Nature Notes

Volume XXVII - 1996

Wandering Through Wildflowers
By Peter Zika

The hiking trails at Crater Lake National Park will take you to elegant floral displays as the snows recede and spring seeps up the caldera walls. Botanists have found roughly 700 species of flowers, ferns, and conifers in the park. You can sample a rich diversity of plants by simply stretching your legs and setting out from the macadam.

Drawing by Amelia Bruno.

While snow drifts still surround Park Headquarters, western flowering dogwood, Cornus nuttallii, Shelton's violet, Viola sheltonii, and pink fairy slippers, Calypso bulbosa, are luring bees in the warmer depths of Red Blanket Canyon, on the lower trail to Stuart Falls. Legions of lupines, Lupinus latifolius, and scarlet paintbrushes, Castilleja miniata, greet you when summer's heat has opened the footpaths along Annie Creek and into the Castle Crest Wildflower Garden.

Drawing by Amelia Bruno.

You might be pleased by a walk on the south-facing Garfield Peak Trail, located east of Crater Lake Lodge. Melting snowfields water a delightful mix of plants through the summer. As you pause for yet another splendid view of the lake, you can admire the blue blossoms of squaw carpet, Ceanothus prostratus, or later in the season see shocking purple and pink beardtongues, Penstamon davidsonii and rupicola.

Midsummer brings monkeyflowers into bloom on wet ledges and streamsides. Pink and yellow monkeyflowers, Mimulus lewisii and M. guttatus, form festive natural bouquets on the shores of Crater Lake and even in roadside ditches. The relentless sunshine sears the well-drained treeless expanses at high elevations. Graded paths up Mount Scott and Crater Peak take you to pumice fields tinted red with the fading and drying leaves of fleeceflower, Polygonum newberryi. When fleeceflower is conspicuous on the caldera and in Pumice Desert, brilliant yellow-flowering shrubs beckon butterflies along the eastern side of Rim Drive. This is rabbitbrush, Chrysothamnus nauseosus, a cousin to the locally rare sagebrush, Artemisia tridentata. Rabbitbrush draws on reserves in its deep root system to flower so late in the year. In doing so, it seems to defy drought conditions common to the upper slopes of Mount Mazama during summer and early autumn.

Drawing by Amelia Bruno.

Frost and early snow withers vegetation on the rim in September, but pearly everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea, holds persistent white flowers at lower elevations until later in the year. Cold nights finally leach the pink from loose mist- like masses of ticklegrass, Agrostis hyemalis, at Spruce Lake which is located due west of Llao Rock near the park boundary. By November, new snow drifts end another season of wandering through the wildflowers.

Peter Zika recently updated checklists of plants at Crater Lake and Oregon Caves. He is a professor of botany at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Oregon.

Pumice Desert
Even the seemingly barren Pumice Desert has wildflowers in June and July. Photo by Glen Kaye.

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