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.

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

Hydraulic mining scars, wildflowers, dogs, and poison oak, a short early-summer walk in the Siskiyous

[I’ve made brief corrections to this post regarding aspects of hydraulic mining, after a commenter pointed them out to me. And a more recent post goes into matters at more length, on points where I was wrong, and others on which I disagree with the commenter.]

We took our new English Mastiff Jack for his first off-leash walk in the woods this morning. He is a 3 1/2 year old rescue who has been with us for nearly a month now. He has settled in very well, comes when called at home even if he is barking at the UPS guy, and so we thought he was ready for an off-leash ramble. Our elderly female Rhodesian Ridgeback went too.

The nearby Gin Lin Trail is named for a Chinese mine owner and “traces the remains of a late-nineteenth-century hydraulic gold mining operation in what was known as the Palmer Creek Diggings, now a part of the Rogue River National Forest.” [more info]

Hydraulic mining used huge pressurized streams of water to turn hillsides or mountainsides into slurry that could be run through sluice boxes to trap the gold. The photo below shows a large-scale operation in action, somewhere in this area of the Oregon Siskiyous, in the latter half of the 19th century. For scale, notice the tiny figure of a man wearing a white shirt, tending the left-hand water hose.


The tremendous destruction takes geologic time, not human time, to heal. Huge clefts are made in the land, piles of big rocks and new hills of “processed” dirt are put anyplace convenient, and the subsoil brought up doesn’t support plant life as well as the now-buried topsoil did. All this is easily seen along the Gin Lin Trail.


The picture above shows a steep slope of discarded material a steep-sided ditch, probably hand-dug to accommodate the miners’ equipment—sluice boxes or water pipes. Both the angle of the slope, and the composition of the material itself, are hostile to plant growth. Even on the top where it is closer to level, trees and shrubs are not as numerous or healthy as in undisturbed areas.

Miners blasted away tons of earth trying to follow layers of gold-bearing gravel laid down by ancient rivers. This picture (below) shows a cut made by their work, at the point where they stopped. making ditches like this.


And here’s some of the big river rocks moved as the mining went on.


The gold being sought had been deposited by watercourses running down to the river below, seen in the background of this picture. was in layers of Tertiary-era gravel, laid down in the bottoms of rivers 40 – 100 million years ago. Since then the river bottoms have been pushed up by geological forces, and cut through by new drainage systems. The ancient rivers may have had no connexion to existing rivers, since drainage patterns have changed.


Looking over the fence, from the same spot as the previous picture.


The dogs had a good time, and Jack stayed close and came when called, as we expected.


Because of the mining, it isn’t the best place for wildflowers, but we saw a few. This is Elegant Cat’s Ear (Calochortus elegans); the common name refers, I believe, to the fuzziness and triangular shape of the flower petals. This doesn’t show the plant’s leaves but there’s a good photo on Flickr that does.


Lupines don’t mind disturbed soil as much as many other plants do.


I think this is the Yellowleaf Iris, Iris chrysophylla.


And below, Iris bracteata, Siskiyou Iris. [caveat: I’m no expert on wildflowers so my identifications are not guaranteed! This USFS page has photos, range maps, and descriptions of the Pacific Coast iris species.] In our experience, this yellow-flowered iris is less common around here than Iris chrysophylla, the Yellowleaf Iris.


Below is my least favorite native plant around here, the glossy-leafed Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum.


In spring its leaves are usually glossy like this, and may be reddish too. On another plant it would be attractive but to me, the shiny fresh leaves are as ominous as the froth on a bodysnatcher pod.


We found it along most of the trail, flourishing as if it had been thickly planted and then fertilized and tended. If only my plants at home looked so good! Ravines were choked with it, and of course the dogs wanted to go running down into such places. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten poison oak from a dog’s coat, in all these years of living here, but there’s always a first time. I’ve often gotten it from secondary sources like clothing or even the touch of someone else’s hand. (In a post last year I described something that helps lessen the itching and make the blisters go away faster.)

The damned stuff was everywhere. Every plant visible in the photo below is poison oak.


Finally the trail ahead was overgrown with it and we gave up and headed back. The dogs ran ahead, enjoying the downhill rush, and got out of sight as we neared the small parking area, where I heard excited voices. It turned out to be the teenage park maintenance crew and their adult supervisor, cruising the areas to do things like gather up garbage strewn around by animals during the night. They were excited by the sudden appearance of a dog who outweighed most of them, and Jack had been pleased to see them but hadn’t bowled anyone over or been a pest. He’s a sweet affable guy except when defending his home turf, and even then has a good sense of proportion.

We loaded up our tired dogs, filled their water dish in the car, and headed home.


Thirsty dogs drink from the birdbath.

Spring beauty: Erythroniums (Trout Lilies)

These elegant and delicate plants flower for a week or so, set seed (which are carried deep underground by ants, where some germinate) and vanish within weeks, spotted leaves and all, until next year. The leaves are beautiful in themselves, and give several Erythronium species their common names, Trout Lily and Fawn Lily. They may also be called dog’s-tooth violet and adder’s-tongue, for reasons unknown to me. Here we have Erythronium hendersonii, the only purplish species. Others are white, pink, or yellow. Species found in southern Oregon include E. hendersonii, E. oregonum, E. californicum, E. montanum (Avalanche Lily), E. citrinum (Citrus Fawn Lily or Cream Fawn Lily), E. howellii, and E. klamathense/klamathensis.

These pictures were taken April 3 and 4, 2009.

Erythronium CRborder.jpg



erythronium leaf2.jpg