Siskiyou wildflowers – 4/10/11

The wildflower season is beginning here, during a strange spring with early warmth and late snows, but truth be told the first wild flower to bloom at our place was back in February, and it was this one:

Dandelion Taraxacum officinale

Look familiar? It’s the much-maligned dandelion, Taraxacum officinale. If it weren’t such an invasive and persistent plant, we would find the flowers quite attractive: they’re numerous, vivid yellow against a basal rosette of dark green leaves, and have an attractive seedhead. The seeds exemplify a smart strategy too, in that they don’t require pollination to develop. You may have noticed this when looking into a container where you have discarded dandelion flowers or plants that you uprooted. The buds—even if not open when the plant was pulled—often go on to open and develop seeds via a process called apomixis. The seeds will be viable.

The first two showy blooms of what we usually call wildflowers began a couple of weeks ago with Henderson’s Shooting Star, Dodecatheon hendersonii

Henderson’s Shooting Star, Dodecatheon hendersonii

and the Trout Lily or Fawn Lily, Erythronium hendersonii.

Erythronium hendersonii flower underside

It is a good year for the erythronium, with many having 2 or even 3 flowers, and both leaves and flowers often larger than we’ve seen them in the past.

Erythronium hendersonii, flowers and leaves

The darkly mottled leaves give these plants their common names of Fawn Lily or Trout Lily, and I find them quite beautiful though hard to photograph. The surface is never quite in focus; perhaps there’s a covering of microscopic hairs that interfere with my camera’s auto-focus function.

Erythronium hendersonii, leaf

Individual Trout Lily blooms have a short life; in a week they’re fading and withering. But we will be able to find them for a few weeks longer as they bloom at higher elevations or in shadier spots. Mixed sun and shade seems to be their preference.

This plant on a steep sunny slope in scree has, I think, been the “victim” of aggressive wildfire fuel reduction efforts about a month ago that removed most shrubs and small trees and caused decomposed rock from above to come down the slope. Few plants of any sort appeared through the scree, and I’d be surprised if the several erythroniums I saw today are there next spring.

Erythronium hendersonii in scree

A plant with four buds, more than we have ever seen before.

Erythronium buds 5687

Both of these native wildflowers are named for “The Grand Old Man of Northwest Botany“, Louis F. Henderson (1853-1942). You can read more about him here, and even see a photo of him with a smile on his face. Nineteenth-century scientists maintained grim demeanors for their portraits (perhaps just conforming to the expectations of their time, but of the people I see on television these days the ones who look truly happy are mostly field scientists like geologists, palaeontologists, and botanists. Cosmologists and astronomical scientists also look cheerful and absorbed in their future work. Zoologists generally look concerned, as they’re usually asked to talk about how the creatures they’ve studied are threatened by human activities.

Previous posts (2009, 2010) about E. hendersonii.

Siskiyou Wildflowers: Mt. Ashland in July, part 2

So many flowers!

We’ve made two trips to Mt. Ashland (Southern Oregon), on July 22 and 31, along a gravel/dirt forest road noted for wildflowers, and it was a new experience: instead of marvelling at a single flower or small patch of flowers, we saw slopes red with Indian Paintbrush or Scarlet Gilia, places with a dozen different flowers blooming in a 50 foot stretch. On gentle slopes where the snow has recently melted, plants grow so thickly it’s hard to see which leaves belong to which flowers. This is Forest Road 20, for those who might want to visit, and it’s the continuation of the main paved road that goes to the Mt. Ashland ski area. Just keep going, and the road soon turns to gravel and there are meadows of wildflowers on each side. A few miles later the road winds into a drier area with few but choice species, such as various penstemons as well as paintbrush, gilia, eriogonum, and many more. For us novices, identifying what we’ve seen and photographed has been a challenge.

Here are some of the plants we’ve seen on these two trips. Others were included in the earlier “Part 1” post. [Our identifications are the best we have been able to do, but shouldn’t be considered authoritative.]

Castilleja species along a seep.jpg

Castilleja (Paintbrush) along a trickle of water. Not sure of the species, but it doesn’t have the wavy leaves of C. applegatei.

Tiny wildflowers like this one are easy to overlook, hard to identify. For scale, that large pink object on the left is part of my finger. The entire plant was only two or three inches tall, and was growing in a wet sandy area.

Mystery tiny pink flower.jpg

Lilium pardalinum, Veratrum californicum (foliage), .jpg

The striking yellow lilies above are Leopard Lilies (Lilium pardalinum), native to Oregon and California. The spires of white flowers are White Schoenolirion or White Rush-lily (Hastingsia alba; also called Schoenolirion album).

[Etymological note: pardalinum is an adjective from the Greek pardalis, female leopard (meaning spotted like a leopard); Hastingsia after Serranus Clinton Hastings (1814-1893), first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California, who helped publish The Botany of the Pacific Coast edited by Asa Gray, Sir Joseph Hooker and J. D. Whitney; album and alba are from the Latin albus (white); Schoenolirion from the Greek schoinos (a rush), + lirion (lily).]

Lilium pardalinum, Leopard Lily CLOSE.jpg

The White Rush-lily is in the lily family; it grows from a bulb, and has the flat strap-like leaves characteristic of many lilies. The mixed species of plants were so dense in some places on Mt. Ashland that it was hard even to find the foliage of a particular species, much less photograph it, but the picture below shows a big area where White Rush-lily alone grew.

Hastingsia alba, foliage.jpg

Aster family purple, and yarrow.jpg

A purple flower in the aster family, but which one? In the background is Achillea millefolium, Common Yarrow.

Out of the ordinary Owl’s Clover

Next is an unusual flower, Toothed Owl’s Clover (Orthocarpus cuspidatus). Owl’s Clovers are in the Snapdragon family along with Paintbrushes (Castilleja genus), Foxgloves, and Penstemons (Beardtongues). Because it is so remarkable, I’m going to include pictures of it from several points of view. From above, looking down on the upright flower.


Below, another top view of a rather different-looking individual, missing some of its parts or having developed differently.


Two views from the side.



Owl’s Clovers are not just unusual in appearance, but also in their natural history. They are annuals, and

if the first roots emerging from a germinating Owl Clover seed find themselves near the roots of a neighboring plant of a different species, such as prairie lupine, it will initiate structural connections called haustoria. These are modified roots capable of causing infection in the host plant.

The haustoria invade, literally grow into, the inner tissues of the host lupine’s roots. The Owl Clover haustoria are triggered into formation when the lupine itself exudes chemicals from its roots; that is, the lupine chemically signals its presence to the Owl Clover. The haustoria connections are all completed and in place within a few hours! With functional haustoria in place, Owl Clover’s growth is accelerated. The Owl Clover gains water, minerals and energy from the host plant. Being an annual, Owl Clover has a relatively small root system, so getting extra food really helps its growth rate. This host-parasite relationship is called heterotrophy, the opposite of autotrophy [self-sustaining by photosynthesis]. Being semi-parasitic [capable of both parasitism and if necessary autotrophy], Owl Clover may engage in both at the same time.

Owl Clover, when functioning as a parasite, also takes in toxic chemicals the host plant produces; lupines have alkaloids (remember, plants like lupines are poisonous to livestock). These toxic chemicals are distributed into the Owl Clover’s stem and leaf tissues. The consequences? The presence of the poisonous alkaloids, botanists have learned, reduces the level of feeding (herbivory) by butterfly and moth larvae that favor Owl Clover leaves for their growth and development. Larvae feeding is hindered by the presence of the poisons, and the Owl Clover retains more of its leaf tissue for photosynthesis, an obvious benefit. Butterfly and moth larvae need alternative leaves to eat, but that’s impossible since mature butterflies and moths lay their eggs on developing Owl Clover plants not knowing if the leaves are toxic or not. Larvae, it’s assumed, survive better, and develop to maturity by feeding on Owl Clovers that are not parasitizing a lupine or other toxic host plant.

There’s one remaining piece of this interesting relationship to be told: studies suggest that Owl Clover’s flower nectar is not contaminated by the toxic alkaloids. Perhaps the alkaloids are detoxified by some means before reaching the nectar glands. Why is this important? Visiting pollinators, such as hummingbirds or bumble bees, can harvest the Owl Clover’s nectar reward without suffering ill effects. [Source article by Jim Habeck, professor emeritus of botany at the University of Montana]

Representations of the seeds and seed-pods of wildflowers seem hard to find; after the colorful floral show is over, the photographers lose interest just as the pollinating bees and hawkmoths do. But in my Owl’s Clover wanderings I came across photos here of the seeds and pods of two species. Looking at the flowers, I wouldn’t have expected this:

Orthocarpus purpurascens SEED POD.jpg

Seeds and seedpod of Purple Owl’s Clover (Orthocarpus purpurascens, also called Castilleja exserta). Not the species we saw, but it has a similar flower so probably the seedpods are similar.

[Etymological note: Orthocarpus, from the Greek ortho (straight, upright) + carp- (fruit, seed); cuspidatus, from the Latin cuspis (lance, point); purpurescens, becoming purple, from the Latin purpura (purple); Castilleja, named for Domingo Castillejo (1744-1793), Spanish botanist and Professor of Botany in Cadiz, Spain; exserta, from the Latin exsertus, past participle of exserere (to thrust out, from ex- + serere to join).]

Wavy-leaf Paintbrush and hand signals

Castilleja applegatei, Wavy-leaf Paintbrush.jpg

This, I think, is Wavy-leaf Paintbrush (Castilleja applegatei)

Castilleja applegatei, Wavy-leaf PaintbrushLEAVES.jpg

Here are the wavy-edged 3-lobed leaves. Some leaves are single, not lobed.

And this is my hand signal to tell myself that the flower felt “sticky”! I have found I have trouble remembering these things days later when I am looking over 300 photos, sometimes of more than one species of the same genus. Now which one had the sticky flowers? It’s characteristic of some Paintbrushes and not others, so knowing helps to identify these tricky guys.

Another difficulty was that if two similar species were photographed one after the other I couldn’t be sure where the first one ended, in the series of photos. Now when I finish photographing one species I take a “spacer” photo of my foot in its red sandal. Sounds odd but seems to be helping.

[Etymological note: Castilleja, named for Domingo Castillejo (1744-1793), Spanish botanist and Professor of Botany in Cadiz, Spain; applegatei, named after Elmer Applegate (1867-1949), a student of the flora of Oregon best known for his monograph of trout lilies (Erythronium).]

Thistle, Buckwheat, Roses and more

Cirsium scariosum, elk thistle CLOSE.jpg

Above is a close-up of the center of a flat-growing thistle, called Elk Thistle (Cirsium scariosum). All our other local thistles send up tall stems defended with spiky leaves and ending in one or more flowers, but this one grows and flowers at a height of just 2 or 3 inches. The plants we saw were up to a foot in diameter.

Cirsium scariosum, elk thistle.jpg

[Etymological note: Cirsium from the Greek kirsion (a kind of thistle) in turn from kirsos (a swollen vein or welt) because thistles were often used as a remedy against such things; scariosum from “New Latin” (=concocted by moderns) scariosus c. 1806, origin uncertain (dry and membranous in texture, chaffy, brown).]

Eriogonum umbellatum, Sulphur-flower Buckwheat.jpg

Sulphur-flower Buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum). The genus Eriogonum is in the same family (Polygonaceae) as the field crop buckwheat, and the seeds of some species are important for wildlife. The name ‘buckwheat’ or ‘beech wheat’ comes from its triangular seeds, which resemble the much larger seeds of the beech nut from the beech tree, and the fact that it is used like wheat [Wikipedia].

Eriogonum umbellatum, Sulphur-flower Buckwheat CLOSE.jpg

[Etymological note: Eriogonum, from the Greek erion (wool) and gony (knee or joint), so called because the jointed stems are covered with hair; umbellatum, from the Latin umbella (sunshade), diminutive of umbra (shadow), and refers to the arrangement of the flowers which arise in a head from a central point, i.e. bearing an umbel.] Now that I know this odd bit about the meaning of Eriogonum, I’ll be looking for those “hairy knees” on wild buckwheat plants in future.

Rosa woodsii, Woods' rose.jpg

Small patches of these vivid pink roses were blooming in areas of loose dry soil, and the plants were only a few inches tall. I think it’s Wood’s Rose (Rosa woodsii).

[Etymological note: Rosa, from the Latin rosa (rose), in turn derived from the Greek rhodon (rose); woodsii, after American botanist Alphonso Wood (1810-1881).]

Penstemon azureus, azure penstemon.jpg

We think this Penstemon is Azure Penstemon (Penstemon azureus). At their peak the flowers must have been glorious.

Penstemon azureus, Azure penstemon, LEAF.jpg

The broadly oval leaves are distinctive, and seem to clasp the stem as described for this species.

[Etymological note: Penstemon from Greek penta- (five) + Greek stēmōn (thread, here meaning stamen); azureus (of a deep blue color) from Arabic via Old French azaward which developed from Arabic lāzaward, from Persian lāzhuward, of obscure origin—in Old French the initial ‘l’ was dropped from the word proper and turned into the definite article “le” as if it were French: l’azaward].]

Here is a beautiful penstemon we are not able to identify.

Penstemon, unknown species 1 FLOWERS.jpg

Penstemon, unknown species 1 CLOSE.jpg

The difference in flower color between these two pictures is due to light conditions; the one taken in full sunlight is actually a bit washed out compared to how the colors appeared to my eye, and the one taken in shade is more accurate.

Penstemon, unknown species 1 LEAF.jpg

The buds and long narrow leaves of this penstemon.

A second unidentified penstemon.

Penstemon unknown species,#2 CLOSE .jpg

The leaves are quite different from the first unidentified one.
Penstemon unknown species,#2 .jpg

We saw many more flowers on these two trips, but I’ll stop with this one, Western Blue Flax or Prairie Flax (Linum lewisii, also called Linum perenne var. lewisii).

Linum lewisii (Linum perenne var. lewisii), Lewis flax, blue flax, prairie flax2.jpg

Western Blue Flax is very similar to the European Flax plant from which linen is made; indeed, some consider the two a single species, Linum perenne. Native American peoples used flax fiber for cordage and string, as well as for mats, snowshoes, fishing nets and baskets.

Linum lewisii (Linum perenne var. lewisii), Lewis flax, blue flax, prairie flax CLOSE.jpg

[Etymological note: Linum from Latin linum (flax, linen); lewisii, for Captain Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1806; perenne from Latin perennis (lasting through the year or years) from per- (through) + annus (year), botanical sense of “Remaining alive through a number of years”.]

Mt. Ashland flower scene.jpg

View of Mt. Shasta from Mt. Ashland, July.jpg

View of Mt. Shasta from Mt. Ashland.

Yellow erythronium – wildflower or cultivar?


Two or three years ago we bought this erythronium at a local nursery, Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery, that specializes in alpine plants. For once I didn’t squirrel away the plant tags or even write things down. Their online catalog now lists no erythroniums, but maybe if I call them they’ll remember.

In the meantime, it has flourished in the shady dry place where we planted it, and is in full bloom.


Next to it, below, is E. hendersonii, the species we see most often. There are many of them on our property which we’ve encouraged through benign neglect (and seen positive results, too, which isn’t always the case with that technique).


Any suggestions as to what species this yellow beauty might be? As I mentioned in my previous post, the genus is noted for hybridization or intermediate forms, so it may be a challenge. It does not look like the yellow trout lilies of the eastern US. Erythronium americanum has orange-ish stamens and more mottled foliage (see flower picture and foliage photo, with description). Erythronium umbilicatum and Erythronium rostratum have differently shaped flowers (1, 2).

Spring in the Siskiyous: more great wildflowers

In a previous post I showed off one local member of the species Erythronium, E. hendersonii, with pinkish/purplish flowers. This morning up on the middle fork of the Applegate River we found something different, which is probably Erythronium citrinum S Watson, the pale fawn lily.

Another possibility is E. oregonum but Flora of North America says that species is found at altitudes of 0 – 500 m, with E. citrinum at 100 – 1300 m and we found these at 750 m or higher. In addition, the Pacific Bulb Society mentions unusually dark leaves being common on E. citrinum and we saw those. In the end, though, I’m no botanist and won’t wager anything on my identifications of Erythronium species, particularly given what Flora of North America says in the article on citrinum:

Plants lacking auricles on inner tepals are sometimes segregated as Erythronium howellii, Howell’s fawn-lily, but they do not appear to differ from typical E. citrinum in any other characters.
Erythronium citrinum intergrades with E. californicum and E. hendersonii, occasional populations or individuals displaying intermediate or recombined characteristics. [and no, “tepals” is not a typo but a botanical term for one variety of what the rest of us lump together as “petals”]

Anyway, here’s what we saw, beautiful by any name.


The plants are a bit larger and more robust than the pink-flowered E. hendersonii, and the petals are white touched with yellow at the base.

E. oregonum1.jpg

The mottling of the leaves is more pronounced than the leaves of E. hendersonii, and a few plants had nearly chocolate-colored leaves.


Here’s one more close-up; perhaps someone can make an ID from it.

E. citrinum closeup.jpg

Another species with a white flower touched with yellow is Erythronium montanum, the avalanche lily, but its leaves are plain green, not spotted. The photo below is from Wikipedia. There’s a fantastic close-up of its flowers at the Botany Flower of the Day site.


Rattlesnake plantain, Goodyera oblongifolia, also has distinctively marked leaves, which grow in rosettes flat to the ground. It’s at the left in the picture below, with a damaged erythronium leaf on the right.

EOregonum& Rattlesnake plantain1.jpg

The common name “plantain” simply refers to the broad leaves; actually Goodyera oblongifolia is a member of the orchid family, with a spire of small white flowers. I can’t remember ever seeing it in bloom.

Yesterday, in a moist environment above the Applegate River, we found this beauty:


It’s a member of Ribes, the gooseberry or currant family, probably Ribes roezlii, the shiny-leaved gooseberry. Mostly evergreen, with thorns. Wild gooseberries/currants are edible, according to what I read, though some including R. roezlii have berries that are prickly or hairy (photos).

In this wetter area, there were also several of the chocolate lily, Fritillaria affinis, mentioned in a previous post in connexion with the scarlet fritillary seen on an earlier walk.


The flowers weren’t open quite yet but are still striking.


Here’s a plant with a handsome and unusual leaf, as yet unidentified.


Finally, here’s a sweet little wildflower, Viola nuttallii (Nuttall’s violet, Yellow prairie violet). We saw it yesterday in that moister environment overlooking the river.


It’s a food plant for the larva of the Coronis Fritillary butterfly, Speyeria coronis, seen below.


(Photo by Jeffrey Pippen)

We’ve marked down a couple of spots to revisit in a few days, to find out what sort of flowers will appear from some unknown plants. Most of them look lily-ish, just a couple of large linear leaves. What surprises do they hold? even the Shadow doesn’t know, unless he’s keyed out these plants. I’ll wait and be surprised.

Calypso orchid sighting

Finding a calypso orchid on our walk Saturday was a surprise, because its expected habitat is undisturbed moist old-growth forest. The place where we were walking is anything but that: it’s right beside a paved forest road, and over the past 150 years or so there has been much disturbance by a succession of loggers, hydraulic miners, gold panners and dredgers, hikers, hunters, and brush clearing for fire suppression. We spotted the orchid as we returned to the road from looking at other flowers lower on the slope, and it was growing within 5 feet of the pavement. Our interest attracted Jack the mastiff who wanted to see what we were looking at, and then we had to protect the flower from his big feet.

Calypso orchid1.jpg

The full name is Calypso bulbosa var.occidentalis, or the Pacific or Western Fairy Slipper; there’s a paler variety in the eastern US, Calypso bulbosa var. americana, or the Eastern Fairy Slipper. (The Washington Native Orchid Society has a good description of both with photos, here.) And its actual distribution is circumpolar, with two other varieties being found in Eurasia and Japan (map).

I enjoy identifying what we see, plant or animal, not so that I can check it off my life list (I don’t have one) but because then I find out more about it. Doing a bit of research for this post, I found that the Calypso orchid requires a mycorrhizal partner—a fungus that extracts extra nutrients from the soil which the plant, with its single leaf, is unable to generate. These partnerships between fungi and plants are, as we are coming to discover, common. Only painstaking investigation can detect them. The relationships are specific, a particular fungus with a particular plant species. It’s one reason why many wild plants have proven nearly impossible to transplant to gardens.

Regardless of your motives or expertise, please leave wildflowers where you find them; many are struggling enough with various human-caused disturbances. The flower you pick may be the only one the plant will produce for this year or several years, so picking it means no chance of producing seeds. And for the Calypso orchid and others, it’s even worse: picking or disturbance can mean the death of the plant

The Calypso orchid is being rapidly exterminated in populated areas due to trampling and picking. The corms are attached by means of delicate roots. These roots can be broken by even the lightest tug of the stem. Hence, when the flower is picked the plant usually dies. [WNOS page]

The Calypso orchid produces no nectar but fools bees into visiting with—depending on which expert is talking—its color, shape, fragrance, or the tiny hairs on the flower (visible below).


One who has studied this phenomenon in the eastern variety of Calypso orchids claims that the bees learn by experience not to bother with these unrewarding flowers, after visiting a few Calypsos and thereby cross-pollinating them. Only queen honeybees live very long, so each spring there’s a new population of worker bees to be fooled by Calypso, the orchid named after a sea nymph who loved Odysseus and kept him on her island for seven years, while he longed to be on his way back home. The name means “hidden” or “I will conceal” in Greek, and presumably refers to the orchid’s inconspicuous habit, close to the ground in shaded spots.

Sunny slope wildflowers, Southern Oregon

Despite an unseasonable snowfall last week, two days later we found some uncommon wildflowers blooming on a sunny slope bordering a forest road.

We’d noted the leaves of these delphiniums (larkspurs) the week before, and now they were in full bloom

Frit Delpg purple close-up.jpg

The majority were white, like these

Frit Delph close-up.jpg

but according to the experts only two white species (Delphinium leucophaeum and D. pavonaceum ) occur west of the Cascade Mountains, and neither are found south of the Williamette Valley (in northern Oregon). Their range may be restricted to the area of a temporary lake formed after one or more of the catastrophic Missoula Floods which occurred around 15,000 years ago, when glacier dams broke releasing huge quantities of water and silt, over parts of what’s now Oregon and Washington.

Delphinium menziesii occurs in our county, but it’s dark purple with a more finely divided leaf. Maybe the ones we saw are Delphinium andersonii, which does seem to have light blue to very pale almost white flowers, and a three-lobed leaf like the ones we saw.

An exciting find was this fritillary, a member of the lily family.

Fritillary close-up2.jpg

Wikipedia says that “fritillary” comes from the Latin term for a dice-box (fritillus), and probably refers to the checkered pattern, frequently of chocolate-brown and greenish yellow, that is common to many species’ flowers. (And there’s a group of butterflies so named for the same reason.) The checkered pattern is visible on both the bud and opened bloom above.

Fritillary 1.jpg

At least 3 species are found around here; this one is Fritillaria recurva, the Scarlet Fritillary. The nearby town of Jacksonville has a festival every year in honor of the rare species found near there, Fritillaria gentneri, which has darker red flowers. And we have a few times seen, on our own property, Fritillaria affinis or Chocolate lily, which has bell-shaped greenish flowers with brown markings. We don’t have any photos of it, but here’s one from USDA

Fritillaria affinis1.jpg

Their account notes that the root bulbs are edible, though bitter, and were an item of trade for tribes in this area. F. affinis is quite variable in flower color, sometimes showing the reverse of the ones we’ve seen: purplish-brown flowers with green or yellow “dice”, as below.

Fritillaria affinis2.jpg

We also saw two other wildflowers more familiar to us: shooting stars,

Frit Shooting Stars1.jpg

always one of the more abundant flowers this time of year,

Frit Shooting Stars 2.jpg

and our beloved Trout Lilies (Erythronium hendersonii), delicate and demure plants with a very brief duration of bloom.

Frit Erythronium 2.jpg

They range in color from nearly white to a darker violet-pink. Flowers are borne so close to the ground that it’s hard to get a look from underneath.

Frit Erythronium close-up from below.jpg

The mottled leaves are the reason for some of the common names—Trout Lily, Fawn Lily—and I think they are as beautiful as the flowers, in their way.

Frit Erythronium leaves.jpg

Frit Erythronium 3.jpg