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  • Wild are the Flowers

    The mountains and valleys of Southern Oregon are a wildflower-hunter's dream
  • Southern Oregon is blessed with a wildflower season that lasts almost half the year — if you know where to go.
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    • Wildflower resources
      You don't have to be a trained botanist to enjoy wildflowers. There are guide books, illustrated brochures and guided tours that will help you learn about what you see.
      "Wildflowers of Southern ...
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      Wildflower resources
      You don't have to be a trained botanist to enjoy wildflowers. There are guide books, illustrated brochures and guided tours that will help you learn about what you see.

      "Wildflowers of Southern Oregon," ($21.95) by John Kemper, was out of print for years, but was republished in 2013 by Northwest Nature Shop, 154 Oak St., Ashland. The book includes nearly 700 species and features almost 450 color photographs.

      Every spring, The Nature Conservancy and Bureau of Land Management sponsor a series of guided hikes on the Table Rocks. From early April through mid-May, experts lead hikers on walks that explain the Rocks' significance. Geologists, botanists, historians, biologists and Native Americans share their knowledge to help build appreciation for the twin mesas that dominate the skyline north of Medford.

      The Native Plant Society of Oregon has published guides for the wildflowers of the Siskiyou Crest and Grizzly Peak. The guides include dozens of color photos of commonly seen flowers, maps and descriptive text. They're available for $1 at Northwest Nature Shop.
  • Southern Oregon is blessed with a wildflower season that lasts almost half the year — if you know where to go.
    The show starts on the valley floor as early as February, and finishes in the mountains in July and August. Blooming times vary with the weather. Cold wet winters that extend into March slow down the cycle. A warm, dry spring and a hot summer bring earlier flowers and a quicker end to the bloom.
    We're blessed with many outstanding places to enjoy wildflowers. Some sites, such as the Table Rocks, are well known. Others, such as the meadows along the Siskiyou Crest, draw fewer visitors, and you can have a whole field of flowers to yourself.
    The Table Rocks trails are perennial favorites for good reasons: they're close to where people live; the trails are wide and well-maintained; the views are stirring; and the wildflowers are abundant and diverse.
    "They're an iconic landmark that draws people in," says Darren Borgias, program director for the Southern Oregon office of The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that has worked for decades to preserve and protect the Table Rocks. The Conservancy manages the rocks jointly with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde.
    Borgias says the bloom can start on the Table Rocks as early as late January, when Piper's lomatium (a member of the carrot family) sends up its tiny cream-colored flowers. As the days grow longer, there will be splashes of purple grass widows, followed by magenta shooting stars and the lovely lavender flowers of Henderson's fawn lilies, blue-eyed Marys, white popcorn flower and blue lupine.
    "It's quite showy," Borgias says.
    Both Table Rocks have vernal pools — small, seasonal ponds where water collects during the winter and slowly evaporates as the seasons turn. Around the pools visitors can see dwarf woolly meadowfoam, a plant that exists only on the Table Rocks and nowhere else.
    As mountain snow recedes, flowers start to bloom in the high country. Mid-elevation trails like the one on Grizzly Peak offer a chance to see flowers that have finished blooming on the valley floor as well as those that thrive in a cooler, higher-altitude habitat.
    "All summer long you can find something blooming on Grizzly Peak," says Jim Duncan, a member of the Siskiyou Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Oregon. "There's a huge stand of delphiniums that bloom in late July and into August. They tower over your head."
    "I've walked that trail many times from May to September," Duncan says. "It's a five-mile loop. A person like myself can spend all day dawdling along."
    Duncan also likes to visit the open meadows along the Siskiyou Crest, west of the Mt Ashland Ski Area. Just beyond the ski area parking lot, Forest Road 20 follows the crest through spectacular flower displays that usually bloom in July. If you follow the road west toward Jackson Gap and the Dutchman Peak fire lookout, and turn left (south) on a spur road that follows Cow Creek, there are meadows full of flowers in July and into August in cool, damp years.
    Sasha Joachims of the Native Plant Society says the flowers vary as the road follows the divide that separates the Klamath and Rogue watersheds. Near Mount Ashland, around Grouse Gap, there's marsh marigold, meadow larkspur, scarlet gilia and seep monkeyflower, to name just a few. Farther west, toward Observation Gap, she looks for Columbian monkshood, Drummond's anemone, broadleaf arnica and several different species of paintbrush, as well as the elegant Wiggin's lily.
    "I really enjoy botanizing the Siskiyou Crest along the FS 20 Road in July," she says.
    Crater Lake National Park provides a place to see spring flowers when the rest of the Rogue Valley is baking in summer heat. Several short, easy trails offer spectacular flower shows, says Marsha McCabe, the park's chief of interpretation.
    "A lot of flowers come out as soon as the snow recedes," McCabe says, but in many years the snow persists along the Rim Drive well into July.
    She often directs visitors to the Castle Crest Trail, a half-mile loop near the park headquarters, where they'll see trumpet-shaped, lavender-to-purple blossoms of Lewis monkeyflower, white plumes of bog-orchids, lovely blue larkspurs and pink-to-white elephant heads, distinguished by their curving "trunks."
    A trail that opened in 2011 takes hikers to Plaikni Falls, where wildflowers thrive in the cool, moist atmosphere. Plaikni, she explains, is the Klamath Indian word for "high country."
    "It's a very family-friendly trail," McCabe says, and most of the 2.2-mile round trip is wheelchair-accessible.
    Duncan says the park's high-altitude setting offers amateur botanizers a range of plants not found on the valley floor, such as pumice paintbrush, which thrives in the volcanic soils around the lake.
    "It's not the same stuff at all that blooms down here," he says.
    Bill Kettler is a freelance writer living in Rogue River. Reach him at bdkettler@gmail.com.
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