to have gotten around because more butterflies landed on me. Eventually, I was able to get four on my left hand, and another had alighted farther down my left arm. Others appeared to be landing on my head and back (look for an odd triangle at the top of your shadow if you’re alone and wondering if someone is on your head!). I took as many photos as I could, but at some point, I got hot and tired of standing up, so I sat down with my friends on the road bank.

Four torties sipping sweat on a hot afternoon. Quite the handful!

A car drove by, disturbing several butterflies who flew off my hand, but most returned on their own. Having gotten a taste of salty sweat, I guess they decided it was more delicious than mud. Once again, the car slowed down and backed up. This time it was, in fact, a concerned citizen wondering if I was all right. I guess seeing a woman sitting alone on the side of the road with her hand up in the air might have looked a little concerning! After I reassured him I was okay, the man drove off, and I finally decided it was time for me to leave, too. I walked back toward my car with several torties accompanying me. One walked me almost all the way back to my car (how chivalrous!) and another had landed on my nose. I had thought I was going to observe butterflies, but as it turned out, I was the main attraction—you might say I was the plat du jour at the Butterfly Café!

Reptiles and Insects Enjoy Spring in Rigdon Area

Coltsfoot (Petasites frigidus) was still in bloom along the Middle Fork of the Willamette. It was attracting numerous tiny flies as well as a small bee. If you haven’t smelled coltsfoot, try it, it has an unusual and pleasant menthol-like scent. That might help it attract so many pollinators.

My first official spring trip to Rigdon was on April 8, a lovely warm day. With the social distancing required because of the pandemic, I was out by myself, but I was certainly not alone. While it was still early in the season, there were plenty of the usual April flowers but also a few butterflies, bees, and an unexpected number of reptiles. Here are some photo highlights.

Just like last April (see Early Trips to Rigdon), the blooming manzanitas at Sacandaga Bluff were attracting lots of insects to the flowers, most of which had been pierced earlier by some nectar-robbing bee. This makes it easier for the other insects, like this echo azure and bee (Andrena?) to access the nectar.

Read the rest of this entry »

Small Flowers Worth a Closer Look Along Fall Creek

Last Saturday (April 7), Nancy Bray and I headed east to the Fall Creek Trail to enjoy the dry day and early flowers. I am very lucky to live so close to this beautiful 14-mile trail that follows along Fall Creek through stunning old-growth forest. It might seem a poor choice to take advantage of the sunny day, but with the deciduous trees not yet leafed out and a number of now-open burned areas, we enjoyed the sun (while it lasted) and even saw one butterfly, an anglewing, fluttering about.

The actual flowers of skunk cabbage are quite small. Each has four yellow-green petals pressed hard against the spathe and four protruding anthers.

Our first stop was to admire one of the many small roadside swamps lit up by the bright yellow spathes of skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus). With the sunlight behind them, they look lit from within, giving rise to another name: swamp lantern. I have always been interested in fragrant plants, and I can’t help but pester anyone I’m with to smell different flowers. It’s always interesting to find out how different everyone’s sense of smell is. So I had to see what Nancy thought of the fragrance of the skunk cabbage flower. It is nothing like that of the skunky-smelling leaves. She agreed that it was pleasant.

Another fragrant plant all along the wet roadsides this time of year is coltsfoot (Petasites frigidus). I’ve always thought its unusual scent reminiscent of menthol. Someone recently suggested vanilla, and I think I can smell that as well. Lately, I have been looking more carefully at the variety of tiny florets in composites. Coltsfoot flower heads are either male or female. The males are composed mainly of disk florets and may or may not have any ray florets. The females have quite a few ray florets with only a few disk florets. I’d never noticed this before. Read the rest of this entry »

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