Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Upper Table Rock

Erythronium hendersonii
This weekend my family and I were visited by my parents and brother, so we decided to take advantage of the great weather and go hiking! My wife and I have lived here in Rogue River since 2009, yet we had never been to Table Rocks, so this was as good a time as any! I have wanted to go for a long time, but with our daughter so young (she turns two in June) and the recent rain it has been a challenge. Fortuitously, we made it! It was a little rocky, and poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) was everywhere, so we decided to carry our daughter up the Upper Table Rock trail.

So many flowers! The rock was teeming with life, pollinators were highly active on the abundant resources. Here was what was in bloom, though the pictures aren't my best work. The sun was not always very cooperative, and I am left to decide if it is better to take the photo anyway or later regret not taking it, even if it's not the best. Obviously, I took the pictures!

Erythronium hendersonii
Erythronium hendersonii was in full bloom, covering the oak savanna towards the base of the Rock. I never realized how variable the species really is, with many forms exceeding the variability of the same plants surrounding my house. The number of flowers coming off of each scape on some was also a first for me, the picture at the top had five, while I saw one with seven flowers! I couldn't get near it, as it was surrounded by poison oak and walking off the trail is discouraged (alas, I would have inevitable stepped on something beautiful).

Erythronium hendersonii
Bumblebees were busy visiting the flowers, landing on the anthers while they reach into the center of the petals for the nectar. Many of the flowers will probably produce an abundance of seed, and many were turning upwards to do so. The abundance of these flowers attracts a large amount of bees, which in turn pollinate many flowers, which then produce ample seed, which starts the process anew. This is a healthy system.

Erythronium hendersonii
Not only were the flowers abundant and variable, but the leaves as well. These leaves, almost four inches long, had a different mottling than many of the others. I would bet that no two leaves of Erythronium hendersonii are exactly alike, and that a sensitive eye could remember such differences. I am curious if this plant produces leaves that look like this every year, or if next year they will have a different shape and different mottling, if the conditions are different? Interesting...

Ranunculus austro-oreganus
While the Erythronium's ruled the filtered light within the oak understory, the buttercups ruled in the light. The Southern Oregon buttercup (R. austro-oreganus) was more common than the western buttercup (R. occidentalis). I had realized when I got home that I had not taken a single picture of the flowers close-up (odd for me). I think I have a bias against buttercups, somehow feeling that they are inferior to other flowers. I had read once that they are toxic to bees, and I have never seen a bee visit one, even honeybee hives placed in the center of a field of buttercups ignored the flowers. Ranunculus, at least the small yellow flowered species in North America, are mostly fly-pollinated, including mosquitoes. I imagine the flowers produce a small amount of nectar that is easily accessible to the short mouthparts of most flies, and the anthers readily shed their sticky pollen onto the flies bodies. 

Ranunculus austro-oreganus leaf
The two can be told apart by the dark bronze color of the outer sides of the petals of R. austro-oreganus, the petals of R. occidentalis being the same color on both sides. The leaves of R. occidentalis lack the attractive dark splotches like in the picture above, and are shorter than R. austro-oreganus.

Amsinckia menziesii var. intermedia
Fiddleneck is a beautiful member of the borage family (Boraginaceae), sharing the traits of the scorpioid cyme and hairy leaves. These plants grow to about sixteen inches with little branching. To me they are reminiscent of a yellow flowered borage, but somehow more elegant. Var. intermedia differs from the type, var. menziesii, by having yellow dots in the throat. I would bet that these plants are bee pollinated by the hairs in the corolla tubes that serve to protect the nectar from smaller insects, though I had not seen any insects visit the flowers.

Amsinckia menziesii var. intermedia
Amsinckia menziesii var. intermedia occurs in small disjunct groups on the hillside in association with Ceanothus cuneatusPlagiobothrys sp., and others in the chaparral. Like the other biomes in the area, these plants rely on fire to keep the shrubs and trees and other woody growth from taking over. Unfortunately, humans don't mix well with fire. This is a shame, because mowing just doesn't do the same thing as fire. When a field burns, many herbaceous plants seeds germinate and are happy and healthy from the fresh palette and low competition. Mowing, on the other hand, favors the growth of grasses which quickly replace the dicots and other flowering plants by either physically crowding them out or outcompeting them. Table Rocks are managed by small controlled fires and physical removal of old or dead woody growth which would have once been burnt by wildfire.

Dichelostemma capitatum
A small amount of Dichelostemma reside by the trail growing up through the open growth habit of buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus). They don't seem to grow in clumps, but rather as isolated individuals. Their method of seed dispersal I think is for the dried seed head attached to the dried scape to fall over, distributing the seed the distance of the height of the scape. The corms do not seem to divide much either, producing a solitary scape from between two keeled leaves each year. This sparse growth may be an adaptation to avoid predation. A clump of brightly colored flower heads (high contrast to the surrounding colors) would be an easy target for a passing deer. Spread out, some may be eaten while others passed by.

Lomatium utriculatum
Lomatium's are common this time of year, and more species are revealing themselves as the year progresses. This species, possibly the same as the species close to my house, is mainly visited by small beetles and ants. Lomatium was used by the Native Americans medicinally and the root is used today as a topical and internal antiviral.

Lithophragma glabrum
Bulbiferous woodland star is a member of the Saxifragaceae (saxifrage family) native to Northern California north through Oregon and Washington to British Columbia, and east to the Dakotas and Colorado. It grows from a slender rhizome, and produces tiny bulbils at the leaf axils which will form new plants if broken off.

Lithophragma glabrum with moths
Small moths were highly attracted to these flowers. When I took this picture, I only noticed the single moth on the flower facing us. Only when I looked at the photos at home did I realize that all three flowers had moths! I am sure that these are the primary pollinators of these flowers.

Camassia quamash in bud
Camas was everywhere at the start of the hike, yet none were in flower yet. The plants are in the Asparagaceae (asparagus family), in the Agavoideae (agave subfamily). It is not hard to imagine the relation, the buds do superficially resemble asparagus, and the basal cluster of leaves do resemble agave. Interestingly, I was observing the new buds on the bluebells (Hyacinthoides) in my garden yesterday, and noticed that they possess the same pointed bracts on the buds (this is what I'm talking about, a photo of Hyacinthoides in bud).

Micranthes nidifica var. nidifica
Sometimes known as the peak saxifrage, it is a close relative of Saxifraga, the American genus Micranthes once considered to be a part of it. This species is a rhizomatous member of the genus, producing tiny flowers atop attractive red stems. Flies are typically the pollinators of many saxifrages, the open flowers accessible to any short tongued insect.

Quercus garryana
The oaks are beginning to flower atop Table Rocks, yet not yet at my house. The male flowers are borne on catkins, the female flowers being the unfertilized acorns. Oak trees are primarily wind pollinated, but there is speculation that insects, like bees, will occasionally visit the flowers. The female flowers offer no incentives for insects, so if bees were to visit the male flowers the only service they wold be performing would be to create a slight disturbance and release some pollen into the air, which the wind would then need to distribute. The flowers are often difficult to see because they normally form only on the crown of mature trees, out of sight for most. The terrain of Upper Table Rock has given me an advantage here.

Phoradendron villosum on Quercus garryana
The conspicuous green mounds often seen on oaks in winter when the leaves have fallen are the mischievous mistletoe plants, parasites on their oak hosts. In this picture, buds are forming which will later open to reveal small green flowers growing in small cymes. I am not sure if the flowers are insect pollinated (that would be an interesting area of study!) but the whitish translucent berries are eaten by birds who then "distribute" the seeds to other trees, or around the same tree. The small sticky seeds wedge themselves into a bark crevice where they germinate in the rainy season. They live off their own reserves long enough to break through the bark and tap into the trees capillary system, where it will gain all of its water and nutrients. Enough of these plants on a mature oak will eventually be too much for the tree to tolerate, and the tree will die.

Erythronium hendersonii (?)
Occasionally I passed by a beautiful form of Erythronium like this one. If this is indeed Erythronium hendersonii, it is the most beautiful form I have ever seen! The markings are characteristic of the species, so that is what it must be...?

Erythronium hendersonii (?)
Lacking a manual focus on my camera, I sometimes have to improvise. Auto focus can be extremely useful for a quick photo of something small and fast moving, like an insect. For plants, it can be tricky. If the background has more light, the camera will focus on that instead, no matter how many times one tries. I opt for a makeshift approach, I use my hand, right behind the flower, to get it to focus, then move it out of the frame before snapping the picture. Occasionally this will cause it to overexpose if your hand causes a shadow (forcing the auto ISO to adjust to the "darkness"), but by positioning your hand so it is in the light could help to avoid that caveat. Plants aren't always in the right spot for pictures, so I do what I gotta do I guess.

Collinsia linearis
Blue-eyed Mary, or Chinese houses, are an eye catching member of the Plantaginaceae (figwort family). I have only ever seen them in large masses, which makes them seem much larger than the meager six to eight inch heights they achieve. Here they grow under a small oak with neighboring buckbrush and an assortment of grasses. The small bilaterally symmetrical flowers with two upper lobes and three lower lobes. The genus consists of around twenty species of annual herbs, all endemic to North America.

Collinsia linearis
Plagiobothyrus, Ceanothus, Toxicodendron, and others.
Large open areas of the chaparral biome on Upper Table Rock were covered in the tiny white popcorn flowers of various species. Butterflies were flying about, as well as tiny bees and flies. The scent of buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus) is musky and sweet, not unlike the scent of plum (Prunus) tree flowers. The poison oak was in bud, but none were in flower yet. The photo definately does not do the scene justice, as the area cannot be grasped in a two dimensional image.

Plagiobothrys nothofulvus
Popcorn flower (Plagiobothrys sp.) is a diminutive plant, less than five inches (at the most) and very slender. The leaves are mostly basal, meaning they are around the base of the plant, with a few thin leaves clasping the stem. The flowers resemble tiny white forget-me-nots (Myosotis), but are either wholly white or white with yellow saccate appendages around the opening.

Ceanothus cuneatus
Buckbrush is one of my favorite native shrubs, and it covers a large portion of the Table Rock region as well as the dry treeless hillsides of the Rogue Valley. The flowers are, in my opinion, superior to those of the blue flowered cultivated Ceanothus, not to mention much more hardy. The flowers are visited by a variety of bees including Megachile, Bombus, and a variety of smaller bees, as well as flies, beetles, butterflies, and even ants.

Prunus subcordata
This native Klamath plum produces tiny tart yet edible plum-like drupes in the late summer. The flowers are few in comparison to the leaves, and I saw no pollinators visiting the flowers, probably due to the overwhelming competition of the other flowering plants in the direct area.

Microsteris gracilis
This minuscule flower, less than a quarter inch wide, is barely noticeable amongst the larger plant life surrounding it. The vibrant flowers are noticable to someone like me who is practically staring at the ground on nature hikes, always looking for something exciting. This is pretty much the stark opposite of my wife who doesn't really care about plants (like I do anyway) and instead is looking anywhere but down in hopes of seeing an animal (animals are her passion). We're quite a pair!

Lasthenia californica on the summit
The summit was a relief and a surprise, I had never hiked to such a strange destination. It was almost moon-like, rocks everywhere and completely different plant life. The soil on the top is shallow, so will not support large shrubs or trees. Instead, a cascading variety of annual and perennial herbs grace the seasons. Winter and spring bring vernal pools, brought about by the shallow subsurface solid basalt slab that is the substance of the Table Rocks. Many species are in fact endemic to this exact rocky summit, as well as the sister Lower Table Rock.

Lupinus bicolor
The annual small blue lupine is a common flower in this region, not endemic to this monument. However, as a testament to the diversity of the Table Rocks this plant deserves a place here. Bumblebees are the main visitors, I have learned from previous observations, though I did not witness any on this plant.
LastheniaTrifolium, and Minuartia
Like small islands of life, these three genera dominated the scene at the summit. This tiny patch, less than four inches square, is perfectly representative. The rocks in the background occur about every two to five feet, also creating microniches for many plants to gain a foothold.

Lasthenia californica
A honey like scent filled the air from the goldfields, an appropriate name. It was yellow for the entire expanse with dots of different colors here and there and patches of taller green grasses, no doubt from the remaining vernal pools.

Lasthenia californica
Allium parvum
Right in the middle of the well worn path, also filled with rocks, was this tiny onion. The inflorescence is no wider than one inch, nestled into the base of a somewhat large stone embedded into the substrate, keeping it safe from the life-taking ways of human feet. I only saw a few of these in bloom, but the presence of many characteristically keeled leaves suggests that many more will come into bloom in the coming weeks.

Allium parvum 
Another view of the small Allium shows the rock, an obstacle most people would want to avoid. I was avoiding the rock myself when my keenly trained eye caught the slight difference in color (from the corner of my eye) that suggested it was more than dirt. This was one of the days best finds, something I am very proud of.

Trifolium wildenovii
While most of these clovers had already gone to seed, or were not quite yet in flower, only a handful had flowers open fully. They filled the plateau alongside the goldfields.
Lomatium macrocarpum
An interesting carrot relative, the habit of plants that grow among rocks has always been of great interest to me. Once, long ago, I cared little for plants, less for flowers. I was fascinated by geological formations, they fueled my imagination. As time grew I gained an appreciation for the plants that grew on rocks, literally clinging to life, in an extremely harsh environment in comparison to a pampered flower bed full of pansies or petunias. The true beauty for me is not large colorful flowers (which have little or no real substance in my opinion), but the life and ecology of the plant. Though I do not really believe that plants can think, some plants have amazingly intelligent strategies for survival. Coping with heat, wind, drought, and being successful at it is something amazing to me.

Lomatium macrocarpum

Castilleja attenuata
This is an easy to miss species in an ordinarily conspicuously gorgeous genus. The flowers are small and white with yellow and blackish markings at the lip. Indian paintbrush tend to be somewhat parasitic plants, the roots tapping into nearby grasses or trees (depending on the species) for additional nutrients. Though some have had success with their cultivation in a rock garden by feeding them heavily (with what, I do not know), they would probably not persist for anyone less than obcessed with the plants and willing to fail a few times.

Phacelia hastata
When we were about to leave the plateau, I spotted this in the distance. Not knowing what it was, I ran (yes, literally) to the cliffside to see what it was. To my delight, a small stand of Phacelia hastata was clinging to the sides of the cliff! Bumblebees were audibly enjoying the nectar-rich flowers, their buzzing enhanced by the small amphitheater effect of the small inset area. I was able to hop down to a lower level and get up close and personal with the plants.

Phacelia  is a member of the Hydrophylloideae, a subfamily of the Boraginaceae. Together, they are the only families to have flowers on scorpioid cymes, where the inflorescence is a tight spiral in which the flowers open as it unfolds. The Hydrophylloideae, or waterleaf family, contains some other somewhat familiar garden plants like Nemophila and Romanzoffia.
Phacelia hastata
The uppermost plant is the one I was able to see first, the vague shape made me want to get a better look. These plants found a niche in the cracks of rocks, where soil has formed in the cracks and pockets of the rock.

Phacelia hastata cliffside habitat
A wider angle, here you can see the ledge that I'm standing on. It was exciting, partially because I was aware of the prospect of taking a wrong step and sliding off the cliff to my doom. This is where we must control our excitement and take it slow. Worth it.

Mimulus alsinoides
On the ledge wall were these small yellow flowers. Mimulus is a variable and adaptable genus, growing an many different habitats. The one unifying factor is water. Mimulus guttatus grows right on the beach above the high tide line in parts of coastal Oregon, and also occurs on and around Table Rocks in vernal pools. M. alsinoides here is growing on a rock face that probably gets some sort of seepage from the water on the plateau, and so can grow on a vertical substrate. Tiny bees and flies were visiting the flowers.

Mimulus alsinoides
Calochortus tolmiei
Only on our descent did I notice the Calochortus. They are only just coming into bloom here, and only just in bud at my house. C. tolmiei is a variable species that grows in a large range of biomes. The genus Calochortus is an American endemic, and unique in many ways. The closest foreign relative is Tulipa from a morphological standpoint, though some species also resemble Fritillaria in habit.

Fritillaria recurva
The beautiful Fritillaria recurva was my main motivation for visiting Table Rock, and I feel lucky to have seen it. In fact, I didn't even notice it, my wife pointed it out to me! We were on our way up the trail, and I quickly started taking pictures. I took about thirty photos, but the light was terrible, so they didn't turn out very well. On our descent the light had improved, so I was able to get a second chance to capture the beauty of this vibrant wildflower.

Fritillaria recurva
Like many other Fritillaria's, the petals are tessellated, checkered. The red flowers are said to be hummingbird pollinated. I heard the characteristic sound of hummingbirds, but I saw no such sighting. There were only four of these plants that I could see in flower, two in this area, two farther up the mountain. A fifth plant was young and no buds were seen, while a sixth was near the trail and had obviously been broken. I later found the desecrated flower trampled down towards the bottom of the trail. 

Fritillaria recurva
Fritillaria recurva has always seemed like a dream, the elegant curves and outrageous color something out of Alice in Wonderland. If more places like this are not protected, and the public educated, this plant could someday become nothing more than a story.

Marah oreganus
Something else I missed on our ascent was this vine. It is known as the Western wild cucumber, or Oregon manroot. The former name in reference to the spiny gourd-like fruit it produces, the latter name in reference to the gigantic tuberous root, large as or larger than a human head.

Lupinus sp.
It was awesome, I recommend everyone hike this trail, and visit Table Rock. Take a lot of pictures, and plan on returning because the first hike will only make you want to do it again!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Patch of Wildflowers

Nemophila, Lamium, and Chlorogalum
On my way home from work this past week, a large mass of white caught my eye. It was off to the side of a frontage road with little traffic, so I turned around to take a look. It was on the edge of a young Oak woodland on a bank by the road, butterflies and bee flies (Bombylius major) as well as tiny black bees and hover flies were everywhere! Unfortunately I was unable to stay and observe the full extent of pollinators that were feeding on these plants, but here's what I could photograph in five minutes!

Nemophila parviflora
The most abundant of the wildflowers was the annual small-flowered nemophila. This was the favorite of the butterflies. Nemophila along with Phacelia is in the Hydrophylloideae (waterleaf family), a subfamily within the Boraginaceae (borage family). Like "the borages" the Hydrophylloideae have a five lobed corolla, often fused at the base, with reproductive parts in fives. I would add that most of the genera contained in both family produce ample amounts of nectar and are highly useful pollinator plants. Many of the larger flowered genera also have protective hairs at the bases of the petals to exclude tiny insects from the nectar, reserving the reward for larger insects like Apoidea (bees) and Lepidoptera.

Nemophila parviflora
I identified this before posting it by a few defining characteristics. First, I observed that this flower had five petals, white, fused at the base (together known as the corolla). Next I observed the five conspicuous anthers, blueish. Observing flower parts is paramount to narrowing down a long list of possible identities, but then I looked at the leaves, hairy, pointed and lobed. I have done this enough that it doesn't take long to narrow a plant down to the Order, then the Family, then Genus, and if I'm really lucky to the Species. Sometimes I find nothing and I have no clue. 

Claytonia sp.
I think this is miner's lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata, but I'm not certain. It doesn't matter how tiny the flowers are, they all add to the diversity of a wildflower patch like this. The more variety of flowers are available, the bigger variety of pollinators will be attracted to the area. The more pollinators in the area, more seed is produced perpetuating the plant cycle. Also, larger critters feed on the pollinators, think of the food web. Diversity attracts diversity. This is why I love plants.

Lamium amplexicaule
Henbit is native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, and is not native here. However, I have never seen it in large swaths, and so I wonder what harm is really done by this plant growing here? I know, Native Plant Society members are probably groaning right now, but is this not what has happened before? Birds, glaciations, and wind have spread plants to new lands long before humans were even able to cross oceans. We have certainly sped up the process, but is it really that bad? Yes, with Rubus armeniacus, Pueraria, Eichhornia, Lythrum, Cytisus and many others the situation is very bad. Compared to these ruthless invaders, Lamium amplexicaule isn't so bad.

Lamium purpureum
Another mundane Lamium, purple archangel is a common weed here. I find it is not highly aggressive, and is easy to manage (though it will spread). It is reminiscent of the Himalayan rhubarb, Rheum nobile, which grows to six feet with translucent overlapping bracts protecting the flowers from the variable weather of the alpine environment. I wonder if the leaves of this small Lamium serve a similar purpose?

Dichelostemma capitatum
An early blooming species of Dichelostemma, many of these were found to be in flower, and even more were in bud. They grow from a corm, like Crocus. D. capitatum is similar to D. congestum in flower but blooms much earlier, and the whitish appendages surrounding the sexual organs is also unique to each species. The species is native from Arizona west to California and north into Oregon.

Dichelostemma capitatum
Though I didn't have a lot of time to observe, I did manage to watch a syrphid fly visit one of the flowers until I scared it away attempting to photograph it. All around the plants and into the oak wooded area were new red leaves of poison oak (Toxicodendron sp.). Getting in close, at least two inches for the best photo, was difficult at best. Totally worth the trouble!

Plagiobothrys nothofulvus
This tiny borage relative was here and there. It is a plant almost easy to dismiss as a glare from the sun, so small and insignificant. Yet it is really worth getting in close to inspect its details (below shows my hand for scale). The flowers are similar to Myosotis in form, with five petals fused to form a tube, borne in a scorpioid cyme, with five yellow appendages surrounding the opening to the corolla which contains the reproductive organs. I am not sure if this plant has a pollinator, or if it reproduces with some form of self-fertility?

Plagiobothrys nothofulvus